Embodying Change at Bread and Yoga: A Wrap-Up
On Saturday October 20th, 2018 a curious and eclectic group of seekers met at Bread and Yoga in Inwood, Manhattan to explore the subtle and spiritual aspects of transformative justice.
As the groups facilitator, my intention for the gathering was to host not only a physical yoga practice (asana) around the theme of justice, but also to conjure up feelings of deep justice that go beyond our cultural urge to explain, reason or think our way into right action but to use our bodies as an important instrument of social change.
I opened the workshop by inviting attendees to enter the space and soak in some of the quotes and images scattered throughout the space. I purposely omitted who said what, to remove any bias of preferring one quote to another based on the person. Throughout this wrap-up I have scattered some of the quotes with their source.
“Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself so seriously.” - Micah 6:8 (MSG)
We opened the practice by framing why we have gathered and breaking down the title of the workshop into 3 parts. I also explained why this is personally important to me:
Embodying Change: Instead of allowing Change to be something that we are striving for outside of ourselves, how can we allow our experiences in our own bodies to inform how we move about the world and advocate for ourselves and others. To be the change that we wish to see in the world, we must allow ourselves to be the mad scientists and do the work on ourselves first. We also spoke of trauma and instead of allowing it to translate as shame, we have the agency to use our embodied experiences to inform how we advocate for justice.
Social Justice: This has become such a buzzword in our society. Often the word justice evokes a sense of right vs. wrong and hard punishment. The question that I presented here was: “How can we transition from social justice being something that we are passionate about into something that moves and lives in us and though us?
Practice: There is no end goal or check mark when it comes to justice work. As yogis we spoke of the importance of practice, allowing the walk to be the “goal”. I also touched on the importance of movement in social justice and how we can align ourselves and our yoga practice with what our actions are on and off the mat.
“Privileged people DO yoga. Empowered people LIVE yoga.” - unknown
As a WOC (woman of color) in an industry such as yoga and wellness, I have found myself being one of very few minorities inhabiting these spaces (despite the communities where these studios are located). I have found even less representation in terms of who is leading in these spaces. I find the same thing in my daughters school in this community. As yogis we are called to infiltrate the status quo with ahimsa (non-violence to self and others).
I am here to interrupt the systemic dominance of whiteness in our culture while inviting all voices to be present in doing so. Whiteness is not a color but more a privileged mindset that is often lead by an unconscious desire to dominate and control. To dismantle whiteness is to do so in myself as well. This is why I am interested and invested in the work of deep justice. This conversation is both welcome and encouraged at Bread and Yoga and I was honored to hold the space for this work to begin to unfold.
“If you are not learning in a diverse setting. You are being miseducated.”
- Parker Palmer
I opened the practice by leading the group through a guided meditation focusing on the 3rd chakra (Manipura), our spiritual right to act. It was a visualization meditation where the group was invited to draw on their power center of the solar plexus envisioning a blazing yellow or golden light. From this place of courage we rose to the 5th chakra (Vishuddha) envisioning a bright blue light filling the throat and neck. This is the house of our right to speak and communicate truth. They then were guided to travel between the two until they met in the middle at the heart center. The heart chakra is the central point of justice also known as the unstruck place. The blue and yellow lights merged to form a vibrant green light emenating at the heart. This is the house of our right to love and be loved.
In participating in this meditation we honored our innate rights as well as the rights that all of humanity deserve to experience. We then began to thread this light into an infinity sign looping from solar plexus, crossing at the heart, around the neck and throat, back across the heart and to the navel. This meditation has come to symbolize an embodied experience of deep justice within myself.
“Social Justice is what love looks like in public.” - Cornel West
I prompted everyone to think of one word in response to this prompt: How can deep justice move through me? We went around the room and introduced ourselves with our word. This was a powerful way to infuse the space with everyone's presence.
We then launched into a physical yoga practice around the theme of The Third Way. Below is my musing:
The creative, transformative dance between attachment and detachment is sometimes called the Third Way. It is the middle way between fight and flight, as Walter Wink describes it. Some prefer to take on the world: to fight it, change it, fix it, and rearrange it. Others deny there is a problem at all. “Everything is beautiful,” they say and look the other way. Both instincts avoid holding the tension, the pain, and the essentially tragic nature of human existence. The contemplative stance is the Third Way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the hardness of reality and the suffering of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Once we can stand in that third spacious way, neither directly fighting or fleeing, we are in the place of grace out of which genuine newness can come. This is where creativity and new forms of life and healing emerge.
Process and Discuss:
After the practice we participated in a journaled stream of consciousness. We then partnered up with someone in the room who we did not know to share in our experience of the practice allowing this prompt to fuel the dialogue: “Why are you here and how can justice move through you?”
I encouraged everyone to draw on their deep listening skills by being present to their partners sharing without interruption of thoughts or ideas but to allow them to speak fully and truthfully. I also framed that some sensitive topics may arise and that this is the time to replace judgement with curiosity and to allow that curiosity to inform the work. This work is not about agreement, but all about honor.
When everyone had finished sharing, they then collaborated on key themes that came up in their sharing and were invited to write each theme or thought on a separate post-it note to gather and share with the group.
We circled up and at the center of the room around the drawings of the infinity sign and mobius band. Each pair was encouraged to share their thoughts and place them where they see fit on the loop. Here are a few snapshots of the collective brilliance gathered:
“ Social Justice is caring deeply for others and giving that caring a voice.”
- John A. Powell
Letting go of our need to know.
The importance of laying a spiritual foundation for social justice work
Listening as an act of honoring other peoples truths
Holding all in equanimity - a new paradigm process
Being ready for opportunities to share in others identities and experiences
Righteousness as a space that we can inhabit
What does it mean if hope is no longer possible?
The use of breath/spirit to create space in the tension. Breath in itself as an act of rebellion (ie. in solidarity with Eric Garner and those whose breath as been taken from them)
Relationships as the crux of justice work
What do we owe to our children?
New Yorkers are awesome!
Being different is cool!
Teaching/giving to others but also feeling depleted
How can we learn to be still? Stillness as focused vibration. A movement of the most subtle and powerful kind.
“Social Justice is welcoming EVERY BODY and valuing them as a unique part of the whole.”
- Sisters of the Holy Spirit
Needless to say, no one wanted this conversation to end. This circle was filled with heart and authentic conversation sparked by embodied experience.
We closed the workshop with a Tonglan Buddhist meditation introduced to me by the teachings of Pema Chodron in her book: Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change.
Instead of inhaling positivity and exhaling negativity (a very individual experience). We radically did the exact opposite and breathed in pain, suffering, hurt, injustice and separation and breathed out love, oneness, hope, healing and union.
Instead of looking to sustain ourselves individually, we looked to face our own darkness as a way to change and heal the world. In doing so we honor the rights of others to experinece light, beauty and peace to help sustain us ALL along this long and winding road to justice.
I believe that this work is not just important but critical for the evolution and sustainability of humanity. This community is especially thirsty to allow this to be more than a once in a while conversation but intertwined into the culture and fabric of their practice.
I look forward to hearing from you in how we can continue to bring these practices and conversations to the surface so that not only the yoga world can be shifted and change for the better, but also the collective consciousness of humanity.
“It’s not about what’s glossy. It’s about what’s necessary for the sustainability of the human spirit.” - Patria Diaz