09 August 2012

Community building is an act of love

“The more we become inspired by being a part of something greater than anything we could accomplish on our own, the easier it will be for our ego to surrender to another way & a new approach. . . . I have had recurrent intuitions about an economic global collapse (which has been occurring for the last few years) & that those who follow their hearts to generate & share their resources by working together in a spirit of community in alignment with nature & the natural cycles will find this an empowering time. Whereas those who look to the government, boss or external authority figures will find they become increasingly disempowered.
A lot of people will lose their jobs in the coming years as the old empire crumbles. This means many will see themselves initially through the eyes of the mind & see themselves as a failure as tell-a-vision tells them they should be living in a large house, with all the latest technical gadgets, new cars & be cooking with gourmet ingredients! The best antidote to this sense of disillusionment is to get out of your head & into your heart by coming home to mother nature & the support of community. In other words, the ultimate therapy & creative rebellion is to form community gardens as a meeting place for social activities that celebrate the seasons of change!” from Star of Ishtar

At this time in my life, I am in search of inspiration and community.  Actually, I am always in search of it, but this seems to be a more urgent time than times past.  I believe this is so for a whole lot of folks.  I think that because shit is so incredibly intense, people are afraid.  Afraid that they will be the next person to get canned, lose their housing, have food insecurities, etc.  For a while now I have been having conversations with folks  about the importance of community. These are people who are struggling in one way or another, so community is important because it is necessary to our survival in a hyper-capitalist society.  There is a constant divide between the haves and the have nots, and I don't see it getting better.  I wish I did.  I wish that things weren't so fucked up, but it is.  But what is even more fucked up is that while these things are taking place, folks are moving farther and farther apart from one another.  It is the will of divide and conquer, and it places fear in our hearts and minds.  It also creates the idea that we have to scramble for scarce resources, which is utter bullshit. We fight like crabs in a barrel and it's destroying us.  We can't build a community if we are afraid.  We can't build community if we refuse to see what's happening to one is happening to all.  And we certainly can't build community if we don't learn to trust.  Trust in ourselves and the people in our lives that mean something to us.  Otherwise our community is fractured and in need of repair and healing.  Individually and collectively.  It's really time to flip the script. 

None of us should have to go through stuff alone. But I also realize that reaching out can be difficult.  Some (not all) of us will turn our backs on people when things get rough; we often blame the person in need for being in the predicament they're in, when really you can be in that same predicament.  Nothing is certain and these are the most uncertain times I've lived in in my 54 years on this planet.  But if you turn your back on someone who needs help, a hand up, not a hand out, who will be there for you?
So many of the people in my life are having a hard time making ends meet.  This provides us with an opportunity to be giving and charitable in unselfish ways.  Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, asks us what does a money system look like that doesn't destroy, but instead heals nature, culture, and the human spirit? We can pool our resources together, whatever those resources are: money (in exchange for some goods or service), food, housing, healing practices.  We have gifts that we can exchange for other gifts. It's call bartering.  

Some of the conversations I've had have been hard and painful.  Some just don't get it, and perhaps never will.  Many are still drunk on individualism and the idea that people just need to pull themselves up from their bootstraps.  But if you don't have boots to strap, where does that leave you?  Instead, let's have some real conversations about how to build:  

What does this mean to you? What does it look like?

I write from a place of knowing, meaning that I write from my own experience and what I glean from it.  These views and opinions are my own.  You may not agree, and that's fine.  But I feel strongly about what's happening to us.  It bothers me when I hear my friends talk about how hard they're having it, how hard it is to put food on the table, pay rent or mortgage, get decent and affordable healthcare.  Like the quote above, we can be a part of something greater together than trying to do it alone.  I have been trying to do it alone, but I need help.  I need the love and support from people who claim to care.  I want to be a part of something bigger than myself.  I love, love, love the idea of building a community garden; the idea of people coming together to help one another out in whatever ways they can.  It could be something small that could mean something big to those on the receiving end.  Let's be inspirational and creative in ways that lift as we climb.  
Helping other people can be a cure.  Not just for those who are in need, but for your soul as well.  ~ Marinela Reka

Community building is an act of love.  It will bring us much more than a paycheck.  And I hope you understand that it's not always about money.  We were born to take care of each other and the earth we inhabit.  When you do something for someone, when you are mindful about making your footprints matter, the Universe takes care of you.  It's the nature of reciprocity.  It's not that difficult. We often make it so.  Let's stop doing that to ourselves and each other.  Let love, compassion and understanding guide us in everything we do.  Let's build TOGETHER, people!  We can do this.  Really we can. 

