Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sources of inspiration ~ igniting our inner fire

This month at The Samarya Center we are talking about sources of inspiration ~ who inspires us, what our connection is to the people that inspire us, how we cultivate those connections, and how we relate to our sources of inspiration; are they demi-Gods that we can only hope to aspire to? Are they real people that we believe we can emulate? Do we idolize or pedestalize them, and ignore their faults? Or perhaps worse, when we find out they have faults do we dismiss them and deny their contributions to changing the world?

As we think about our own desire for peace and equality, and especially our desire to be catalysts and contributors to greater social justice, even fulfilling our mission "to foster individual transformation as a means to radical social change," we must also carefully consider what prevents us from fulfilling this desire, or truly benefiting from the fruits of our practice. If you are a student at The Samarya Center, you know that we have an altar that includes a "wall of peace and justice" featuring several important contributors to movements of anti-oppression, equality and service. But who are those people, and why did we choose them? Our list is included below, with basic links to each, and over the course of the month, we expect to have suggestions from our community for other people we think should also have a place on our altar. More importantly however, the introduction to the people on our wall will serve as a springboard for honest and open exploration of our own ideas and ideals, and for cultivating a deeper desire and call to action ~ a true stoking and igniting of our own inner fire. We really can be the change we wish to see in the world.

So far this month I have had the opportunity to talk about three of our sources of inspiration, or at least three of the people who are on the wall. Each of these people, for me, has invited a different exploration to our relationship with ourselves, with others in our community, and with the greater sense of "world famous" change makers. First I chose Bob Marley. Who doesn't know Bob Marley? I have to say that in my vast travels, I have never been anywhere, where I have not been sitting in some tiny shack of a bar, drinking a coldish local lager where I have not heard Bob Marley piped over whatever speakers might be cobbled together to create atmosphere. But why did Bob Marley end up on our wall? Even if you are somewhat familiar with his music, you might not be aware of his contributions through music to anti-oppression and social justice movements, or his world famous invitation of two opposing political party leaders, each heads of very heated, tumultuous warring factions that were creating lots of violence and gang warfare, and bringing them on stage together and getting them to join hands in a gesture of unity.

If you know anything else about Bob Marley, you are probably aware of his excessive marijuana use, if not his dedication to the Rastafari movement, which in and of itself is anti-white and oppressive in its backlash against the "establishment," and his philandering, having had at least 11 children with a variety of women. So, we must ask the question, does this take away from what he accomplished in his short life? In fact, we are all only human, and we all have both great strengths as well as serious limitations or challenges. Yoga is about wholeness and multi-dimensionality, and through our practice, we might look at our own tendencies to judge ourselves and others, to cut each other down, to pedestalize our heroes. Thinking of this, we might even explore our collective love of gossip, and how this is just another way that we take away from one another, or deny a person's wholeness. We might choose a practice of, when hearing gossip simply saying, "so?" and redirecting our thoughts and energies into what is good and right about a person and be less concerned with his or her faults. In so doing, we might also begin to accept our own wholeness, which in turn may allow us to focus and celebrate and truly use all of our gifts and talents to contribute to social change, without fear of being criticized or feeling at odds with ourselves. We can bring light, even with our shadows.

Next I chose possibly the least known person on our altar, William P. Ford. Mr. Ford was a very close family friend, really one of my dad's two best friends.

