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Pledge Against Racism

Social and racial injustice are woven deep into the fabric our society. This story of my community is one more thread woven into that fabric. But the point is not for me to to tell my story or point fingers; it is for the story to make a difference in how you think and what you do. I know I have no idea what it is like to be black, but I also know that racism is a product of ignorance taught under the disguise of denial. Yoga teaches awareness and shines light on our shadowy places. Like all thoughts, racism can be conscious or unconscious.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.” Nelson Mandela

When I became a business owner in Burlington in 2012, I made the sensible decision to keep politics out of my yoga studio. This included choosing not to display yard signs for any candidate and staying away from political discussions. There have been instances when I tolerated comments that made me feel disappointed and dirtied, in the interest of my business. On occasion, I have had to speak privately with students who felt comfortable using our community for divisional political rhetoric, even though it was in keeping with my personal beliefs. Developing a yoga community and supporting our growth demands inclusivity. Our differences are doorways into understanding and accepting each other as seeds from the same package. We have the opportunity to learn so much about ourselves from the lens of someone with a different view. What annoys you is where your work is. What you fear is opportunity. Acceptance of differences brings unity.

Racism is not political. It is not conservative or liberal. Racial injustice is both systemic and individual. It is not only the fault of our leaders and representatives. It is in our hearts. Even when it is not in our hearts, our silence gives it consent.

I marched for #blacklivesmatter last week with the LGBTQ community. It was easy. It was a cop-out. I hid among thousands of masked faces in Milwaukee. My community is Burlington, where the underground railroad freed fugitive slaves before the Civil War. My ancestry is this town – the pioneer log cabin in Wehmhoff Square used to be my Mom’s playhouse. The Meinhardt Bank (now Chase Bank), which was started by my family, was the only bank in town to make it through the Great Depression. The Historical Society building and the Lincoln Statue were donated by my Great Grandmother Antoinette Meinhardt and Great Uncle Francis Meinhardt. Burlington has been my home for 22 years: the place where I chose to raise 3 children who have made it clear that they are disgusted and want change. At their age, I passively listened and hoped during the Rodney King trial. This is their Rodney King moment, but this time, peaceful protests, grassroots organizations, and businesses are bringing change. This time, as a business owner in this community, I have a voice. This is bigger than my business, and this is my business—the heart centered purpose of recognizing the divine in everyone.

The feedback I see on social media seems to believe the peaceful protest in Burlington is indicative of a lack of racism and supportive police force. I have heard a few people placate themselves by insinuating that Burlington is “better than most places” for black people to live. We practice what I call “sheltered racism” here. If you don’t see it, it is only because you live in a white bubble of protection. If you can’t admit racism exists in our town, or don’t care, there is no place for you in my yoga community. This is not politics. It is humanity. And if you see my choice to write this as something that causes division, so be it. Perhaps seeing the vulnerability of my business from COVID-19 emboldened me, but human rights are more important than any financial business goal. I am blessed to work in the yoga industry with many compassionate hearts. In doing so, I admit that it is easiest at this time to surround myself with like minded people and pray for peace. But we are all accountable. Complacency breeds racism. It exists because we let it.

Racism exists in Burlington and always has. The fact that you have not experienced it does not mean no one has. Every summer when I was growing up, my Dad would have his office party on Browns Lake. For a whole day, our yard was a beautiful palate of skin colors. I remember what seemed like innocent comments from locals asking why we had so many brown skinned people at our house, or if black people can swim. As a kid, I didn’t understand those questions. I didn’t need to. I am white. Now, when my black family members visit, we joke that the African American population in Burlington increased by 500%. The laughing stops when parents picking up their kids from a play date with my kids ask why there are black people on my lawn, or when neighbors publicly use racial slurs to describe my family members. Skip to 2008. I helped to open and volunteered at the Burlington Obama office. In addition to countless times being called a “N” lover and other sick comments to my face and on the phone, I had my tires slashed and was nicknamed “The Little Obama Girl” by a Burlington city official. More recently, as a yoga therapist, I have worked privately with several grade school students in the BASD who have anxiety and sleep issues because of the racism they deal with regularly in school. I was thankful to have attended the Diversity Night at the high school last winter; and while BASD gets credit for acknowledging the problem and giving the students a voice to talk about racism, I left wishing more people heard these brave young community members.

