Category Archives: Inclusion

Don’t Demonize Difference

“Rather than demonize difference, yoga invites us to engage, embrace, and celebrate it. Yoga means union, the connection of body, heart, and mind, the connection of breath to movement, the connection of one human being to another. It is an invitation to intimacy with oneself and of connection to others.”–Gail Parker

IMG_0257In Hindu mythology, the Asuras, which simply means “Not Suras,” and the Suras were neighbors who had various shared and divergent interests. Neither group was particularly interested in interacting with or getting to know the other. Over time, for a complex set of reasons, the Asuras, who were at one time revered as gods, became known as demonic. What started out as different and unknown became confused with “other” in a negative sense. The Asuras came to be described as “darker beings,” evil spirits or demons, while the Suras were described as “beings of light,” as gods. The story of the Suras and the Asuras is ultimately the story of the demonization of “that which is not like me.”

Like the Suras and Asuras, we live in a complex world of difference that today, in a positive way, we would call diversity. We are members of a global community, different from each other but not separate. Instead of seeing our own views as the totality of the human experience, yoga offers the view of the human race as one family, each member with his or her own unique contributions, gifts and talents that need to be tapped, developed and shared.

We are not all the same. We don’t look alike, think alike, talk alike or act alike. We are not one. But unlike the Suras and Asuras who kept their distance from each other, yoga asks us to join together to get to know, honor, celebrate and share our perspectives and experiences with each other. It invites us to enter into relationship with that which is unfamiliar and “not like me” even if it makes us uncomfortable. IMG_0865Yoga doesn’t ask us to be the same because unity quickly devolves into conformity. Once that happens, difference becomes a problem. Even though there’s comfort in sameness, a desire for sameness is negative because it negates the other person’s perspective: “I wish you were like me, not like you.”

The negativity of sameness ruptures connection. There are two forms this negativity can take. First there’s devaluation of your self or someone else. Then there’s an elevation of your self over someone else. When we regard those who are different from us from a superior position, we annihilate them. When we regard our difference as a sign of inferiority, we engage in self-abuse. We feel like victims, and we annihilate ourselves.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.30.40 PMEach one of us is a gift like a flower that emerges. Our yoga is to engage with our gifts and our experiences and then share them. All of our experiences, gifts and talents when drawn together and shared become the opportunity for evolution and growth. In sharing our gifts and our experiences, we nourish what is greater than ourselves, the community. In this process of sharing we discover and strengthen our connection to each other.

We don’t have to deny difference to keep from demonizing it. Our differences are part of what make us unique. But while we have different interests and backgrounds, we share a common humanity. Acknowledging differences does not have to divide us; in fact, acknowledging our differences can help us develop closer bonds through mutual understanding and respect.

IMG_0839Because of differences in national, cultural, gender, racial, ethnic and religious identity, and due to differences in sexual orientation, ability, disability, age, body size and learning styles, a person’s frame of reference and perspectives may be different from but no less valid than your own. Let us learn and then teach each other to embrace the totality of the human race as one’s own people, as members of the human family, no matter who they are or where they come from.

The pre-conditions of a functional community require that each of us value one another. We do this by:

Getting to know those who are different from us

Acknowledging each other’s differences

Affirming each other’s differences

Advocating for each other’s reality and potential

Sharing our gifts and talents

Respect for difference asks that we recognize that different does not mean better than or less than. It is not something to be hated, feared or eradicated. Different just means different. Engaging, embracing, and celebrating difference is our yoga.

Namaste

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Looking Back

An Akan proverb, or the Sankofa tells us “We should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.”

