In these turbulent times, I’ve found refuge on my yoga mat, and I’ve found real joy in listening to music, making daily space for deep listening sessions to soothe my troubled soul. I hope you all have been doing the same because it’s incredibly helpful. One artist whose music I’ve played a lot lately is the visionary Alice Coltrane, especially her beautiful piece entitled “Turiya and Ramakrishna” — Turiya being the 4th state of consciousness beyond time, thought, love and will, the superconscious which is indescribable, the one true, pure self. Such expansive, gorgeous, blue sky ideas… I hope you can give this music a deep listen as I have, not only because it’s so appropriate to the times, but you might enjoy it. In the spirit of Alice Coltrane and her gorgeous music, I’ve entitled my dharma talk:
Hopeful Notes and Music for the End Times
“Helped are those who love the entire cosmos rather than their own tiny country, city or farm, for to them will be shown the unbroken web of life and the meaning of infinity.” — Alice Walker
“We are caught in an inseparable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” — Martin Luther King
Truer words could not have been spoken by our beloved freedom fighter and novelist respectively, words that clearly illustrate something I’ve grappled with lately, and perhaps you have too: the collapse of the space between the personal and the collective as we confront together the epic tsunami of current events. We are living through extraordinary times, one might even say radical times, the word radical, here, perfectly defined for us by activist Angela Davis as meaning simply “grasping things at the root.” As yogis we can relate to this idea of the root, and the transformation that is possible from harnessing our ground. She goes on to urgently say, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” I have thought of this call to action often when for the past 90 days, a rapid succession of interlocking catastrophic global and national events has held us captive and sheltered in place. And like so many of you, I too have been gripped by reactions of disbelief, denial, terror, anger, horror, sadness and utter despair. Where was my blue sky, I wondered? Had you told me in February that we would soon be in the throes of a ferocious pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color—my heartbreak, shutdowns/lockdowns/and social distance, a great recession where 1 in 6 black Americans is out of work, a destabilizing crisis in leadership, multiple murderous lynchings of innocent black people in plain sight, a great and diverse outpouring of public rage and pain on our streets and a fervent demand for justice and reform of the tenacious racial inequities that permeate every single aspect of our lived experiences in America, if you had told me in February that all these things would come to pass by spring, I would not have believed you. How could I? The streets are echoing the sentiments of Ms. Davis when she says: “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such a great reckoning unfolding before us here today. I never thought I would see the day…
“Neither love nor terror makes one blind; indifference makes one blind.” — James Baldwin
“Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter. ” — MLK
“Your silence will not protect you.” — Audre Lorde
We have all learned in our studies that yoga means UNION, a linking of the the individual consciousness to the universal consciousness. We have learned that traditional yoga seeks a state of tranquil withdrawal from the world, a non-attachment, a letting go of the fruits of our actions. I hope you will join me along with the growing chorus of voices that also insist that in today’s world, it is also entirely possible and even preferable to cultivate the fundamental tenets of yoga, that is: serenity, non-judgement, peace of mind, while also being of and in the world, while also being of service to the world. Not just by the yoga that we practice on our mats, but by the yoga that we embody in our experiences, the yogic values that we embody in our lives: compassion, freedom, equanimity, a release from suffering, from illusion, from the fluctuations of the mind, spaciousness. Author and yoga teacher Roseanne Harvey says that there is “no fundamental disconnect between the deeper roots of meditative yoga and political involvement. On the contrary: the focus on compassion, truth and justice is essential for the practice to remain relevant.”
Just yesterday Rodney Yee taught us a master class on some of these related principles: He urged us to organize our bodies on the mat to be centered; to efficiently align our skeletal structure with our breath to harness our personal power; to practice asana to feel our bodies; to augment the peace within ourselves; to extend these actions from the internal to the external, from the individual to the collective, to reach for connectivity. To self. To cosmos. To community. Yoga is connectivity he told us. Organize. Center. Align. Augment. Feel. See. Listen. Connect. In her teachings, Angela Davis says, “It is in collectives that we find the reserves of hope and optimism.” And Martin Luther King asks of us this fundamental thing; “Life’s most persistent question is: what are you doing for others?” We have power on our mats and in the world. We have influence. We have tools. We have voice. Our calling as yogis, as humans, is to share these skills and empower others too. Yoga is an agent of change, not just of the individual, but of the universal within us and the collective without. Sanskrit scholar Manorama teaches us that the pulse of our heartbeat is the pulsation of the entire world.
I’d like to share a beautiful poem with you by Audre Lorde:
When I dare to be powerful, to use my
Strength in the service
of my vision, then it
becomes less and less
important whether I am
I invite you all to not be afraid, to use your strength in the service of your vision, to be an agent of positive change in America today.
Let us gather our hands in prayer in front of our hearts and let us close by contemplating the music of the spheres, the sound of the heavens within us, OM.
Lead us from untruth to truth.
Lead us from darkness to light.
Lead us from death to immortality.
Blue skies, at last.