Where do I plug in?

Tyler Milligan

Tyler Milligan

Mister and I have been talking a lot about leadership.

Hm. That’s not really right. We’ve been arguing. About why he’s so passive and I’m so aggressive in public.

The scene: a grocery store. It’s a Sunday, so even more crowded than usual. Mister is steering the cart, I’m behind him, holding onto his t-shirt, and we’re threading our way around displays of crackers and moms with carts that are too big (like, with the race car on the front, I know shopping with small kids with short attention spans is a pain, but really the idea to stick a race car on the front? Nope), and young folx distracted by their phones and not paying attention to the space around him. We reach an opening, and instead of stepping into it and through it, Mister pauses, and lets one, two, and now THREE people cut him off, delaying our forward movement. On top of which, one dude is JUST STANDING THERE, and doesn’t move until I ask him to.

It makes me so angry when I’m among other people who take from me what I haven’t offered, and do it without acknowledging me. I’m not proud of it, of how angry I get, or how petty it might be, but it just steps on so many of my buttons. I’ve spent a lot of life feeling invisible, feeling like people can’t see me, which is hard to pull off, because I feel like a large, dynamic being who takes up a lot of space. I’ve never blended in, and while I didn’t always love what sticking out meant, I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. It makes me furious when people spend energy ignoring me on the street, and at the same time assume I’ll just move out of their way. I’m not afraid of folks running into me, and it happens a lot because I don’t move out of the way of folks who pretend I’m not there.

Mister, on the other hand, said that invisibility was a kind of protection for him, coming up. He stuck out like a sore thumb, he said. Learning to be invisible, to avoid the fray, and wait it out, is how he likes to roll. He’s the kind of person who knows not making a decision is its own decision.

I think I can understand this. We were both raised in the Midwest, as people of color who grew up in cultures of white supremacy. I feel like I have to say, in case it’s not clear, that the dominant culture in most of America is one of white supremacy (and really, that “most” is just me soft-pedaling): the culture around us perpetuated systems, institutions, and privilege that made white people and white culture “better” than us. Because we were one of few, if any, people of color in our classrooms or schools; because we were new to the neighborhood; because our parents looked different or sounded different than the other parents in after school pick-up or open house nights; because we had different hair or different skin, ate different food or wore different clothes; because we were anything other than what the white folks around us defined as “normal” (white): we stood out. Sometimes that means teachers misspelled or mispronounced our names. Sometimes it meant kids—and adults—touched us without our permission, treated us like objects and not people. Sometimes it meant we experienced verbal assault, threats, intimidation, and violence at the hands of white people who saw us and noticed us as not-them, who sublimated their fear and confusion into rage and put us on the other end of it. Sometimes we watched our parents rage and seethe at the fear and frustration that they experienced, that they couldn’t hang onto the dignity due to any human being because someone else had snatched it from them and made them feel hurt, scared, alone, and that they couldn’t protect their kids from it. Sometimes we experienced that same rage and fear without our parents, and we couldn’t tell them about it because of the shame.

This is just how it is to grow up as a person of color in America.

It’s not an exaggeration. It’s not even a unique story.

(I’m supposed to say things are better now, right? The world is smaller, Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Mother Teresa and our first black president, and all the ways we see and understand each other. But that’s not a story I can tell. I write this less fresh after shooters in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio (not that far from where we both grew up) killed people, citing racist, xenophobic rhetoric that has also com from the White House. What has happened is that lynch mobs have gotten more sophisticated: they have semi-automatic weapons, and corners of the internet where they goad one another out of dealing with their own struggle and into hatred and destruction of others, and they have an emboldened body of subculture that believes that hatred of and violence against others is their right. )

So when Mister says that being invisible serves him, I think that’s the alternative he’s remembering, and who wants to stay in that experience.

But I can’t. I don’t like living in a world where white people ignore me and dismiss me, where I pretend that if they can’t see me then it means they won’t shoot at me. Because I don’t believe it’s true.

Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family, and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt.
— David Whyte, "Consolations"

It’s also is worth mentioning that when I discussed this frustration with a dear friend, when I told her that i have to take up space, because concession feels like being made to shrink, and not like generosity or sharing, that she pointed out that my husband is a man. In some ways the world parts for him in a way it doesn’t for me: there is some permission, some space, some access that he has that I don’t. That’s worth me remembering. He certainly doesn’t exploit this fact, he doesn’t lead his movement through the world pelvis-first, as it were—and he could, because I have encountered (we all have) men who literally and figuratively move through the world this way, and it’s only because women and folx can no longer tolerate being subjugated by that misogyny and patriarchy that it’s starting to change. But despite the fact that Mister doesn’t abuse his male privilege, he’s identified as male all his life and that’s been privileged all his life, so he doesn’t always recognize it either.

I want to say that I can acknowledge that there’s a difference between a white guy cutting me off in a grocery store or shoulder-checking me on a sidewalk, and a white guy gunning me down in an act of domestic terrorism.

But is there?

The victims in El Paso were in a Walmart. Shopping. Buying chips and soda and peanut butter. Smelling peaches to see how ripe they were. Calling their eight-year-old over to see if this striped shirt would fit him so he could wear it back to school in a few weeks. Picking out a card for their Abuelita’s birthday. They were just doing life. What if the shooter had done them the same way—unflinching, thousand yard stare fixed on his face, striding around and demanding with his energy that folks move out of his way. And the first person who wouldn’t would eat the first bullet he fired?

I don’t want to hide, or soften, or wait as a strategy for self-preservation. I deserve to exist as much as anyone else who is drawing breath on our planet, their first or their last. I want to be treated as fairly for my presence.

You never know what someone else is going through, Mister says. I was walking down Diversey Avenue one day, east of Lincoln, and I saw this car parked at a really odd angle, like straight up, perpendicular to the street. All kinds of wrong. And I walked by and looked in this car, and I saw this woman : SOBBING. You just never know what someone else is going through. So if it means they get to the counter faster, or we have to stand behind them and wait a little longer, it’s okay.

He’s right, I think. And: we don’t get the benefit of that doubt when we are going through. We get attitude from the dominant culture and lectures about being good neighbors. If I pull over sobbing, the best I can expect is a verbal assault from someone about “women drivers” and the worst is a run in with the local police, which could end in any number of terrifying and tragic ways.

I don’t know yet if I believe that people are basically good or if they are desperate, hungry primates with no real capacity for altruism. But I know that I am angry. I have a deep, like the-layers-of-my-heart-muscle deep, desire for all of us to experience fairness. When that is violated, even in a small way with small consequence, I am furious. My husband’s capacity to allow others to treat him (and often by extension us) in ways that I view as unfair is at once mystifying and maddening. It’s hard for me to articulate how mad it makes me.

I believe that there’s an endless capacity of patience and compassion available to me, to all of us. I that all I have to do is choose to connect to it, to open up to it, and out it comes.

But that first step is a doozie.

I don’t have it in me to give when others are taking. I lack the capacity to wait when my turn has been stolen by someone else. I can’t wait quietly while I watch other people steal, rather than share. So if that’s really what I’m being called to do, that gift has to come from Elsewhere.

Where is the overlap where justice triumphs, where power surrenders, and where compassion forgives? Where is the space wherein our up/down, majority/minority, have/have not dualism is just no longer relevant? Is it Socialism? Is it Heaven? Is it in relationship with others, or on the mountaintop all alone?

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for this. I read something today about a kind of split that can happen when we awaken to our Divine nature but fail to integrate it into our conditioned, everyday self. Perhaps I’m in this split: feeling torn between the ardent desire to see God looking back at me when I look into the eyes of others, and furious at instead seeing their small, petty, desperate nature, and responding to them out of my own small, petty, desperate nature. I sit and ask for the capacity to integrate, I ask for growth on how to treat others better than I want to; and I know this means opening myself up to more behavior that is hurtful.

There’s a balance point on the tip of this somewhere. I’m trying to find it.

Kashmir: in Light and in Shadow

There’s a photo that I bought at a Chicago art fair years ago that hangs on my wall. It’s of a pole on a city street, on which a mark of graffiti is scrawled in paint. YOU ARE FREE it reads in the foreground, city life continues in the background. I love this photo because it’s always felt like a kind of reminder to me. Look at yourself, Jessica, the words seemed to say, you’ve come so far, you’re capable of so much. You are as free as you decide to be, your own bondage or liberation is as close as your willingness to recognize it.

It hangs over my desk right now. I look up at it when I’m working and try to stay inspired, try to remember all that’s possible.

