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.
I was recently invited by Barbara Marx Hubbard, the founder of the Wheel of Co-Creation (http://barbaramarxhubbard.com/global-communication-hub/), to participate as a spokesperson for human relations sector of the “Wheel” at the 7th Worldwide Meeting on Human Values in Monterey, Mexico October 23-25, 2016.
It was an honor, and inspirational to be included in this global network of ‘solutionaries’ as they were called by the organizers of this amazing conference. They are those who are bridging industries and shifting consciousness: activists, educators, healers and innovators in their professions. I am moved to share some of my impressions.
Monterey is the most industrial center of Mexico and third largest city, and the most violent area due to the expansion of drug cartels and kidnappings in the region. Due to a generation of forward thinkers, it is becoming a model of synergistic co-operation among the societal body of the region. Instead of focusing on the violence, the newer generation seems to be building its own positive future using Barbara’s “Wheel of Co-Creation.” Barbara tells us, “We all know what isn’t working in our societies, but how many know what one’s country and the world look like when it works”.
The stated aim of the conference is to “connect ourselves in a multigenerational global initiative composed of what is creative and loving in the world. ….This is an initiative to connect systems that are working for the common good of all.”
I felt like royalty among the foreign presenters, who were each assigned a staff member fluent in their language to escort them to and from the 6,000-seat auditorium. The first day, I arrive at he massive hall and my eyes feasted on the decorative marching band dressed in timeless, fashionable long black suite coats with matching pants and tall black hats reminiscent of times past. The numerous silver buttons on each uniform were so highly polished they shone brightly even without the light of the sun.
Even though I would have liked to be out front as the Governor arrived, we were ushered into a small room for presenters. My gaze scanned the room looking for what I thought would be the image of Bruce Lipton, who I envisioned as a stalwart intellectual with large, nerdy glasses and stand-offish attitude. It is always so wonderful to have our stereotypes dashed into a thousand pieces! I sat down and began to exchange greetings with a man across the room. He was warm, friendly and exuded so much heart that I was pleasantly shocked when he introduced himself as Bruce Lipton. He came over to me and we talked uninterruptedly for a short while as he shared his transformation from scientific purist to someone who found spirituality through science.
Then I was introduced to three leaders of the Mayan community who joined us to pray and hold the space for this important event. They were the gentle ones, the wisdom keepers, and guardians who are in service to the spiritual authority of the original peoples. In their quiet presence, they represented pre-ancient wisdom and the heart and voice of Mother Earth. They didn’t have to speak…for they were the embodiment of the conference theme of “compassion.” In their presence, I felt unconditionally loved. I felt they could see through the surface layers of the personality into the Divine wisdom that dwells in all of our souls. I felt ‘seen’
“We all want to be seen,” I thought but, “Am I seeing?” Am I seeing in others the core of their Being rather than outer layers of self? Can I give to others what I would want for myself?
Our group was ushered into the auditorium for the opening ceremony. The Governor was the first to speak, talking about how there should be a new national anthem for Mexico and other countries throughout the world, “Most national anthems are about war. We need to change ours to one of Peace.” For years I had thought the same about the U.S. national anthem about ‘bombs bursting in air.’ What a brave thing for the new Governor to bring this up in one of his first official actions. Change of any kind usually brings up fear and in turn criticism and resistance.
The marching band was rather militaristic in their stance, their salutes and their upright rigid posture. We stood for the salute to the Mexican flag as the audience sang the national anthem. My 7th grade Spanish could not follow the words so I hummed along with the melody.
Next to speak was the Rev. Brown Campbell, The first ordained woman to be General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches, and now the Director of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution. She was eloquent, powerful and inspirational as she brought the theme of compassion into her words.
Another powerful woman then took the stage, Mary Robinson who served as the seventh, and first female President of Ireland, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She was dynamic and definite as she lit the fire in the audience of 3,000. She pointed out the dire emergency of climate change, as I thought of the media pundits who scoff and laugh at the “concept” of climate change which scientists continue to point out is a fact.
Mary gave little hope for the outcome in the Paris environmental conference. “We are at an important crossroad with our environmental relationship with Mother Earth. Climate justice requires human solidarity.” She emphatically awakened even the most desensitized conscience, “We need to change and change rapidly.”
