It was a hot and lazy afternoon when I drove through the iron gates of the property where my husband and I live in East Texas. We are told we live in the “belt buckle” of the Bible Belt, in a beautiful town where half the population is Baptists and…Oh Yes…most of the population is registered Republican.
The owners of the property, Charlie and Jackie live in a gracious brick manor house shaded by magnificent trees that spread their branches wide to filter the rays of the summer sun. In front of their house is a pond with a fountain that was home to three ducks Mandrake, Matilda and Marmaduke. They were perfectly matched with lotus white bodies and long swan-like necks. They were inseparable from the moment they met.
Whenever I would see their little forms snuggling under the trees, majestically waddling on the green grass, or gliding together on the placid waters of the pond, I would take a deep breath knowing that all was right with the world.
One day, as I entered the property, a giant hawk swooped down so low it almost hit the roof of the car. Two days later, the female duck, Matilda was missing with only a trail of feathers left in her wake. We all mourned her disappearance and wondered how she met her demise.
Charlie is now raising ducks hatched from eggs and caring for them like a parent with a child. There was one duck who had grown to full size. Charlie introduced him to the two remaining ducks. There was only one little problem. This new duck had a pompadour of feathers perched on the top of his head like a crown. He looked quite regal and very different from the other two ducks.
Over the days, the two resident ducks became increasingly vicious, biting the new duck’s neck and head and leaving him wounded and bleeding. What had once been a peaceful “Garden of Paradise” now became a battleground of differences. The new duck looked so different that he became a target and was bullied and isolated by the other ducks.
I began to see parallels with the drama of the ducks to what is happening in our world today. Could it be that the world stage is being enacted right here in this Garden of Eden? Were these little ducks a reflection of what is happening in a country and world that is more divided than ever before?
Could it be that the human species like other species in nature, when given the opportunity, reverts to the familiar comfort zones of those who look like, act like, speak like, worship like and, yes, here it is, vote like they do.
Everywhere I travel and teach, I hear similar stories of the separation in families due to the recent political election. A Republican strategist from a long time Republican family could not bring herself to vote for Mr. Trump. So, as she said, she cast her vote for the candidate she felt would be a steadier, more predictable and experienced choice for president. She crossed the aisle of the “great divide,” voted for Clinton, and was alienated by family and friends. Even her favorite uncle refused to speak to her at a family function, while other family members publicly criticized her and Republicans like her on social media. They even questioned her faith as a Christian.
On the other side of “the aisle,” Clinton supporters were horrified when good friends voted for Trump causing one to say, “I didn’t think intelligent people would vote for Trump.” So many were shocked by “the lack of discrimination” in people they had known and worked with for many years.
A yoga teacher in Oregon was faced with a temporary dilemma. After the election one student in her class didn’t think she could return because there was a Trump supporter sitting next to her. In turn, the Trump voter felt discriminated against and didn’t think she would return.
A woman in Texas lost life-long friends of 40 years when she posted her political leanings on social media.
Yoga teachers throughout this land have shared stories of unhealed wounds of separation in families, friends and marriages. They thought after the election people would come back together and life would go on as usual, but this is something different. It appears there is a growing chasm of separation that has not yet healed.
As events unfold every day…every hour, more and more people are feeling uncertain and insecure about their future as individuals and our future as a nation. They are fearful of the economy, an impending nuclear war, and a leader they feel is not in touch with reality. As one politician said, “It’s not about policy, but pathology.”
In yoga, it is interesting that in asana, when one part of the body is limited in its range of motion such as stiffness in a knee, hip, or hamstring muscle etc., the entire body becomes limited in its range of motion. It automatically holds itself back from moving ahead into its fullest potential expression of the pose. For some, it feels that as a nation, we are hamstrung by the weakest part, which they see as our leadership.
Our body is a hologram of consciousness. When an injured or stiff part becomes more flexible, the other parts can then move more freely, guiding the body deeper into the full expression of a pose.
The question now is are we holding ourselves back as a nation waiting for our leader to “catch up?” Or are we witnessing a leader that is less conscious than the people he represents? Is he like that rigid part of the social body that prevents convergence, integration, progressive ideas and a future that embraces all brothers and sisters of the One Humanity?
Are we held back because of the lack of progressive vision of our leader or are we holding ourselves back by enabling this weakest part to dictate to the whole?
Through the window of the ducks, I wondered if I was witnessing the nature of human beings who are not able to cross the great divide and embrace something or someone different from them.
Are we witnessing the inability of those who cannot reach across the aisle, not just of the political divide but the aisles of division in all aspects of our post-election lives? The effects of anger and sometimes hatred can be seen on those insecure with the new leadership.
A nun went to confession asking for forgiveness of her hatred toward our new president. She said the priest was not very helpful because he too, was struggling with his own prejudice and frustration, of what he saw as the darkest time in American history.
For its safety, Charlie moved the young unusual looking duck to the back of the property where he happily strutted around with its tuft of head feathers fluttering in the breeze, like a thousand-petaled lotus. Life went on as usual until the aggressive and most violent duck disappeared with a heap of feathers as the only imprint of his short life. We speculated it could have been a hawk, raccoon or even coyote.
The one remaining duck of the original three, sat unmoving on top of the fountainhead in the center of the pond. He looked forlorn and fearful. I marveled at his instinct of preservation in positioning himself so that wild animals and hawks could not reach him. But I was sad that he had lost the innocence of trust.
Charlie then reintroduced the duck with the pompom and brought in another duck with dark tan markings over half of her body. After a few days of eyeing one another from a distance, they came closer and closer. Now in trust, they are inseparable. It is amazing how different they look from one another. Yet, with all their differences, they waddle together under the great trees, nestle together in the shade of the flowering plants and swim together in the still waters of the pond.
Is this prophetic of our future as we cross the great divide of consciousness to appreciate and even rejoice in our differences as well as commonalities? Wouldn’t this be a demonstration of the true union and “Oneness” of yoga?
Now each day, first thing I do as I enter the garden gate is to look for the ducks to make sure they are all there and safe. To me, they have become a barometer of our society. After a time of struggle and separation, they now seem to be masters of crossing the great divide to demonstrate the convergence of differences and uniting life’s polarities. They are my teachers of yoga.
Last year during the end of the U.S. presidential campaign, I could not help but compare the electoral candidates with the pantheon of Hindu gods & goddesses. There are over 300 million deities all relating to attributes inherent in human nature and cultural values. Of all theses attributes, there are three Mahadevas (great deities) that represent the three main principles of life—Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer, and Shiva, the destroyer, also known as the transformer.
We can see the symbolism of these three Mahadevas manifesting in groups, organizations, families and governments. Brahma, the creator can be seen when a person who is a visionary creates a system, product or organization around his or her idea. Then those with administrative inclinations and skills would be needed to help maintain and sustain a structure for this vision. This would relate to the god Vishnu.
And then there are those who strive for change and creation of something new. There is a belief that to bring forth an evolutionary spiral of transformation and co-creation, old and outdated systems must crumble for the new to be born. This can threaten existing structures and those who wish to maintain the status quo. Change brings up fear of the unknown, especially when it is rapid change.
During the 2016 campaign, I compared Hilary Clinton to the quality of the god Vishnu, who represents the householder, the family, and economic stability. Hilary promised to maintain what had been created by the previous administration as a springboard for the future. Those who voted for Hilary obviously wanted someone with many years of political experience in governmental and diplomatic relations who would give a stable foundation of something known and secure.
Donald Trump seemed to attract voters who wanted change. They may have been out of work, in desperate need of health insurance, diehard Republicans or independent spirits who wanted any kind of change. The slogan “Make America Great Again” captured hearts and imaginations.
In many instances, people were voting against the status quo in voting for a government outsider who campaigned on bringing a businessman’s approach to government. Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” Some voters now feel that perhaps bigger, wealthier, and more powerful, well-dressed, alligators were added to the swamp.
I could not help but loosely correlate Donald Trump with Shiva. Instead of launching off preset foundational structures, he wanted to tear down old structures in order to create something new.
