Between the Exhale and Inhale
These last few weeks, I’ve been indulging in some quiet alone time for both reflection and re-reading of articles and books from graduate school. I had spent the past two years of my graduate program falling madly in love with many intellectuals’ thoughts, feelings and analyses. One of these was the black studies scholar- Robin Kelley, who I met at a Critical Ethnic Studies conference last year where he spoke on Black Marxism and his book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, in which he discusses his mother and the importance she places on imagination and inner vision:
My mother has a tendency to dream out loud. I think it has something to do with her regular morning meditation. In the quiet darkness of her bedroom her third eye opens onto a new world, a beautiful light-filled space as peaceful as her state of mind… her other two eyes never left her forget, where we lived. The cops, drug dealers, social workers, the rusty tap water, roaches and rodents, the urine-scented hallways, the piles of garbage were constant reminders that our world began and ended in a battered Harlem tenement apartment…Yet she would not allow us to live as victims. Instead we were a family of caretakers who inherited this earth…My mother taught us that the marvelous was free… she simply wanted us to live through our third eyes, to see life as possibility (p.1-2).
Further, Kelley reminds us, “Progressive social movements do not simply produce statistics and narratives of oppression; rather, the best ones do what great poetry always does: transport us to another place, compel us to re-live the horrors and, more importantly, enable us to imagine a new society” (p.9)
I am constantly in search of inspiration- some spark of brilliance from past and present that can guide me and others in imagining, through spiritual eyes, the kind of future we want to struggle toward. One of my ongoing sources of inspiration has been Ella Baker, who was among those who pioneered the concept of egoless group leadership. Baker was one of the most influential organizers of the civil rights movement during the 1950s/60s, but she is often forgotten because of her style as a “behind-the-scenes organizer”. Although she worked alongside some of the movements most famous (W.E.B Du Bois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Thurgood Marshall for instance), she was not interested in making a name for herself. Baker was deeply influenced by her mother’s spirituality and she applied it to her own activism. As Barbara Ransby notes in her book Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, “For Ella Baker the ultimate triumph of a leader was his or her ability to suppress ego and ambition and to embrace humility and a spirit of collectivism” (p. 54).
While we can’t ignore the pressures and demands of the material world around us, we can shift the perspective that dictates our reality. If what we want is radical transformation of the societies we live in, we must begin to push the boundaries of the material world by allowing our spirit to move us, even when what we see in front of us is a brick wall.
If we approach our work as a spiritual challenge, then we are no longer enslaved by the concept of money and we are fueled instead by our embodied wisdom and commitment to bring about radical social change; which is actually much more than just “social”- it is also personal and political, and about money and privilege, and about sexuality, gender, race, and about the relationship between our minds, bodies and spirit.
Practicing yoga as a spiritual transformation means committing your life to taking on the problem of suffering and the end of suffering for all beings and ourselves. This is what meditation and contemplation practice is about. Being in stillness and moving with intention, means to see oneself in complete interdependence with all beings, with the insects and trees and ocean and sky.
The emptiness- the pauses between our breathe, our thoughts and our busy externally, task-oriented life- we so often talk about in yoga is not some kind of negative space. It is interdependence, it is who we are. It’s this recognition, that has to happen again and again, coming back to your breathe, over and over, to practice embodiment and aliveness. We must embody our intentions and our commitments, to practice what would it feel like in my body, in my breathe, in our daily lives- if we were to begin to transform and move in a liberatory direction?
Once we are able to feel in our bodies, our breathe, and our souls the direction we want to move in – we create a blueprint and have that as foundation to guide us in our work. We can continuously come back to that felt sensation and check in with ourselves.
Does this particular action feel aligned with my embodied intentions and the direction I desire to move in?
From that place, the potential of sustainable healing justice, transformative, and generative spaces are abundant and an exciting new beginning is inevitable.