With life as short as a half taken breath, don't plant anything but love. ~ Rumi  

05 August 2012

Stop trying to be someone else's perfect: How to remain true to your Self during bad times

I had a very affirming and enriching conversation with a beautiful soul today.  In addition to being a spectacular human being, she is a phenomenal artist and I believe that what she does will create a more artistically aesthetic world.  It already has.  Right on, sista. Right on.

We talked about a variety of things that either required rant or praise or both, because sometimes we can be mad about something and still find a way to praise what it is about that person or thing that brings us closer to knowing and appreciating ourselves and each other...racism, sexism, sexuality, the issues within our communities, the occupy meme were just some of the things that our hearts and minds felt the need to speak to and release.  I also discovered how our upbringings were both similar and different.  And the differences still brought us together because it made us people that the other could dialogue with and see ourselves in the other. Mirror. Mirror.  In spite of the different paths we'd chosen, it somehow illuminated the kindredness between us.  It was one of those learning moments when you realize that to be you, and not what someone else wants you to be, is okay.  I want to shout and scream this to the world!  You do you.  I'll do me. There. Now.  I feel invigorated by this.

So me and this enlightened warrior woman kept talking in spite of the fact that we both had things to do, or at least wanted to do.  I wanted/needed to write. She wanted/needed to paint.  Yet those moments of loquacious chatter brought clarity, insight, and creativity.  I needed all three.  I needed to be reminded that who I am, where I am is exactly who and where I am supposed to be.  That what I do is valuable and worthy if to no one else but me.  I appreciate me! I love me!  My life is so divine and sacred no matter how much money I have or don't have.  No matter my employment status.  No matter the people in my life who think that I should be doing something else.  Really, what they think doesn't matter.  I am worthy.  I am enough.

Having this time to talk to sista queen spirit about the things that matter most to us brought me home to myself.  It reaffirmed for me that I will be fine as long as I listen to the whispers inside my soul.  As long as I remain true to my Self.  As long as I don't listen to the harmful and deflating words of others who refuse to support me because they don't approve of my lifestyle. Some of the people in my life have a hard time understanding why I don't want to do certain things that they believe would solve most of the problems in my life.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe, just maybe, the things they want for me would solve their problems.  In other words, I hear people really saying, "if you do this, get that job, focus on this, that and the other... then I won't have to worry about you asking me for help."  But really, I don't want their help.  Those are not the people who I can rely on for support without judgement.  If giving means grief (when someone gives but are mad/unhappy about the giving), then don't give.  But do work on the grief/unhappiness.

No one going through a hard time should have to hear from you how bad you think they're doing.  Instead of surmising all the things you think they should be doing differently, ask them instead what it is they need. "How can I help" sounds a lot better than "Go get a job (loser)".  It could be they need an ear and not a lecture.  It could be they need a bite to eat, not words that bite.  It could be they need you to support a project they feel strongly about.  It could be they just need a shoulder to cry on, compassion, empathy.  It usually never means they need or want to be judged and criticized.  If it's not possible for you to be in a supportive and loving role when your friend, partner, family member is going through some shit, then please shut the fuck up and move on.  Seriously.  Don't add insult to injury or throw salt on someone's wound.  It hurts, not helps.

During this discussion today we concluded that there are people who give without judgement, and are willing to offer constructive feedback when asked, and there are those who avoid giving by trying to make you feel bad about the situation you're in because that makes them feel superior or powerful.  Half the time, these folks have some fucked up shit going on in their lives, but making you feel like a loser gives them one up on you and they don't have to deal with their own shit. Projection. Generally speaking.  Equanimity is required here.