Mary, like Barbara Marx Hubbard is ageless in consciousness as she continues to travel the world in the fulfillment of her destiny. Barbara, a protégé of Buckminster Fuller, is futuristic in her Universal vision of the Wheel of Co-creation that brings together governance, environment, education, health, human relations, spirituality, economics, media and technology. The wheel represents the social body of humanity and a society that “works.”
Barbara, at 85, “We are not growing older…we are getting newer. As women, we are moving from pro-creation to Co-creation.” As a mother of 5 children, she calls one’s work in later years a “vocational arousal.”
Barbara now summoned our group to go to a room in a section behind the stage. I was a little reluctant to leave because a panel consisting of participants from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the USA was speaking on “Protecting Our Children.”
The Mayans entered and sat in the outer periphery. Other supporters continued to enter the room and take their place as “space holders” behind us. An ochre robed Swami entered with his two assistants who were teachers and speakers in their own right. As I brought my two palms together in the ‘Namaste’ position I nodded my head in acknowledgement of the Divinity in him…and with thumbs turned toward my heart, within me also. The thumbs are symbolic of the Universal, and turned toward our heart center closes the space between the Universal and the Individual. The Swami put one hand on his heart, closed his eyes as if to acknowledge the Divinity of all whom he greeted. I truly felt his sincerity and felt blessed by his presence in the room. Later, he gave me a little book on Peace he had written and a picture album of his travels and meetings with Presidents, Royals, religious leaders such as the Pope.
Barbara, the founder of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution and the Wheel of Co-Creation introduced the process, “It’s interesting that Monterey, a place of drug cartels, kidnapping and ongoing violence has pledged to continue bringing community leaders together in working synergistically for the betterment of all within the region. The Wheel of Transformation represents not competition but harmonious cooperation of all the parts as working for the betterment of the whole. Is it possible that the growing technologies may be a gift to the earth and that the earth is giving birth to a cosmic humanity?“
As she spoke I suddenly realized that the wheel representing the social body of humanity was like our body. Both are intended to work harmoniously together in cooperation for the whole. In comparing the Wheel to Yoga, I saw it as a visual reminder of the healthy balance of body, mind and spirit.
Barbara then asked Juan Carlos to introduce the concept of The Wheel of Transformation. Juan Carlos presents a powerpoint with the brightly colored Wheel turning and taking on the design of the infinity spiral of the DNA. “You see, it turns like a Chakra showing the mutual interdependency that all areas strengthen one another if they work co-creatively together to create an evolution of consciousness of cities regions, nations and the world. We ask leaders in each of these sectors of Governance, such as Chancellors, religious leaders, educators, and those skilled in human relations to come together in collaboration and cooperation. This can and is creating synergy in our community. Technology is helping us to connect… to unite our talents. When we bring people together, they feel united…in Unity. When we encourage people it gives them hope, they don’t feel alone. We are continuing to work with the Wheel in cooperative synergy.” I heard Barbara’s vision coming through Juan Carlos into new generations of youth who have, as the Russians say, come into this world standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before.
Juan Carlos had our full attention as he continued, “Here in Monterey, we unite our talents and compassion with others. It serves to help the community to come together in collaboration and cooperation. This is creating synergy in our greater community. As we continue to meet and synergistically match needs and resources we move to the center of the Wheel of Co-Creation where all aspects of our society meet as One.”
I could not help but think of this center where all parts converge as the whole in Unity, or Union as Yoga. Juan Carlos seemed to grow taller as he ended his presentation, “This is an era for synergistic cooperation.” We all applauded, not just his talk, but for the herculean effort required in bringing the community of Monterey together to focus on the united positive efforts of community leaders.
We were meeting around four tables joined in a square. Barbara would have preferred for us all to meet in a circle. She asked each of us to speak for seven minutes on the lifetime essence of our respective work and how it relates to the sector of the Wheel. Our select group consisted of people from Ireland, Chili, China, Argentina, Australia, India, France, Italy, Hungary, the U.S. and Mexico.
Ervin Laszlo, author of “The New Map of Reality: Introduction to the Holos Paradigm In Science” and founder of the Club of Budapest, appeared to be Barbara’s white-haired, small-framed, brilliant counterpart. His life’s work was building planetary infrastructures. “These initiatives can be described as ‘subtle activism’ which is promoting the evolution of a new mindset of consciousness that is leading to the revelation that every element is part of every other part. The Cosmos is a unified whole evolving from its fiery birth to ever-higher levels of coherence and complexity. Human consciousness is a non-local projection of one-consciousness of the Cosmos. Existence is an infinite cycle unfolding in space-time and beyond.”
