Embodiment Conquers Hate

Some of my most life-altering yoga practices occur while waiting in the airport terminal.
If I’m lucky, I find the one spot where you can’t hear news blaring, where there is semblance of natural light and a few feet of carpet space. I close my eyes. I draw my awareness to my breath. I begin.

Practicing yoga in the airport is my own form of activism at a time when simple gestures of love speak even louder than usual. If just one of the thousands of people who witness my offering over the years are inspired to deepen their breath, that’s one more warrior on our team, training in the art for love with the weapon of embodiment.

After Trump’s appointment, as the incidences of hate crimes skyrocketed across the nation, I updated my Facebook photo with three words that say much more than a selfie: Black Lives Matter.

On the way to the airport this morning, my Uber driver, who happened to be an eloquent black man with smiling eyes named Julian, commented on the image, auto-updated as my Uber profile picture. His comment slit a hole in the gauzy fabric that separates strangers. We slid into the deep intimacy of comrades in a time of collective grief and struggle. With soft voices, we poured our hearts into cups, making of them gentle offerings, sharing our sadness, our fear, our pain and our hope.

As we neared our exit on the freeway, Julian’s voice got soft as he recalled a business trip to Virginia. To clear his head before a meeting he took a walk in a nearby neighborhood. At each house, white faces gathered behind picket fences, as if they’d been expecting him. He’d only walked eight blocks before two white trucks of stoic men with large, cocked rifles appeared, trailing him as he picked up speed retracing his steps. On the lawns he passed, signs had magically appeared, “Niggers Not Welcome Here.” This was 2012.

“What would happen if I was in that neighborhood today?” he asked. We let the question hang in the air like a wound.

We are each grieving differently based on our identity. In addition to mourning the death of what it was to be a woman in the US just three weeks ago, the presence of a sexual predator in the white house has re-awakened for me the deep layers of trauma inherent in being born into a female body. It starts when you’re young- the unwelcome touching, the dehumaniziation accomplished with a gaze. No female presidents, instead, inescapable and confusing images of bodies like yours- denigrated, hypersexulized. Hundreds of comments yelled from car windows before we’re old enough to drive.

Born white and middle class, my trauma is generally incomparable in scale to that of woman of color or those who grow up in violent neighborhoods, woman without resources, woman who risk their lives to cross a border into a country that doesn’t recognize them as human.

Our nervous systems don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s perceived. The reactivation of these micro traumas may have similar effects to direct violence. Like a scab ripped from a wound, many of our unique traumas based on our gender, status or skin color have been reactivated by a president who wants to take away the rights our grandmothers worked so hard to offer us- the right to our own bodies.

To be present inside of our bodies in a culture that threatens those bodies is a radical act that sharpens our swords for action. To be present in this moment, with all of it’s tenderness and horror, is a radical act. To deepen our breath and to relax in the midst of collective anger and hatred is a radical act.

The more we practice releasing tension and being in our bodies, we begin to feel their sanctity, we begin to feel the limits of what we thought was so solid, breaking down.  This isn’t a theoretical shift we can learn from a book but an actual visceral experience that we are something bigger than the limited self, we’re not so separate from other bodies nor from the soil the grows the food that creates our bodies and to which we will very soon return to grow food for other bodies.

With the tools of the breath, yoga, mindfulness, touch, deep listening, we are warriors training in the art of love with the weapon of embodiment. We are warriors of the heart.

Physical tension limits our ability to embody peace and therefore, to create social change. When we live from the neck up, our body creates tension. Tension is a lead wall blocking the experience of our interconnection with people who who are different from us. Instead of embodying acceptance, we unconsciously embody fear. Hatred is the product of unchecked fear.

Fellow activists of the body, when the time comes for us to stand up for each other with all of our differences (and it is coming) we will know and we will be ready. In the meantime, we continue to fortify our vessels with kindness and tolerance towards ourselves and others.

We keep sharpening our swords
We keep standing up for love
We keep reaching out towards each other across the desert of isolation
We keep smiling at people we don't know
We keep listening to people who are different then us,
We keep realizing they aren’t so different from us,
We keep activating for freedom and tolerance
We keep drawing our attention to our body and to our breath

All of the mindfulness we’ve practiced until now was preparation for this time period- we can’t stop now. As Activists of the Body we are being called to activate for tolerance, kindness, listening and love in climate of polarization, fear and aggression.

If not us, then who?