Several days after the 2016 presidential election, I attended a full weekend of yoga teacher training. One would think that this would be the perfect antidote, a fabulous idea, to help recover from the shock and horror of Trump's victory. But in my mind, the prospect of being asked to "go inside"—to dwell within my own mind, body, and heart—was actually pretty terrifying. Stretch? Breathe? Meditate? Are you kidding me?
"Please don't make us feel things," I joked to one of our teachers.
In these "shock and awe" days of Trump's early presidency, I'm feeling much the same way. Inundated daily with news of our democracy's downward spiral, I want to numb. I want to scarf junk food, to work compulsively, to curl up in a ball, to fill my silent apartment with noise. Within my own mind, I have the sense that I'm running away from something that's actually a part of me.
On Thursday, I managed to roll out my yoga mat and practice. I pulled up a Seane Corn yoga video on my laptop and eyed it warily. Honestly, practicing yoga felt like the very last thing in the world I wanted to do. In fact, I procrastinated by doing all my dishes. And I hate doing dishes.
The only thing that got me to practice was this pesky idea—which sometimes seems abstract—that, when we practice, we practice for the benefit of all beings. What does that even mean? How can someone else benefit from us stretching, or breathing, or singing, or running, or whatever else we do to stave off the rapid approach of despair?
In our current crisis, the answer seems clear. It's nothing glamorous or exciting. We need to practice—to do basic maintenance work on ourselves—so that we can witness what is happening. This is the bare minimum, but it would be pretty easy to miss. We need to stay healthy and strong so that we don't burn out, turn away, or crumble. I need to protect my mind so that I can listen to my brothers and sisters in distress. I need to protect my body so that I can continue to show up in the streets. I need to protect my spirit so that I can continue to have hope, in spite of devastating circumstances, that we can overcome the evil that is manifesting in our nation.
Today, I am thinking about Henri Nouwen again, and his understanding of discernment. One thing that Henri advocated paying attention to was "the signs of the times." He encouraged us to examine critical current events, and inquire as to what these events might be saying about our call to serve the world. He used Thomas Merton's writings on peace and nonviolence, and his situation within the 1960's, as an example:
If you claim nothing as your own, including your own life, you can expose the illusion of control and the false basis of war and violence by refusing any compromise with evil. Thus the self-emptied person is the true revolutionary in the world. How might we stand aside from all our demands and desires in this age of consumerism and militarism and seek peace within—peace for our immediate community and peace in the world?
When millions of people experience the same event of series of critical events in the world, these events become, according to Merton, occasions to to discern the signs of the times. And the messages they contain are not only for the individual but also for the community of faith and the world at large.
I personally feel that the rising darkness around us is indeed a message of some kind. Although I cannot yet hear the message clearly, the "signs of our times" have certainly placed us within a painful crucible. But I also know that I can only take right action one breath, one day at a time.
I am sending you the deepest wishes for peace, strength, and fortitude, and love.
Stay salty and RESIST,
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