Bharat Mitra, was representing Environment in the wheel. He quietly whispered to me, “I don’t know why I am in environment.” What a humble soul, I thought gazing down at the outline of his accomplishments. Bharat is the founder of Organic India, an India-based Company that has become a global leader in the organic wellness product market today. His work is serving as a model vehicle of consciousness in the world. Later, I asked him about the 250,000 India farmers who committed suicide due to Monsanto’s policies. “We think it is well over 250,000. Due to our project, the farmers have stopped these futile acts of suicide. They now have hope.” He had a unique transcendental approach to the environment, “It is a state of non-separation in which all life forms are recognized as being a unique expression of the same Source, or Gaia.”
Each speaker seemed to hold somewhere in their consciousness and presentation, the convergence of polarities and the essence of Oneness, which is Yoga. It seems as if all roads here lead to Yoga.
At one point in my conversation with Bharat, I shared my stereotype of Monsanto as the Darth Vader of the Universe. He gently reminded me that they too needed our compassion. His words went through me like a velvet blade. Of course, in practicing and teaching peace and conflict resolution, citizen diplomacy, and Yoga, I emphasize transcending stereotypes to see another as oneself. For years I have reminded others that there are no others. I forgot and lapsed into separation.
In this conference with the theme “Compassion,” one of the amazing speakers was reminding me, to return to Center. My thoughts surrounded the periphery of mind. There were so many elements of this one phrase, ”Monsanto needs our compassion too.” Where else had I lapsed into separation consciousness? Nuclear plants? U.S. military aggression and occupation? What we resist does persist.
I want others to leap across the line that separates a terrorist and a hero. But, I have not been able to cross the line of holding love and compassion of all those who comprise this entity called Monsanto. Instead of trying to get rid of Monsanto in India, Bharat formed an alternative.
During the Cold War years, I did just that in bridging relations between Americans and the Soviet Union to help change stereotypes. Gorbachev later said those efforts helped end the Cold War. The Soviet officials affirmed this saying, “You did not come here to tell us we were doing it wrong, you simply showed us another way. I didn’t see the Soviets as the enemy. Can I apply the same approach to Monsanto?
Speaking of polarities, Ted Chu from China was the next to speak. Representing the spoke of the Wheel on Economy, Ted was an influential executive for the World Bank. “There are still 60 million children without even access to primary education, 50 million of them living in Africa. Even in mid-income countries, the contrasts between the rich and poor are stark. We are all humans. We are equal. Why do some people in rich countries enjoy higher standards of living and more fulfillment of life? As the refugee crises in the Mideast shows, developing the economy is fundamental at helping the world in solving various political, social and cultural challenges.”
Ted then shared his hurt with the image people have of the World Bank. “We are doing very good things, especially in developing countries. Why do the NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) not like us?“
My mind raced to what economist friends shared over the years, “Steer clear of the World Bank.” Whether the projected images were true or not, I was now challenged to transcend my crystallized thinking that kept them and myself in a box. Now I needed to add the World Bank to my compassion list.
Ted bravely took up the gauntlet for his employer, the World Bank. He gave an example of bringing a dam or industry to a country where some may not want it. The project would give utilities and power to three million people and in turn create jobs and change their standard of living. Perhaps 3,000 families would have to move and relocate but they don’t want to. “If we can benefit three million and create more jobs through industry, we have to sacrifice the few to benefit the many.”
Ted sounded as if it were a revelation that people did not want change and resisted it. He repeated, “Unfortunately, there are times when we must uproot the lives of the few if it will benefit the many.” He stopped, took a shallow breath expecting our agreement and understanding. Ted’s words hung over the room like a dark cloud. At the end of the conference he shared that in these three days, he came to realize that perhaps a few hundred people were as important as a million and the World Bank had to find ways to help people in serving the greater good. I marveled at this immediate transformation.
When a person has been working and inspired in their field, it seems as if there is a place where minds and hearts meet in an unspoken understanding. Those who have traveled the hills and valleys in the fulfillment of their life’s destiny recognize one another. They silently hold the space for others as they move through the trials and tribulations in the fulfillment of their own life’s destiny.
