Black Lives Matter

Can we pause, and simply hear the truth of this statement?

Would you be willing to say it out loud?

I understand that all lives (human and non-human) matter, and we are living in a culture where systematic racism and oppression targets people based on the pigment of their skin. We are still aspiring for the “American Dream” of equality, and until we have it, we all suffer from a lack of integrity in our institutions. It is time for all of us, and I am especially speaking to fellow white bodied humans, to stand together and demand a just and fair system for all people.

My intent in writing this is to share from my own experiences and what I have learned thus far. I am not an educator in this field. I am a student. And it is my desire to educate myself on systematic racism in our country, to learn where white supremacy lives in my body and consciousness, and to grow with every one of you willing to do this work.

I am not interested in only appearing to be an ally, and I ask that you support me by holding me accountable. If ever you read, hear or see me do anything that feels like I am marginalizing, appropriating from or oppressing anyone through my words or actions, please let me know. I am committed to being humble in this process, and offer the same support to anyone open to receiving kind and compassionate feedback.

For anyone who find this to be too political for a yoga newsletter, I have this to say, social justice work is spiritual work. This connection can be seen in modern day leaders and saints like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Amma and Thich Nhat Hanh.


Many of you know me as someone who teaches yoga, offers Yin-Thai massage and works with festival production. What you may not know is that from the age of 17-20 I was an anti-racist skinhead. I know this statement may seem oxymoronic because of the way skinheads have been portrayed in the media. However, the roots of this movement came from the rude boy scene and the influx of Jamaican immigrants to the UK bringing reggae, ska and rocksteady music. If you would like to know more please view this short YouTube video, watch the film Spirit of 69 or read the book Spirit of ’69: A Skinhead Bible.

During this time, besides playing music and drinking entirely too much beer, I spoke out avidly against white supremacy and got into fights with peckerwoods and Neo-Nazis, something most people mistakenly took me for. Along with early adulthood angst from violence in my childhood, I was also angry at the notion of racism and infuriated at the injustice in our country. However, my rage and aggression did nothing to improve the situation and did not support me taking ownership for my privilege and part in dismantling institutionalized white supremacy.

20 years later, I find myself just as convicted and wanting to act in a way that actually creates positive change in myself and in our community. There is a song by British skinhead band The Angelic Upstarts called Solidarity. In 1983 they wrote this ballad to support the Solidarity trade union and working people of Poland fighting against communist oppression. As a white bodied person, I find myself again resonating with the lyrics of this song and wanting to stand united with the oppressed black bodied members of our human family.


One of the production teams I am blessed to be a part of is SoulPlay Festivals. With this team of incredible humans I have done deep work on many layers of myself. The following, from one of their recent newsletters, tells a bit of what we have discovered and some of what I wish to convey:

“Over the past several months, the production team of SoulPlay has been investigating how to move the SoulPlay festivals and community toward more Diversity and Inclusion, and how to institute practices, policy and ethos that create true and equitable belonging for all people. This has included such action steps as hiring Inclusion and Belonging co-leads Dereca Blackmon and Odessa Avianna Perez, and embarking on a several months-long in-house training of the staff around racial inequity.

What we have learned (so far) is that dismantling white supremacy is an inside and an outside job. It involves actionable steps, reading and educating oneself, and it involves doing the uncomfortable internal work of confronting our own unconscious biases and supremacist modes of thinking. What we have learned is that we have a lot more to do, and that sometimes the best way to be an ally is to know when we don’t know enough, to step aside, sit down, pass the mic to those who have the skills and willingness to educate, and listen.

We encourage everyone to be with what is happening right now. Feel it deeply. Unpack the layers of your discomfort. Amplify and center black voices. Learn what it means to be an ally.

Check out these anti-racism resource lists here and here. Participate in a free workshop. Find new ways to create and build community.

