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
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.
See this sunrise? It’s not an NCAA basketball game where I could have won my bracket. It’s not the voice of Sinead O’Connor at the canceled concert I was looking forward to seeing Sunday (and Happy St. Patrick’s day today!) It does not come with the knowledge I stood to gain training with Dr. Vasant Lad at the Ayurvedic Institute in 2 weeks. It also doesn’t give me back the proud mom moment of watching my daughters unfinished musical or the happy human contact of the postponed trip to visit my companion in another state that FaceTime can’t replace. But this sunrise brought joy to my reality after a sleepless night. Today, that is what the world gave me and it is enough.
A difficult but confident decision was made Sunday night to close the studio until April 1. I attended my last class for awhile yesterday knowing that it didn’t feel right. My desire to support neighboring studios at this time cannot take precedence over protecting loved ones and those who may be asked to care for them. If attending a class as a student comes with guilt, why would I offer them? No amount of essential oils or pranayama will keep my parents, my kid’s teachers, our health care workers or anyone else safe right now.
What I struggled with in making this decision is not the idea of closing or staying at home, but how it is being presented. The terms “social distancing” and “quarantine” make me cringe and contract. Sorry, I accept the purpose, but the languaging is brutally depressing right now, even for an introvert. Its only a stones throw from solitary confinement to me. So in finding purpose in my petulance this weekend, I am training my brain to substitute “ spiritual awareness” for “social distancing” and “retreat” for “quarantine”.
Disassociation from the outside world does not need to be seen as a punishment. It’s an opportunity. When I first got divorced, the 4 day weekends without my kids were devastating. Their bedroom doors were kept closed as if I couldn’t see the empty space, it didn’t exist. I went from being “mommy multi-tasker”, to experiencing painful absences from my kids and acquaintances and having time on my hands to brood. In an unconscious argument with what was real, I made plans doing anything that would avoid silent time alone; keeping so busy that there was barely a moment for denial. In time, those moments left deep cracks in me. The saying goes that the cracks are where the light comes in. Exhaustion. Grief. Financial fears. Loneliness. Anger. You can only hide yourself from those feelings for so long. Then, against my best judgment and pocketbook, I went on a silent retreat. Intentional silence was nails on my chalk board. I realized I was drowning myself in busy when I didn’t even know I was in the water. Compassionate spiritual silence (mauna as it’s called) was a life vest. Since that retreat, when I’m submerged, I can’t hide from myself. Coming up for air looks a lot like “social distancing”.
As a result of the painful yet insightful retreat, I began to occasionally schedule purposeful silent extended weekends that I called “home hibernation”. There was lots of outdoor time to practice presence and gratitude. I had “dates” with myself for dinner, consciously cooking a healthy meal. In time, something changed. Slowing down brought clarity and spiritual awakening. “Home hibernation” was re-titled “ashram weekends”. I could open the door to my kids empty bedrooms again without tears. I learned to reach out socially not as an act of defiance but with love. I get it that a global pandemic is not a fair comparison, but it invokes the same feelings for me and I recognize them. What do you feel right now? Can you name it, be with it, and know that you are still a Divine Being?
I have been listening with hopeful anticipation for either the state or federal government to close non-essential businesses, or for other local business to start the trend. Then I would not have to make this decision and I wouldn’t be alone in my community. Removing props and extra studio cleaning per CDC guidelines carries good intentions, but no guarantees; and perhaps a false sense of security for some students with compromised heath. It is a simple supply chain. If I keep the studio open, it gives people a place to go. I would like to avoid being one of the places that potentially held the bomb if it goes off. The financial implications of closing scare the crap out of me as they do any small business owner, but worry plants aggressive seeds. Fear is a form of self-mutilation, as opposed to human insufficiencies and difficulty which are normal. I cannot control a pandemic that at times still doesn’t seem real. However, I can influence my own biology with my thoughts and perhaps shine positivity through the veil of universal consciousness. Imperfection is human – the “I, me, my” of what I am forced to give up keeps surfacing. But part of my is job to keep up the morale. I see my daughters’ grief and my son’s anger and feel both of those things. Spiritual awareness is not perfection; it is recognizing, accepting and redirecting selfish egoic thoughts. More than ever, our connection is obvious and terrifying all the same. Are the choices you are making helpful to some and harming to none?