Over the years, in working with Barbara, I marveled that her work is always solution oriented. She does not dwell on the negative, nor ignore or repress, but focuses on what is working. This gives her life’s vision a beautiful balance of the socio-political and spiritual awareness. Just as Bruce Lipton found a place where science and spirit meet, Barbara and those within her network silently radiate the balance of the two.
Justin Rosenstein was the next to speak. He was representing the Wheel spoke of Technology, and the youth who will inherit the world. Justin was the creator of the “Like” button on Facebook and the co-founder of the collaborative software company, ASANA.
He shared with our group, “From an evolutionary perspective, this sector of the wheel would have all technology productions devoted to helping humanity thrive. Technology can multiply human capacities.” Justin then said something that betrayed his young years, “One of the objectives of technology is a way to work less. The end state of technology is that we want work to be no work.” Could this be a concept that divided the elders from the youth? Members of our group asked, “What would people do?” Justin answered, “They can work on their spiritual life, or spend more time with their families.”
After a break, Sandra de Castro Buffington, Founding Director of the Global Media Center for Social Impact (GMI) at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, brought heart and deeper spiritual understanding to her field of new media. She emphasized the need to revive the ancestral importance of storytelling and how this could relate to every spoke on the Wheel.
Bruce Lipton’s words were brilliant, “The most important emerging paradigm in the Health Sector promoting civilizations’ ideal state is represented by the new science of Epigenetics. My personal involvement with this new field of awareness is derived from my pioneering research on cloning stem cells 48 years ago. Conventional genetic science has led the public to believe that genes control our biological fate. Since as far as we now know, we did not select the genes we received at conception.” His words slowed down dramatically, “AND that we cannot change our genes. If we do not like our traits, we are left to conclude that we are “victims” of our heredity. In contrast, epigenetic science reveals that through consciousness, we can control our genetic activity. The new science emphasizes that we are masters of our fate and not victims of our genes.” In this statement, Bruce brought together what is called the “new science” with the ancient science of Yoga. In demonstrating the Wheel of Cause and Effect found in the Yoga Sutras, it actually shows exactly how we are the architects of our own destiny. It is so wonderful when modern day science and Yoga converge.
Barbara proudly introduced me as one who meets with terrorists, “Rama holds their hands, looks into their eyes and asks them what they FEEL.” To me, this was quite a normal experience but to Barbara the impact was magical. I shared a few stories of compassionate listening and the transformational impact of this simple practice. And how it was possible to bring two warring republics of the Soviet Union together in Kiev, Ukraine when three governments failed. These stories were simply to demonstrate possibilities that go beyond our rational understanding
I shared my experience with the Dali Lama in the Middle East. We hiked up a mountain for a sunrise meditation. He gazed out over the terrain where four countries of the Middle East meet. He said, “I don’t see any environmental borders here, which makes me think that the only borders are those within the human mind.” I used this story to illustrate how we can transcend our stereotypical borders, “What is perceived as a terrorist on one side of the border, is seen as a freedom fighter on the other side.”
Bharat, who was sitting next to me, was moved by this simple presentation. He turned to me and announced to those present in the room, “Rama does not practice compassion but after many long years of being steeped in deep practices, she holds compassion in every cell of her Being. No matter who she meets, they feel it.”
I thought, I have never met him before, how does he know all of the physical, mental and emotional practices of Yoga I have pursued for 50 years? How can anyone know that my practice is continual self-observation in daily life? I apply the model of the Yoga Sutras in all walks of life, every action and interaction, in all relationships, with Yoga students, friends and family that can be the most difficult of all.
My practice has always been a continual refinement of my own evolutionary process. How can I be the change I would like to see within the world? How can I perform actions that do not harm? How can I speak only the words that heal rather than wound the hearts of others? How can I refine my thoughts so they contribute to a more peaceful world rather than a world of more division, separation, anger, and lack of forgiveness.
I try to be continually aware of any thoughts of criticism or judgments that arise in the field of mind and attempt to practice Ahimsa, non-violence, every day every hour of my life. When I fail, I remember Mahatma Gandhi’s saying, “Ahimsa is the finest quality of the soul. Anything you do will seem insignificant but it is important that you do it.”
I wondered how anyone who I just met could understand these deep inner practices that are so close to my soul. I turned to Bharat and quietly thanked him for “seeing” me.
Since the theme of this year’s conference was Compassion, I could not help remember the Dalai Lamas definition of compassion: Love plus nonattachment equal compassion.