Shiva inhabits the highest Himalayan abode known as Kailasa. Mr. Trump inhabits the penthouse in Trump Tower overlooking corridors and waterways of New York. Shiva transforms lives with the fierce swiftness of his mythical sword, while Trump changes many lives with a dramatic slash of his presidential pen across executive orders. Shiva destroys without always replacing. We can see this in the uphill attempt at changing the Health Care Act—repealing without replacing.
The celestials of heaven seek out the help of Lord Shiva when the demons (representative of the individual and collective ego) are threatening to take over the universe. What a parallel! The GOP and their supporters sought out a candidate that could unify their party and win the vote, regardless of their own hesitancy and disinclination.
There are politics even in the garden of the gods. When Shiva’s beloved wife, Sati did not receive an invitation to her father’s house for a yajna, (fire ceremony) she went anyway thinking this was an oversight. When she arrived, her family ignored her presence and she discovered that she and Shiva were not invited due to a slight breech of protocol that Shiva had committed at a previous gathering of the gods, sages and rishis. Sati was so humiliated in front of the auspicious gathering that she brought forth her yogic powers of self-immolation.
When Shiva heard the news of his wife’s death, he tore a lock of hair from his head and threw it on the ground. Out of the lock of Shiva’s hair, arose a fearless and invincible warrior named Virabhadra who led Shiva’s armies to destroy the fire sacrifice and avenge his wife’s death. This warrior represented the most extreme part of Shiva himself. When slighted or wronged, Shiva would unleash his powers of chaos in the need for justice, or as some might call it—revenge.
When a part of Shiva took the form of a ferocious warrior it was a reflection of a hidden part of his own being. In this warrior form, Shiva wielded weapons in his thousand arms and destroyed the fire sacrifice, the host and guests. He created so much havoc and destruction that the celestials finally had to intervene. They begged him to restore order and the lives of those in the path of his destructive rampage.
This can be compared to Trump’s emotional reaction to the situation in Syria driving him to take military action, like Shiva giving birth to the military aspect of himself. Virabhadra was born out of Shiva’s grief of loss that morphed into rage and a resultant aggressive action.
Donald Trump, throughout his campaign, like Shiva, became unstoppable, mowing down anything or anyone standing in his path.
In playfully comparing Shiva to Donald Trump, I began to see the Ley Lines connecting ancient myths to present day politics. Life with Shiva is unpredictable. It is spontaneous. One never knows what form his rapid changes will take, resulting for some in fear and uncertainty of the future.
Those who voted for Trump, tossed their discrimination aside and believed the campaign promises in their passion for a better life, and a country of their dreams. Unfortunately, in our quest to follow the visionary words of a leader, the dream can become a nightmare of instability and confusion. Is this a classic case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Perhaps this kind of change is not exactly what some supporters had in mind.
Swami Vivekananda was the first yogi and swami to come from India to the United States in l893 to attend the World Parliament of Religions. He made a great impression through his imposing presence, vast wisdom and brilliant mind.
In one of his many talks to the American public, Swamiji was asked about the convergence of politics and spirituality. He replied, “The world is like the kink of a dog’s tail. As long as you are holding it you think it is straight. The moment you let go—it just kinks up again.”
In light of rapidly changing events in our country’s political landscape perhaps the question is: Are we holding on? Or are we letting go?
The 2012 NYT article by William Broad was recently reprinted with the following,
"Editors’ note: We’re resurfacing this 2012 magazine article for Smarter Living so you can feel a little less guilty about skipping that yoga class."
Following is a "resurfacing" of Rama Jyoti's response:
The article in the New York Times that recently "resurfaced," entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” may be a blessing by re-opening a conversation about Yoga. For years, those of us who are the ancient veterans of Yoga in America, who have been practicing and teaching since the1950s, have been concerned over the new fitness direction that Yoga has taken in this country.
Let’s face it. The term Yoga has been hijacked. The author of the article, Mr. Broad, is narrowly defining yoga according to his experiences with his injured yoga teacher, Mr. Black. For those of us who have been enlightened by Yoga for nearly six decades with no injuries to self or others, the article was horrifically corrosive. After reading it, I was worried about the risks of getting out of bed or of walking. I could shorten a hamstring without realizing it! But what about the risks of sitting at a computer all day and incurring repetitive stress injuries. Where can we go? There is nowhere to hide, not even in the inner sanctums of Shavasana, the corpse pose.
No mention was made in the article of varying methodologies of Yoga. All paths and lineages were painted with the same brush. Indra Devi, Swami Sivananda, Pattabhi Jois and Mr. BKS Iyengar although very different from one another, are lumped together from their early teachings in the mid-20th century.
As I discovered over the past 55 years, Yoga is a way of “Being” not just doing. It is the exploration of what Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita calls inaction within an action. It is the essence and means to quiet the waves of the mind. When the waves are still, as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras say, “The Seer and the Seen become One.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “They realize the oneness that already is. “
In the l950’s, 60’s and even in the 70’s Yoga was still intact. However in the late 70’s, Yoga began to slip into a mode of physical exercise. Instead of exercise, perhaps it is more accurate to view Yoga as ‘innercise.’ To experience Yoga as an ‘innercise,’ it is important to bring the breath back into our practice, and teaching, and allow it to move our body organically into a pose.
As the essence of all Yoga is to ”still the waves of the mind,” if we practice asana rapidly without breath, we create more restlessness, the opposite of Yoga. The breath, not the teacher or the clock, is the gage as to when it is time to come out of the pose. If the breath is erratic and staccato it is time to “slowly” exit the pose.
In l970, I was asked to give a talk and demonstration of Yoga to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cabinet ministers. The presentation was well received and afterward some of the cabinet ministers said, you looked so relaxed, you didn’t even look as if you were in pain. You actually looked as if you were enjoying it.” I was stunned. “Yoga helps us to come out of pain not create more,” I finally replied. “Yes, I do enjoy it, it is my communion with God.” They were astounded. Mrs. Gandhi’s Yoga teacher who was in attendance was fascinated and then offered to demonstrate how he practiced Yoga. He grabbed his leg and forcefully put it on his opposite thigh and then grimaced and grunted with pain as he forced the opposite foot over into Padmasana, the Full Lotus. Yes, even the Indians can have stiffness in hips and legs. There are different approaches, I realized that day, and that this “Yang” approach could lead to injuries and dismissed it as a potential practice. He was surprised that my approach did not create but helped to heal peoples’ past injuries.
If our lives are not evolving from the practice of Yoga, perhaps we need to change our practice and our teachers. This New York Times article is a wake-up call for the Yoga teaching community to slow down, and re-evaluate one’s teaching and practice style and perhaps contemplate bringing the breath back into Yoga.
Years ago, I hosted Indra Devi as well as Mr. Iyengar. I went to Indra Devi’s class. She did not just teach Yoga...she WAS Yoga. Her presence filled the room casting a mantle of light upon us all. I realized that as teachers, we need to keep our connection to the Divine. It is the unspoken that touches the hearts and minds of the students far more than the technique. Her presence was a reminder of Why we were practicing Yoga..not just How.
It is not Yoga that creates strokes in relatively young and healthy people but the way in which they practice with rapid movements and no preparation which leads to spinal (and neck) compression rather than elongation. The author wrote of Mr. Iyengar emphasizing in the Cobra arching the neck as far back as possible. However, the neck should not be forced back in any pose as it creates cervical compression and restricts the circulation from moving between the spinal cord and brain. I remember many years ago, Mr. Iyengar emphasizing the extension of the back of the neck, because Cobras do not throw their heads back and look up but drew their head back and elongate what would be the back of their neck. The eyes instead of looking upward would be drawn towards the back of the head and intently gaze straight ahead without wavering.
In the incidence of a college student who intensified his practice by sitting in Vajrasana on his heels for hours a day, his injury cannot be blamed on Yoga but on his own ambition and lack of discernment. Vajrasana is NOT a classical sitting pose for meditation.