With much love,
The SoulPlay Team”

 


I have learned so much in doing this work with the SoulPlay family. What follows are things I have gathered in this training and from other educators in the field of social justice. This list feel essential to practice for those of us who wish to balance power dynamics and become better allies to marginalized populations.

We must…

  • Investigate where we hold unconscious bias in our thoughts and bodies
    • Become aware of how these biases might cause us to pre-judge.
    • Recognize that if we hold a position of power, like white privilege, this can be used or weaponized as oppression, consciously or unconsciously.
    • Take action to counter the negative influence of implicit biases and prejudice.
  • Recognize everything we know about a group of people is limited by our sample size.
  • Name and address systematic oppression, even if we do not feel like we can do anything about it.
  • Acknowledge white supremacy is alive in this country and in our consciousness as a result of cultural values and programming (this does not make us bad people).
  • Educate ourselves, strengthen our emotional resilience and construct ways to address inequality.
  • Accept there is no information that can inoculate us from offending people.
  • Be willing to make mistakes and extend grace to ourselves and each other as we unpack generations of programming and trauma.
  • Listen and validate feelings without arguing, defending, minimizing, excusing, running away, shutting down, getting angry, crying over how we feel, trying to “fix” the problem or trying to save someone.
  • Look for situational reasons for a person’s actions, rather than stereotype about a person’s group.
  • Connect with people you view with negative stereotypes.
  • Invite people in rather than call them out.
  • Learn to separate our intent from the impact it has on someone, and stay with the impact it has.
  • Create cultures in our lives – at home, at work, and within institutions that support courageous risk-taking with humility, respect and accountability.
  • Increase exposure to marginalized populations and center marginalized voices.
  • Engage cultural humility as a lifelong learning process.

Educate yourself on Black History in the United States and consider watching the following films and clips:


Educate yourself on what is currently happening in our country. If there are any names on the list below you do not recognize, please take a moment to do an internet search of them:

  • Tony McDade – Tallahassee, FL
  • Dion Johnson – Phoenix, AZ
  • George Floyd – Minneapolis, MN
  • Breonna Taylor – Louisville, KY
  • Ahmaud Arbery – Glynn County, GA

For a more extensive list and information about black people murdered by police in the past 6 years, go to Know Their Name.


In response to the recent riots, and the repeated questions I hear as to ‘Why people do this’ and ‘don’t they know they are destroying their own neighborhood?’


Please consider getting informed by, registering with and donating to:


Thank you for taking the time to read this and reflect on how as white bodied people:

  • We have benefitted from white privilege
  • We have contributed to white supremacy – consciously or not
  • We can work to deconstruct our individual biases and prejudices
  • We can work to dismantle systematic racism and discrimination

We are being asked to be on the right side of history.

I feel humbled to live at such a pivotal time in our country’s narrative and grateful to change the course of humankind with you.

The Trickster – Disrupter of Programming

Learning to identify different archetypes of my being has helped me embrace and share aspects of my personality that otherwise could lay dormant. This is especially true when they are characteristics that are not well received by the dominant culture, or even people I chose to surround myself with. I can feel these qualities yearning to be expressed, and I know expression to be the antidote for depression. I would rather voice my truth and have it be rejected by others, than depress it into my body and carry around that heaviness, hardness and eventual anger.

One quality or archetype I find myself resonating with is the playful, rule-bending Trickster. Even now as I write this I can feel a devilish grin on my face and a tingly excitement move from the back of my heart, down my outer arms to my hands. Unfortunately, as the disruptor of programming, the Trickster is often not quickly embraced by family, religion or society.