Waiting for the next speaker, I wondered, what is the essence of love and nonattachment? Could it be that if we love the Divine in everyone, we will not be attached to anyone? It seems as if the essence of compassion is not being attached to the personality of a person but to the essence of the “One” within all, just like the center of the Wheel of Transformation. Does compassion defy the laws of the downward spiral of the personal pull of gravity to look deep enough into the human heart and soul of every being? Is it compassion that lies at the center of the Wheel? Is it where all souls meet as brothers and sisters of the one Humanity?
Each speaker brought a new dimension to compassion as well as positive solutions to the world’s crises. Is it a crisis of emergence? Is it the Goddess Chaos that precedes all change? Is it chaos that gives birth to a new order, a chaotic system that arises out of it’s own ashes like the Phoenix?
One of Monterey’s great musicians gave us all a musical experience of compassion. I’ve always seen the artist in any media of expression as being a divine channel of spirit streaming into the earth plane.
Even as I write this, my heart is moved to tears remembering the heartfelt musician who gave us all an experiential taste of compassion in his beautiful song “Angel of Winter.” It was a composition that came out of his first trip to Guadalajara where there is an extraordinary number of street children. “Angel In Winter” is about a two-year-old child who was found frozen one unusually cold winter trying to seek shelter in a cardboard box just big enough for his tiny body. The song was a eulogy to this angel who finally found liberation from the hunger, cold and loneliness of the streets.
The musician sang of the passersby that ignored the child’s outstretched hand for help and those who could not meet the eyes of this tiny beggar even though seeing his desperation to survive. He sang of the bitter cold that forced the toddler to seek shelter in an old cardboard box and how the child must have looked to the light of the stars to lift him out of his suffering to a heavenly place of liberation and freedom.
He sang of the feeling of loneliness, of abandonment and of the hunger of the human heart as it seeks to find its place in life. He sang of the indifference of adults to turn the other way when faced with the suffering of others.
As his music awakened our hearts, I thought of Mother Theresa who defied her own Order when she could no longer look away from a youngster who was dying of starvation on the streets of Calcutta. She sat on the ground next to a dying young man for hours until he took his last breath. She felt helpless as she was instructed by her superiors not to do anything in these situations.
When I met her in later years, I remember her saying that what mattered most was that each person feels loved, and cared for before they die. She intimated that there is nothing worse than dying feeling hungry, lonely and unloved.
As the musical sounds of “Angel of Winter” poignantly wafted through the rafters of this massive auditorium, the composer moved his listeners to tears and open hearts. He sang that in seeking refuge from hunger and cold, the two-year-old forgotten child finally succumbed to the only arms that reached out to embrace him, the arms of death. He sang of the yearning for the soul to take flight guided by the shimmering stars visible only through a tiny opening in the box. The musician’s words were transmitted from his heart into ours as he sang of how in dying to this world, the child’s spirit was lifted into the galaxy of heavenly light.
He wove us into the world of this forgotten child, expanding the heart to embrace the forgotten child of all ages and all countries. I thought of the mass migration of refugees from war torn regions who were seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
I remembered the story of a friend who wanted to go to India and work with Mother Theresa. She turned him back in on himself, “go home and look to the spiritual hunger of those in your life.” I could not help thinking how physical hunger is far more visible than spiritual hunger and Mahatma Gandhi saying that poverty is a form of violence.
The music ended but the effects lingered on. There are moments when the heart opens and moments when it lies dormant. There are times when we are insensitive to the suffering of others and times when we feel another’s pain as our own. If we keep our connection to a higher power of the Divine light in all and in all situations, we can feel the pain of another while holding the lifeline of the remembrance of a place that transcends suffering. When we can hold these two polarities, which is the essence of Yoga, our presence becomes a silent reminder if even for a brief moment, to transcend the illusion of pain and suffering.
Compassion transcends sympathy, looking beyond the personality to the Divine in each person. In the philosophy of Yoga there are many degrees of compassion. There are times we may think, “my heart is not big enough, my arms are not long enough to embrace the world.”
When we feel we have reached an end of our ability to love, we have only to breathe and fearlessly let go into an ever-expanding universal feeling of compassion. If we can, others will feel it …beyond words…beyond good deeds. It seems as if when we are with a person who doesn’t speak of compassion but embodies it, we feel unconditionally loved. This is the awakening of Iswara, the eternal cosmic vibration symbolized by Om. Iswara, the teacher of even the most ancients is omniscience, which is considered to be the ultimate in expansion of compassion. There are layers of compassion. As ours expands into the outer periphery of consciousness, it embraces all Beings, beyond borders and boundaries of polarized perceptions.