Police violence also exists in Burlington. It was encouraging to see our police chief take a knee at the protest, and I acknowledge that it is likely a case of “a few bad apples.” But as Chris Rock said comparing pilots to police officers, “some jobs can’t have bad apples,” even in a place that might in your opinion be “better than most places.” In my racially diverse family, “better in Burlington” means that when my son goes out with his black cousin, they take extra precautions just as they would in Chicago. My son knows too well what it looks like when Burlington police officers use excessive force on a handcuffed friend. We grieved for his friend who was hospitalized but felt some sick sense of relief that his black cousin was not there. If you think this fear is not justifiable, ask a black man. And if you want to believe it is unusual behavior and our police do not profile, sadly, working across from the station has shown me otherwise.

If reading this upsets you, it should. The next thing to do is ask yourself: what can we do. First, listen. Listen to the minority members of our community. Ask them what it is like to live in Burlington and what you can do to make it better. We cannot change L.A. or Atlanta by reading stories on the internet; diversity starts in our community. Attending protests during the COVID pandemic may not be your thing, but get out of your comfort zone. Be proud of the heightened activism of people of every race and age. Don’t lump the peaceful protestors in with the rioters or looters. I am a big believer in meditation, but it’s time to stand up and do something. Don’t be afraid. Don’t make it a fight. It is an opportunity to unite. Have a respectful dialogue on racism in your home and with neighbors. Be stronger than hate. Call out racism and stop stereotypes. Donate silently to causes that promote social and racial equality. Educate yourself. There are wonderful books, movies, and podcasts on racism. Accept that racial injustice is not someone else’s problem. Our country was founded on racism. If you are reading this and don’t live here, make it your mission to bring unity to your community. Racism is just as much a part of our global history as it is in our hearts; one we change with the power of the vote and legislature, and for the other, we have inner wisdom practices and the power of love.

BFY makes a pledge to stand against racial injustice. Please join me.

“The beauty of being human is that we are incredibly, intimately near each other, we know about each other, but yet, we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person.”
– John O’Donohue

Choose Love,

Megan

Do What You Got To, But Choose Love

Like many small business owners, I wear my heart on my sleeve these days. My thoughts are dominated by a yearning to move forward. I’m doing my best to be pragmatic when looking at things through the local lens.  But I have worked hard the past 10 years to get where I am and watching it dissolve is disheartening. Why can I drive by Menards on this sunny day and see a parking lot full of cars but my business has to remain closed? What is Right Action? How do I let these hard lessons come through and trust the process when there is so much anger on all sides?

Below are thoughts I wrote May 1, 2009, while creating a mission statement for my business. I don’t think it is an accident that I stumbled on them last night. Reading my own words was the necessary agony of teaching the teacher.

“Give students the ability to further their spiritual growth through the practice of yoga. Create a sense of community and friendship where you have a group of open-minded individuals who are all on their own spiritual path and support each other.  Offer a space where people feel safe and comfortable when going through difficult times. Challenge them to connect with themselves in a more intimate and brave way even when it is uncomfortable.  Empower them to take care of their own health and control their own mind. Get them to recognize and live by their personal values. Remind them that regardless of our differences, we all experience similar obstacles and the same joy when we overcome them.”