The article also alludes to the Shoulderstand, as “tucking the chin deep into the chest. No! That is not the way it is practiced. In Sarvangasana, we bring the chest to the chin...not the chin to the chest. We roll the upper arms outward affixing the outer elbows to the earth. “This is a SHOULDER stand...not a NECK stand,” Mr. Iyengar would say. Known as Sarvangasana, meaning the whole or entire parts of the body, the Shoulderstand is commonly referred to as the Queen of Asana (The Headstand is the King) and is known to affect and benefit every gland, organ and system of our body. It affects the physical as well as subtle body. The article mentioned it stimulates the thyroid. No, it does not unless the thyroid is hypoactive. Sarvangasana balances the thyroid rather than stimulate it. Matsyasana, the fish pose is the one that is stimulating to the thyroid and is excellent for those with hypoactive (underactive) thryroid. The fish without the shoulderstand first, can be over stimulating to the nervous system because of the affects to the adrenaline glands. Those of us who have practiced these poses for half a century can testify that it balances the thyroid and parathyroids which are responsible for our metabolic processes and metabolism of calcium.
In Shoulderstand, the 7th cervical vertebra eventually does not even touch the mat. Sarvangasana is known to prevent strokes and heart attacks as well as alleviate neck and shoulder tension. It beneficially affects the cerebellum which doesn’t only coordinate muscles but is what the Yogis call the seat of the subconscious mind. Mr. Broad also relates this pose to the thalamus gland. However, the thalamus which relays sensory messages to the outer brain also relates to subtle energy center that awaken our conscious to vaster states of awareness. The thalamus which holds a blue print of every cell of the body sits above the hypothalamus which is now known as the master endocrine gland. Perhaps one day the thalamus may be recognized as the true master endocrine gland that regulates all others under its hierarchical structure. This gland relates to the crown chakra and is impacted by Sirshasana, the Headstand, far more than the Shoulderstand.
In relation to Sarvangasana, the article refers to the pons, attributing only the role it plays in respiration. It does, but it is also the switchboard or relay center between the spinal cord and the brain. When there is compression or tension in this area, we see the aging process in the slowing down of the reflexes. Sasrvangasana preserves the youthfullness of the reflexes. The area of the pons where the spinal cord meets the base of the brain is known as the medulla oblongata. This is the area that Swami Paramamahamsa calls the “seat of the soul.” Within the arena of the “back brain” is what is known in the Yoga Sutras as the “Cave of Brahma,” the creator.
Sarvangasana is a pose of meditation where the heart is above the head, which the Yogis relate to the ego. In it, the ego is humbled and the heart reigns supreme over the mind, if only for a short time. This is an extraordinary pose that also elongates the carotid sinus and arteries and can diminish excessive plaque which instead of creating, can actually help prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Sarvangasana increases circulation of blood, lymph and cerebral spinal fluids. The article states concerns for the basilar artery which arises from the union of the two vertebral arteries that feed the pons. He references that reduction in blood flow to the basilar artery has been known to produce a variety of strokes. In a correct shoulderstand, there is no pressure upon the basilar artery, but the pose can benefit its circulatory flow.
In referring to the woman of 28 who suffered a stroke while attempting Urdva Dhanurasana which is correctly known as the “Upward Bow.” It is not the wheel, which is something different. Again depending upon the teaching, the head is not placed on the floor as this can induce compression in the neck if the arms are weak and the shoulders are not flexible. In any pose the neck is never compressed or arched. Again, what were the instructions? What was trying to be achieved? What is being promoted in the name and of Yoga? There is also no mention of the impact of pharmaceutical drugs and the effects of legal or illegal drugs ingested into the system. How do we know the condition of the people getting injured?
Please Mr. Broad and Mr. Black, do not blame Yoga but look to the teachers’ interpretation of what they call Yoga. Many years ago a group of long-time teachers came to Swami Satchidananda voicing their concerns over the direction that Yoga was taking in this country and how it was taught as aerobic exercise that would eventually lead to injuries. Swamiji was pensive and then said, “You must trust...trust in Yoga.” Thank you for opening this discussion that will allow everyone in the Yoga community to stop and take a big breath.
Rama Jyoti Vernon (c) 2012
On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, I called Barbara Marx Hubbard, author, social innovator and protégé of world famous futurist Buckminster Fuller. On the second ring, she answered enthusiastically, “Rama how wonderful to hear from you!’
“Barbara, how and where are you?” I asked. At the age of 86, she still travels the world as a keynote speaker for co-creative synergy, uniting individuals, groups, corporations and governments. She responded, “I’m sitting at the kitchen table helping my daughter make cornbread.”
How perfect I thought, remembering the years we worked together to find new and creative ways to establish bridges between the Soviet and American people during the Cold War era. There were times when we were so exhausted from non-stop meetings in Moscow that we would drag ourselves down the long corridors of Russian hotels to our shared room and drop into bed moaning and groaning with fatigue.
After her unprecedented run for Vice Presidency of the United States in 1984, Barbara who was always on the leading edge of humanity’s needs, spoke to the heart of the Russian people as well as their leaders. They understood her when she spoke of the Alpha and Omega, and building a wheel of transformation of the entire social body of humanity. They understood her when she emphasized the need for convergence of co-creativity for governments to work together rather than remain in conflict with one another.
I had called to say, “Barbara, I am so sorry that I couldn’t be at the dinner that was a tribute to you and your ongoing work in the world.” She laughed and replied that her sister Patricia Ellsberg spoke about our work in the former Soviet Union. She had reminisced about the meeting Barbara and I had with Yuri Gagarin, head of the Soviet Cosmonaut Association in Moscow, and the first human to journey into outer space in 1961. Patricia is the wife of Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers that led to the Watergate hearings during President Nixon’s era.
Earlier in my work of creating people-to-people exchanges of US and USSR citizens, I had cultivated relationships with Georgy Grechko and Svetlana Savitskaya, who walked in space years after Gagarin made his first orbit of Earth.
One spring, I spent a boat ride on the Moscow River with Valentina Tereshkova, considered to be the first female Cosmonaut to have flown in space. It was fascinating to listen to detailed descriptions of her physical and mystical experiences of outer space.
Soon after that boat ride I was called to the offices of the Cosmonauts in Moscow and was surprised and humbled when they presented me with their version of the Medal of Honor. The Medal was in appreciation of our work in bringing Soviet and American people together, including Russian Cosmonauts with American Astronauts.
Then, Barbara and I were being invited to go on a Soviet Mission to the moon! We looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “I’ve always wanted to go to the moon.” Barbara looked so surprised and said, “Rama, I didn’t know you wanted to go to the moon.” We found that we both had this dream since childhood.
“You can teach us Yoga before and during the expedition,” one of the cosmonauts exclaimed looking at me. They were enthusiastic at this concept. We discussed how the amount of oxygen one uses in space travel can be greatly reduced through Yoga breathing.
Now, 27 years later Barbara and I laughed in memory of those special moments in building our relations with Soviets from all walks of life and organizations.
At 4:30 am I awakened to another Thanksgiving Day. I didn’t start Yoga practices immediately but instead luxuriated in reviewing my conversation with Barbara the afternoon before. Barbara has continued bringing the Wheel of Transformation and co-creative synergy to other countries of the world as an example of how they can work together in building a positive future for their country and in turn…the world.
I give thanks this day and everyday to her for being a continuing inspiration in my life as well as a vast shining light on our planet.
Barbara didn’t talk of the President-elect and his many shortcomings, or of the antiquated and out-dated electoral system. She didn’t mention Hilary’s lead of two million in the popular vote, the largest margin ever for someone who would not be inaugurated. She did not speak of fear of the future of the direction of our country under conservative appointees. Instead, she spoke of all the positive opportunities of groups and countries now organizing under the model of the Wheel of Transformation.
As we said our goodbyes, my heart filled with hope for the future of humankind and positive possibilities. As a futurist, Barbara has always been a visionary way ahead of her time, seeing a vision that some of us could not yet see.
On this Thanksgiving day my heart was filled with love and gratitude for knowing this amazing woman and having the past privilege of traveling with her, working with her, and sharing stories of our visions of a positive future. Over the years, we also shared many stories of motherhood, as we both had five children each and faced many challenges in the fulfillment of our life’s destiny.
And now, she helped her daughter in the Northwest make cornbread for Thanksgiving dinner as I baked cookies in California at the home of my daughter, Andrea.