Lately though, when I think about Kashmir, it sounds less empowering and more ominous. It sounds like the voice of colonizers. You are the kind of free I am willing to bestow upon you, the picture says. You are free because I say so, and never forget, I can take that free away whenever I choose.

public.jpeg

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Islam has five pillars, or practices that are to be adhered to by members of the faith:

  • Shahada, or the sincere recitation of the Muslim profession of faith;

  • Salat, or engagement in ritual prayer five times daily;

  • Zakat, or giving to the needy;

  • Sawm, the observance of fast during Ramadan; and

  • Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Conversion to Islam, like conversion to any faith, is a decision not to be entered into lightly, but once you know you’re ready to step into the faith, it can be a quiet, private affair. You recite the Shahadah, and in order to be made a legal part of the community, you do so in front of other witnesses or local leaders of the faith. Immediately after you recite the Shahadah, you take a bath or shower. This act of purification washes away the dark of your past, and symbolizes your rebirth. Because Islam is a state of perfection, you are said not to convert, but to revert, to the state in which you were born.

Conversion to Hinduism is a different story. There is no prayer to be uttered, no allegiance sworn that cloaks you in the faith. There are rituals you can perform as part of the practice of Hinduism, but no one need attend your puja and affirm or dismiss its authenticity. There is nothing in particular you need to wear or marking on your body. It’s not just a religion, it’s a way of life. Some might say that Hinduism is a faith identity you’re born into; you can’t convert, and if you weren’t born Hindu, you can’t become Hindu. It seems both expansive and insular in that nature, but only insular, I suppose, if you’re attached to wearing a label. If you know what you believe but don’t need to call it something special, carry on.

I know very little about both of these religious traditions. For now. But I feel safe saying that on general principle, there isn’t any reason why Islam, an Abrahamic faith with roots in middle Asia, and Hinduism, a tradition that’s come out of the Indus River valley, can’t peacefully coexist. I feel the same way about the children of Isaac and Ishmael, though, and I know folks would line up around the city to tell me I’m wrong and the many ways in which I’m wrong. On top of which, the faith I was raised in has the blood of people on it’s hands from all over the world, starting with the blood of a Jew. So maybe it doesn’t matter what I think. It just matters that here, now, in this iteration of our world, whatever it is and whatever we’ve become, we’ve warped our faith practices so thoroughly that we can’t live in peace with others who practice differently.

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The first time I went to India my husband and I had a driver. It’s not as posh or as special as it sounds—though in a nation like India, where the echelons of both poverty and wealth extend farther than the U.S. by an order of magnitude, it might have been a privilege that most Indians that we met couldn’t experience. For two weeks we put ourselves in the care of a man and his tiny white Toyota (stocked daily with bottled water, gum, and candy, for Mister’s comfort and pleasure, he reminded my husband repeatedly), and he shuttled us from city to city, where we met different tour guides who took us on the routes: Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Hanuman temple, evening marketing, and once or twice even to temple to worship with the guide. The tour guides changed depending on the region, but they were always men. (There are probably many reasons why this is: I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a woman to navigate all the paths our guides had to: not because she wasn’t capable, but because of how hard it is to be a woman in India.)

More than once we noticed that he driver and the guide would talk politics. Mister would be listening to the front seat conversation, while I was gazing out the window. He would open up his Notes app and his thumbs would dart a few seconds across the screen and then he would show me:

They’re talking about politics.

I’d type back:

how can you tell?

I heard the guide say the name Modi.

Prime minister, right?

He’d nod. I’d look into the middle distance of the car, the console between the front seats, and try not to betray my listening. They were speaking a language I don’t understand (Hindi? Urdu?), but they seemed to be in agreement, not necessarily with Modi, but perhaps with each other about Modi.

I’d sigh and stared out the window at the throng of pulsing traffic. I didn’t know a lot about Modhi, except for that he represented a Hindu nationalist party, which I found troubling because it had shown a lack of capacity to tolerate anything other than absolute agreement from its citizens and colleagues in government. What has our world become, I wondered silently, what does it mean that nationalism is so popular—and so destructive—in so many places?