It is hard to believe that the close of 2013 is just weeks away. I feel like this is a good time to circle back and highlight some thoughts I’ve shared over the past 12 months. I chose past writings that speak to some of the holiday ups and downs most of us experience in hopes my words will bring you greater well being and, as always, continued growth! Enjoy…

LIVING HEROICALLY
As far as I know my father never once stepped onto a yoga mat. Yet it is through his example that I learned what living yoga off the yoga mat really means. It’s about attitudes and actions that keep you focused, calm, and non-reactive in the face of life’s challenges. It’s about doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Lt. Colonel Frederick L. Parker, USAF

Lt. Colonel Frederick L. Parker, USAF

He did this throughout his military career by valiantly fighting, at his own peril, for freedoms that were not always granted to him, because it was the right thing to do. He demonstrated courage by standing up for and insisting on equal treatment for all, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He proved that obstacles are overcome by committing to relentlessly following your purpose, no matter who or what opposes you. He demonstrated that living life heroically means living life authentically and facing your fears head on, everyday, with an open heart.

LIVING FULLY
leg up framed-_MG_2724To live life fully we are called to live a life of service to others. Ask yourself each day upon awakening, what difference you want to make in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be a monumental difference. It could be something as simple as offering a listening ear to a friend in need, making a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking about, or running an errand for a neighbor.

LIVING HOPEFULLY
web_b_MG_6940Do not let limitations or barriers keep you from pursuing your dreams. No achievement comes without obstacles. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue moving toward your goal. Remember no effort you make goes unrewarded. Keep looking for a job if you’re unemployed. Keep applying to schools until you’re admitted. Finish what you start. Don’t give up.

LIVING MORE SLOWLY
b-edit_MG_6892-1For many of us doing has become more important than being. Even though we long for rest and relaxation, these are needs we tend to ignore. We have to talk ourselves into the practice of slowing down and being still. A culture of doers, we have places to go, people to meet, things to do. The only thing we think we can’t do is nothing.

LIVING OPENLY
b_MG_8295The problem with carrying around a secret is that it can be toxic, costing you peace of mind, happiness, even your health. Keeping secrets interferes with your ability to be yourself, and to be intimate with others. It doesn’t matter what your secret is; keeping secrets is a form of dishonesty that causes harm to us physically, psychologically and spiritually, and sometimes causes harm to others.

Yoga teaches us that truthfulness is a guiding principle of our practice both on and off our yoga mat. We learn that by shining a light on the hidden places within ourselves we can safely avoid their stress-related consequences. Even though the thought of revealing a secret can seem scary, once you take that first step, it gets easier.

LIVING WITH STILLNESS
october blog“Go to your room!” “Sit still until I tell you to move!” “You need a time out!” For those of us who grew up hearing these words when we misbehaved, is it any wonder that as adults we have an aversion to being still, to being quiet, or to being alone? When stillness, time-out, and alone time are used as forms of punishment, how likely is it that we would look forward to, much less be able to delight, in stillness?


LIVING WITH CONTENTMENT
grayweb-edit_MG_4513Contentment should not be confused with complacency, which is a state of stagnation, or no growth. Rather, contentment is a sign that we are at peace with our circumstances, and ourselves. Being content does not mean that we have to settle for what we don’t want, whether it is a toxic relationship, unbearable living conditions, or inhumane working conditions. Contentment starts with accepting reality as it is, not as we want it to be. Accepting reality can lead us to make the necessary changes that result in an overall sense of well-being.

Contentment is not the same as happiness. We all face difficult times in our lives. But it is possible to find contentment even in painful circumstances through acceptance of the situation. In the case of a devastating illness, loss or other unwelcomed circumstance, we may go through various stages of emotional turmoil such as denial, anger, and depression before we reach acceptance. But it is possible to find contentment and inner peace, even then….No matter what your circumstance, there is always the possibility of living life more fully.

Contentment is the ability to appreciate how much you have, rather than how much you want.

LIVING LIFE WITH CHANGE
b-edit516Change is risky and can be accompanied by sadness, fear, regret, anger, and disappointment. If you stepped on a nail, it would obviously be painful and you would want to remove it. But before it feels better, removing the nail hurts, sometimes more than staying on it. Truth be told, there are times when we’d rather adjust to and accept a familiar hurt than risk the discomfort of change, even if the change we face leads to something better. But you can’t “put the past behind you and move on” without saying goodbye to what you are leaving.

