On Activism (part IV)

I was heartened after the 2016 Presidential election to see that so many of my friends donated to the ACLU and NRDC and other extremely worthy organizations- I did too. I follow these organizations on Instagram and try to stay abreast of the positive anti-Trump administration work they are all doing. Our people and our planet depend on it. What good is a "Great" America if basic human rights for all are destroyed in the process? And what good are "jobs" and "borders" if our planet as we know it is not around for future generations? 

I'm grateful for the new breed of activism that has arisen (under the threat of very ancient racism and insidious greed that's been given a new face in this administration). And yet, there's a sense that this same new breed of activism has the potential to be counter-productive if we don't know our own motives and commit to fully examining and grounding the roots of our activism in ethical practices.  

For example, in my case, as a white person I attempt to remain extremely aware of how my comments and actions might be heard and experienced by people of color. I thus make the effort to speak and to act with intention. I recently saw the hilarious (yet scarily real) film "Get Out" and I was not at all surprised at the conversations that film has started around so-called well-meaning liberalism. Are we passively liberal just to make ourselves feel better and maintain the status quo (keeping folks of color in "the sunken place")? Or are we truly allies doing meaningful, grounded work to level the playing field and ultimately elevate consciousness and empowerment for all? 

(In this post, I really just want to weigh in on where I sit at this moment amidst an ongoing exploration of activism.) 

I've been exploring justice work for some time now- and have learned and grown a bit already. Just a few years back I found myself challenged a lot by the new ways I was being asked to think and consider the "-ist" (sex-, race- age- able- etc...) structures of our society many of us have come to accept as business as usual. I'm forever grateful to the Yoga Service Council (Project Yoga Richmond is a member organization) for helping ground my practice and teaching in the context of justice. After spending even just a little time in that world, I'm beginning to feel my horizons widening, and the expanding opportunities to play a meaningful, albeit small, part in true liberation for all. 

To that end, Up Dog Yoga, LLC is now a member of the Business Coalition for Justice, a coalition of businesses working together to raise awareness of and combat the structural causes of racial inequity in the U.S. I'm honored to serve on the steering committee for BCJ.

I also joined SURJ-RVA, the local chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice. "Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) believes in collective liberation -- and that none of us can be free until we end white supremacy." I especially appreciate SURJ's accountability to people of color as a core tenet of the organization's primary action initiatives. 

I've written in the past about how any action I take toward awareness and strength within myself ultimately strengthens my connection to those around me and increases my need for justice- my own liberation is making it more and more important for me to work for the liberation of all. If that transformation truly happens on every level within me, that seems an inevitable result. Shame blocks us from taking action because it makes us hide our authentic selves. We play small. Or, we overcompensate. Or I think worst of all, we just play along in a system that is harmful for many, many people, often the most vulnerable. None of this is especially good, from an actual or a karmic standpoint. 

I've said before that as my own recovery unfolded and layers of shame lifted, I ultimately uncovered my own deeply held dormant value system. I'm grateful to have had teachers very open about how their recovery has led to the birth of ethics- as my teacher Rolf Gates says, "We maintain our freedom through healthy self-boundaries." The most effective ethical systems are grounded in self-compassion. How will I suffer the effects of treating someone in less than a kind manner? A moment of resentment or meanness on my part often results in hours of personal pain and guilt. This is because I suffer when I cause suffering and I desire not to create pain and suffering- for myself or others. This, for me, is ahimsa in its deepest expression. I have more freedom, more peace, more space in my life and in my relationships because of the effort I take to do no harm.

These days I try my utmost to act with kindness, honesty, non-violence and generosity. It generally makes most of my decisions on what actions to take much easier. Often this means I need to remain silent-- that, too, is an action. Can we sit in the presence of suffering and not try to fix it? This is a critical question- another teacher, Matthew Sanford, says that if we try to fix another person's suffering we unintentionally dis-empower them. 