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I found out about the conflict in Kashmir a few weeks ago because my Mister asked me about it. If he hadn’t, I’d have had no idea, and not much in my feed or sphere—perhaps to my shame—notified or educated me about it. When I made a bit of effort, I found a few articles, and I couldn’t sit still, I was so sad and uncomfortable about this news. There’s a line out there about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, but I think that maybe too many of us being comfortable with the oppression, censorship, marginalization, and abuse of others is what’s led us to our current world state of affairs. Children are being abandoned, separated from their families, neglected, On Our Watch, for fuck’s sake. So: I can be comfortable with the discomfort of waiting for school to start, the anxiety of not knowing if I’ll be able to take the classes I want to, or how much books will cost, or if I’ll be able to hack it at this fancy new div school or if I’ll just make a fool of myself; I can tolerate all that. But I can’t get comfortable with the discomfort of watching the government of a nation disenfranchise their own citizens and call it leadership. It’s happening all over the world, you bet, and that’s no reason not to feel it or care about it in South Asia.

It’s beyond my capacity to begin to articulate the historical and societal origins of conflict between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia. I just don’t know enough. I know that there are periods of history wherein peoples ran or rode or sailed across lands and seas to minister, or to discover, or to use, abuse, rape, or pillage, and it happened in many directions and over hundreds of years. I don’t know if any of us have clean hands when we look at the behavior of our ancestors. There is no moral high ground. So rather than try and tell this story badly, I’ll try and put what’s currently happening in terms we can understand.

Reminder: this is sophisticated stuff, and the picture I’m going to draw here is high level. It doesn’t take into account any kind of nuance or sophistication of American History, and it glosses over a lot. I’m not any kind of historian, or Indo-scholar, or even a journalist. I’m a yogi and a teacher and a student, and woman of color devoted to the liberation of all people in this plan and on every plane.

Imagine that, as the United States was forming, the state of Texas, which used to belong to Mexico, wasn’t annexed to the US, but was rather claimed by both countries. Texas is America, and Texas is Mexico. Imagine Texas as a fertile, beautiful, verdant landscape, home not only to lush, nourishing plants and vistas, but also full of resources that both nations are interested in claiming. Imagine that the people of Texas share cultural and identity ties with Mexico: they share a language, and more deeply and powerfully, they share a faith, a faith that the people of the US don’t share nearly to the same degree. Imagine that because both countries place a claim on Texas—meanwhile Texas just wants to be free to be Texas, neither Mexico or the US—the Mexican American war was a longer, bloodier war, fought repeatedly on and off over the course of thirty years or so. (and imagine these wars fought in the 20th century, without the generous blurring of the dust of history. Imagine this war as bloody as World War II, as visceral as Vietnam, and as hair-trigger sensitive as a bar brawl between a drunk Cheesehead and a drunk Bears fan. Or a drunk Celtics fan and a drunk Lakers fan.) Then imagine that Texas is able to have a kind of peace, a detente, if it will allow itself to be folded into the US and given special status. It isn’t a state per se; it has representation in Congress, and many of the benefits of statehood, but it determines its own destiny. It’s like a protected territory. This doesn’t please Mexico at all: after all, the people of Texas are the people of Mexico. They worship the same way, they live the same way. They feel like the US is bullying them and the Texans. But they’ve lost too much of their own resources and citizens in war, and they can’t keep fighting. They do have one weapon, they know that the US can match but can’t beat. But using that weapon is mutually assured destruction, and they just haven’t come to that point yet.

As far as the Texans are concerned, this isn’t a great solution either, but it promises them something that looks like freedom. (Sometimes it’s hard to tell, and we take what we can get when we’ve been ostracized and oppressed for so long. )

Then imagine that POTUS, in his… “wisdom” decides to without precedent and warning, revoke the special status that Texas has enjoyed for the last thirty years and make it a state. Its governor, representatives, any and all self-determining capacity that Texas had is gone. That special status treaty that Texas signed is as permanent and valuable as what POTUS uses to wipe buffalo sauce off his weak chin and his thin lips. There is no Texas, anymore. There is only America… and as a show of the unity this choice illustrates, the US sends troops in to occupy the streets of Dallas, Houston, Austin, El Paso, and San Antonio. Along the Rio Grand, hard-faced men with massive semi-assault rifles are posted every 40 feet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other social media outlet you’ve ever heard of are all dark now, no content in our out of Texas. In fact, no power in or out of Texas. Cell phones are useless bricks in pockets and backpacks. No school. No banks. No operations of any kind. Just millions and millions of citizens who want to be free to live as they choose suddenly swallowed up and absorbed into a government that calls itself democratic. Imagine that for the better part of this month, the entire state has been protesting this occupation, violent, Byzantine, and you don’t know about it because the blackout in Texas is so thorough and the propaganda in the US media is so effective. US reporting says that the American government thinks this is a great idea, that so do most Texans, and that any protests have been handled peacably. There have been no violent outbursts, absolutely none, and any reports of Texans being beaten bloody and lame by American military forces are simply… untrue.