There is wisdom to be gained by reflecting on change, its inevitability, and how to gracefully accept it. The ability to embrace change is an essential part of living. Accepting the pain that sometimes comes with it is fundamental to the embrace of life itself. Where there is life there is change. Without change there is no growth and no life. To align with life, we must become one with change and “go with the flow.”

 The Rune of Termination and New Beginnings
“The life you have been living has outgrown its form, and must die so new energy can be released. May you undergo a death within your self. You are always free to resist, but remain mindful that the new life is always greater than the old. Prepare then for opportunity disguised as loss.”

Namaste

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20/20 Insight

Recently I watched a documentary called “Dark Girls” produced by Bill Duke, in which various shades of brown-skinned American women of African ancestry described their experiences of being shunned, bullied, and made to feel inferior because of their dark skin. These women were beautiful, but had been made to feel unattractive and unwanted in a culture that regards certain differences as odd, foreign, threatening or, even worse, repulsive.

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Whether or not we know it, like it, or believe it, deviations from deeply embedded, culturally accepted stereotypes shape our attitudes toward what is acceptable and what is not, as well as who is acceptable and who is not.

Americans have been acculturated to regard certain types of beauty, usually fair skin, straight blond hair, blue eyes, toothpick thin, no curves (except maybe for large breasts), as the standard by which to evaluate women as worthy, beautiful, smart (or not), pleasing, and acceptable. And there are other stereotypes that shape our consciousness and affect our attitudes toward race, ethnicity, religion, body type, gender, political affiliation, gun ownership, physical ability, intellectual prowess, age, and more.

Attitudes operate on two levels – consciously and unconsciously. They reflect our thoughts, influence our words, and manifest in our actions. Our conscious attitudes are made up of what we are aware of, what we choose to believe. Our unconscious attitudes are those knee jerk reactions and automatic associations that lurk beneath the surface of our awareness. These unconscious attitudes could be entirely incompatible with what we say we believe.

We don’t deliberately choose our unconscious attitudes; we’re obviously not aware of them, and therein lays the problem. Unless you become aware, the unconscious may cause you to say or do things that embarrass you and unintentionally harm other people. We see this all the time in media reports of people falsely accused of wrong doing based on their looks alone, or the latest high-profile politician, celebrity, or religious leader who has to publicly apologize for making outrageously offensive remarks about a group of people or an individual who doesn’t fit their stereotype of acceptability.

There is an ongoing national conversation about how to cultivate inclusive attitudes and behaviors that embrace and celebrate all types of difference, and that challenge cultural stereotypes. The yoga community in the United States is an important part of this conversation.

The word “yoga” means to connect or to join with. Yoga really is for everybody, not just for those who look a certain way, think a certain way, and act a certain way. We can easily forget this and be lulled into thinking of union as sameness, ignoring the reality and the value of difference.

Some of us have been taught to ignore difference, learning that it doesn’t really matter and shouldn’t exist in our minds. But that’s delusional. Any observant human being knows that difference does exist and it does matter.

Ignoring differences might give you a feeling of comfort or security, but it creates disconnection between people and makes intimacy impossible. It also sets you up to be highjacked by unconscious attitudes.

Our attitudes around difference may not always be conscious, but through the practice of compassionate Self–Study we can become conscious of them.

If we choose to live a conscious life, we can benefit from checking our attitudes. With awareness we can rid ourselves of unconscious prejudices and shape our consciousness to be open to, embrace, and celebrate a culture that is becoming more varied and expansive every moment. If you’re curious and want to learn more about your deep seated attitudes regarding a variety of differences including race, gender, ethnicity, weight, skin tone, religion, sexuality and more, go to www.implicit.harvard.edu and take the test that reveals your unconscious attitudes about difference. It’s a real eye opener and remember: 20/20 insight is a precursor to change.