No, we never got to the moon, but Barbara helped me come to the realization of the words of Mother Teresa, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
For more information about Barbara Marx Hubbard visit these web sites:
I was deeply saddened when I recently learned of the passing of Magana Baptiste in May. Magana and her husband Walt were my teachers and inspiration for nearly five years, long before yoga gained its current popularity.
When I first moved to San Francisco in 1960, I noticed a huge sign in an upstairs studio that simply said YOGA. These four letters stood out like a beacon of light in the center of The City. After driving by this sign for two years, I finally found the energy, with baby on my back, to climb the seemingly endless staircase to enroll in Yoga classes taught by Magana and Walt. I did not know at the time that they would change the course of my life.
The classes were taught in a dark room with dim lights and candles. Soft inspirational music could be heard in the background as students with eyes closed propelled themselves through breath, effortlessly into asana. The classes were a marvel. It seemed as if we were in a continual meditative state no matter what the body was doing.
Magana taught Yoga and dance throughout her pregnancy with Baron Baptiste. She maintained her fitness and beauty during her pregnancy and over the years. She was like a Goddess in the way she brought dignity, grace, fluidity and beauty to everything she did. When she invited me to join her Middle Eastern dance troupe, I was honored and excited to accept, in hopes that some of the grace she exuded would spill over onto me.
The Baptiste’s were truly pioneers of Yoga in America. They were both students of Swami Sivananda in India who, through his disciples, populated Yoga here in this country. Together, Magana and Walt brought the mysticism of the East to this continent in an era when many confused Yoga with Yoghurt!
The Baptistes taught tirelessly throughout the years and expanded their work when Yoga became increasingly popular. Their methodology brought the students in closer contact with the inner Self, emphasizing the importance of the subtle body and the direct experience of Union with the Divine.
It is said in the scriptures of Yoga, that great souls are born into the family of Yogis. According to the Bhagavad Gita (chapter six):
“one of the best births, though difficult to attain, is to be reborn into a family of yogis”
Now the Baptiste children, Sherri Baptiste Freeman, Devi Ananda Baptiste, and Baron Baptiste carry on their parent’s work in ever-increasing, creative ways.
Magana and Walt gave me a powerful foundation of deeper Yoga that sustained years of exploration into other methodologies. Now I find students and teachers coming full circle to experience the breath and spirituality in asana rather than separating them from one another.
Even though Magana’s presence will be greatly missed on this earth plane, she and Walt have left an unending legacy of Yoga that will inspire many generations to come.
For this I am eternally grateful.
For more about Magana and Walt Baptiste see the following websites:
As the Monarch Butterfly makes its journey from Canada to Mexico it sees no borders, it sees no lines of demarcation of states and countries. This beautiful specimen sees no division of races and religion or beliefs, cultures and ideologies. In its flight, it transcends all dualities that separate nations, states and peoples.
Rama Jyoti Vernon
This election season has most people “on edge.” They are watching news channels, social media and conversing with friends and strangers in coffee shops, restaurants and even Yoga classes. There is so much passion associated with election choices that some Americans are becoming almost evangelical in trying to convert those of differing viewpoints.
Wherever I travel and teach Yoga, I am asked to address the issues of the campaign before delving deeply into the philosophies and practices of Yoga. However, I am finding that our perceptions feelings and choices during this election season ARE the philosophy and practice of Yoga.
Whatever our views of the candidates may be it is a great time to practice the Yoga Sutras by staying in what Patanjali calls the Buddhi Mind.
The term Buddhi comes from Bodh meaning “to know.” This could be considered to be “the overmind” where intellect is transformed into higher intuition. The Buddhi mind is all knowing and all seeing like the exhilarating experience of standing on a Mountaintop with an unobstructed 360 view.
In the Buddhi mind, we would not judge, condemn or criticize others. We would see differences but would not compare them. We would be able to hold two or more points of perspectives simultaneously without making one wrong to make the other right. In this state of mind, we do not cut off the heads of others to make ourselves taller.
In the Buddhi state, we would be able to listen to the viewpoints of another without reacting or defending even when a friend is evangelical with a missionary approach to convince us to vote for their chosen candidate.
However, at this time in history, it is so easy to be yanked off the mountain-top into the valleys below where our vision becomes limited, myopic and turned in on itself. This is the ego part of our mind that is having a heyday in American politics right now. The ego is that part of the mind that can understand only its own perspective. If it is not secure in that perspective, it will try to convince others to join it. It is the part of the mind that divides and separates, it lapses into anger, frustration and fear. It builds walls rather than bridges.
In our practices of Yoga, we do not repress, or try to annihilate the ego. But instead we befriend it like a lost orphan child, reaching out to embrace it, love it, appreciate it and help it to transcend itself into the more expansive states of the Buddhi mind consciousness.
Can we use the tension of this election season as our practice of Yoga to develop the equal vision of the Buddhi mind that is one of the qualities of a liberated sage? As we make our choices and cast our ballot, can we remember the unifying spirit that is within and behind all names and forms, and is guiding us all in our future destiny as individuals and as a Nation?
I have been traveling since receiving the very sad news of the passing of a dear friend and Master Teacher, Sir TKV Desikachar earlier this month. My heart goes out to his wife Meneka, his family and devotees throughout the world who carry on the teachings inherited from a great lineage.
The power Sir Desikachar brought to integrating ancient teaching into the world today will continue to inspire and light the path of Yoga throughout the millennia. A great light has been lost in our world but lasting legacy is left behind. Like his father, the spirit of wisdom and inspiration will forever live in the mind and hearts of Yoga aspirants for generations to come.
I wish to express my deep respect for Sir Desikachar and hope to convey the profound effect of this great Master on me.
The first time I heard Sir TKV Desikachar speak was at the European Union of Yoga Conference in Zinal, Switzerland in 1983. He was fearlessly castigating the huge gathering from all over the world for the flagrant use of the sacred syllable “Om,” on T- shirts, mugs and other items sold in gift shops.
He then turned his attention to the Yoga Sutras. He was so powerful in his delivery that his words still resonate with me today … “In Chapter I Patanjali says, Tasya Vachakaha Pranavah. It is commonly translated as the name of Iswara is Om. No!” he shouted holding the microphone with one hand while dramatically gesturing with the other. The vast congregation was transfixed. It seemed as if not a person moved or took a breath. “Pranava means to bring forth the name. It does not say Iswara, God or Om! Patanjali says to bring forth the name. He doesn’t say Om or Iswara,” Sir Desikachar repeated forcefully, at the distortion now circulating throughout the world Yoga community.
I remembered that my Sanskrit teacher also defined pranava as pra to bring forth and nava, as name. Sir Desikachar was powerful as he finished a talk that quieted the room bringing us all back to the deeper and more accurate aspects of Yoga.
During the conference, I met with him privately, asking him to come to the U.S. more often because students in this country needed to reintegrate the authentic spiritual teachings with the physical practices of Yoga. He refused to let me sponsor him because I had been sponsoring his uncle Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar in the U.S. Sir Desikachar allowed me the grace of loyalty, even though I felt I belonged to Yoga and not just one teacher.
Years later in 1995, when Unity in Yoga and the Israeli Yoga Teachers Association put on a conference in Jerusalem, Sir Desikachar came as a speaker and teacher. He said that he was drawn to the theme, “Yoga for Peace In the Middle East.” He too, believed that Yoga could be a vehicle for peace throughout the world. He and Indra Devi, a student of his famous father Sri Krishnamacharya, appeared on stage together reminiscing about the early days of her studies with his father, and his own reluctance to enter into the studies and practice of Yoga.
Later he took me aside saying, “I have never forgotten our conversation in Switzerland many years ago when you said that Americans are interested in spirituality. I always thought they were only interested in the physical. For many years, I have wanted to tell you that you were right and I was wrong.”
After that whenever I saw him, he would embarrassingly honor me as one who saw the great benefits of Yoga before he did. He told me of the struggle with his famous father who wanted him to continue the Yogic lineage but he wanted to be an engineer.