I may never fully understand what forces had to come together for me that both of my primary teachers, Rolf Gates and Nikki Myers, would end up being very vocal, awakened people of color (unlike me) and in recovery from addiction (like me). I consider myself very fortunate to attempt to follow their lead in recovery and in activism. Nikki often quotes her teacher, saying, "How you do anything is how you do everything." In 12 Step programs we say "practice these principles in all our affairs" and "stick with the winners" and that we have to be "willing to go to any length" for our recovery. 

I say we need to be willing to go to any depth as well. 

On Women

I recently became obsessed with two series: "The People vs OJ Simpson," the dramatized series centered on the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in June of 1994 and the subsequent trial and acquittal of Nicole's ex-husband, OJ Simpson; and "OJ: Made In America," the Academy Award-winning five part ESPN documentary focusing on not only the criminal trial, but also race, sports, fame, money, power, and the context of these in which those involved found themselves. 

The dramatized series is just so-so; the documentary is amazing and makes a great point that how we define ourselves is important in determining not only, obviously, our identity, but also our place, our in-groups, and how we experience success and failure. OJ from very early on was very pointed in his remarks about his identity, saying he wanted to be known as OJ and for his accomplishments as an athlete. He rarely spoke out on behalf of issues of race or gender or income, focusing almost solely on his abilities. He had found tremendous success and likability among white society, and was heralded for the success that he had rightfully earned. Of course, as we know, that was not the end of the story. 

My point in bringing this up is that I realized while watching it that I have never really thought of myself as a woman. Oh, I've always identified as female- but truth be told, I never put a lot of energy or thought into being female.  And as a friend said today, on International Women's Day, "I realized I had spent most of my life learning how to succeed among men." Our identity is often contextualized by the dominant part of society. "Girl power" was always something for tweens and teens to get some confidence, so they could kick ass in a man's world. I can only imagine that it's a similar experience for many if the word "sex" is replaced by "race" or "class" or "gender identity" or "ability." It's something to sit back and realize that this is the case- I think at some level I always conceptualized identity as a unique, distinct thing- but this notion is naive at best.  

Over the past year or so, I've come to identify more and more as a woman and to understand what that really means. I probably can't articulate it all here, but it definitely involves the expression of female-ness in every day life and in the places where I derive most satisfaction- from caring for others, from providing food and nourishment and affection to my dogs, giving a listening ear to my friends, offering partnership and a welcoming home for and with my husband, and building opportunities and support to those in my community. There is a strength that comes in actively forming vital connections characterized by mutual support and respect. These are aspects of embracing femininity- even if I don't identify them as such as often as I should. And motherhood expresses itself in many ways. Of course many men express these same traits and have these needs as expression of their own inborn femininity- a good thing! But as a very fearful young woman, much of my energy was put in to self-preservation in a very volatile world and thus these very nurturing qualities were often put away. I had to put away much of what it meant for me to be female in a male-dominated world. I replaced that with other, inauthentic forms of that similar need- taking care of unavailable men, taking on the pain of others, and masking my own pain with food and alcohol and especially when I was younger, drugs. 

My own mother was also a nurturer, and a loving, sensitive, creative soul- she made it easy to like her. On her best days I felt so lucky to be her daughter. On other days I was so afraid that I'd lose her. And on the worst days, I was afraid of her. And most of the time I think she was afraid of her greatness. She shined so bright, loved so hard, put herself out there, took so many risks, made things so complicated, and was so hard on herself when others didn't fully appreciate her efforts. She receded to a very dark place. She didn't have "the capacity to be honest" about this and succumbed to the inevitable deterioration that comes when we don't find our way to the light. 

I sat down recently to write a little about her death. It's been almost 18 years since she died from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by chronic alcohol abuse and dependence, at the age of only 50, when I was 25. (I'll be publishing that story soon and will be sure to post a link here when that happens.) That painful chapter hung a very heavy shroud over me for something like 13 years, until I realized I needed to step out into the light and live my own "woman's story." And thanks to the living example of women making a different choice about their own disease, I feel I am just beginning to touch what it means to truly live the life of a woman.  And it's an amazing thing. 

I'm not an accomplished feminist- I don't even know all the lingo- but what I do understand is that as we liberate ourselves, our capacity to liberate others grows. I wrote in an earlier post about how as I found recovery my own buried value system began to recover too. What was left was a deep need, as my teacher Rolf often says, to live "with an open heart and an open mind, seeking only to know what is true." 