I’m not saying this is original, that it hasn’t happened before. It might sound like a really common story, common at the very least in our own democracy.

And ain’t that a bitch.

Neemrana, Rajasthan, 2017

Neemrana, Rajasthan, 2017

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My favorite reporting about this has come out of The Atlantic. It’s nuanced and it’s global and it’s Paying Attention. You can read about it here, and here, and don’t forget about Al Jazeera. There’s a piece in the New York Times, too, about India—the world’s largest democratic nation—illegally rounding up and arresting Kashmiri citizens in the days before Kashmir’s status was revoked; and if there’s video footage, make sure you watch it.

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So what, Jess? This really does happen all over the world. Freedom has to exist between an individual’s ears, because if you look closely you’ll see the myriad ways in which millions of people are bound, oppressed, and enslaved every day. What else is new?

To answer that question, I have to talk about Chimamanda Adichi and “The Danger of the Single Story”, her TED talk, which entered my life while a grad student and teacher at an art school in Chicago. In it she argues that it’s easy for us to spend our time in the ignorance of thinking we know a place, a people, a faith, because we know one story of it.

What’s the single story of yoga being told in this country, in the industry, of which I am a part? Peace, love, and harmony? Everything is one? We’re all light? Divine is within you as it is within me? I’m sure I’ve said this kind of thing before, and meant it. But I owe it to the people and culture of India, the home of this tradition where I find a place for myself, and by which I earn my bread, to dig deeper than that. Despite what you heard at the gym or Core Power, yoga is a part of this culture, historically if nothing else, and embedded in that culture are the same spectres of oppression, misogyny, hierarchy, and abuse as are currently showing their hideous, harmful faces in our country and culture, as well as others. If I teach yoga without acknowledging the shadow side of where it comes from, I’m lying to myself and to every student who steps into my class or looks at my content. If I tell a story of yoga, of India, that isn’t informed by all the things that India is—by its diversity of faith traditions, by its politics, by its history and its contemporary identity—I’m telling a single story. I’m telling a folk tale, and not the truth.

So I’m paying attention. It’s not easy to choose to stay informed, especially when there’s so much heaviness and sadness and destruction to keep learning. So I’m also practicing gratitude, and actively pursuing the things that bring me joy. And, I’m watching the world’s largest democracy intern its citizens. I’m feeling some kind of way about the fact that this national leader thinks he can force people to be what he wants them to be. I’m watching and wondering if I can return to India, and what it will be when I get there.

In Case You Need Convincing: Seven Reasons to Go on Yoga Retreat

If you’ve ever been on a yoga retreat, you might not need much convincing about what’s great about them. But if the experience is new to you, it can seem strange or even intimidating: are we going to do things I know? Will I look stupid? What if I’m completely outpaced by the students and we do crazy postures I can’t do? What if the teacher talks all this weird stuff I don’t understand? What if there’s nothing for me to eat? What if I get lonely? Questions multiply like over-caffeinated rabbits, and suddenly you’re talking yourself out of something you might really actually enjoy that could be a powerful, even life-changing experience.

So come on and take my hand, while I share with you

SEVEN REASONS TO GO ON YOGA RETREAT

Nosara, Costa Rica, 2019 out for a walk before class. I bought a killer dress from this shop the next afternoon when it was open. Killah.

Nosara, Costa Rica, 2019 out for a walk before class. I bought a killer dress from this shop the next afternoon when it was open. Killah.

You Cultivate Deep Rest. The word retreat literally means to move back from. On retreat, we give ourselves the opportunity to step back from a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities—pleasurable and challenging—that lay so much claim to our time and energy. I was stunned by how much my body enjoyed sleeping the first time I went on retreat, when I went to bed when I was tired and wake when I was rested. On retreat, there’s no clock for you to check every umpteen seconds or minutes, there’s no deadlines, and the schedule you get is optional. At first this can be a bit discombobulating, but once we unwind from the demand, we can rest so thoroughly, and show up for our body in the most meaningful ways.

