Sitting with Unrest, Acting for Change
The last few days have been intense for everyone, both on and offline. It’s been difficult for everyone everywhere. And yet, underneath the discomfort it really feels like we are on the precipice of a big and monumental change. Maybe this pain is what is needed to be felt by each and every human being to bring about the critical mass needed for awakening.
We all feel the pain that is present, even if we don’t think we feel it. We really do. All human beings have a biological capacity for empathy rooted in the mirror neurons. We are hardwired to experience the same neurological response that a fellow being is going through when we tune in. As the wave of protests spreads throughout the world, it stems from this basic capacity of our human nature to connect, feel and empathize with one another. What feels different about this moment is that so many people are staying tuned in. People are not turning the page because it’s too difficult. To the contrary, the opposite is happening.
The yoga and mindfulness community is shifting along with everything else. As we reach for a new paradigm, a new normal that eschews some of the tired old, unhelpful and harmful patterns of the past, it may not always feel good for everyone involved. Particularly, members of spiritual communities can find it especially hard to sit with discomfort. Even though the basic training of both yoga and meditation actually trains practitioners to sit with pain and lean into the places that evoke fear, it can hard to put that into practice in real life. And this IS what is needed, what is being asked of us and whether we wanted to accept it or not, it is the path forward.
Amidst the chaos of change the frayed edges of nerves and the raw unprocessed emotion can overwhelm sensitive people and make them pull away. But now is not the time to pull away or sit in silence. Instead, now is a time to have difficult conversations, reflect internally of one’s own place in the cycle of suffering and find the courage to act. We cannot engage in what is called a “spiritual bypass” where yogis and meditators simply send love and light and then turn the page to something less confrontational. It’s time to put the teachings of the spiritual path to work.
The change that takes place in our hearts right now must lead to the actions that will found a new world. And changing we all are. That is certain.
This past week I shared the accounts a few of the many African American yoga teachers that I find inspiring. Some have been a part of Omstars for a long time. Others are newer connections whose voices we at Omstars look forward to elevating. Here’s the initial post—
During my talk with Shanna Small for my podcast (coming out on June 11), the question of what actions non-black yogis can take to help amplify black yoga teachers. One thing Shanna suggested was for non-black yogis to follow black yogis on IG and simply get into their space to increase their understanding of the lived experience of being a black yoga teacher. While we were speaking I felt compelled to use my platform to encourage my followers to engage in this action. Before sharing any teacher’s profile I checked in with them and asked permission.
There was a good deal of controversy surrounding my actions. You can read more in the comments of this post—
While some people were supportive, others questioned my motives, asked why do this now and not before, suggested that I was muting black voices, being one-dimensional, appropriating black culture, performing allyship rather than acting it. I apologize for any comments that I did not answer. I take responsibility for dropping any comment-thread. I get bombarded with comments and notifications and unfortunately comment-thread discussions often get lost in my IG feed. I also do not believe that the comment-threads of IG are the place where deep personal growth, constructive dialogue and connected conversation happens. I’m writing this blog to dive deeper. I invite guests on my podcast to dive even deeper. We invite teachers to write blogs, teach courses and curate content at Omstars to hold space for even deeper personal growth work.
Truth be told, I am so happy to share that many Omstars subscribers came on to the comment thread to share their experience of the diversity and inclusivity that has been happening on Omstars for a long time, not just something we are doing not because it’s trendy enough for Bloomingdales to do it. We at Osmtars have made a longterm commitment to elevating marginalized voices and if you look through our roster of teachers and browse our content you will see lots of diversity. We can do better and we are committing to doing better. See our new blog here:
But, on my personal page I have primarily posted photos of myself and videos of myself teaching. I have rarely shared about anything else. I decided to share black yogis now because I didn’t want to turn the page on what I felt was an important conversation. I wanted a break from images of myself during this historic time. But now, at least for the immediate future I have stopped sharing black teachers on my personal IG. My intention was not to appropriate, silence or mute. I am sorry that was the impact of my actions. Instead, I will redirect my energy to working with BIPOC to elevate their voices via my online yoga platform Omstars. In the future, I will share teaching messages from BIPOC teachers and contributors to Omstars on my personal platform as they come out.
Sitting with my discomfort after reading the negative feedback was hard. But, as you will learn in any social justice talk, hurt feelings do not compare to the potential loss of life that black folks face just walking around. For non-black folks right now you may feel backed into a corner that feels like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. White or non-black silence is considered to be an act of violence. So you may decide to speak out. But, then it may become evidently clear that you don’t walk the line perfectly and cannot please everyone. No matter what post is made there is simply no way anyone can please everyone all the time. Also, no group of individuals, and certainly not an ethnic minority that comprises 13% of the US population, is a monolith. No matter what you’re intention or what the impact of your actions are, there will always be nay-sayers and critics. There will always be people ready to cancel you and cast you out. But, if you sit in a position of privilege or power right now, you simply cannot close down and sit in silence because you’re afraid of saying the wrong the thing. You have to be willing to stumble, fall, get it wrong and then try again. Over and over again. You have to be willing to take the heat if you find yourself in a position of power or privilege. You must weight the positive impact of your actions against the harm done and make an evaluation for yourself. You have to keep trying over and over again.