Namaste

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That’s What Friends Are For

The beauty and the peril of friendship is that it’s a relationship that is totally voluntary. No strings attached. Unlike those relationships that bind us by blood, duty, obligation, and love, we choose our friends. The only bonds in friendship are mutual attraction and a shared desire to be in the relationship.

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Friendships come in infinite varieties: yoga friends, misery loves company friends, Facebook friends, fair-weather friends, bosom buddies, work related friends, party friends, work out friends, and many more. There is no one size fits all friendship. We attract friends into our lives for all kinds of reasons and sometimes only for a season. But whether they last a season or a lifetime, our friendships help us grow.

Juanita and Sarah had been best friends for more than 25 years.  They met in middle school and attended high school together. Even though they attended different colleges they stayed in touch, visiting each other as often as possible. Once they graduated they went their separate ways each living in different cities. They corresponded, talked on the phone, and saw each other whenever they could. Because they were emotionally close, geographical distance never threatened their relationship.

Juanita said Sarah was the closest thing to a sister she had ever known. They were inseparable. They stood up in each other’s weddings, hosted baby showers for each other, mourned the loss of loved ones together, and supported each other through serious illnesses and even through a divorce…without a doubt they were best friends forever.

When Sarah told Juanita in a late night phone conversation,  “You haven’t been calling me as much as you used to, I guess I can’t count on you anymore.”  Juanita thought she was kidding. True, since she had remarried and taken on the responsibilities of a blended family, she had not been as available to Sarah. But what about all the times she had gone out of her way to be there for her; like when Sarah got fired from her job, or when she was diagnosed with lupus, or when her father died? It slowly began to dawn on Juanita that the friendship had become lopsided. When Sarah was in need Juanita had always been there to help. Now that she was not as available, Sarah put the relationship on the line.

Their relationship had always seemed balanced because Sarah was needy and Juanita needed to be needed.  Juanita was a giver and Sarah was a receiver. We tend to think that if a giver ends up with a receiver there is balance in the relationship – but this is an illusion. Two people out of balance do not create a balanced relationship. Eventually the one who needs to be needed asks for support, or the one who likes to be given to has something she wants to offer. When that happens it throws things off. If you’re not mindful, the shift in dynamics can threaten the friendship.

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Instead of relying on our friendships for balance we need to balance the ability to give and receive within our own personalities.

There is a certain energy that attracts friends to each other. Opposites do attract. Like magnets we tend to attract those who possess traits and qualities we would like to possess, or traits and qualities we are unaware we already possess. Needy people tend to attract people who love to give but who have a hard time receiving. Those who love to give tend to attract those who love to receive but have a hard time offering their gifts and talents to others.

To grow, each friend needs to become more like the other. Over time, if the friendship is working its magic, and you are making the effort, you will start to change. But here’s the peril. When you change even if it’s for the better, and your friend doesn’t make the adjustment, the balance shifts and you’re out of sync with each other.

So how do we restore balance when this happens? First of all try not to put your relationship on the line. It can be a deal breaker. In a dynamic relationship nothing stays the same. In order to sustain a friendship there has to be mutual interest and attraction as well as a willingness on both parts to maintain the connection.

When the dynamics of friendship change we have to make certain adjustments. Instead of trying to relate in the same ways you always have, if you’re like Sarah you may have to give more and ask for less. If you’re like Juanita you may have to give less and ask for more.

Can your friendship survive the change in circumstances that life inevitably introduces or that personal growth brings? Do friendships last a lifetime? What is true friendship anyway? Why is it so difficult to let go once we realize we’ve outgrown a friend? Is it really okay to end a friendship that’s gone bad or one that has stagnated?

I would love to hear what you know about the answers to some of these questions and to hear how your friendships they have helped you grow.