The Trickster is cunning. He disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior, sometimes maliciously, but usually with positive effects. He changes size, morphs and wears masks to demonstrate that things are not as they appear. He has various expressions depending on the cultural container. In Native American traditions the Coyote who is repeatedly trying to fly and fails (like Wile E Coyote), the Raven and the trickery of the Hare (much like Bugs Bunny & Roger Rabbit) deliver this medicine. There is Loki the Norse god, and the Greek god Hermes as well as Mercury, the Roman adaptation. Pan, also a Greek god, was the inspiration for Peter Pan, the pied piper, and many other playful characters of flute trickery. The goat-like face of this devilish deity eventually became correlated with the image of Satan. Lord Krishna was an infamous trickster both in his youth and as an adult, as was the shape shifting monkey god Hanuman. Charlie Chaplin, the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Robin Hood and Willie Wonka all embody elements of the beloved Trickster, as do comedians, mimes and clowns.

Several years ago I was given the name Jackal Lantern, by two playa brothers. The Jackal, like his cousin the coyote, brings trickster medicine. In Egyptian mythology the golden jackal god Anubis guides souls to the afterlife and weighs their heart against Truth. He is a kind and generous deity whose preference is to send souls to heaven. The Lantern represents a light amidst dark places, because where else does one need light?

The trickster seems to be a comedy of opposites. For every good aspect of his persona there is an equal and opposite aspect. In religious stories his role is very diverse. He is the breaker of taboos. He provides comic relief to a religious myth. And he will pull off elaborate schemes to teach a moral lesson or expose the folly of men.” -School Work Helper. It would seem that the good, the bad and the ugly are one. 

The Taoist Master is often portrayed as unkept and laughing to himself in the wilderness, and in the Zen tradition masters offer mind-bending word puzzles, like the Zen koan to shift ones current experience, or their thinking about the nature of reality. This is trickery in its purest form, as wisdom. This approach can be seen in the way Master Jedi’s, like Yoda, interact with their pupils.

The Creator/Creatrix then is the ultimate Trickster who created prakriti, or nature, so well that we often believe it to be ultimate reality. How many times a day do we think of ourselves as our bodies with all the sense data we receive, and how much have we suffered because we identified with our thinking mind. I know I experience these false identities everyday, and the Trickster has the power to overthrow this programming. When a god comes down and destroys everything, or maybe everything in your life falls apart, this gives way for rebirth and regeneration which to me is where liberation is possible.

“It’s a great puzzler . . . to come across the trickster-hero, because he’s both a kind of devil, and fool, and the creator of the world. He even beaks through the notion of what a deity ought to be” -Joseph Campbell

It often seems acceptable for a god to behave so crazily and wild, but for a human it seems inappropriate and unacceptable. I challenge this notion, and say that we have created gods to inspire us to be our most true selves. I see the wisdom and grace that paradigm shifting trickery can do to old programming and stories that cause us to suffer.

I challenge myself, and I challenge YOU to stay true to yourself. Next time you interact with another, rather than fall into the conventional normal way of responding, add a little flair of the trickster, or an archetype, or quality, you may be prone to hide. Be it silly, goofy, aberrant, or in any way unconventional. Be willing to make a fool out of yourself next time you are in a store, just to express authenticity and to not be attached to the outcome, or the opinions of others. There is no inherit harm in throwing someone a curve ball, and you may just bring them into the present moment. I have a friend who says, “What do you have to gain, what do you have to lose.”

I have learned that I cannot control others response or action. I can stay in my truth and integrity. So I am loyal and dedicated to myself, and my self love. Self-abandonment is the worst experience to me. It is like being gutted, or having ones belly scooped out. I stay loyal to my expression, even to the point of madness. I am not afraid to lose my mind because I trust that I will follow my heart.

On Shadow Work & Self Love

Recently I have been reflecting a lot on the notion of shadow work and self love, both in examining my own life, and in my yoga classes and conversations.

In case you are wondering what I mean by shadow work, when I say shadow, I am acknowledging that each of us has a forward facing persona that is an agreement of our ego and our culture on how we are going to present ourselves in the world to be accepted and successful. I love the Ram Dass quote, “I’ll pretend you are who you think you are, if you pretend I am who I think I am.”