"William P. Ford, a trial lawyer, is the brother of Ita Ford, one of four American churchwomen murdered by security forces in El Salvador in 1980. Just days after the murders, the churchwomen's families asked Human Rights First to represent them in their quest for justice. Mr. Ford was a hands-on, active client, accompanying Human Rights First on numerous fact-finding missions and meetings with U.S. and Salvadoran officials. Mr. Ford has been a dedicated advocate - not only for his sister and the other murdered churchwomen, but for all the oppressed people of El Salvador. As part of a campaign for justice for his sister, he obtained a 54.6 million dollar liability ruling against Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, who were retired El Salvadorean generals living in the United States. "

This was a huge deal in the media when it happened, and especially so in my family, as the murder of Mr. Ford's sister hit so close to home. My dad and Mr. Ford and their other best friend, were three very high powered litigators, and devout Catholics. I remember well the igniting in Mr. Ford, and in my dad and Mr. Heyman, when such a horrific thing happened to someone in their own family. Mr. Ford essentially gave up the bulk of his high powered practice in NYC and focused like a pit bull on Human Rights and especially US policy in El Salvador.
In thinking about Mr. Ford, I can't help but thinking about how each one of us, by being yogis, by being members of The Samarya Center, (or in Mr. Ford's case, by being a practicing Catholic) have this same sense of desire for justice and human rights, and we are like simmering coals ready to be sparked into action. Sometimes we may feel like we are not doing enough, but we don't know what life has in store for us, and what will be the very thing that charges and changes us forever. In our yoga practice, if it is truly to effect "radical social transformation," we must focus on our own sense of inner fire, on trusting in our own unfolding, but also on our responsibility to keep those embers alive, so we are awake and ready when the call to action comes.

Finally, I had the opportunity to introduce Mother Teresa. It turns out that for many people, although she is sort of an icon or archetype of a "do-gooder," what exactly she did is a mystery. In fact, Mother Teresa was a "do-gooder," internationally famed as a humanitarian and advocate for the poor and helpless, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her tireless humanitarian efforts in India and beyond. At the time of her death, her organization was operating 610 missions in 123 countries. And, much like many others who have lived their lives in the public eye, recognized for their charitable work, Mother Teresa had her fair share of detractors and criticism. This brings up many of the same issues raised in the discussion of Bob Marley. However, another issue regarding Mother Teresa is to me, infinitely more interesting and poignant.

Mother Teresa, in letters to spiritual confidantes, made public after her death, expressed an on-going crisis of faith, that lasted nearly fifty years. She lamented an absence of connection to God, and expressed feeling bereft of the comfort of Jesus' presence in her life. Of course this acknowledgment opens the door for a flood of speculation regarding the nature of faith. As a yogi and a yoga teacher, the question of faith has always been an important one. These crises of faith, or "Dark night of the soul," a term coined by the 16th century Christian mystic and poet, St. John of the Cross, seem to be a natural part of a seeker's spiritual development as they endeavor to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. As dedicated students of the spiritual discipline of Yoga, it is quite possible that many of us have experienced this same sense of confusion, disconnection, and disillusionment, especially as we seek to reconcile the faiths we grew up with and our new and emerging sense of a different, or even complementary faith.

Even as Mother Teresa struggled in her isolation and confusion, she continued to do the work of serving humanity, of advocating for the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. Her dark night of the soul did not keep her from reaching out to those whom she felt compelled to offer whatever comfort she could. We too can continue our work, of offering service, of becoming better people, of dedicating our hearts and minds to doing what we can to alleviate the suffering that is all around us, even when we are in doubt. Our doubt is a necessary part of our faith. And we don't need our faith to offer a hand of kindness or a loving smile. We can remember that when we do have these crises of faith, we can reach out to the community around us to lift us up and spur us on.

This month at The Samarya Center is about inspiration. We are a community that together and as individuals can do great things. We all have these gifts, we all have this potential, and no matter what else and who else you are, and no matter what your relationship in the moment is to God, source, the "something greater than you," you, we, can all continue to be inspired to do whatever we can. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "peace is every step."

Thank you for being a part of our community, thank you for being who you are, all of you who you are. We are all in this together.

To learn a tiny bit more about the other people on our altar, check the list below.

Jimmy Carter
Rosa Parks
Aung San Suu Kyi
John Lennon
Nelson Mandela
HH The Dalai Lama
Martin Luther King Jr.
Thich Nhat Hanh

~ 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