Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Samarya Center ~ Keepin' the passion in compassion

It's been over ten years since I first had the idea to open a yoga studio with a focus on healing and wellness. I had no idea what the end result would look like, I just knew that as a clinician, I was getting burnt out on looking at people like there was something wrong with them. I found myself often at odds with my supervisors and colleagues and had very different ideas about people, their abilities and potentials to heal, and my role in that process. What I was finding from my own yoga classes was that there was another way to live, to look, and to be engaged in the world - a perspective that was built on wholeness and inclusivity, and people's own innate ability to heal themselves, their communities and the world. That's really the way I was brought up - that you stick up for the underdog, that you use whatever you have to influence the world in a positive way. So at first, when I became a speech language pathologist, I thought I was doing just that. I had the idea that if I could help people to communicate more effectively, I could help them to find greater happiness and peace in their world. The idea was good, but it soon became clear to me that this was not the greatest impact I could have. What I became passionate about was influencing the people who had influence over others. So the direct service in many ways became simply a means for me to find people who needed help, then find the people interested (and sometimes even not interested) in helping them, and providing my strength, my ideas, my experience and knowledge to help those people change their outlook and interventions.

It has been a challenging spiritual pursuit. See, all my life I have been given the message, overtly or by suggestion, that I am "too much." That I should "tone it down." That no one likes a show off. As a spiritual seeker, I know that I have to consider that feedback, and figure out how to be me without stealing the spotlight from anyone else. I have tried to make myself small, and I have also loudly claimed the identity of being a "big personality." And yet, in both incarnations, I felt disingenuous or unhappy. How could I use my fire, my strength, to make positive change in this world that seems so filled with suffering? I can't do it by being small, and I can't do it by alienating others, so what do I do? I have felt paralyzed, angry and isolated in my search for truth and meaning, and have many times questioned my spiritual path, or even the desire to follow one. Who am I to tell or show anyone how they should act, how they are causing or furthering suffering, why they are suffering themselves in the shadow of their own identity? Why shouldn't I just stay in my little village in Mexico, swing in my hammock, drink beer and mind my own business? I don't know the answers, I can only tell you that I am searching just like everyone else, and that I have fear and doubt just like everyone else. But that fire keeps coming back to me. If I believe in yoga, and I believe in God, then this gift of fire and strength and advocacy must be something I was given to use in God's service - a gift that I can somehow offer the world.

When I first opened The Samarya Center, I went to a tarot card reader for insight and advice. The one thing she told me that I remember best was this: The Samarya Center will be its own entity. It will grow organically, and your only job is to get out of its way, to steward and guide it, but to let it build and breathe on its own. I have kept that advice close to my heart and all the decisions I have ever made regarding The Samarya Center have been informed by that thought. Like it was a child, I have nurtured and influenced it, but never forced it to be anything it didn't want to be, never pushed my own agenda over its direction. But now, like it was my young adult child, I feel like we have a new relationship - one where I am ready to give my advice, my influence, my guidance, in a way that can be accepted, evaluated and refined. We can now have a conversation together.

The Board of Directors has been working really hard to take The Samarya Center to its next place of growth. In our work, we hired a wonderful, and wonderfully objective, facilitator to help us clear our heads, find our focus, and make smart next steps. In this process, the board and the facilitator invited the title, "Spiritual Director," and asked me to describe what I am about.

What am I about?

I think I know, and then I second guess. I have sat and thought on this question for a long time, talked to my most trusted friends and teachers, and have done many meditations with this as the central question. What would I tell my adult child? How would I influence someone that I loved, trusted and cared for, and more than anything, what would I tell someone about reaching his or her own potential based on my experience and my spiritual beliefs? What can I tell The Samarya Center, and how can I best support those efforts?