Namaste

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The Yoga Of Inclusion

“There’s only one thing we can be sure of and that’s the love we have for our children,  for our families, and for each other … the love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger.” –President Barak Obama

The 2010 U.S. census identified Detroit as the country’s fourth-most racially segregated city. Yet at a favorite soul food restaurant near Detroit, I noticed that the patronage always reflects a 60/40 black-white racial mix. Sometimes more whites than blacks, sometimes the reverse, but usually a 60/40 mix. I asked my husband why he thought this African American-owned restaurant always had this particular mix of patrons. Without hesitation he said, “Intention.”

And then my “aha” moment: “It doesn’t just happen.”  Racial and cultural diversity are natural outcomes of conscious intention. When we intend to be inclusive and engage respectfully with those who are different from us we attract diversity.

Intentions are the promises we make to ourselves about what we are going to do, not what we wish would happen. Like yoga, inclusion is more than a theory, it is a practice. Once you set your mind on practicing it, you increase your chances of actually manifesting diversity.

Practicing tolerance is not the same as practicing inclusion. An attitude of tolerance carries with it the energy of endurance and indifference. “I am willing to put up with you because it’s the politically correct thing to do, but I am not inspired to engage you or to connect with you because I’m really not that interested.” That’s tolerance.

Since yoga is about engagement and connection, the yoga of inclusion asks us to go beyond our capacity to endure or put up with difference. It invites us to enter into relationship with that which is “other” and/or unfamiliar even if it makes us uncomfortable.

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My ideal community is one that is racially, culturally, and ethnically diverse; a community that offers opportunities for a fuller experience through sharing our unique gifts, talents, and perspectives with each other, rather than one that requires sameness and conformity in order to have a sense of belonging. It is a more complex way to live and requires effort, but I like complexity and I don’t mind doing the work.

This past Christmas my family and I shared dinner with close friends. At the table were our hosts, a blended family, one widowed, the other divorced, a second marriage for both. The hostess is Greek American. The host has Appalachian and Native American roots. Both of their former spouses are Jewish. The gathering included the hostess’s bi-racial grandson, his Jewish/Greek American mother, along with her significant other and his  African American parents. My son was also there; his biological father is African American and his biological mother is German American and Ojibwa. He brought his significant other, who is Puerto Rican and Cuban American. Also at the table were a bi-racial couple, one French Canadian, the other Japanese American, their daughter, as well as my husband and me, we’re both African American. We all joined hands and hearts as we celebrated our loving connection to one another. It may not be for everyone, but this rich world of diversity is one that I relish, savor, and intentionally cultivate.

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If you value racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity, then you need to  invest in it. It won’t manifest in your life just because you want it to. If you make inclusion your intention you can practice it by reaching out and extending yourself beyond your ordinary boundary. Some ideas:

  • Attend a religious service different from your own. Go to a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Baha’i house of worship, a synagogue, a Christian service at a white church if you’re African American, or a black church if you’re white, a Protestant service if you are Catholic, or a Catholic service if you’re not. Invite someone of a different faith to join you in your worship service.
  • Once a month prepare a meal from a culture different than yours, and/or go to a restaurant and try foods you’ve never tasted from another culture.
  • Participate in various cultural events ; a Kwanzaa celebration, a Passover Seder. Go to a museum of African American history, a Jewish holocaust museum, or try an Italian or German opera. Invite friends from other races and cultures to share in your traditions.
  • Learn to speak Spanish, Swahili, Chinese, or Farsi.
  • Travel often and go to as many far away places as you can.

There is a difference between what you say you’ll do and what you want the outcome to be. If racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity are outcomes you are trying to create, then cultivating attitudes, language and behaviors that support that outcome are necessary. Cultural competence, using language that invites and welcomes, and inclusive behaviors all help.

Remember, your actions are what make the yoga of inclusion more than a theory. Small efforts make a big difference. So set your intention and then make it your practice. Take the yoga of inclusion off your mat and into your life.

Namaste

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