Wednesday, January 28, 2015
What if MLK practiced yoga?
Last week, I took an adaptive yoga class at the University of Washington. I love it. The instructor, Julie, learned about teaching at my last studio and recognized me from the start. There were five students in this class, one teacher, and four volunteers: that's a one to one ratio (and who says Ann's the math whiz in the house?)
The class was lovely. We sat in chairs and did some supportive stretching; then we lay on the floor and did some more stretching, with more support. Julie apologized to me for such an easy class, saying that she knew I could do more. I assured her that the class was fabulous. I think she thought I was being nice, but I really did love not pushing myself, letting my yoga be more internal than external.
At one point in the class, Julie commented on the tension between rest and engagement, between what another yoga teacher might have called the elements of water and fire. We need to find space to just be, I think she was saying, and we need to find the places where we act for justice in the world. We need a balance in this.
I think often about this tension, about being present and fighting for justice, and in the week following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I began thinking of this tension in the context of Martin Luther King, Jr's life and work.
On the MLK holiday, Ann and I attended the performance Hands Up! Six Plays by Six Young Black Men. The performance was a series of monologues delivered by six black men in Seattle, but written by other black men elsewhere. Each story was a powerful telling of being a young black man in America today. In the discussion afterwards, each player talked about his relationship to his characters' story: stories of being mulatto, neither accepted in black nor white circles, stories of violence and vulnerability.
Someone proposed that Martin Luther King, Jr would have felt sad in America today. I began wondering what MLK would do--and in what spirit--today. Would he still advocate for non-violence? I think so. I also think he would still say:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
I think he would still fight non-violently for justice, fight with a heart full of love. I think he would still criticize the U.S. for our militarism, though today the argument would focus on Afghanistan rather than Vietnam.
I summon his spirit as I work at the University of Washington, seeking for the school to integrate disability content into its non-oppression teaching. Don't worry: I'm not saying that my work is equivalent to his, nor that my spirit mirrors his, only that he inspires me with love and justice.
I find this spirit in me when I do yoga.
The work for justice is big, so multi-faceted. I wonder, does personal peace-seeking in yoga set the groundwork for peace and justice in the world, or is it just selfish?
Before my tumors, I worked too hard for a more just world. Since my tumors, perhaps I have found more humility. Perhaps I see that in order to give to the world in sacred spirit, I need to connect with that spirit daily. That's how it seems to me now, anyway. Like MLK, I dream of more just, more free, more loving world.
I know I have quoted Oscar Romero here before. His words are so apt again:
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. …
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
I suspect that MLK understood this. I suspect that MLK and Romero drew water from the same well. I suspect each did yoga in his heart if not with his body. (I can't really imagine either doing downward facing dog).
I suspect if MLK were here he'd say, I still have a dream.
And if Romero were here, he would tell me that the Kingdom is still not only beyond my effort, but beyond my vision.
And both, like my teacher Julie, would tell me to breathe deeply.