These days I'm leaning in- taking in as much information as I can about what it means to be marginalized, to be in a place in society where your very real human experience is denied, minimized, trivialized, tokenized, or silenced.

“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”


I saw the above on a sign (it's actually a spirited oldie-but-goodie article) at the Women's March on Washington on January 21. Yes, I actually put a pink knitted cap on my head and walked with the thousands upon thousands of others, men, women, trans, old, young, white, people of color- walking and smiling and shouting and speaking out on behalf of the environment, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, reproductive rights, income equality- all of which are women's rights too. It was amazing. I felt more like a woman that day than ever.

There's a lot more to say about this, of course. But mainly here I want to say out loud that I stand with you- whatever your struggle or challenge or identity might be. I'm a woman, dammit, I nurture and support and love and I know the strength that comes from knowing someone has your back. I know I was born to live a life that "gives voice to the great heart within." I recently wrote that for so long it was the addict's heart that beat inside my chest- but that heart is growing fainter and fainter and is now being summarily ousted by a deeper heart that knows and trusts and seeks the truth, always. There's a steadiness and strength that was always there- though I lost the ability to access it for a long time- it's back for good. I wish that for every person, female-identified or not. Will it be messy? Will I screw it up? Undoubtedly. But I will not forget that my place is with you, speaking from that "great heart within," aiming for a world that respects and honors every one of us. May it be so. 


Project Yoga Richmond

My biggest passion and greatest joy is community service. I am proud to be a Co-Founder of Project Yoga Richmond (“PYR”), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization serving the Richmond area and beyond since 2010. Please check PYR’s website and calendar for details and pay-what-you-can studio class offerings.

Class fees support PYR’s community outreach classes to teens in both public and private school settings, seniors, children with Autism, individuals affected by addiction, and court-involved youth. PYR offers ways for students, donors, teachers and professionals of many backgrounds a chance to be of service through yoga. 

In 2016 Project Yoga Richmond offered nearly 20,000 experiences of yoga and meditation to our community. Wow! 

On Activism

“As my practice deepened, it ignited many things, including my path of activism. An activist is simply a person who sees a need for large scale change and begins personal action to move toward it.” ~ Nikki Myers

How easy is it to stay asleep? In these times there is such an opportunity to make an inroad on the problems we've created which separate and marginalize people, or worse, harm our citizens and our way of life: institutionalized and systemic racism, poverty, the school to prison pipeline, environmental destruction, domestic violence. 

As a white middle class woman, heterosexual, able-bodied, educated, I recognize that I have enjoyed a sense of privilege in this lifetime. I know I can walk into just about any store and be accepted as just another customer. I know if I am stopped in traffic by the police, there is a pretty good chance it was for a valid reason and I will not be shot and killed by that officer. If I fill out a job application I can assume my qualifications will be given fair consideration because I have a name typically assigned to a caucasian woman. And, I know that as I walk down the street I won’t be singled out or attacked for who I am or who I love. This is not the case for many people, and these are only a few examples of privilege.

And as a citizen of this planet first and a lover of nature (it’s where I find Spirit most readily, in all things), I see that it’s important that our natural resources are preserved for not only ourselves but for future generations. The privilege I’ve had to swim in the oceans and rivers, drink our water, and breathe our air is one that all people present and future deserve.

So, as a start, I recently signed up to either join, support, or learn more about the following national organizations:

The Southern Poverty Law Center   fighting hate, teaching tolerance, seeking justice

The American Civil Liberties Union   defending and preserving individual rights and liberties

The National Resources Defense Council   creating solutions for lasting environmental change, protecting natural resources

And locally, the following organizations have my interest and support at present:

Business Coalition for Justice   as a member of the Steering Committee for this new organization, I'm thrilled to work toward solutions addressing racial disparity in business law

The Virginia Anti Violence Project   working to address and end violence, focusing on the LGBTQ community

Showing Up For Racial Justice (RVA chapter, formed July 2016)   organizing white people for racial justice