Sir Desikachar continued the Yoga lineage to give the world the benefit of his inherited knowledge. He was an amazing teacher of Yoga therapy, philosophy and life. He had an impeccable way of taking the most difficult concepts and making them simple, which is the definition of a true Master.
In 2002, when I went with a delegation of Yoga teachers to Chennai, India, his entire family greeted us at the Yoga Mandiram, which houses the Maha Samadhi of Sri Krishnamacharya. Sir Desikachar and his family welcomed us with flowered leis and welcoming Vedic chants. He and his wife Meneka gave us classes in the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. My heart was filled with the joy of being there in the center of this great lineage, inhaling the ancient scriptural knowledge and how to incorporate them into daily life.
When it was time to leave, Meneka honored me with a print of her watercolor painting of her famous father-in-law. As the group was boarding the van, I mistakenly mentioned to Sir Desikachar that I had taught for so very many years, and felt it was time for me to retire. He turned abruptly, caught me by the shoulders and with dark eyes smoldering, he emphatically said, “You cannot retire! You were in Yoga before I was! You saw its benefits before I ever could! You cannot stop now! You are the premier teacher of Yoga in the U.S. You must write and leave the legacy for teachers of the coming generations!” I was startled. It was as if the voice of God was either guiding or chastising me through him. “In the Bhagavad Gita it says something to the effect that if one takes in teachings and is blessed as you have been by many masters, and you don’t give it out to others, you are like,” he paused for a dramatic moment, “you are like a thief in the night.”
I left feeling as if invisible boulders were on my shoulders. That day he gave me not a mission but a commission that I took seriously. His words throughout the years have inspired me to maintain my teaching. When I feel weary, his words continue to motivate me to teach and share the teachings in writing.
My gratitude and respect for Sir Desikachar are eternal.
July 14, 2016
It seems as if each day we look at the news on our computer or turn on the TV, a new shocking event greets our senses. Whether we realize it or not we are being impacted by the energies around us. Elements of grief, mourning, fear and anger permeate the atmosphere and we feel it viscerally, in every cell of our being.
Last Tuesday was the day of the Dallas Memorial service honoring the five policemen who died protecting a march protesting the shooting of two black men by the police. My husband and I live about a two hour drive from Dallas where the weight of mourning hung heavy in the atmosphere, like clouds of a gathering storm.
Now just a little over a week, it’s old news. There is so much happening in our world in France, Turkey and Baton Rouge where three police were shot. Who knows what the breaking news will be tomorrow. We seek respite by shutting off the news, and find solace and peace in focusing on what is in front of us each day.
Just one day before the Dallas Memorial, there was an article in the Dallas News that sent a chilling ripple through my spine until I remembered that I was in the Republican land of Texas. Radio Talk show host Mark David wrote a message to President Obama before his expected visit. It was more of a warning, “Mr. President, don’t temper your support for the police during Dallas visit. You have often guided Americans not to venture one step into your definition of Islamophobia. We might give you similar advice. Please do not join the chorus suggesting that black parents need to warn their children of marauding hoards of racist police just itching to mistreat them.”
I groaned as my heart sank … one more separatist view, from one who isn’t hearing the voices that will grow louder if no one is listening. In the Yoga Sutras the first mind wave is perception. Conflict is always about perception. We are all like the blind men touching the parts of the elephant thinking our part to be the whole. If only we can listen to those who are touching one part until we are able to hear all parts expanding our consciousness to experience the entire elephant.
The next day after the article appeared, President Obama arrived in Dallas, giving Texans a message of unity and working together. Seeing him share the stage with George Bush and Ted Cruz was heartening. He demonstrated transcendence of polarizing influences in his words, his poise and graceful eloquence.
Even though this is “old news” just one week later, I was so moved that I want to share my impressions of the Memorial service, and some of the moving words that were spoken.
President George W. and Laura Bush stepped on stage of the Meyerson Symphony Center with President Barack and Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill. They solemnly welcomed one another with handshakes and hugs. It was a sad occasion to memorialize the five police officers felled by a gunman’s bullets in the Dallas downtown streets. American and Texas flags seemed to be everywhere, which after six years of living in this region, I know to be the Texas way.
Two police cars out front had become altar and soon disappeared under a mass of flowers, balloons, stuffed toys, poetry, prose and notes of love. These offerings spread to the surrounding area for many days.
A Marine color guard held towering flags in front of audience of police and other public servants who came from around the country. As they sang patriotic songs, families of the victims were gathering in the front row. There was a heightened sense of order and discipline in this gathering.
I wished that all victims of gun violence could receive a send off like this.
The Mayor of Dallas spoke of Unity across the divides, “We set the standard where policing can be strong and smart. There is a reason this has happened here at this time in American history. We can build a new model for our city, for our country. We mourn together…we are sad but will not dwell in self-pity. We have many bridges to build that we will cross together. This I know will happen.”
What a great affirmation, I thought, while holding the Yoga principles of Unity even when there is a great divide.
Three interfaith leaders approached the microphone. The black female Christian minister sent out a resounding prayer that was so powerful I was certain the rafters were shaking with the presence of God.
The Muslim Imam stepped up to the microphone. He humbly offered his prayer for the heartbreak of the people of the city.
“We ask You to put peace in our hearts that we may spread it to all those around us. We ask You to protect us from being people of injustice that we may purify the world of it, and as we ask You, we recognize that it is up to us to say, You did not create us for bigotry or vengeance. You did not create us to dominate or oppress one another. You did not create us for war. We are not the ones to judge who should live and who should die … So today we stand before You in humility and in determination; ready to pursue the peace, justice and equality that You demand of us. Ready to stand up against all of the evil that threatens to destroy the goodness in Your creation. Ready to stand up against any oppression in any name, for any cause, from any position, and against any of Your creation. “
I wondered how the people of this highly conservative area of the country would receive his presence at this gathering, and his words, “We ask that the voices of racism and xenophobia that seek to divide us are drowned out by the course of voices that say, You will not pit us against one another.”
The Jewish Rabbi offered his prayers, “Dear friends we stand here in compassion as children of the heavenly parent that has created us all in his divine image. In this moment of sadness and pain look to the stars above. They are so far away that we see their light long after the star is gone. The stars that light up the darkest nights are the stars that guide us as we remember those who lost their lives. They will be remembered as those shining lights of compassion and service.”
The Rabbi continued, “We ask for the healing of the brokenhearted. Please God please, heal the departed and their loved ones with strength and love. We pray, please God heal all who seek your wholeness. To first responders, please God please, heal them for they hurt along with us and give us all the permanent peace we seek for those angry, afraid and confused in our city, state and our country. Please God heal us all from the violence fear and xenophobia.”
There was that word again, I thought as he continued “ Please God Help us make peace here on earth for everyone. And together we say, “Amen.” The group all joined in a chorus of “Amen.”
The music began with gospel singers whose voices rose from their hearts and touched the heart and soul of us all. Whites, blacks, Christians, Muslims and Jews sang and prayed together. What a visual feast for human unity in the remembrance that the soul of humankind has no divisions and separation…but as Pollyannaish as it may sound, this was a testimony, if even temporary, that was a much needed reminder that we are ONE with our brothers and sisters of the one humanity.
If only we could hold that remembrance of our “oneness” in the days and years to come. If only we could hold it when life’s events cry out for justice for the hurts that others have knowingly or unknowingly bestowed upon us. If only we could hold this thought when others criticize us, betray us, deny us and condemn us.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, Republican majority whip spoke next, reminding me that I was living in the land of Republicans. “A local official told me that being a Texan doesn’t describe what you are, but who your family is.”
I cringed with fear that someone would find out that my family is from Northern California, a hot bed of liberalism! At this moment I wanted to be like the Monarch Butterfly and soar above all divides of consciousness; Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, red and blue, black and white, good or evil. My consciousness struggled to soar to new heights of seeing the oneness with all life forms and loving all equally. I was reminded of the words of the Persian Poet Rumi, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” How I longed for that place.
