There’s a Buddha statue that sits on my desk all curled up in a ball with his head sunk between his legs, hands covering his face sitting in sadness. I was given this statue years ago as it was said that this Buddha cries for the sorrows of the world. I don’t remember who gave it to me. At the time, I thought it was an unusual gift. Even so, every time I looked at the statue, I felt some relief, a kinship to a past that had the wisdom to know that suffering IS a part of life. It was back then, it is now, and it will continue to be in the future.
The last few weeks since I’ve written my last blog have been highly charged. Over 100,000 Americans have now died from coronavirus, we’ve seen extreme acts of racism in the northern and southern states, protests for our freedom and our humanity, and the destructive riots that have ensued in our own neighborhood.
It isn’t my intent to write a blog that starts out negative, cynical or to justify that we should expect hardship. Instead, my intent for this blog, written during this extraordinary period in our lives, is that it will push you to pursue how the landscape of our times reflects the architecture of our own inner being. Like it or not, our collective architecture is then responsible for the narrative in which we are living in now. It’s quite fascinating to recognize that you and I are sitting together in this time and space, accountable for what we are experiencing.
Contrast is the mother of clarity, and our experiences right now are clashing perspectives that give us anger, grief, and– like my Buddha friend–sorrow. Powerful enough, this information produces transformation. Like the crest of a raging tide, it eventually distills far and wide, calmly across the land. It’s hard to see now but we’ll gain clarity from it and be better for it IF we do the work.
Let me add here how difficult this week has been for me (and I bet for all of you), and how much I’ve wanted to deny that these unfathomable events are even happening. What has surprised me most is noticing my own thresholds of tolerance in question, as my empathy is usually in check, yet this week, my cup runneth over.
Ask a few of my friends and they’ll tell you that I’ve been sick. I was so sick the night I learned that we might not open until August, and that same night I watched the George Floyd tape and just became dizzy in despair. Our minds are so helpless in times like this. Mine was operating in full force to get me “to do this” or “to do that,” to engage in something that could pull me out of this sinking feeling and back into order and control. I thought of my Buddha friend again and noticed how he sank his head to his chest holding his heart. The wise Buddha Knows: knows to hunker down, embrace the wounded heart, and go within. From that healing, healthier next steps are born. We must each do as the Buddha and then come together collectively and do the same.
I’m like most of you, without an ideal practice environment to do my yoga. I don’t have heat or humidity equipment, mirrors or (quite frankly) the motivation, but I do manage to do my poses in my jammies on my rolled out mat with precision and duration. I do take my final savasana, but of late I have also noticed something different.
Outside of my same voices, percolating louder and louder, crowding my mental blank canvas, rattling off tasks yet to be done, there has been a more potent witness to my chattering mind. It has offered a greater force behind all that noise, which was a mighty impulse to stay! You might say I have great discipline or my conscious choice to “not react” was at play in which I say, yes both are very true. You hear us in class, “don’t let anything rattle your peace” and that does require English bulldog determination and Bengal tiger strength to rein in a monkey mind. But my impulse to stay wasn’t the raging tide I’m taming. It was the deeper peace that I was experiencing.
I love reading scripture and other spiritual documents that help my soul grow. One piece that I read daily says, “ I want to know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” I say it many times not knowing at all how to comprehend it. Yet, my instinct tells me that we are all supposed to experience just that and not later, but now.
I had the amazing privilege to go to these advanced retreats with Bikram years ago where I had the opportunity to practice both beginning and advanced class with him each day. In 2002, about 100 of us were in Las Vegas and he had Dr. Tushar K Ray, PhD come out and give us a talk one early evening. I stumbled upon his handout from that time just this last week, which says, “The real enjoyers of life are those that live free from bondage and can see reality as it truly exists.” Notice how he doesn’t say, how reality truly “is” but in how it “exists”.
My sorrowing Buddha was telling me that sorrow exists and my ability to have peace lied in how “free” I can live in the experience of it. Dr. Ray goes further and says, “Yoga distills one’s own attitudes, concepts giving us a glimpse of unity behind the body-mind continuum.”
“It’s your duty to not burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It’s your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization.”– Killer Mike, Speech at Atlanta Press Conference
Not only do we have the developed self-control to detach from current circumstances but our yoga practice also prompts us to go further and offers us a chance to see our responsibility in creating our own suffering. In so doing, we are lifted from our very own deep-seated discriminations, illuminating instead a peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding. My impulse to stay was my disciplined practice leading me to further investigate what lies behind my own human suffering, and as Dr. Ray, states, “these are the liberated ones.”
In the last three days, it feels like I’ve had 300 conversations about the topics at hand. Of course, my adult life has been devoted to Bikram yoga and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have that recognition as a “lifer” of this practice. So, most conversations are already skewed to the filters of my yogic understanding and those whom I talk to know it.
Yes, justice must be fought for and served rightfully in the case of George Floyd (for more context, read George Floyd: A Centuries Old History). Anything less shows a tolerance to the highest of immoral behaviors, savagely killing life. But alongside that is a higher imperative that we need to address: undressing our own moral fractures. Otherwise, we produce harm, intentional or not.
Last night on CNN, Reverend William Barber, Co-Chair of The Poor People’s Campaign, was interviewed, naming these protests as public mourning. “We’ve had enough. No job, no money, and no freedom – all fear and no hope.”
Protests (free of violence) are like my Buddha statue, as we collectively hug and announce what hurts and what needs to heal. My Buddha permanently sits in recognition of things past and things to come. Not for destruction, but for creation. Melt rigidity, use frustration wisely, open narrow minds, take down damaging walls and rise, exchanging the dark for light. I’ve done it and so have you – with yoga. Pursue yoga for health AND purity of your own soul NOW so none of this time is in vain, but becomes Call for your Peace and our collective Peace.