Compassion is contagious. If others feel it from us, then their hearts too will ignite and in turn ignite the flame in others. As we pay this forward, we can change our environment and in turn, we can change our world.
On my last day in Monterrey, the rain has stopped falling. The sun is shining. The cloudless sky is blue and the purple mountains are visible. As I wave my goodbyes to Monterey, Mexico, tears rise from my heart. I don’t want to leave the loving people who have opened their hearts to me, and those who have opened mine.
The next morning, the call to prayer awakened me from a deep slumber. I began to stretch gently into Yoga poses, reaching into infinity for two or three hours before leaving at 8 am to travel to a refugee camp health clinic outside of Nablus. The morning drive was spectacular. We took the back roads that the Palestinians complained they had to take that wound around the hills of the countryside. It was so beautiful to gaze out at the groves of olive and fruit trees, to see the grapes growing in the distance and to observe the gentility of life as it once was. Suddenly, more settlements appeared on the horizon and the reality of the moment encroached into my dream world and a deep-seated sorrow welled up in my heart.
We were driving toward the green line where the rural territories of the Arabs clashed with the progressive highways, well marked roads and freeways of the expansion of Israeli territories. It took two hours to go a distance that if allowed on Israeli highways would only take a half an hour.
Our driver wanted to show off and picked up speed winding around any cars that dared slow down in front of us. We sped through a few villages where the women wore black robes and white hijabs folded over their shoulders like a nun’s habit. When we arrived at the clinic, I noticed the clinicians also wore the long black robes and head mantels like a nun. I wondered if this was where the nun’s habits originated. But there wasn’t time to think. Bashar, one of the men in the previous men’s workshop, was the one who requested our coming to this clinic. In the men’s workshop, he experienced so much release of stress. He wanted to open this up to the psychosocial workers, doctors, dentist and other health workers at the clinic. Bashar was at the door to meet us and brought us in to meet with the doctor who was the director of the clinic. The doctor shared with us that there were only four, or sometimes only three doctors, who each saw about 117 patients a day. He said, “Usually our waiting room is overflowing with patients and sometimes our day doesn’t end until eleven o’clock at night.” The doctor then shared that the building we were in was only one and half years old and they were so proud of these latest facilities. It was funded by one of the countries of the United Arab Emirates. They seemed to be proud that people of other Arab countries were now helping to support the Palestinians within the territories.
“This clinic serves the refugee camp we are in as well as the refugees who live in the village,” the doctor said. A female director came to collect us before we taught our first class of the day, which would be for women patients in the clinic.
The women arrived in their Abayas and Hijabs and obviously were not going to remove an ounce of cloth. We asked each of them as we did with all of our groups, where they needed help. As always, most all of them answered that they needed help managing stress. We were in a tiny room with no mats or rugs and interconnected chairs on each side. With every class and workshop we were always adapting to various situations, which changed not only from day to day, but also hour to hour. We briefly introduced the benefits of Yoga breathing by having them place their hands on their abdomen, ribs and clavicle area while sitting in a chair. We had a momentary interpreter who would be called out by her cell phone every 15 minutes. Without language, we began to lead them into simple Yoga movements by having the women stand and bend over in their robes and Hijabs placing their hands on their chairs. They were embarrassed to expose their backside even though they were fully covered and called out in Arabic for the blinds on the one small window, that looked out onto a blank wall, to be closed. We immediately responded with a small smile of understanding on our lips as we helped close the blinds.
I could not help but invoke the help of the Gods. It was a bit like our time in Afghanistan, when Shraddha and I were teaching the women who were under their blue silk Burkas. This small class of women refugees who were patients at the clinic was the most basic of all classes. Shraddha had them move their wrists, ankles, neck and eyes. We even got them to bend over their laps while sitting in the chair using the back breath to guide them deeper into surrendering their upper body to their lower. The women were responding. There was as much laughing as there was socializing with one another during the poses. Cell phones rang as usual and the women took the calls and settled whatever business with the family they had to do without leaving the room. I had to dive into deeper layers of simplicity knowing that it is the best of teachings. Oh how I longed to be complex. I heard Swami Satchidananda’s voice once more reminding me to reduce the teachings of Yoga even more into its most intricate common denominator. This seemed to be the most challenging of all the classes and workshops so far. After each movement we asked them how they felt. Their comments were positive so we continued with the simplest of things. At the end of our session together, the women were happy and we said our goodbyes. They were hungry for more Yoga, but we were hungry for food. We had only 45 minutes before teaching the next class. Bashar came into the room bearing packages of large cupcakes and bottles of grapefruit soda. From what we were told by many sources, diabetes was a major epidemic here in the West Bank. We were concerned about the children in some of the refugee camps who were eating “chip sandwiches.” This is where they put potato chips in between two pieces of bread.
