Do the Work
This love letter is coming late to you for no other reason than it's been really hard to put together the mess of thoughts in my mind, to add value to the global conversation that it seems no one in my community is a part of yet, to decide whether I should be chiming in on a topic that feels so out of my depth. There is an entire movement of more insightful and informed voices that need to be heard, who are speaking truth to power and who deserve our deep listening. Like so many of us, I have spent time during the last weeks listening to some of them and quietly reflecting, preferring the false security of silence to the treacherous territory of honest communication. But of course, the fact that I can choose whether I engage at all is a result of my privileged status. So here I go, adding my part to the conversation which is ultimately no different from the same inquiry I offer at the start of every class I teach:
Notice what is happening around and within you.
Welcome yourself as you are.
Set your intention.
Direct awareness to your breath.
Let breath guide your movements.
I'm curious about how this simple invitation to move with awareness can support meaningful participation in the larger movement for justice, equality, and ultimately, peace.
Yoga comprises a philosophical system which encompasses both the path and practices for living awake. But it is not the practices like asana, pranayama, and meditation themselves that instigate and sustain inner revolution, which necessarily precedes any kind of social or systemic change. They are tools to be implemented for a purpose. And while doing your sun salutations with a clear and benevolent intention will, certainly develop your muscles of awareness (among numerous other benefits), no amount of downward dogs is going to ensure justice and equality for all lives. For that, we have to get off the mat, step away from the cushion and do the work that is ours to do right now.
One way that a consistent practice will help discern what is your work is that, if you are practicing with awareness, you will find the difficult spots, the dark places where there is tension, where the prana, the life force, gets blocked. At first, you notice it as pain in the body. Then maybe you see a habitual thought. The more you exercise your muscles of self-awareness, the more awake you are to yourself--your whole self. The sunshine and the storm clouds. Your soft belly and your hardened jaw. Your ancestral wounds and your acquired biases. The evolutionary habits and the outdated ones. Your blind spots and your brilliance.
It's uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, also inspiring and even heartbreaking to encounter our whole self, particularly our shadows. And the tendency of the Yoga and wellness communities (and I fully recognize myself in this cohort) to project only good vibes does nothing to support the translation of awareness into action. Yet there are tools within Yoga to help us move beyond awareness and into action. Specifically, the quality of tapas, or effort, is both a requisite for and a result of Yoga practice. In the same way that the motivation to practice grows the more consistently we practice, our capacity to translate awareness into action increases the more we act with awareness.
Just as we begin an asana practice as we are, welcoming what is here without attachment or aversion, what if we come to the conversation about racism, inequality and systemic oppression without attachment or aversion, but with awareness? How might that help to heal more than our broken bodies and our fatigued minds? We'll begin exploring these questions and many more in our Women's Circle this week. It's a small start, this simple initiative to engage each other in a brave discussion, and it's one way that we can put awareness into action and do the work.
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