When times are difficult, fearful, uncertain, and encouraging divisiveness – like after the elections – we are at a perfect place to work our way out of darkness. Here, Give Back Yoga co-founder Beryl Bender Birch, who also directs The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute, talks about our real work in awakening.
–Rob Schware, Executive Director
Many of you have been tweeting and texting, thanking me for my blog and Facebook posts yesterday. I appreciate the feedback. But some of you have also been asking what I meant by “doing the work.” Two years ago, in June, I was scheduled to teach a weeklong yoga retreat at Omega Institute entitled “Spiritual Practice & Social Activism.” After considerable promotion and social media campaigns, only two people signed up, and the workshop was cancelled due to low registration. That was the first time in 33 years of being on faculty at Omega that I had had less than 35 or 40 people sign up for my programs. What happened?
I came to the hasty conclusion that most yogis could give a rat’s ass about social activism. But that didn’t compute. Everyone who graduates from my teacher training programs for the past 30 years is required to develop some (any) kind of a give back program in their community. It has been a hugely successful endeavor. Ten years ago I co-founded the Give Back Yoga Foundation, and the foundation has been growing exponentially every year. Yoga people do care about the underserved and the under-resourced. But somewhere there was a “disconnect.”
Anyone who says they were shocked or stunned by Trump’s victory just wasn’t paying attention. And although I am pretty attached to causes like global warming, animal rights, over population, protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and the sanctity of Roe vs. Wade, and would not like to see us, as a nation, lose ground on those issues, I wasn’t shocked or stunned. But I did realize that I had been living, like many, in a bubble, dictated by things like the group-think of the New York Times and the comfortable elitism of the white upper middle class yoga community. We have been focused on the more obvious underserved and under-resourced pockets of our communities, when many of the people who put Trump into the presidency, have been right there, in the middle of our country, hurting and not being heard. In our focus on equal opportunity for immigrants and refugees and gays and Latinos and women’s rights and addiction issues and on and on, we have overlooked the coal miners and oil field workers, the factory workers, the fishermen, the steel workers and the farmers. But Trump didn’t overlook them.
These are many of the same people – both white and black – who voted Obama into office – twice! They aren’t racist – most of them are good-hearted, hard working Americans with good, old fashioned American values. They didn’t vote for Trump because they are racist or misogynistic or hate Mexicans or Muslims. They voted for Trump because he promised to ease their pain. They voted for Trump because he promised they would have jobs, that “every dream they had for their family would come true if they voted for [him]“ – they would be listened to, they would have a home, and be able to pay their mortgage and their car payments, and their kids could go to college and they would have a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. If you were out of work, wouldn’t you be tempted by such promises?
They didn’t care that he made inappropriate remarks about women, or Mexicans, or Muslims. Personally, I don’t think Trump hates Mexicans. I think his remark was in reaction to out of control immigration. And I don’t think he hates Muslims – same thing, verbal reaction to the dangers of terrorism. Was it speaking without thinking? Yes. Is that a good thing for a presidential candidate or the president him or herself? Uh, no. That is why I didn’t vote for him. Trump needs yoga.
All the votes aren’t counted yet, but it looks like Hillary won the popular vote. This is the 2nd time in the past two decades that the candidate who won the popular vote, was defeated by our antiquated Electoral College system of selecting a president. Al Gore, as you may remember, lost the election to George Bush in 2000, after winning the popular vote. So this might have you angry and frustrated or crying and depressed. Take time to mourn, if that is what you need, but then pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and go to “work”, for example, to get the Electoral College system of selecting a president in this country replaced with something that more adequately reflects the tenor of the times.
If you are a Democrat and depressed that Hillary lost, take to the streets, make your voice heard, work to retake the Democratic Party from the establishment elite. And listen to not only the immigrants and the Latinos, and the women and the urban residents of the city’s ghettos, but also to the call of the non-college educated blue-collar men living in the middle of the country, who are out of work and wondering when they will be regarded as more than the residents of the “fly over states.”
By doing the work I don’t mean busting your ass in your yoga class, or getting up every morning at 5 to meditate. Yes, your regular yoga practices are an essential part of “the work” since asana and meditation both support health, strength, courage, clarity, and spiritual growth. But “doing the work” goes beyond your own care of your personal “self.” It is care for the Big Self. “Doing the work,” means finding your dharma and then kicking it into high gear. Your dharma is your life’s work, your calling and unique contribution to the world that no one else can do in the way you do it. Your job may or may not be your dharma. Your job may be something you do only for money. But your work, your commitment to planetary consciousness and evolution, is your deepest passion for life and connection. It is the love of your life, beyond your family, your backyard and your own comfortable place in the world.
I spent a good deal of time this summer and fall, collecting signatures for Citizens for Farm Animal Protection to get Proposition 3 on the ballot in Massachusetts. Once we did that, we had to go out and educate voters about a proposition that would improve life for farm animals by making the use of confinement crates for chickens, calves, and pigs illegal in the state and even illegal to sell any eggs or meat from animals that had been confined. It was challenging. We had to show potential supporters how they would benefit, not just the animals. Prop 3 passed and I was so happy and celebratory at it’s passage that I didn’t really worry so much about whether a Democrat or a Republican had been elected. But suppose it hadn’t passed – would I have been crying? Probably not. Disappointed? Absolutely. And after a day or two of recovery and being down in the dumps and discouraged, I’d get ready to go back, join the team, and reorganize for the cause I believed in.
Serving the greater good, serving the planet, isn’t something you do as a hobby, or simply to graduate with a certificate in yoga teaching. It is a passion that grows out of yoga practice and dominates your life. It is what you live for. It occupies your every waking moment. Whether it is water or wolves, recycling or reducing greenhouse gases, whether advocating for gay marriage or immigration reform or less dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal, or collecting signatures for more humane treatment for farm animals, your dharma fuels your reason for getting out of bed in the mornings. And sometimes, if you are lucky, it is supported by the people in power, and sometimes not. But you don’t ever stop “doing the work.”
Beryl Bender Birch
Join us in doing the work. Share the gift of yoga with those who can benefit most. Learn about ways to get involved with the Give Back Yoga Foundation.