Bashar, who expressed an interest in teaching Yoga, shared his intricate story of how he came to have open heart surgery. He was only 33 years old and had the surgery less than a year ago. He happily shared with us that the clinic and their culture could not mix men and women and that we had to flip a coin to see who would teach the women and who would teach the men. The men’s class would consist of 15 men and the women’s group 25 attendees. These sessions would be for the healthcare professionals who were under enormous pressure and stress from the continual demands of their work. The coin fell. Shraddha got the women and I got the men’s group.
They directed me to the patients waiting room where the men’s class was to be held. I groaned inside knowing this was not a good place for a class. There were no rugs, or mats to be seen, which meant we would do very simple practices on the interconnected chairs. After moving chairs in every direction, with people passing by, they decided to move us to a more private venue. Again, we formed a “U” shape with the interconnected chairs and we all settled in. After introductions and hearing what their interest in Yoga was. Bashar was to be my translator which later someone said, it was like having no translator as his English was so minimal. He couldn’t wait to ask the group how old I was. Our group that included the four doctors and one dentist of the clinic and a retinue of pycho-social counselors were all trying to guess my age when the doctor who was head of the clinic loudly stated “You are 40 years old.” I thanked him profusely in Arabic saying “Shukran, Shukran, my husband will be so happy to hear this.” We then talked about how Yoga can help one to look younger, but far important is how Yoga can help one “feel” Younger. They agreed saying they wanted to get rid of the aches and pains that one associates with aging. When they found out my father was from Lebanon they, like others on this trip began comparing me to a famous Lebanese singer. One of the clinicians leaned over to me and said “she’s dead.” “Oh thank you.” I said as we laughed and laughed.
I had taken a picture off the wall of the lungs, bronchial tubes and the avioli and used it as an example for showing the three lobes of the lungs and how it related to the three part breath. They put their hands on the abdomen to experience the lower breath that expanded the lowest and largest lobes of their lungs, we brought our hands up to the ribs for the not so large middle lobes of the lungs and then up to the clavicle bones to experience the smallest lobes of the lungs where the average person usually breathes. Like all the students here, they too were riddled with shoulder and neck tension. After we did the three part breath sitting in the chairs, I demonstrated on Basher how we could do the 6 part breath by putting our hands on a chair and bringing the breath into the back. I loudly declared “I’m a grandmother, so I can touch your backs.” We all laughed together.
They asked if Yoga could help high blood pressure. I explained how it worked on the autonomic nervous system, specifically the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves and how it relates to the right and left nostril. They had many questions and we discussed how the parasympathetic dilates and opens the blood vessels bringing the pressure down and how the nerves of the sympathetic that come off the thoracic and lumbar spine stimulates the adrenals that constricts the blood vessels bringing the blood pressure up. “With Yoga, I control my blood pressure and can take it up or down.” The doctor who was the director looked at me in disbelief, “without medication.” I shook my hand back and forth saying “no medication. I’ve helped several students to get off their blood pressure medication through Yoga.” It was hard for him to believe. Because Bashar was now attending to the staff and had to leave the room, there was no translator to tell them how it works. I thought of the beloved shoulder stand and forward bends that affect the parasympathetic nerves that come off the cervical and sacral points of the spine. I thought, but without good translation, did not say that the backbends affect the sympathetic nerves that come off the thoracic and lumbar spine which activate the adrenals that prepare one for “fight or flight.” What I was witnessing in our teachings here in the West Bank and the danger that even children face, people had their sympathetic nervous systems switched on most of the time. How I longed to give them a full Yoga class or workshop so they could experience true relaxation which comes from releasing the habitually contracted muscles and balancing the autonomic nervous system.