Senator Cornyn didn’t bring up the assassination of President Kennedy more than 50 years ago that brought deep sadness and shame to the city and people of Dallas. But he did say, “There was another life altering event in 2001, and President Bush is a reminder of how we responded as a nation with powerful courage. The police we are honoring here today ran toward the sound of gunfire. They shielded others so that others could live. I believe we here in Dallas can overcome the grief we feel now. They served their community and served this city. We uplift them in our prayers as well as those recovering from their wounds.”
He introduced Dallas resident, President George W. Bush who was eloquent in delivering his message, “I too am so happy President Obama and Vice President Biden have come here for this event. Law enforcement is our courage and our shield. Our Mayor and Police Department have been mighty inspirational for the rest of the Nation. These slain and wounded officers are the best of all of us, and with their deaths we have lost so much, we are grief-stricken and forever grateful for their service.”
“Each new day can bring new dangers…but no one could have been prepared. The forces pulling us apart are greater than those bringing us together. We judge those by their worst example by judging ourselves with the best of intention. We have a great advantage as Americans. We are bound together by things of the spirit and the spirit of common ideals. This is the bridge across our Nations deepest divisions. We honor the image of God in one another. We are brothers and sisters sharing a moment together on earth. We have one destiny. We don’t want unity through grief or fear, but hope and high purpose. We can build the country of our dreams. What we need now is not fear but love and self-control. This is the code of the peace officer. We feel their sense of loss. Your loved ones’ time with you was too short.” He motioned to the families. “They did not have time to say good by. Your loss is unfair, we cannot explain it but we can stand beside you and share your grief. May God bless you.” The audience rose to their feet in resounding and continuous applause.
The next speaker introduced by the Dallas Mayor was Police Chief David Brown who was met with thunderous applause in a long, standing ovation. He was superb during the shootings, bringing calm and peace to the situation through his presence. Brown is black. I expected him to give a mournful talk but instead he delightfully surprised everyone. His words were so refreshing and lighthearted.
“When I was a teenager I could not connect with the girls. I had no words. It was difficult to express myself. So I put together a strategy to recite inspiring lyrics to get a date. I would recite the lyrics to love songs. If I fell in love with a girl, I really had to dig down deep to Stevie Wonder for that special girl. Today, I’m pulling out Stevie Wonder for these officers.” His words were met with laughter, cheers, and applause, and when there was silence, he read,
“We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet you life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell
I'll be loving you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky, I’ll be loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high, I’ll be Lloving you
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea, I’ll be Lloving you
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream, I’ll be loving you
Until the day is night and night becomes the day, I’ll be loving you
Until the trees and seas up, up and fly away, I’ll be loving you
Until the day that 8 times 8 times 8 is 4, I’ll be loving you
Until the day that is the day that are no more, I’ll be loving you
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left, I’ll be loving you
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself, I’ll be Loving you
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through, I’ll be loving you
Until the day that you are me and I am you, Now isn't that loving you”
Then this loving and heartfelt Chief of Dallas Police said, “There is no greater love than this. These men gave their lives for all of us.” Before the audience could applaud, he added, “Now it is my greatest honor and privilege to introduce to you,” he seemed to grow taller with pride, “the President of the United States of America, Barrack Obama.”
Overwhelming applause and a standing ovation greeted President Obama as he approached the podium. President Obama lifted the people’s spirit by humorously saying, “I’m so glad I met Michelle first because she loves Stevie Wonder.” He acknowledged the former President, the Vice President and all city and state officials. This was the 11th memorial event he has attended in his eight years in office. Rather than having a speechwriter, he spoke his own words.
“History tells us that in suffering there is glory. It produces perseverance and that perseverance produces character and character…hope. Sometimes the truth of these words is hard to see. Now we are tested because the people of Dallas and across our country are suffering. We are here to honor the lives and loss of five fellow Americans. We are here to pray for the wounded and try to find some meaning amongst our sorrow. Last Thursday began like every other day for them. They got up had breakfast and kissed their family goodbye and went to work. But their work is like no other the moment they put on that uniform. When they answer a call any moment, in even the briefest interaction can put their life in danger not knowing the outcome.”
President Obama then named each officer giving a brief portrait on each. “The night before one officer Lorne Ahrens bought dinner for a homeless man. Michael Krol answered the call knowing the danger of his job but never shied away from his duty. Michael Smith answered the army’s call and then for 30 years worked for the Dallas Police Association that presented him with the Cops Cop award. Now his girls have lost their dad for God has called him home. Brent Thompson, an ex-Marine served in Iraq and Afghanistan and then settled here in Dallas as a transit cop. He was married two weeks ago.
These men and their families shared a commitment to something larger than themselves. They could have told you about the long shifts and long hours. Our entire life in America depends upon the rule of law.”
I suddenly realized that they were upholding what we call in the ancient Indian philosophy, Dharma, the societal structure of the times. Societal structures may last for years, centuries and millenniums. But the time comes for Adharma when old structures begin to crumble as the new tries to push through. With all the violence and changes we are witnessing in this country and the world around us, I wondered if this could be the chaos of change in an Adharmic period? Could it be that the old societal structures of the past that are no longer working and breaking down are like labor pains that precede the new birth?
President Obama’s words broke through my thoughts, “They were upholding the constitutional rights of this country in protecting the protestors. Even though police conduct was the subject of the protests, these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals they were. The Dallas Police Department posted pictures saying ‘no justice no peace.’ Some of them supported and even posed with protesters for pictures…and then the gunfire came … another community torn apart … more hearts broken. I know Americans are struggling right now…first the shooting in Minnesota and Baton Rouge and then the targeting of officers based on racial hatred. This has left us all wounded, angry and hurt. These deepest fault lines in our democracy have been exposed and even widened.’
‘Faced with this violence we wonder if the divides can ever be bridged. When we turn on the TV or surf the Internet, we see even more divides. It’s hard to believe that the center at times may not hold and that things could get worse. I am here to say we must reject such despair. We are not as divided as we may seem. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds from what I have seen of this country and the goodness of the people of the United States. You here have shown us the meaning of perseverance, character and hope.’
‘When the bullets started flying the Dallas police did not flinch or react recklessly. They showed incredible strength. They protected and evacuated the people and saved more people than we may ever know. Everyone was helping each other. It wasn’t about black or white. They were picking up people and moving them away. The police helped the woman shot trying to protect her four sons. She said to the Dallas Police Department that her son wants to be a policeman when he grows up” … thunderous applause and a standing ovation ... “This is the America I know,” President Obama shouted over the roaring of the crowd.
“In the aftermath of the shooting, we’ve seen the Mayor and Police Commissioner, a white and black man working together to unify a city with strength, grace and wisdom. The Dallas Police Department has been on the forefront of helping to bring people together. You have been doing it the right way. Thank you for your example. Again, there was thunderous applause and another standing ovation honoring all their efforts. When everyone finally settled back down into their seats, President Obama continued.
“I see people who mourn for those who died and weep for the families. I see what is possible when we see that we are one American family all deserving equal respect as the children of God. I’m not naïve. I’ve spoken at too many memorials during this presidency. We’ve seen how the spirit of unity born of tragedy can dissipate as we return to business as usual…old habits. I see how we slip back into our old notions because they are comfortable. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been. I’m reminded of John the gospel. ‘Let us not love with words and speech but with action and truth.’ If we are to sustain the unity getting us through these difficult times and honor these officers, we need to act on the truths that we know. This is not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We know the overwhelming majority of our officers are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. Anyone, no matter how good their intention, who paints all police with bias is responsible for furthering bigotry.”
“Those that do them violence are doing a disservice to the justice they aim to promote. We also know centuries of racial discrimination, slavery, subjugations and Jim Crow. They didn’t stop when the laws changed…they did not suddenly disappear with the voting rights. They didn’t stop with those who helped us achieve that progress, like Dr. Luther King. But now it is obvious that bias still remains. The bigotry still exists, even in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard it within our own leaders … we know it can be there. Most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better.”
“No one of us is entirely innocent and that includes our police department that is not immune. Studies show that when there is unequal treatment the justice is different for whites and blacks.”