There is no dress rehearsal for this time of our lives. There is no school of change where you learn the method. There is only the messy work of awakening and compassionate action. You have to find out what that means for yourself. There has been a request from marginalized groups for white people, non-black BIPOC and others in positions of power to embrace the role of allyship. To be an ally means to work together for a shared cause. To be an ally is not a social media performance of all the right actions and words. Allyship has to happen more offline than online. To be an ally means to dive into yourself and your heart and be willing to let the suffering of another become your own suffering and then, after feeling it, using your position of power to alleviate the inequities of your fellow living being.
Here is a good shorthand to allyship—
Allyship done for the approval of another is performative. If you act with the expectation for BIPOC or anyone to give you a thumbs up, you may find that even your best intentions fall far short and you’re called to do more. Unconscious biases may be revealed in every single one of your best-intended actions. And, even more, some people may approve and encourage you while others pick your actions apart and explain why they’re wrong. There is no right path forward that measures its success by the approval of others. Popularity is not the change the world needs right now. In fact, sometimes the actions with the most positive impact are often not popular. Sometimes the most impactful actions are taken behind the scenes, offline where no one can see or report.
As many of you know, I am white passing multi-racial person. I have benefited from my privileged position in the US society. I am committed to using my privilege for change, on a personal level for myself, on a community level within the yoga world and at a global level for the benefit of all. I may not succeed or get it right, but I am committed to long journey of full liberation. The liberation of all beings is after all the true goal of yoga.
As long as people in positions of power allow themselves to be guided be fear, anger, and hatred, the cycle of violence will never end. As long as the dominant groups of society continue to dominate, there will never be justice or peace. As long as privileged people turn a blind eye to the suffering of others and let their decisions be motivated by their own short-term gain, the inequities of the world will just continue.
I am NOT speaking to members of marginalized groups to tell them how to respond or how to manage their energy. I AM speaking to members of the dominant groups of society.
I do believe in yoga as a much-needed revolution. But it’s not as cut and dry and it sounds. And it certainly isn’t just about sending love and light around from a safe bubble. Embodying and radiating love in a deep state of meditation is something else. That is the active practice of metta and has been documented to have a positive impact on the world. I’ve been thinking about leading a Metta practice that is free and open for all. More about that soon. I’ve been thinking about what I can DO as much as possible instead of just how I feel or what I think. I hope you will shift the paradigm to action too.
There is no love without consequential action. If you love your child, you will act and behave towards your child in a particular way. Love is an action verb. If you say you believe in love, think about what consequential action you’re willing to take based on your love. If you profess love towards all beings, then ask yourself you are doing today to express this.
If you’re sorry about something, the best way to express your remorse is not to repeat the same action over and over again. There is no lasting apology without behavior change. We must change, individually, socially, in measurable ways.
What ways are you committing to changing yourself and your community? What are you doing today, right now that embodies your love?
Some people have asked me to share what I have done myself to do “the work” of awakening. I am sharing below so that perhaps you will be inspired to do the work yourself.
Here are the efforts we have made as a company at Omstars—
—We make a concerted effort to include a truly diverse group of teachers on Omstars and are especially sensitive to including teachers of Indian descent in order to honor yoga roots in India as well as bigger bodied teachers. Let me know and I will send you the list of teachers who are of non-white descent.
—Host space for teaching blogs and videos such as Rachel Cargle’s Unpacking Racism course on Omstars—
—Commitment to a racially diverse and inclusive staff. Our Miami team is mostly Cuban, one of our writers is a WOC and I am of Japanese descent.
—Regulate our social media comments to be sure that our IG is a safe space for any marginalized voices that we post.
—Scholarship fund—we have a scholarship fund for Omstars memberships that seeks to provide access to marginalized students.
—Hold our staff accountable for anti-racist action—For example, we recently had an incident where our social media intern deleted a sensitive post. We worked through the process of anti-racism with him and directed him to further research and corrective action.
—Donate $5 per yearly sale to this charity
—Offer anti-racism training for the Omstars team
For myself personally—
—I worked through Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy challenge, read White Fragility, Between the World and Me, and Why I’m Not Talking to White People About Race Anymore, watched 13th in Netflix.
—My new book seeks to highlight true diversity in the yoga world. Happy to send the full PDF so you can see all the students featured. Here’s a link—
Get Your Yoga On: 30 Days to Build a Practice That Fits Your Body and Your Life https://www.amazon.com/dp/1611807212/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tau_1ed2EbQKDEV16
—Hold difficult conversations with students, colleagues, friends and family members when appropriate. My husband is Danish and we discuss often how his white male privilege and my white passing privilege impacts our life.
—Sign and share petitions and other action-items.
—Attend protests when appropriate
—Donate to charities and funds that support restorative justice
—Encourage people to vote and actively register my friends, family and staff who have not registered to vote, volunteer to help get out the vote in critical elections. Go to www.vote.org. It takes two minutes to register to vote and this can make a BIG difference.
—Reach out to BIPOC community members to feature on my podcast.
—Boycott companies that do not embody diversity
—Follow BIPOC on IG and read their posts.
—Call my local, state and national elected officials. The NAACP has set up this website so that you can support a specific list of action-oriented goals simply by adding your name to their web form. It takes very little time and can make a difference.
—Keep practicing. You will need all the tools of your spiritual practice to stay centered.
The reality is this—there are people out there who have no time to think about how their downward dog is doing because they spend their days in survival. If you’re practicing yoga, you have a powerful tool at your disposal and I’m asking you to use it for the benefit of all.