You Get to Know Yourself Better. Travel, for those of us who are fortunate enough to do it, is a powerful experience. It changes you—or at least, it changes me. When I travel, I find myself thinking about what it is to do life in another place: another neighborhood, city, state, or country. What is the life of the people who live here? What would my life be if I lived here? Who am I in this place, and is that a different person than I am in the places I usually inhabit? All of these questions come up for me. Also, anyone who’s traveled will tell you that something always goes wrong: so travel gives us a chance to practice who we are, or want to be, in the face of struggle or challenge. Travel reflects yourself back to you in all kinds of ways, and you can learn a lot about who you are and what you’re capable of when you really take in those reflections.

You Have an Adventure! Travel is exciting, but it isn’t easy. Even at the best of times, we’re not always comfortable, and sometimes a lot happens on retreat that’s outside of your control. Adventure can be exciting, can test our courage, our fortitude, and ability to surrender. The best we can do at these times is breathe, and ride the wave of the experience, trusting the lesson that it has for us. Sometimes the adventure is an obstacle to overcome, whether that’s a mountain hike or a lost suitcase. Sometimes it’s a personal difficulty, like illness or injury. Sometimes it’s a challenge to sort out in community, and sometimes it’s something we go through as individuals. Whatever the case, we get to decide how we’ll be our best selves. A yoga retreat can be many things, but it’s never boring.

Rajasthan, 2018. Balwant took us for an incredible walk, and we caught the interest of at least one local boy.

Rajasthan, 2018. Balwant took us for an incredible walk, and we caught the interest of at least one local boy.

You Get to Know Your Practice Better—or Step up Your Commitment to the Practice. Spending money on a yoga retreat—and depending on where you go, how you get there, and with whom, it can be a good chunk of change—is not only a commitment of your time, it’s also a financial investment in your practice. Not only that, but spending so much time engaged in the practice of yoga. You can practice anywhere from once daily to up to three or four times daily, depending on the center and the offerings available. Whether you’re into vigorous asana, gentle and restorative postures, or you’re looking to build your foundation as a practitioner, a yoga retreat is a great way to learn more, not just about the physical practice of yoga, but about the philosophical—and dare I say it? even spiritual—underpinnings of this practice, that’s found its way around our world. Additionally, a yoga retreat can be a great opportunity for you to connect with a teacher, so pay close attention to teachers you respect and admire to see if/when they’re leading retreat so you can go with them. Practicing with your teacher on retreat is Not. Like. practicing with them at the studio or online. Not only are you free of many of the everyday trappings of life, but so are they! They’re there to cultivate a space where they can focus their energy on your growth, and hold the space for you to make your own discoveries. It’s hard to overemphasize how great this gift can be. To really make the most of it, make sure you’re going on retreat with a teacher you respect and trust; if you don’t yet have this relationship with a teacher, then do your research: once you find a retreat you’re interested in, find out whatever you can about the teacher, and take class with them, if possible. This helps you get to know each other, and will pay of well for both of you on retreat.

You Engage with the Planet. I’m grateful for every retreat experience I’ve been on, and lucky me, I’ve been to a few amazing places. I tend to choose retreats in locations that will be sunny and warm, because I live in the Northern Hemisphere, and winters here are long, cold and gray. But I’m sure they have retreats for all kinds. Skiing yoga retreats in the mountains, swampy yoga retreats in the jungle, yoga by the seaside, yoga amid changing forest colors, yoga in the city: there’s someone out there who’s built a yoga retreat that will allow you to engage the beauty and diversity of our planet in your favorite way. Whatever your preference, a retreat like this will allow you to commune with the beauty of the planet and its people in a way we just don’t do every day. After more than ten years living in Chicago, I can say with certainty that a retreat in mid- to late-winter is the only way I survive. I need the extra sunshine to cope with the frigid temps and the gray skies, all the benefits to my practice notwithstanding. At a time when we’re so keenly aware of how much trouble the planet is in due to human waste and interference, yoga retreat can be an experience of remembering and appreciating the great beauty of our home. I’m so grateful to be able to travel and engage with Mother Earth this way. It’s truly a healing and powerful experience.

