Friday, October 31, 2008


Yoga is a practice of identifying more with the eternal than the ephemeral.

We begin with the physical body, becoming more aware of the weight on our feet, the asymmetries between right and left sides, and the tightness in our shoulders. We refine ourselves, becoming stronger, more flexible, and more balanced.

We notice our minds, and the chatter it's so difficult to slow down. We start to observe our lapses into negativity and cynicism. We notice how often we become judgmental, and how hard it is to stay in the present moment, as we dig up old hurts or plan for a better future. We take note of our fears and anxieties and deep-rooted insecurities. As we observe ourselves with compassion and detachment, these tendencies loosen their hold on us.

As we work on ourselves, we recognize that who we think we are is ever-changing and, frankly, inconsequential. Angry one second, happy the next; confident one day, the next day crushed. What does it matter? As we practice yoga we identify more with the eternal, universal Self than the temporary, costumed self.

We become more interconnected with the Eternal in all sentient beings as well. We recognize the divine in all life forms, and realize that we are all One. If we are all One, then we are each other. We are manifestations of each other, co-creating the world in which we live.

When we encounter ugliness, hatred, racism, and violence in society, we need to recognize that the perpetrators are basically manifestations of the consciousness we are creating. We ARE the white supremacists fantasizing about assassination. We ARE the young people feeling so disenfranchised they don't bother to form an opinion and vote. We ARE the neglected elderly voting out of fear and lack of information. We have formed them out of our consciousness. We conveniently place them outside of ourselves so we can criticize them and feel smug.

Let me tell you a story. One day, when our kids were tiny, my husband Ed and I were bickering in the kitchen. It was not an extraordinary argument, just a run-of-the-mill disagreement that couples often have, especially under the stress of caring for little ones, etc. We were engrossed in heatedly trying to convince the other that we were right when I looked over at Meiko, who was 3. She reached over to 1 year-old Katja with her hands around her neck. Meiko wasn't actually choking Katja, but she was enacting what she was feeling and witnessing in the kitchen at that moment. Ed and I stopped in our tracks, immediately getting the message.

In the brilliance and spontaneity that children embody, Meiko showed us exactly how youth, being the most emotionally vulnerable in society, will manifest the tension and violence of their environments. Certain people are more sensitive and susceptible than others. We need to thank them, for being the canary in the coalmine, and have compassion for the important roles they are playing in society as our teachers, as we provide means to help them heal from the trauma they are working through.

When we encounter these situations, we must look at ourselves. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves, as yoga teaches us to be. What racial fear or hatred have I buried in myself? What pain am I harboring? What am I afraid of? The more we can work through our own trauma, the less our children and most emotionally vulnerable in our society will act out on our behalf. We must embrace and look at our own shadows, with compassion, nonjudgment, and objectivity.

To protect Barack Obama from harm, each of us must take on this inner work. We are simply microcosms of the macrocosm of society. To create a truly blessed community, we work through the community which is our own body, for the body is an ingenious processor of trauma. By transforming the trauma in our bodies into compassion and love, we will change society. Patanjali states in the yoga sutras that around one who is truly nonviolent, hostilities evaporate.

More love, more Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Did you hear this story on NPR?
The fact is that middle and upper class folks have always rewarded their children for doing well, with allowance, gifts, privileges, and more. And these kids have always understood that doing well in school = college = skills and opportunities = meaningful career. If you come from a family that does not embrace that value system because it was never accessible to them, should you be shortchanged? If you have an overworked, overwhelmed single mom who never had the chance to go to college and is in debt, who's going to reward you for that hard-earned A? Who's going to take you out to dinner? I say let's give the program a try. Give a sliver of that $12,000/kid that goes to school systems to the kid.

I teach in a women’s college with many nontraditional students who are working full-time, single parenting, and going to school. They should get paid for the huge sacrifice they are making! On the other hand, my 2 college student daughters can focus exclusively on school, because my husband and I are paying their tuitions. Essentially we “pay” them for concentrating on their studies.
On another level, paying kids for performance in school is a form of reparations. This NPR story is about a predominantly African American school. As a nation, we are in debt to populations who were historically and institutionally deprived of rights. We can't pay the victims, but what if we gave that money to their children? Too late to do this? Give it to the current generation.
This reminds me of the debate on the current government bail-out of Wall Street. What if instead of 700 billion to the banks, we gave that money to the people in foreclosure themselves? What if we gave it to those who have the least instead of those who have the most, as Howard Zinn suggests? (
What if we paid the kids instead of throwing more money at the system? What if we paid the slaves instead of the foremen and plantation owners? Of course we need to support the public school administrators and teachers, and not just "bribe" kids. But why not do both? The "bribe" is basically a way of developing will and establishing new habits.
If parents are not teaching these skills for whatever reasons, the school needs to step in. Geoffrey Canada demonstrates at Harlem Children's Zone that if poor kids are given the same opportunities middle class kids have always had, they can succeed as well. Listen to the interview with him on This American Life at
I am frankly tired of people of privilege denying poor people the rights the middle and upper classes have always had.