“I don’t want your love and light if it doesn’t come with solidarity and action.” -Writer and activist Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
In the wake of the past week’s events in the United States following the murder of Mr. George Floyd, I struggled with whether or not to write a blog or a newsletter this week– as a white woman, it’s time to step aside and give the marginalized folks a chance to grieve, mourn, and be heard.
It also feels important to use this (small) platform to speak up, not least of all because the yoga community is often a place where white silence thrives. There is work to be done and there are things we can do today to make change.
So today I’m going to share the words and work of a few brilliant black activists whose work I support. If any of this resonates with you, please support them financially by purchasing their printed work or donating to them directly (I’ll provide links as we go). This post is written for my fellow white yoga and dharma students. It’s time for us to do more.
“Why can’t we just love each other?” “I don’t see color.” “If everyone would just do yoga, the world would be a different place.” “I don’t talk about illness or poverty, I only want to manifest abundance and health.” These are all examples of something called spiritual bypassing. This the ugly underbelly of the “love and light” yoga community. As you can see in the image below from yoga teacher and dismantling racism trainer Michelle Cassandra Johnson (be sure to click the arrows on the right side of the picture to read the full post), spiritual bypassing means “using the spiritual practice to escape from or avoid the reality of the misalignment, imbalance and abuse of power in our culture…(it) posits that we can pray, move, breathe, practice asana and meditate oppression away. We cannot.”
This is an excerpt from Michelle’s Skill in Action Workbook (available to download on her website right now), which includes prompts and questions to help us to unpack our own internalized ideas and beliefs about race and privilege. Along with her first book, Skill in Action, this is a resource for yoga students and teachers to deepen spiritual growth and their understanding of yoga philosophy. I have found it personally powerful and impactful.
Spiritual bypassing is a form of white silence. Layla F Saad’s essential handbook, Me and White Supremacy (the hard copy is sold out as of today, but you can download it immediately as an e-book) tells us: “White silence seems benign. And, if not benign, then it could at least be believed to be a stance of neutrality, like the old adage, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.’ But white silence is anything but neutral. Rather, it is a method of self-protection and therefore also the protection of the dynamics of white supremacy.”
Yoga teachers and yoga students (myself included) often think that our positive intentions are enough– that, for example, by meditating on lovingkindness for all beings, we’re doing our part. Intent is not enough. Our silence harms others, and ourselves.
Yoga and meditation are practices of liberation. Our very own liberation and well-being is tied to others’. “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” as Fannie Lou Hamer told us. We are all harmed by the idea that some bodies are superior to others.
This brings us to one last resource for you: Reverend angel Kyodo williams, or @zenchangeangel, as she’s known on instagram.
In her book Radical Dharma, Reverend williams writes with Lama Rod Owens and Dr. Jasmine Syedullah about the possibility of a new spirituality that encompasses a whole-hearted approach to love and equity. I want to share one final passage with you today from this work:
Not only has white supremacy robbed red, Black, brown, and yellow people of the spirit-given human right to life and liberty, it has also so thoroughly programmed and policed white people as to who and how they could love– determining entire groups of people unworthy– that the entirety of our descended culture suffers from a severely atrophied relationship to the most animating, enlivening, equalizing force gifted to the human experience.Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Do you remember when you first learned how to practice yoga, or meditate? You made mistakes; you got frustrated. You turned to teachers to help, or you found online resources. You tried new ways of doing things and discovered that some of your preconceptions were wrong. You may have felt defensive or even ashamed. Doing the work of learning about racism is much the same. It’s messy; we’re going to make mistakes. Just as we did on our yoga mat, we need to keep going. We have years (truly, generations) of old patterns to examine and restructure. That’s why it’s so important to be kind, and patient, and to understand that we don’t need to know it all right away. Me and White Supremacy offers an easy-to-follow way to learn so that we can not only change our own minds but learn how to take action in the world.
“May all beings have happiness. May all beings be free from suffering.” This prayer resonates with us so much in our yoga practices because we are good people and we want to do good work. Anti-racism work is a very tangible, practical and crucial way that we can put this aspiration into practice. Our yoga and meditation practices have taught us so much. Now, it’s time to continue to grow. It’s time to move beyond love and light and stand, as Rachel Cargle asks us to, in solidarity and action with those who have not shared our privilege.