You Broaden and Deepen Your Community. Whether you’re new to yoga, or a seasoned practitioner, one of your greatest resources is other yogis. A retreat experience that gathers folks around the practice of yoga can connect you with folks who at the very least, share this common interest. Fellow yogis can help one another learn about how different folks approach the practice. The yogi with more experience can be an inspiration to a newbie, and a newer yogi can remind the experienced yogi of how to step into the practice with beginner’s mind. Additionally, shared experience can breed intimacy. A yoga retreat is a great way to foster or nurture connection and community in relationship: a friends’ vacation, a family trip, or even a couples’ getaway can all be made even more memorable while on a yoga retreat.

You Change Your Perspective. Traveling to new places, being with new people , deepening your yoga practice: all of these things can make us feel more vulnerable. On its face, vulnerability isn’t something we’re taught to like, but it’s a really meaningful and necessary practice. We learn when we’re vulnerable; we grow when we’re vulnerable; we connect when we’re vulnerable. All of these things are possible on yoga retreat, and an experience like this opens us to the capacity to see more, and to see differently. Whether we learn more about transitioning into a posture, or a new way of conceiving an idea, or even a change in how we view a past experience, a retreat creates the spaciousness for us to look at things from a different angle, and be open to what that new vantage point has to show us.

BONUS: You get to have a sacred experience. I’m using this word on purpose. I don’t mean that you will see God (though if you ask me, you will, in fact you already have) and I don’t mean that you’ll have some esoteric, mysterious, religious experience that no one else could know or understand (though that too is certainly possible if you’re into it). The word sacred means “set apart.” If you’re open to it, you’ll have an experience that is set apart, that is different from, some of the others you’ve had. It might be a part of your experience to set an intention that you pursue and practice on retreat, or you might discover that something finds you while you’re on retreat. Whatever the case, there’s certainly the possibility that you’ll feel something new, you’ll experience something you can’t quite fathom or explain. The experience can be as sacred (or indeed, as mundane) as you allow it to be.

Sounds powerful, right? I am so grateful for all of the retreat experiences I’ve had, and I’m thrilled to share that this coming March 2020, I’m co-hosting a retreat in Bali with my dear friend and colleague, Adam Grossi! We’re so excited about curating a nourishing, meaningful, and memorable experience with yoga at its center. If you’re interested in joining us, and want to learn more information about the retreat, visit my Workshop and Retreat page. It will be an unforgettable experience. We’d love for you to join us.




a new kind of home

When you leave home, it always looks beautiful and perfect in the rear view, doesn’t it?

Even if it was a place of violence and corruption and broken systems. It was also Home.

*

Less than five minutes into a drive out to Stoughton, Mass, there’s this awful sound coming from the back passenger side of my car. I’m thinking that I just drove over something that somehow got stuck in my back bumper or undercarriage, so I pull off of Alewife Brook Parkway, and I find a hook at the end of a bungee cord embedded an inch deep into my rear tire. I limp to a parking lot nearby and try to consider if I believe I'm capable of putting on the spare. Yeah, I’ve changed a tire before. I know where the jack is and I know how to put a spare on, to loosen or tighten the nuts together, so one isn’t impossible to get off later. But somehow, this feels massive, like I’m just not capable of it today.

I’m standing there beside my car, sweating and whimpering, scrawling a note to put in the windshield so I don’t get towed while I walk to the closest gas station to ask about a tow.

Some guy, I don’t know who, approaches me: white, late 20’s, jeans and a t-shirt, creased face and cool eyes. “You got a flat tiah theah?” Boston is thick in his mouth.

“Yeah, I just drove over a cable or something and it was flat in less than five minutes.”

“You got a spayer, you need some help changin’ it?”

I swear, it never occurred to me that he would offer to help. I mean, I wasn’t clutching my purse and guarding my sanctity or anything, I just thought the time of folks offering to help when you had car trouble had come and gone. Like, years ago. If I’d actually thought about it, I’d probably have said yes and we could have done it it together. But I thanked him repeatedly and then waved him off, and hoofed it to the gas station.

I haven’t always depended on the kindness of strangers; I’ve depended on their apathy. I was so stunned by the generosity of this person that I couldn’t actually receive it.

*

Almost a month, I’ve been in Cambridge now. I keep doing that thing that Chicagoans do, where I try to compare other places I go to parts of Chicago that I know. Porter Square and Davis Square ( the second not strictly Cambridge, but Somerville, according to the maps and the locals) feel like Andersonville; Central Square feels like Wicker Park; Harvard Square feels like Lincoln Park near DePaul, crawling with undergrads and funky restaurants and indie bookstores and shops that have been there for thirty years, cheek-by-jowl to Urban Outfitters and hot yoga studios; and it all feels like it’s been dropped into Evanston: two or three streets out of these squares, there are blocks and blocks of 18th-century homes in various state of (dis)repair or renovation, window AC units abound, and parking is tight.

