Paris, Consciousness, and What We Talk About When We Talk About Dharma

My Mister took this pic. We were on our way back from a market called Bio c Bon, and he told me to look Parisian. I'm going for fashionably bored.  

My Mister took this pic. We were on our way back from a market called Bio c Bon, and he told me to look Parisian. I'm going for fashionably bored.  

I try to be quiet in digital spaces when bad stuff goes down in our world. I don't always hold a popular opinion, and it's tough to volunteer my voice when the odds are good I might be shouted down. Plus, I often find there are folks out there saying what I'm thinking who said it better than I might have. I'm grateful for them. 

So I'm not sure what's motivating me to speak up now. Maybe it's that I just got back from Paris six months ago, and my memories are still fresh. Maybe I take it really hard that the consequences of Western imperialism are playing out in such a destructive way. Maybe I'm afraid that I, or people I know and love, will have to bear the brunt of others' fear and intolerance. Or maybe I have something unusual to say: you decide.  

The day after news broke about this round of terrorism in Paris, I spent the day in a yoga studio studying with Brenna Geehan. She said a lot, and I wrote some of it down, but one thing I've continued to consider was this:

"As yogis and teachers, it'd be nice if it was part of our duty to change the course that society is on." 

I don't hear a lot of teachers talk like this.  

When we talk about duty, often known as dharma, we talk about something often work- or career- driven, sometimes relationship-driven, and that often seems appealing: my dharma is to manifest love or joy, beauty, peace in my own life, or maybe the lives of others. We don't talk about dharma as a calling to change the direction society is hurtling in presently: my dharma is to dismantle the system of oppression that condones sexual assault on college campuses, or my dharma is to manifest safety for women of color to raise their kids without fearing they'll be annihilated by the police. Brenna's words landed on me in a meaningful way. I wonder, what would it look like for yoga teachers to change the course of families being displaced due to gentrification; to change the course of young people experiencing touch without consent; to change the course of institutionalized racism, or the school-to-prison pipeline, or reproductive justice. 

I believe yoga has a place in politics, and vice versa. We come from a legacy of people on the fringes of society. In the West, yoga doesn't look marginalized anymore; yoga does the marginalizing, or is content to sit quietly and continue nadi shodana, ignoring the suffering around us, and its role in our suffering. If we pretend joy and freedom don't come about by hard work, by spiritual boots on the literal ground, we're missing something.  

I was in Paris recently, and for all of the beauty and romance of the city, I was really put off by the tone of white European xenophobia that was palpable. I had conversation with a friend whose views on Europe and the "refugee crisis" were unsettling at best and racist at worst, and that were rooted in her fear. (I put that phrase in quotes not to belittle it, but because when I hear it, it strikes me the same way the historical phrase "The Question of the Negro" does: a phrase used by the majority culture do describe a minority or marginalized group that they, the majority, can objectify, either conceptually or politically or both. It's a sound byte or a social ill, rather than a swath of humanity that is suffering. I don't like it much.)

Also, in Paris, there were soldiers everywhere. In the tube, at intersections, in the park, square-jawed white men in fatigues carrying AK-47s. I'm not being poetic, I'm being literal.  I watched several of them chase a group of brown-skinned young men out of a park and into a roundabout teeming with oncoming traffic. I was sure someone was going to be hit, but the young men were fast. 

My city hasn't reached the point yet where armed military in the streets is something to take for granted. I hope it never happens. New Yorkers are rolling their eyes at my naïveté maybe; but it didn't make me feel any safer. I felt that all of us were a little less free. 

So what do I do? What's my job as a yogi, as an art maker and a space-holder and a citizen of the world?

Well, I think I stick to my practice: of unpeeling layers and softening my heart, of asking difficult questions and staying present with the answers that lift up. I think I expand my practice, so that I take a chance at being a voice of radical compassion in spaces that don't want it; I practice compassion for people who can't hold what I have to say, and I move deeper toward the reality that the light in my heart is the same light in the shooter's heart is the same light in the victim's heart, and no amount of lead or copper or shrapnel can put it out. 

I make noise. I march. I practice, and create space for others to practice. And I love, fiercely, fully and entirely.