Honestly, I don't want to do what someone else thinks I should do.  I can't emphasize this enough.  Doing so would mean that I would be living someone else's life, not my own.  Doing so would mean making someone else happy instead of finding and doing what makes me happy.  It would mean that I am lying to my Self.  Whose reflection is that I see?  Not mine.  It's important to me that I live my life on my terms.  Wouldn't you want to?

During a recent dharma talk about self-love, at the East Bay Meditation Center, it was said that, too often, we view ourselves with self-loathing, self-criticism...we are never good enough...something is wrong with us, and that this is often magnified within communities of color.  Thinking about this, I wonder if these self-effacing thoughts and beliefs come from the messages we heard growing up, and often still hear.  I believe so.  It is messaging that lacks compassion.  Compassion for others and ultimately a lack of compassion for ourselves.  This has to change.  It can change.  Our dharma teacher that night reminded us that "human-ness is possible"... that being less than human is a "treatable condition."

What I long for more than anything right now is that we treat ourselves humanely.  That we choose words and deeds that show kindness and LOVE.  Finding love for my Self, for my people, in kind and gentle ways is not a weakness but a strength.  I have been and will continue to be a generous being.  I don't feel bad about that at all.  It is who I am.  It is a place that I dwell peacefully in because I don't give to anyone with expectations. That's not generosity, that's selfishness. But I had to learn this. Still learning. Still growing. Inch by inch.  I'm understanding that what I've been through, will go through is necessary for my path.  My.  Path.  I know that I've made some mistakes (who hasn't? to err is human, right?), but making them does not mean I deserve to be treated indifferently by others, nor should I beat myself up for them. I don't believe that my current status is my only possibility. Not for a moment.  I know that there are some wonderful blessings ahead of me. For me. For you, whoever you are.  I am thankful for them even though I may not know yet what they are.  I find liberation in this knowing and unknowing.  I see myself healing.  I see others around me healing. Mirror. Mirror.  It's a beautiful thing. You do you.  Do you as best as you can.  I'll keep doing me.  I'll keep listening to the whispers that affirm and uplift my spirit.  I believe in that girl that is she, and she believes in the girl that is me.  Not always perfect, but it's a LOVEly reflection I can appreciate all day.

02 August 2012

Yoga and the exclusion of people of color

I recently read an interesting and very relevant article entitled Why I Left Yoga (And Why I think A Helluva Of A Lot Of People Are Getting Duped) by Irasna Rising (curious name, by the way).  Worth the read, especially if you are a person of color who loves the practice and benefits of yoga, but find almost without fail, very few yoga studios that aren't predominately white and elitist.  Like the author of the attached piece, I don't want to be so emphatic that there is no room for those instances where this isn't the case, but you'd be hard-pressed to find more of the latter.  She indicates as much with the images chosen to highlight her point, asking the reader to try and locate a body that isn't caucasian.  Yes, when I initiated my own google image search, I found it difficult to spot yoga images (of women) that weren't non-ethnic ( I don't consider white an ethnicity). Image after image consisted of white women and men occupying yoga spaces. There were very few images of people of color, and when shown, they were singular images, as with the majority of images displayed, and even fewer images of yogis from India.

Problematic, hell yeah it is.  When I did a more specific google image search for black women and yoga, there were a number of non-yoga specific images, but also images of white women were presented on this page as if it's just not possible for you to inquire about yoga, especially in the U.S., without white folks showing up. They gentrifying every damn where. Infiltrating our cyber spaces.  We can't get a mothafuckin' page.  Just one page! Ain't that a bitch. Lawd hab mercy.

The Why I Left Yoga article touched upon a number of things that I've also experienced going to different yoga studios.  She points to how trendy the practice has become.  I'd written an article about yoga for another website, where I mentioned that in the Bay Area alone, the yoga market is saturated and finding a studio in Oakland where a minority is a minority (disproportionately so) is not impossible.   Finding a yoga studio where white women aren't the dominant participants is rare.  And, as mentioned in Ms. Rising's piece, yoga's become a cult. I've entered these spaces and my first reaction is to run away as quickly as I can, but then I convince myself that I have just as much right to be there than all of the white, affluent, and indifferent women who flex their bodies in ways that only serve to intimidate anyone who may have to frequently modify their yoga poses.  "Fuck them" is usually my attitude and then I proceed to do what my body allows me to do and forget about how perfect the white girl next to me is at doing what I cannot.  I feel just as good when I leave as they do if not better.