Now, what happened next was so comical that even the men thought it was funny. As Bashar was demonstrating a forward bend over a chair, his phone, across the room began ringing. One of his colleagues answered it and brought it to Basher’s ear so he could talk while in the pose. I thought, “this is the ultimate” I began to laugh and the men laughed with me. Finally we had them helping one another in this simple forward bend with breathing before coming to a standing position in Tadasana that we were now calling “The Check Point Pose.”
At each interval I asked them what they were feeling when they lifted their chest and moved the skin down the back. It was surprising to hear several say “I feel more optimistic about life in this pose. Some said, “I feel more empowered inside myself.” We discussed how Yoga can give us that feeling of self-empowerment no matter what is happening to strip us of our dignity. “It does not matter what is happening around you. If you don’t have peace around you…with Yoga, you can always find peace within you.” For a moment they became somber as they looked down as if accessing memories of past experiences of the occupation, nodding their heads in agreement. One man took a deep breath, looked up, lifted his heart center to the light and said “We are hungry for this.”
At the end of the session, the packages of cupcakes and this time orange soda was passed around. In India, they might call this “prassad.” How I loved their innocence and eagerness to learn more about Yoga. Afterward, they were filled with questions reaching out for more contact with this foreigner who brought Yoga, not from India, but from America.
Shraddha had a wonderful experience with 25 of the women. They began with breathing and standing poses, which included the palm tree, Tadasana, and the chair poses. Shraddha said that when they mimicked the animals, they laughed until some fell off their chairs.
They did the cat stretch over the chair and then she had them do a sitting lion’s pose. With this pose, they worked with the thyroid balance and lymph flow. After the lions pose everything dissolved into intense laughter and then she said, someone had a phone and pulled up middle eastern dance music as the women ended their class by joyously dancing to the music. We learned this happens when the women are with another and feel free and happy.
We were at the clinic from 9am to 3pm. The woman who was a nurse and manager of the clinic was proud to show us their areas for women’s health care. It was far more modern than we expected. She took us to the family planning department that did counseling as well as issued contraceptives for family planning. “Contraceptives”? Shraddha and I were astounded, we thought that in the Muslim tradition this was not allowed. There are so many misconceptions we all hold with our stereotypes which crystalizes people into mold that never changes..
The enthusiasm of both men and women made it difficult to get to the door and into the waiting taxi that was to take us this time through the countryside to Bethlehem. After a couple of hours, our taxi arrived in Bethlehem at Nahed’s house which was only a few yards from the wall. The Bethlehem wall was immense, forbidding and foreboding with corner towers that reminded me of a San Quentin prison tower in the California Bay Area.
Nahed’s beautiful large home was like an oasis. Our taxi driver could not find her home so as we waited at the wall for her to find us, we marveled at the graffiti art that was beginning to spread across the wall. Lots of bright colors and writing in English saying such things such as “make hummus not walls” and of course writings such as “Remember The Berlin Wall” and “Forget the Borders.” As we were standing about 3 feet from this section of the wall marveling at the massive art, the Palestinian man who lived abroad who was responsible for this graphite art came up to us and engaged us in conversation. “This was a dark grey wall whose presence was an ominous reminder of the Apartheid now present in the region of the West Bank and Jerusalem. I thought the wall needed to be brightened up a little and so I began doing this art in March, it is fairly new but we have a long way to go.” Cans of spray paint and colored marking pens and posters of the sayings on the wall were lined up in front of us. “I encourage people to express themselves on the wall for all to see.” He had a poster picture that showed the Pope standing at the Bethlehem wall and putting his hand on the wall as he was in prayer. “Wow, I thought, these amazing, creative strong-willed people will find a way around the obstacles even this horrific barrier and continual reminder of separation. When we finally reached Nahed’s house where we were to spend the night, she had food waiting as we ate everything she placed before us. We had only had twinkles that day and were ravenous by the time we arrived. We discovered that not only is she a wonderful Yoga teacher, she is also a marvelous cook
That night we had a chance to visit and share stories. Nahed said that she and her husband had bought the house with windows facing the view of the hills of Jerusalem one year before the Israeli’s built the wall that separated East Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Even though the house was high enough though for us to see the hills and night lights of East Jerusalem every day they gazed on the symbol and continual reminder of Apartheid.
Nahed left to teach a Yoga class and when she returned, we visited and shared stories. What I have found in my travels throughout the world that it doesn’t matter what country or culture one comes from, in Yoga, there truly is a universal language bringing us all into alignment as a one world culture. We were all so tired, we fell into a deep sleep until early morning.