I believe that The Samarya Center is special and unique, and I am ready to stand more fully behind what I believe its truest mission to be. Yoga is a great thing, a great practice and a powerful spiritual discipline. I know how many people find their own lives transformed through yoga. I am deeply grateful that there are so many yoga studios around and so many places where people can go to work on themselves, to quiet their minds, to make their bodies more healthy and vibrant. I applaud those efforts without reservation. But The Samarya Center is different. It is about this change in the individual for the express purpose of manifesting that change out into the world and alleviating suffering. It is about advocacy and radical social change. It is about deep commitment to self-inquiry and a fiery heart that is bursting to change the world. This isn't always the "nice" way or the "easy" way, but true change doesn't always come from nice, and easy, and comfort. It comes from dedication, commitment and challenging the status quo, including the status quo of our own hearts and minds.

I think of The Samarya Center in many ways like the Pioneer Square missions, or even the Hare Krishnas: sure, we'll give you a free lunch, or an $8 yoga class, but that is because we want you to listen, to participate, to dedicate yourself to change for the good of the world. Our $8 yoga has a purpose: yes, it's to make yoga accessible to more people, but I want it to be accessible to more people who want to work hard, who have the power to influence their communities, who aren't afraid to stand up for what's right, and who aren't afraid to be called to task for their own self-cherishing, when this ego identification keeps them from being fully themselves.

I am interested in teaching people yoga. Real yoga. Deep yoga. Challenging yoga. If the foundations of yoga ~ connection to others and connection to God ~ were really the very most important part of our practice, then we wouldn't even have to think about "being inclusive," "celebrating diversity," or "promoting equality." If the whole world were on the path of the Boddhisattva, in other words, if we really cared about the happiness of all other beings as much as we cared about our own happiness, there would not be institutionalized racism, global poverty, hate crimes, corrupt governments, increasing violence, gang warfare, drug trafficking, terrorism, or even people making each other feel small, in an epidemic of self-doubt and unworthiness. If we actually believed in and practiced a deep connection to other beings, and a moral imperative to alleviate suffering, we might act very differently in our day to day choices and interactions. It sounds overly simplistic and idealistic, I know. But it is also true. And one way we can start on this path is through the practice of yoga in a community of like minded individuals who believe in change, and who believe that change starts with oneself. And one thing I can do is to cultivate and steward that community through The Samarya Center.

It has been nearly nine years since "September 11." I remember teaching that day, and feeling totally overwhelmed. Was I supposed to say something? Do something? I felt again, paralyzed and isolated. I remember turning to Stephanie and saying, "what do we do?" and her responding, "we just keep doing what we are doing." I was horribly disappointed and extremely angry at that response. In that moment of anguish, it felt so smug, so defeatist, so non-committal, so resigned.

Almost nine years later, and almost ten years after starting The Samarya Center, it has come to be exactly what I believe to be true. We just keep doing what we're doing, but we bring our greatest gifts to bear on our practice. I have the gift of fire, and I have the gift of advocacy. I am still learning how to use them, but I have come to own these gifts, and to dedicate them to changing the world. Am I wrong? I don't know. Am I ready to be The Samarya Center's Spiritual Director? I'm not sure. But I do know that I am ready to shepherd The Samarya Center into maturity. I am ready to lead and cheerlead, and to use my passion t0 ignite our community in its shared enthusiasm for change. We have dreams of opening a center in Portland, followed by more Samarya Centers around the country to bring our message of yoga and healing to more and more communities. We have dreams of expanding our center here in Seattle to accommodate our growth and create the infrastructure to sustain that growth and to maintain the central mission. We are actively looking to create new innovative outreach programs to bring yoga to communities deeply in need of healing. We are growing, we are organizing, we are revolutionizing!

We are a community dedicated to radical social change. You are a part of that too. Please help us to move fearlessly into this bright future. Do you believe in it too? Give generously, there are so many ways to be involved ~ from your pocketbook in our fundraising efforts, with your time in volunteering at the center and at our events, with your heart by bringing this message of compassion and equality out into the world through your work, your community, your own yoga teaching, and even with your dedication and practice, by opening yourself up to continued self-inquiry and a willingness to move beyond your own limited conditioning and ego identification. By really practicing. Yoga.

We are all in this together. Our community can make a change. And we hold you dearly as part of that.

~ with much love and light ~ molly

"When I dare to be powerful- to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." ~Audre Lorde