But, generally, I'm tired of going to studio after studio where I cannot find a more pliable, more welcoming and more people of color presence.  Where the hell are our low-income, working-class folk? Rising states that [yoga in the U.S.] "is extremely classist. It lacks plurality and inclusiveness. I do not see many people of blue-collar backgrounds who can afford these classes on a regular basis—and many of them are precisely the ones who could probably benefit the most from yoga." Definitely more so than "the affluent and bored—or those who are obsessed with the body beautiful. . . ."  Yeah, honey, yoga can cost an arm and a leg, and not just the ones used in a tree pose.  It's fuckin' ridiculous the amount of money these places want you to cough up for an hour of bends and twists.  "Most of the studios in my city charge around twelve hundred dollars for an unlimited yearly membership. That’s serious coin" Ms. Rising quips.  It's certainly more than my black ass can afford.  I'm telling you.

When I talk to other black women or women of color, I hear pretty much the same: they don't think that yoga is accessible to them because white folk who usually own and operate these studios don't consider our needs,  many facilities don't have non-white instructors--although there are some exceptions where studios hire women or men of color, this does not guarantee, nor is it intended to bring in other ethnic groups.  The majority, if not all of the studios around "the town" also lack sensitivity to the well endowed female bodies.  Neither does the images you see reflect women who are larger than a size 2.
but I found one (http://blackyogis.tumblr.com/page/12)
So, this group of women is usually excluded because yoga has become a mainstream practice for the super thin and super fit, two qualities usually not attributed to the fuller-figured sistas.  And this doesn't mean that those of us who are thin and fit find it more easily to assimilate into this culture.  As indicated by Rising, you may occasionally find a woman of color, but it's clear that they're tokenized.  I have certainly found it at times difficult to find affinity with the one other person of color in the room.  Hmmmmmm.  Wonder why that is.  It's like, "Sorry, sista, but we've reached our ethnic quota for the day.  You won't get any love from me." For real...some of us get down like that.  Don't act like you don't know.

Yeah, uh-huh.  And even more fucked up than all of this, is when you go to a class, find a comfortable spot, get into a zone, do your damnest to block out the yoga-divas brigade, try to adjust your body accordingly, the instructor, who you KNOW is going around helping folks, totally ignores you when they find you struggling.  That shit happened to me.   I'd received a groupon for free yoga classes at Flying Yoga from a friend, who, because of her size didn't feel like she fit in---see what I'm saying?  At one of the Sunday evening classes, this instructor was talking us through a pose, walking around the room and assisting others, but I may as well have been invisible.  As much as I wanted to shout "hey, don't you see me struggling, can I get a little help, please?" I decided instead that I wouldn't be going back to that bitch's class.  Yep, that shit pissed me the fuck off.   I tried a few of the many classes offered there and found two that suited me because the instructors believed that yoga is for EVERY/BODY, and that showing off is not what it's all about, nor was it expected that everyone would be at the same level of yoga fitness and flexibility.  Right on.  Thank you, Shakthi Ganeshan and Ziv Porat. Unfortunately, when that groupon expired, I couldn't afford the $14/class.  Yoga's become a luxury.  Even some of the newer condos, like the one at 100 Grand Avenue, have a studio on the bottom floor.  Gentrification with amenities.  Get the fuck out!  No, literally, get the fuck out, poor people!

But let me tell you, this sista is going to keep doing her thang.  I love the way I feel after a good yoga workout.  Rejuvenated. Refreshed. Realigned. Re-ignited to fight, write, live, love.  Be. Me.  No yoga studio or instructor is gonna change that! Ya heard?

C'mon sistas, let's develop our own spaces for our bodies to stretch beyond limits and imagination. Let's flex our power, our spirits and our minds.  Who's game?