After the events of Orlando I felt myself confused by my own feelings and searching for a way to bridge what I was feeling with my yoga practice. For me yoga has often been about love and surrender and allowing, but in this instance I found myself angry, hurt and confused. Love and compassion didn't feel like enough in this case and I found myself drawn again and again to the Buddhist philosophy of right action, samyak-karmanta.
What does right action mean? "This means that when we act "rightly," we act without selfish attachment to our own agendas. We act mindfully, without causing discord with our speech. Our "right" actions spring from compassion and from understanding of the dharma," writes Barbara O'Brien. And one of my favorite teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh writes "The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness."
This lead me to write a post that I shared on Facebook last week, one I originally shared with friends, but as we continue to approach how to practice yoga off the mat, I feel very much has a space here with all of you. For those who didn't get to read it, here it is in full:
I have found myself torn between heartbreak and anger these last few days as I, and the world, process the tragedy of the shooting in Orlando. I have had trouble putting words to the mess of emotions inside of me when I watch as my own community is attacked and I once again feel those whispers of fear telling me that it isn’t safe to be who I am.
Do I believe that gun control in our country is in need of a major overhaul? Yes. Do I believe that the bigoted misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic rhetoric of major political leaders is poisoning our country? Absolutely. Do I feel that at times our country feels irreparably broken? I do. Do I think our media is spinning this into an Islamophobic witch hunt and denying the fact that this crime is a hate crime pure and simple? I do.
Yet as I sit with all of these things and the calls for prayers and love I feel like something is missing. Yes, we need love, yes we need prayers, but its simply not enough. We all need to start taking responsibility for ourselves and for ways in which we are participating in perpetuating the hate that drives people to acts such as this.
I’m not talking about the white supremacists, or the right wing evangelicals, or the Trump
supporters. I am talking about all of us, you and me. Most of us sit in a seat of power somewhere in our lives. As a gay woman I am no strangers to sexism and homophobia but as an upper-middle class, white, cis-gendered person I am becoming more and more aware of the privilege I have and the inherent power I have over others as a result.
And while for a small minority that power exerted comes in the form of bigotry, hate and violence, for the vast majority of us it comes from being unaware of this privilege and power and the harm our words and our inaction can have on minority communities. And straight, white, cis-gendered, upper-middle class men, I’m looking at you. Like it or not, you’re at the top of the food chain of power.
It takes mindful communication and it takes a willingness to be told that we are wrong. If we really choose to be thinking about our own privilege, we also need to be open to those of disenfranchised groups telling us when we are overstepping our bounds, when we say something thoughtless or hurtful and how it impacts and dis-empowers them.
And let me tell you, I am tired of being told that “I am over-reacting” or that its okay that you said what you said “because you have (insert whomever your previous remark degraded or offended…gay, black, women) friends” when I call you out on your words or behavior. You need to take responsibility. We all need to take responsibility. Its time we take a step back and listen.
And part of that responsibility lies in the hands of all of us to stand up to people who are perpetuating hateful speech. Words are power and no matter whether we say things in seriousness or in jest we are part of the problem. One voice can lead to a thousand voices and that thousandth voice can become a Omar Mateen, or a Brock Turner or a George Zimmerman.
Is this a time for national discussion around gun control? Absolutely. Is this a time to examine how the homophobic and transphobic legislation that is coming to Congress currently is a huge part of the problem? Yes. But can you start taking a step each and every day to choose right action and right speech? You can, and that may perhaps make the biggest impact of all.
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