“When mothers and fathers give the talk to their children and still have fear when their child walks out the door…knowing that if they don’t do it right, it can end their lives. Even after the civil rights act was passed, we cannot dismiss this as political incorrectness or racism. To have your experience dismissed by those in authority…it hurts. We also know what Chief Brown says is true. So much of the tension is produced because we ask the police to do too much and give so little of ourselves.”
“As a society, we choose to invest in schools. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier tor a teenager to get his hands on a gun than a computer or book…and then we tell our police, ‘you’re the drug counselor, don’t make a mistake that will disturb our peace of mind.’ Then we are surprised when the tensions boil over. We all know how dangerous these communities are where our police officers serve. If we can’t connect with those who look different from us and bring a different perspective we will never break this cycle.”
“We need to find the will to make a change. Can we find the character as Americans to open our hearts to one another? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity? It doesn’t make us good or bad…just human. I confess that I too sometimes experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these memorials. I’ve seen too many families grieving the lost ones. The lord says in Ezekiel, ‘I will give you a new heart. I will remove your heart of stone and give you new flesh.’ Let’s pray for a new heart not of stone, but a heart that is open to the fear and challenges of our fellow citizens. With an open heart we can stand in each other’s shoes and see each other through one another’s eyes.”
“With an open heart we can abandon overheated rhetoric not just to opponents or enemies. With an open heart, we can acknowledge the efforts of this Department here in Dallas. Police can say we are not perfect but can we find solutions not with racial violence or an attack on cops, but to live to our highest ideals. This can be hijacked by the irresponsible few whether black or white. Even those who dislike the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter,’ surely we can feel the pain of Alton Starlings’ family.”
“We can feel the affection of Mr. Castile. He was a gentle soul. These lives mattered to all those who knew them and their family. Perhaps we can join sides…to do right rather than always seeing what they’ve done wrong. The killer in Orlando and Charleston…We know there is evil in this world.”
I always cringe at that word. Spelled backwards it is “live.”
“That is why we need a Police Department but as Americans we can decide they will not drive us apart but help us come together to share the hopes and dreams of our future together. For all of us life presents suffering, accidents, loss of loved ones and calamities, natural and manmade. Often we make mistakes. We learn we don’t always have control over these things. But we can control how we respond to the world. Our founders gave us institutions to guard against tyranny and a democracy to work through our differences and debate them peacefully. America gives us the capacity to change … but as the men and women we mourn today, these five heroes knew the most, we cannot take this nation for granted.’
“We do not persevere alone. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow men down but it is found by lifting others up. This is what I take away from the lives of these understanding men. I believe our sorrow can make us a better country and our righteous anger can be transformed into more joy and peace. We cannot match their sacrifice but surely we can match their sense of service. We cannot match their courage but perhaps we can their devotion.” The audience sprang to their feet with thunderous applause as President Obama lifted his hand and shouted “God bless this country that we love.”
The organ played as the choir sang, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is stomping out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Hallelujah.
I felt patriotic for a moment even though I shuddered with images of the Crusader’s invasions and occupation of the Middle East in attempts to convert “the infidel.” The choir didn’t sing it … but I could not help but think of the words “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.” I wondered if this was the origin of the Mideast conflict we are experiencing today. “His truth is marching on.”
I thought of the Pete Seeger song, “When will we ever learn.”
“Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” Men and women burst into song, separately and then all joined to sing that his truth is marching on as pictures of the five fallen men flashed on the screen.
As the songs continued I couldn’t help but wish that all those who have died under the hands of the police could also be honored in this way. “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!” My heart was lifted into the heavens as I imagined the blessings being showered upon all victims of shootings and violence and those that were the cause of human suffering. Their souls too needed the light for their own transformation.
The group quietly filed out as newscasters rushed in a little too quickly, to give their summary of the event. I wondered if they would be able to capture the heartfelt words of all speakers and the mood that prevailed in Dallas today. Young and old, black and white all religious denominations joined together, cried, embraced and loved.
I was witnessing the blessing that Yoga gives when long-stored impressions in the psyche rise to the surface for healing, new understandings and transformation. Just as individual impressions arise from our psyche, there is also the collective psyche where deep societal impressions arise to the surface of our social body. Until they arise, they cannot be fully healed. As we say in the practice of Yoga, “The invisible must become visible before it can be eradicated or transformed.”
Yes, I thought, President Obama was right. Memories are short, we may return to old habits. But, I thought, it will never be the same. The lid is off and deep dialogue is beginning. There will no doubt be more marches for justice, more shootings, more pain and heartbreak but instead of dividing us from one another, perhaps these events can now bring us closer together.
This day was not an end, but only a new beginning.
My husband handed me the Dallas Newspaper. Huge black letters spelled out, “We’re Hurting.”
Yes, I thought. We are hurting. My husband and I live in a small city in the backyard of Dallas where a mournful pall hangs over the region.
The day before, I watched thousands of men, women and children of every race, religion and walk of life, stride peacefully through U.S. city streets. They were walking to protest the injustice of the latest shootings of two black men at the hands of white policemen. It was my hope that they were also walking for the injustice and violence everywhere.
Some walked in silence casting their eyes downward in prayer, and others looked up to the sky stretching their arms as if inviting the heavens to the earth. Other marchers reached out in a united effort of peace, to link arms with strangers as if remembering that we are all brothers and sisters of the one humanity.
There is something almost reverential happening here. People in cities throughout our country were coming together, not just through social media, but as if guided by powers beyond human comprehension. I held the marchers in the light of protection, praying that outside influences would not interfere with what was becoming a demonstration of human unity.
In this united effort of peace, justice and change it seemed profound, as if another invisible energy was walking with the mothers pushing baby carriages, fathers carrying young children on their shoulders, teens marching with parents. Youth and elders strode forwarded united in their desire to end years of injustice and violence. Mexican families marched with heads held high in the inspiration of the moment in hopes for justice and human unity.
A Muslim child fell on the sidewalk and began to cry. Her mother in black robe and hair covered by a white hijab thanked the marchers who gathered around in caring and concern. My thoughts drifted to the fear tactics around Muslims, and what many call “radical Muslim extremists,” but at this moment, there was only caring and compassion.
Suddenly, I watched as repeated gunfire rang out and someone yelled, “Run!” Mayhem ensued with people screaming and running in every direction, not knowing the source of the gunfire. As people were running away, the police were running toward the origin of the gunfire, trying to protect the people in their path.
Race and culture, law and order, and guns seem to be colliding as integration and change struggled to bridge longtime chasms of separation. Live broadcasters grasped for information as tolls of death and the wounded kept rising.
I could not sleep that night but kept vigil as events unfolded, lighting candles, praying and meditating until dawn. Whether we were there physically or not, the events unfolding in our country are impacting us all. I hold all parties, all beings, victims and perpetrators in the periphery of my consciousness. I pray for the highest and best for all in the situation. As horrible as it appears, it is heartening to see the immense movement for long awaited change. Now, people are empowering themselves. Participants say in current protests, the police are invoking violence and arresting people while others say the police are helping and hugging protesters. This is one more example of not painting all faces and all groups with the one brush that deepens existing gulfs of separation.
The Dallas Police Chief who happens to be black, spoke of his own experiences, “I love Dallas and serving here.” He urged the people not to be part of the problem, “Be part of the solution. It is a time not for escalation of conflict, but a time to de-escalate.”
Right now, there is palpable support for all peoples in this region as a week of memorials and funerals begins. A Dallas county official said, “Police officers are grieving. The people of all colors here are grieving. The community is diverse but there is growing respect for one another as we share in our collective grief. This is an incredible opportunity to bring us closer rather than be pulled further apart.”
The news anchor asked, “What does Dallas need?” The police commissioner didn’t skip a beat, “We need patience. We need this to mean something to this community and to this country. We need this to mean something to both white and black families. They need to feel our support for them. We need compassion and to become part of the solutions. We can’t let the politicians and the talking heads pull us back into our small corners of misunderstanding.”
I felt an amazing spiritual undertow that is bringing up issues that have long been hidden and buried for way to long. The practice of Yoga is meant to bring up embedded impressions in our cellular psyche for healing and transformation. Just as this is done individually, it also happens collectively in communities and nations. What is happening in our outer world is impacting us all, whether we know it or not.
