GRATITUDE AND THE SPACE FOR DIFFERENCE
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
For the last fifteen years on Thanksgiving I’ve read this quote in class. I start and end classreading it and have it available in cut-out strips for members to take home, read, and share. Each year it becomes more popular –so, expect it again this Thursday when I teach the 10 am Thanksgiving class! I believe it’s become more meaningful as the world becomes even more stressful. I also believe that, in a more subtle way, it offers an enlightening perspective that becomes ever more relevant, despite the surface “soil” we sit in now.
Differences, but not Division
It also highlights one thing I’m most proud of and grateful for about BYSJ: diversity. This may not be obvious when you first start to practice because your mind and body are absorbed in studying and just surviving the grueling class. But as you adapt and adjust, your attentional landscape expands to what’s around you: light skin, dark skin, clear skin, tattooed skin, big muscles, sagging muscles, no hair, full body hair, tall, short, coordinated, uncoordinated, scarred body, rash body, smooth body. And none of it matters! It just IS. What does matter are your attempts to do the posture in the company of others trying to do the same. As a result, day after day, you’ll say hi, carry on a conversation, and maybe even become friends with the person next to you that practices at the same time as you and struggles with the same poses as you.
Equally, yet not as evident, are the details you may not be able to see about each other: who voted for Trump, who voted for Clinton, who watches porn, who is Muslim, who is homophobic, who was released from prison yesterday, who is coping with bipolar disorder, who are full-time caregivers, who just laid off their staff, who needs food stamps, to who believes in white supremacy. Good, bad, just a fact. What matters most are your efforts to do the posture in the company of others trying to do the same.
Since I started teaching 16 years ago, I’ve always been amazed how just doing postures in a small, tight hot room can bring together every walk of life like nothing else I’ve ever seen! Somehow within that environment, each of us figures out how to get along– to the point that we become friends with someone we would have never met otherwise! Because I’m the owner and you all have trusted in me so dearly, I get to know you in more detail than you’d often otherwise share. I believe it’s that trust that enables you to let go of judgment and empowers you to see and act beyond your normal parameters. I believe, too, in the strangest way (and remember God has a sense of humor) that doing THIS yoga, in all the distinctness it carries, portals you to a higher existence – BAR NONE!
I’ve had the opportunity to travel more this year and have been astonished to see and experience for myself what’s NOT out there. At times, it’s made me cry. I love BYSJ so much and the community we share, but there is no reason why every community can’t have what we have! I’ve always appreciated all of you, but my Thanksgiving this year singles each of you out with so much more gratitude now that I’ve been out there. When I was visiting in Michigan, one teacher talked in class about how it’s “diversity not division.” While he meant it kindly, I was like, “Well, duh.” Division? – We just don’t operate that way at BYSJ.
The Ministry of Yoga
So, how do we operate? I often think of our community as a ministry. I once heard this amazing definition of ministry as bringing together people, meeting them where they are at, and providing space for them to move one step closer to God. You can change out the word ‘God’ to anything you believe in – thus my point – diversity not division. I’m not offended. In fact, this place helps you realize more of your authentic self in the most integral way. Members, as you know, whatever isn’t working will reveal itself and eventually heat up and sweat right off you. This empowers you to take a stand, or at the least gives you more confidence in what you do believe. The key is in how you do it.
I find it awesome and ironic that in a world where we are trying to tolerate what we cannot tolerate, we also are not tolerating what we used to tolerate. The resulting pillars of strength are ones you members work on everyday: willpower, concentration, patience, acceptance, and faith. To yield and be strong; to be strong and yet yielding. Being defensive won’t work, being apathetic won’t work, but being compassionate and empathetic will. It wins every time. Whether you know it or not, you reflect a conscious application of compassion and empathy every time you practice your postures. Those whose lives circle around you pick up on how you operate and illuminate in this way. And, as your practice grows and yoga sinks in, your illumination is only going to grow more! This chokes much of our global community: the absence of this type of oxygen, the absence of a kind space of difference to co-exist.
Because of all of you and the practice I’ve had for nearly 20 years, I’ve up’d my authenticity and my voice. I couldn’t be more proud than to shepherd such a community as BYSJ. With all of us together, we are strong enough to reach other communities that should have it, too.
The Soil for Harmony
Since I was a young girl, I’ve had such an affinity for trees. We’d take the family station wagon up from Albany, New York to Lockport, New York and I couldn’t wait for those 6 hours of driving to watch all the trees out my window. Then, when I moved to the West Coast, particularly here in California, I was shocked– palm trees mixed with pine trees, mixed with redwood trees, and those literally next to olive trees! From my experience growing up, palm trees were only in Hawaii; pine trees were in the snow; redwoods were in historical parks; and olive trees were in Italy. WHOA! We have them all in our backyard. I often wondered how trees with such different needs get along–different soil, more or less sun, more or less water and yet, they figured out a way to live and RISE together! Cool!
There is a super cool and spot-on commercial produced in the UK by Heineken that I encourage everyone to see. It is so moving and intensely personal. Please watch! I am enormously grateful to you, BYSJ. Unbeknownst to me, I had no idea what kind of beacon of light we’d be – it’s bigger than the yoga itself. Then again, we all know that the yoga is bigger than the poses themselves! It’s challenging to put what we are and what we aren’t into words. I want to be careful because words are limiting and often say “No,” when we are a studio that says, “Yes!” But one word for sure stands out: Gratitude.