Ask yourself, “what’s my role?” Mine is to take my classes online. I believe it is my highest good and the best way to reach out to my students and beyond. I am genuinely excited to offer daily video classes and communal meditations! I know the difference between creating “busy work” that blinds me and using my gifts. What are your gifts? Find your purpose and reach out to others with that purpose in whatever wacky cyber-social ways you can. We are still allowed to laugh and smile. Thank you for the spoken, written and silent support you offer me and each other. I am here for you and we are all on retreat together.
When I got in the car yesterday to drive to class, the first random song that came on was the Pretenders “Hymn to Her”. Many years ago in a time of difficult transition, that song gave me strength.
Let me inside you
into your room
I’ve hear it’s lined
With the thing you don’t show
Lay me beside you
down on the floor
I’ve been your lover
From the womb to the tomb
I dress as your daughter
When the moon becomes round
You be my mother
When everything’s gone
And she will always carry on
Something is lost
But something is found…
Why an Audio Meditation on the Chakras
When someone begins to experience their subtle body or energy body, whether it is through an assisted healing modality like acupuncture or reiki, or in a yoga class, skepticism turns to curiosity. I am often asked for recommendations on books about the chakras. Despite my collection of worthy books by knowledgable writers about chakras, nadis, kundalini, marma points, tantra, etc, personal and professional experience have taught me that meditation is the most creative, authentic way to introduce oneself to, explore, and expand the seven energy centers. Reading books on the chakras without experiential play time is like reading a cook book and never getting the satisfaction of eating any of the recipes. The intellectual knowledge a book provides on the subtle body only finds its power when it is in harmonious relationship with our intuitive perception. I believe intuition is organically accessible through sound healing and meditation.
Unlike when many of the ancient spiritual traditions were developed, we now have a scientific explanation on how the brain works.There is excellent research being done on the benefits of meditation all over the globe (and at our very own Center for Heathy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). Written words are fodder for the left brain, which intends to intellectualize and rationalize the information that comes through our five senses. Just as the five senses are gates of perception for the mind, the chakras feed the body information about the the world around us by metabolizing energy. To heal all levels of our being, we need to enter the expanded state of consciousness of the right brain. Where the brain goes, energy flows.
“ I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research” – Albert Einstein
Called Chi, Qi, astral light, Prana, the field, or depicted as a halo as it often was in ancient paintings, all religious and spiritual traditions recognize our bodies as light energy. Spiritual awareness is a transformational process that takes place in this realm. Even in conventional medicine, we see the use of sound and light for both evaluation and treatment of the physical body. When we block experiences from our mind (often unconsciously), we also block the electromagnetic energy flow of the experience. To use a term I don’t particularly care for, energy gets “stuck” in our bodies, causing pain, physical and emotional discomfort and disease. Our bodies naturally attempt to remove these blockages; an example of this is the flow of tears, yet we are taught from a young age not to cry. Sound healing and meditation are safe acceptable ways to release physical and emotional trauma and agitation from the body. They can also help to balance an overreactive energy system.
In my field, I compassionately excuse cynics. They do not have the ability to believe in something they have not experienced for themselves. Undoubtably, it is not because they can’t. We all have higher states of consciousness available to us. It is our mental conditioning, the gluttony of information flooding our sympathetic nervous systems, and the way in which modern society holds intellect above intuition that prevents us from reaching our energetic potential. Expanding our state of awareness is a matter of accepting our unlimited potential and being still with as few external distractions as possible.
This project is for all of my students who have journeyed into their subtle body, perhaps unintentionally in a yoga class or sound healing; you are my instigators. With every awakened encounter you experience, my inner child jumps for joy! We are ALL always healing from something; only the significance and awareness varies. Remember to set your books and phones down and put technique and tradition in the back seat. Study your heart. Love is the universal healer.Thank you to all my teachers in the fields of Yoga, Ayurveda, and the Healing Touch Program for making me see that there is more than one way into the subtle body – and there is no right way. In gratitude to my gifted musical counterpart, Michael, for exploring planet earth with me from the inside out.
I value the Western medicine model, but the bio-mechanical paradigm is about curing. Healing occurs separate from curing. It can take place within any level of our being – physical, psychological and spiritual. Start by utilizing this meditation for your own healing. Keep it simple – we are energy and awareness. Enter the subtle body. When you are ready to be your own greatest healer, bring your energy to the level of the heart. Share that with others through a gentle touch or hugs. And never stop wondering, growing and believing we are infinite.
With Love and Light,