There was an attack last week.
Hadji Jones, a well-known and respected Philadelphia yoga instructor, walked home from teaching class and was assaulted.
The following morning he rested, healed and shared the experience on social media. As bewilderment and support rushed towards Hadji, he announced that he was transforming the attack toward growth.
He recently wrote that he was approached by several organizations in Haiti. They invited him to travel to the island teaching and speaking with various populations, including gang members.
At the time, Hadji questioned what he had to offer those whose experience is so distinct from his own. After the attack, Hadji felt a new sense of understanding and intimacy with the experience of violence and powerlessness. Rising into the fullness of his own strength and power, Hadji stated his intention of traveling to Haiti, working with the group’s extending invitations, and inviting the support of donations and materials from his community.
Over a year ago my husband, Kevin Price, was robbed at gunpoint.
He was with friends and colleagues at a political prisoner support event in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. As he helped a friend load his car, young men put a gun to his head and forced he and his friend to their knees. His friend lost two week’s pay and his i-Pod.
Thankfully, both were spared their lives.
As Kevin reconciled the event, he encountered feelings previously unknown. He had a new sense of vulnerability. As a tall, strong man he was unaccustomed to the sense that he could be over-powered. As he considered that experience, and how intimately it’s known by so many in the world, he began to write. He shared an essay about the attack that went viral. Noted Columbia academic and former Fox News correspondent, Marc Lamont Hill shared his words on social media networks.
A few months ago my friend, Erica, made her way toward the train stop to journey home. Visibly pregnant and alone, a group of youths began moving closer and attempted to steal her purse. Thankfully, a co-worker had followed her and chased the youths away. When she discussed it with her boss a few days later, she suggested their organization make space for these youths, by finding ways and opportunities for them to be involved in our projects.
Erica is working, with her co-workers, to create a safer environment for the surrounding community. Barring a greater pathology, each of us is inspired by feelings of loyalty and connection when space is created for us.
Her organization is looking at ways to implement programs based, in part, on Erica’s quick creative impulse. The organization sees it as an opportunity to become better integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. Youth, who have been largely abandoned by a larger social safety net, are being considered and included.
A transformation is unfolding.
Buddhists consider suffering a fruitful darkness because it creates compassion. Suffering is not our essential state, but we have to know it to then extend ourselves beyond our own experience.
Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, considers forgiving those who cause our suffering an unavoidable step in growth. In the month of May, she’s invited all Jivamukti-influenced teachers and studios to consider forgiveness in their practices.
The above stories illustrate that forgiveness is not absolving an attacker of responsibility for their actions. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that battery, threats or robbing are acceptable. Forgiveness demonstrates that holding onto rage, powerlessness and frustration simply limits.
To step into wholeness, we acknowledge that unthinkable acts can surprisingly empower. That most violence isn’t senseless, but rather motivated by thwarted opportunity and lack of consideration. To protect ourselves and one another, we have to find ways to understand others, even when that shakes us to our core.
To prevent crime and violence, we have to open up and extend even towards those we deem criminal or other.
I am so privileged to know Hadji, Kevin and Erica. Each of them has expanded past the pain involved in their attacks. They were affected. They are human. But, they were able to pull upon a resiliency that transformed suffering into compassion, and compassion into healing for themselves and also for others.
I think about this process on a larger scale. It is obviously potent in each of our personal narratives. Part of our process is resolving personal traumas.
What if we could extend this effort on a larger scale?
Every day I read about senseless acts of violence—often in disenfranchised, impoverished communities. I constantly hear about terrorism, most often attributed to dark-skinned people in parts of the world considered impenetrable and beyond comprehension.
What if the fear and pain in the wake of violent incidents compelled each of us to understand the aggressor? What if we began to listen and explore their stories? Not to absolve their actions or deny accountability. Not to say it’s justified to hurt others. Rather, to know that we are all safer when we are all known.
We are all safer when we create space for one another.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks I saw powerful examples of people helping one another and healing. I also grew worried when I heard xenophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Prior to the attacks, I was well-aware of Chechnya and of the brutal history Chechens have faced at the hands of Russian oppression. This conflict does not justify two individual Chechens allegedly bombing the Boston Marathon. But is there some way for those affected by the bombing to build towards a greater understanding of the motives of the actors? Can atrocity be transformed into greater stability, both for those in Boston as well as those in Chechnya?
Our personal transformations are powerful and collective transformation possible. Part of finding forgiveness, releasing the pain associated with attack and healing is gaining a perspective, a vantage point, beyond the immediate feelings of victimization.
Times of pain can simply be darkness. When our pain becomes an impetus to rise into healing with affected populations in Haiti, to lift our voice and find words on page, to create space for the disenfranchised, the darkness is fruitful.
To offer Hadji financial support or donations for his Haiti project visit his website.
Maiga Milbourne, E-RYT, teaches vinyasa yoga to groups and individuals. She is passionate about healthy bodies, relationships and communities. In reflection of the broad benefits of yoga, Maiga has created a range of services to provide to her clients, all seeking to help each one realize their fullest potential. Join her on retreat this upcoming winter at an artist-designed eco-retreat on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Learn more at maigamilbourne.com.
Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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