Shadow is then the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden because family, culture, religion, society have told us they are unacceptable or at least ineffective. Often we get so good at hiding these qualities, we disconnect from them and forget they are there. Much of the basis of these concepts comes from psychologist Carl Jung and his work with archetypes and the integrated self. Young suggest that we need to face and integrate these qualities to be whole.

There are two major qualities of my shadow that I continue to become clearer on and integrate, that I would like to share with you.

1st – There is a part of me that has an animal nature that has been suppressed on so many levels that often when it has tried to express itself it was either met with so much resistance, or anticipated resistance, that it came out as anger. I am learning to love this primal nature and to express it when it shows up in a transparent and vulnerable way, so I have no need for anger in the moment, or resentment later. For me, resentment is a sign that something is out of alignment. I also love and accept that there is a animal part of me that would go to extreme measures to survive, even to the point of aggression to protect life and innocence. Like having a daily awareness of death, I have found that it is valuable for me to embrace this wild creature and recognize he is always with me. I love that there is a primal part of me more powerful that I imagine that would go to great lengths for life. And although in loving this wild creature I embrace the potential for violence, what I have found is that I do not go around hurting others, because that is not what is in my heart. Instead I am able to accept and embody my being in my fullest potentiality as unbroken by civilization and wild.

2nd – Sometimes in shadow work, I feel there is a strong inclination to focus on the darkness as negative, bad or even ‘evil’. What I have found is that a big part of my shadow is my sweet year old boy. I learned to hide him because he can be vulnerable, easy to pick on and his feelings can get hurt. Yet never has it been more evident to me that he is always been there, than after I adopted Stitch, the sweetest puppy on the planet. And although people can be unkind, no one can brake my heart because I love myself.

So, what I have been learning to do in my self-love practice, because that is what it’s all about, is to fully accept my wild animal and my sweet boyish natures as part of my whole. And with this I can integrate these part of myself, and I can express them whenever it feels in alignment without any attachment to how others will perceive me or respond. I wish this for YOU. And it is from that place that I chose to share with you now. Do with it what you will.

I love you, because I love myself.

Namaste

Winter Solstice & Honoring Yin ~ The Feminine Principle

5 years ago, I dedicated 2012 to building my relationship with and understanding of the Feminine Principle. In that year as I traveled with my partner, I studied and spent time with the works of spiritual teachers that deeply honor the feminine principles, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Jesus the Christ, Paramahansa Yogananda, Eckhart Tolle, Mahatma Gandhi, Byron Katie, Ramana Maharshi and the Tao te Ching (one of my primary spiritual texts, dedicated to yin/feminine priciple). I also spent 2 months at Amma’s ashram in India, a county of people who have immense reverence for the feminine. On Winter Solstice at the end of the year I offered a workshop on the Divine Feminine. It was incredible to look back on how much my understanding and relating to the feminine both inside and outside of me grew. What I learned is the abandonment of reverence, honor and worship of the feminine principle is actually an act of self abandonment and a disconnect with Nature.

I shared with a woman who does healing work around sexuality with women and couples that I lead a workshop on the Divine Feminine. She laughed. This not only hurt my feelings, it showed me that she was mistaking women for the feminine. Unfortunately, this perspective polarizes people and ends up creating more separation than connection. The narcissism that sometimes comes out of goddess culturedoes not look like balanced feminine, any more than overly soft men in this culture look like balanced masculine. For me honoring the feminine starts with honoring my body and the planet, and then moves into the realm of human relationship.

I understand that privilege has causes immense suffering for many, and nowhere is it more demonstrated that with white men.  I also recognize that to strongly identify as a gender orrace is what keeps us separate and in my experience, as well as the wisdom of my teachers, is the true cause of suffering.

Divinity is the power to create life, and life only happens in the present moment. I honor the trauma that each and every one of you has experienced, and I invite you to let it be, by joining me in the now as you . . . breathe in . . . and breathe out.