Today, the Dallas newspaper’s front page has a picture of a huge eye with a giant tear welling up and dropping from the lower lid. “This city, our city, has been tested before,” an editorial said. “Now we face a new test.” It has been over fifty years since President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, but the article printed under the tear said that city is still impacted by that event. It seems as if the latest shooting in Dallas is bringing up the city’s past, unhealed wounds.
There is so much pain and unhappiness existing in our world today, and the question is, can we still find our center of joy and contentment in the midst of loss; loss of feeling safe, loss of trust in our leaders and politicians, loss of stability and security? The question now is, can we stay centered in the midst of change? As the Buddhist would say, Anicha, Anicha…changing, changing. A teacher from India once said, “Change is inevitable. Can we bathe in the same waters of the Ganges twice?” Years ago, when I tried to swim in the swift waters of the Ganges near its source, I wondered, if it was possible to bathe in the same waters even once?
When we feel powerless in witnessing the rapid changes happening in the world around us and wonder what we can do to make a difference, it is important to dive deeper within the Self. Ask the Universe how you may serve. You may be surprised at the answer. Some are meant to work for change in the outer world and others may be called within to hold our country and our world in the light of expanded consciousness for the highest and best for all.
Whenever I feel I’m not doing enough, I remember the words of Mother Teresa,
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
My husband and I just returned from a Baptist Church Independence Day event called “I love America.” The all white audience of about 10,000 cheered, cried, prayed, and sang along with the 250 person choir and 60 piece orchestra. Young women donned Civil War fashions in the antebellum era of our pre-Civil War area of East Texas. Uncle Sam and a statue of liberty joined hands in solidarity as they marched down the aisle of this vast and beautiful auditorium.
The American flag was everywhere. It decorated balconies, walls, and ceilings. People wore it on their bodies, hair ribbons and hats. We marveled as a huge blimp, with an American flag stamped on its sides flew over our heads from balcony to balcony. Mickey and Minnie Mouse strolled down the aisles along with Texas long-horned steers. Donald Duck joined the children as they danced through the aisles in superhero costumes. There was a plethora of balloons and bubblegum as flowered leis were placed around our necks.
It seemed to be a composite of an old tent revival in the modern world, a Barnum and Baily three-ring circus and Cirque du Soleil, as young gymnasts twirled head-over-heels with and without hands touching the floor.
My mind was boggled with this array. I cried as the now- elderly vets were asked to stand so that they might be honored for their service to their country. Once straight and strong, their bodies were now bent and crooked with age and the downward pull of gravity, emotionally as well as physically. I could not help but wonder which war they had served in and if they ever doubted its necessity. As we sang the national anthem with our hands over hearts, they saluted almost defiantly with unblinking eyes that sparkled with past memories.
The songs were all related to America and the power of Christian soldiers marching off to war. The age-old message of the war between good and evil resounded through every cell of the body as the choir melodies wove their way into the chords of our hearts.
As the program honored our forefathers, I could not help but think how much the Natives of this land suffered under our settlements and occupation. As they sang of the founding of this great country, I could not help thinking that our government buildings and even the White House were built on occupied land by black slave labor.
When the choir sang of freedom, from the oppressive regime of the British, I once again thought of the British who viewed our colonists, not as heroes but as terrorists.
As the night went on, the American dream was woven into the fabric of Christianity. Even though this government was based on religious freedom, Jesus, the cross and Christianity rose to a dramatic crescendo, bringing forth a huge laser light cross that hung holographically in the air. Freedom and Christianity were inextricably interlocked as if we couldn’t have one without the other.
The Minister interspersed his words into the music reminding us that the Bible only honors marriage between a man and a woman, Jesus Christ is the only savior and that this country’s president should always be Christian.
Sophisticated laser technologies continued to criss-cross through the vast auditorium like a saber light battle between the light and dark forces of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Yes, I thought, in times of great change and transformation there is a return to the familiar, creating contraction rather than expansion of consciousness. Was it reverting to conditioned thinking and that which is familiar when congregants blatantly stated their belief as fact, “President Obama is not a Christian but a Muslim.”
I rushed home to finish my article for this newsletter and in comparison to the startling experience of “I Love America,” found my words dull and uninteresting. They were about Yoga and how its practice can be applied in our world of today. I wrote of the growing chasms of separation dividing people, communities, groups and nations. I referred to the vast polarizations that are widening wherever I travel. And how important Yoga is for teachers and students in these changing times. It is important to stay centered and calm in the midst of what appears to be growing chaos.
In Greek mythology there once was a forgotten goddess who was stricken from the pantheon of deities. Her name was Chaos. She was like the wind, creating turbulence, upheaval and change through her mere presence. Even the mention of her name would incite fear in the hearts of women and men who wanted their world to remain intact and unchanging. They would go to great lengths to control whatever they could in their environment — to give a sense of safety and stability. They shuttered their windows, and opened their doors only to those who were familiar; those who looked like them, thought like them and believed like them.
Instead of bending like the willow in the wind, and riding the tides of change, they resisted attaching to the old ways that once worked but had quietly without notice, become obsolete.
It is the long forgotten goddess Chaos who comes as a reminder that upheaval and chaos precede not only change but also longer-lasting eras of transformation.
As we grow increasingly forgetful of our global heritage with all life forms and beings, we tend to build defenses. We forget that the very walls we build as individuals and nations meant to keep others out are the walls that keep us locked in. We build our defense mechanisms as nations, just as we build them within ourselves. When we are in fear, as the Yoga Sutras initiate, we fuel separative consciousness rather than a unified field of all peoples working together for the betterment of all humankind.
Never before has it been more important for Yoga teachers and students to view the personal, national and global events as their Yoga practice. Can we do what Yoga suggests: “staying balanced and equanimous between polarities such as praise and blame, criticism and compliment? Is it possible to hold two perspectives simultaneously in a climate that demands our loyalty to one side or another? In the language of the Sutras, is it possible living in our world, to stay balanced between opposites such as Raga (attachment) and Dwesha (aversion)?
The essence of all Yoga is Chitta Vritti Nirodah, which means to quiet and calm the waves of the mind, even in the midst of turbulence. Just as the world around us influences our inner Being, our inner Being can also influence the world around us. It is easy to feel helpless with the rapidity of change. But in Yoga, we move to the center within ourselves and like the grain in the center of the mill, we remain whole, intact and untouched by the forces on the outer periphery.
Is it possible for those of us in Yoga to dive into a deeper practice than ever before and do the inner work that can change our world? Can we avoid the illusion of separation and instead of escaping from the world delve more deeply into it, holding two or more points of perspective simultaneously? Is it possible to have periodic media and social media fasts, to allow our brains and mind to relax without being emotionally tossed from one event to another? Can we calm our breath even in the midst of chaos to find our place of peace within ourselves?
Yoga is not an exercise, or just “doing poses.” It is a living, breathing organism that can be applied and expressed in our everyday lives. If we can do this as teachers and students of Yoga, then we will model the true teachings of Yoga.
When someone asked Mahatma Gandhi how to help in the non-violent movement to free India, he said, “Be the change you want to see for India and the world.” Practice non-violence within yourself and it will expand out to influence the atmospheres around you.
We now witness the upheaval of growing violence and injustice around us as it has existed for centuries. The question is, can we stay balanced between growing polarizations and breathe in the remembrance of the essence of Yoga. Is it possible for us to hold the Vedantic center of non-dual remembrance of the “Oneness that already is and has always been?” Even in the midst of the growing chasms of separation and change can we pierce through (the veil of illusion) and honor the Yoga or Union that already is.
This evening as we drove through the majestic gates of our landlord’s brick manor house, the house seemed to rise out of the twilight. The last glimmer of light rippled on the pond where our landlord’s ducks, Mandrake, Matilda and Marmaduke swam all in a row. These three snowy white creatures were inseparable. They even slept nestling their heads into one another’s backs and bellies and seemed oblivious to world events.
As we drove to our little cabin in the back of the property, I thought how each time I return home, I always look for the little ducks as a symbol of that which does not change. Seeing them, I sigh with the remembrance that regardless of outer conditions, all is well and right within the world.