It’s just similar enough to feel charming, and just different enough to feel, well, not like Chicago.

So I was scared about interacting with the white Boston personality once I got here. Boston’s all Sean Penn and Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Bacon in that new Showtime series: working men and women with no time for friendliness or generosity, and if they don’t know you, you might as well just keep moving. The feel of a small town with the attitude of an East-Coast city, and a legacy of white supremacy that is at best cool and distant and at worst dangerous. Just before I left, a friend said to me, “Jess, don’t go there behaving like what you expect to meet.” It was good advice: if I’m all defensive and gripped against race-based fear and distrust, I don’t stand a chance of connecting to my neighbors in a way that breeds anything other than antagonism and distrust. But if I maybe remember what I believe about people, that we all carry the same piece of Divinity and Wholeness inside us, that maybe I’ll get a chance to see that piece, that spark. I have to show mine in order to see it in others.

She was right. It was in the face of the guy who tried to help me change my tire. It’s in the face of the neighbors who speak back when I speak to them as I run or walk past. It’s in the friendliness of the folks at the grocery store who don’t yet know me, but who are willing to have a fragment of conversation with me as they ring and I bag.

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And.

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I have encountered plenty of folks who don’t know about their Divine spark, or who won’t share it: I’ve gotten all kinds of side eye from grown adults who can’t meet my eyes, from painters and carpenters and workers who wonder what I’m doing there and who don’t trust my freedom. I’ve gotten plenty of attitude from the yoga girls at the studio for not knowing “how things go” there. I’ve gotten crotchety-old-man sass from, well, crotchety old men. And for all the people of color I see, they feel few and far between somehow. For all of the diversity I see at my neighborhood market, I’m the only black woman at the closest coffee shop/bakery; I’m the only woman of color in the yoga class; when I run by massive houses near the Charles River, housewives can’t tell I’m just admiring the architecture or casing the joint.

College towns are interesting. They’re these bastions of diversity, attracting thinkers and makers and doers from all over the world, full of progressive values and youth and hunger and angst. These thinking communities are smashed against pockets of established wealth and privilege, and working-class frustration, and young and old folks with no money and young and old folks with too much money, and it’s all just happening.

*

So many white folks, when I told them I was moving to Boston, were all, “Oh! I love Boston! You’ve got to check out—” and they’d finish the sentence with their favorite restaurant or yoga studio or even American history site.

And so many folks of color, and in particular black folks, when I told them I was moving to Boston were all, “Really, hon? ‘Cause you know what a racist, awful place it is, right?”

*

(Also, there are wild turkeys in the neighborhood. I don’t mean the cheap whiskey, I mean there are actual wild turkeys just hanging around: last night Mister and I walked by a pair of them, ten feet away, strutting and pecking and eyeballing us warily. One of the things I like most about Cambridge/Boston is how much green there is, at least in the nearby parts of it, but encountering a bird the size of a Labrador retriever that’s moving with the pace and urgency of a grandma selecting just the right melon at the market is just weird! I haven’t figured out how to handle these birds, aside from declining to eat them ever again. If one ever got between me and the sidewalk or the street, I’m not sure what I’d do. Stay home that day, I guess.)

*

Much as I wanted to paint Cambridge with a broad brush, I can’t. It’s too complex. I get the feeling that the white liberalism that I perceive here is maybe a kind of sheen—like maybe if I scratch too hard it’ll fleck right off. It’s not nuanced, it’s just complicated. I like it. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know how to do complex. It’s good for me. I keep learning.

Never a lovely so real.

CP says I’m overly nostalgic about saying goodbye, that leaving a city doesn’t mean saying goodbye, that it’s just Boston, it’s not Mars. Maybe he’s right. The first time I left Chicago was 2002, and I was sure I’d never be back. But two years later, I came back and I stayed. He’s come and gone from Chicago five times at this point. Maybe it’s not leaving the city that makes me all tenderhearted and in my feelings; maybe Chicago has a pull on me like a magnet, and I can feel my iron core reluctant to move away.