The spiritual ride continues, but our training wheels came off. Bear Foot Yoga is just brick and mortar. The studio inside of you is still open to explore your spiritual path.  Keep showing up and moving forward even if you feel stuck. The subtle energy body is the more enduring body; it does not wax and wane with the hard lessons of the collective conscious – the Lila or play of life.  And protect yourself and support yourself in whatever way feels like Right Action for you. Take this situation seriously. Have a sense of humor. Learn something new. Do exactly what you normally do. Stay active. Sleep More. Be in the unknown and uncomfortable. Recognize and focus on what is expected and familiar. Live small and be private. Know yourself better through your connections and relationships.  Be in a funk.  Be jubilant.  Ask for your highest good.  Hold space for others. Watch the birds and the buds move and change. Trust that the planet is the same.

Please continue on your own journey; it is not inside a yoga studio or any other building. Your path is spiritual. So is everyone else’s. Part of trust is accepting your karma and not judging others for theirs.  Don’t let anger drive you to act in ways that are not an expression of who you are.  If you catch yourself doing that, come back. Spirit is always connecting us. The core center of self is divine love. There cannot be fear or loneliness in love. Let the bad guys battle it out. Please Choose Love.

Peace, Megan

Choose Love

Raw and scared and hopeless and unsure and angry and revengeful: Hatred is a result of all of these faces. There is no need to see photos of victims, know their names or hear their stories; I choose not to know so please don’t talk details.  My protective cover is on. The sensational story lines are for the primitive brain where we chose to attack or hide.  My heart already knows them as me.

Each time it happens, being alone is where I release.  How do I know how long to keep the band-aide on? As long as the wound is healing, it needs to be in the dark where all filters are off. In daylight, I walk a line between not suppressing my emotions and trying to hold space.  One morning I don’t want to leave meditation because that may be the only place all day I don’t feel guilty for smiling and not attaching to the madness.   And the next day I want to scream at the top of my voice “I am tired of all this shit you hateful pricks”.  I also cry unobstructed without needing to explain why.  “Stop your crying.  Act like a big girl.” That is the bad advice I heard the mother tell her child last week. I am a big girl and I do cry. I allow myself all this and more.  Each emotion has it’s own energy. I feel their sensations in my body and give permission to go there. I can hold myself in sacred space. And whatever they may be, I make peace with my thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I learned it is not in my job description to tell others who I am. No matter how long or how well you know someone, you never truly know them. People are not put in my path so I can tell them about myself.  They are here to teach me about mySelf.  They expose my difficult parts so I can grow spiritually.  What makes me weak, angry, judgmental? Please push those trigger points.  I will embody a stronger vibration.  But when the world feels this broken, part of me feels the need to explain myself – that I am like a bear and my method of self-nurturing is hibernation. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or am in denial or avoidance. Solitude is where I dig deepest into my heart space beyond all that is black and dead.

“Don’t look for the light to find me, become the light.” The first glimpse is not going to come from the evening news, on social media or in an emotional discussion on current events.  I find it alone in my wounds.  If I let myself get caught up in the stories and conversation, even with the best of intentions, I stay in the dark. The wounds become universal wounds – my wounds.  Evil prevails and too much energy goes toward trying to fathom the despise in another soul. I am my thoughts.  Why do I want them to repeatedly be of hateful humans and tragedy? They want me to be scared and judgmental. Protect yourself. Don’t trust each other. Instead I will be stronger in my resolve to see myself in others; because it is not death I fear – it is a world of better people living IN fear.

Hatred is a small child throwing a tantrum.  It has limitations and will exhaust itself.  It is only satisfied when it gets attention and recognition; Enter the Aquarian Age of information where Mass Media nurtures hate.  Love knows no boundaries, has no agenda and tiptoes quietly through the human madness. The energy of the heart heals.  The mind judges.  The heart is empathetic and compassionate.  The mind wants revenge and justice.  Nothing sinks us into survival behavior faster than allowing hatred to gloat; or it sends us into an emotional upheaval that society then tells us to restrain; or into the ego where anger lives.  We are certain we are better than the perpetrator.  I tell myself my hands are not weapons of hate.  But what are the small ways that my words and thoughts harm others?

Today is a full moon.  I choose to magnify love.

Namaste, Megan