May 6, 2011

Returning Hate for Hate Multiplies Hate.

Healing Doesn’t Mean Not Feeling. I Hope.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
~Martin Luther King Jr.

My youngest was one day shy of two months old when the world changed forever. I sat cradling her precious little life while watching dust and debris bury the Manhattan neighborhood in the shadow of the Twin Towers that I’d called home just two years before. I rocked her to sleep with tears streaming down my face night after night as I struggled to absorb the enormity of the tragedy. I nursed her overcome with a mixture of horror and honor as our President announced that we were going to war. I looked into her little face and wondered about the world she’d call home.

Nearly ten years later, we are still at war. Over the past decade, thousands upon thousands more lives have ended as a direct result of this one terrible act. I’ve viewed page after page of faces of our heroic dead in newspapers and magazines and wondered at the lives that could have been. I’ve read story after story about the war against terror and tried to imagine myself living in Afghanistan or Pakistan. While I’ve felt grief over the devastation this war has wreaked all over our planet, I’ve never questioned the rightness of our nation’s attempt to rid the world of terrorists and even to exact justice for the criminal act that rocked us to our very core.

However, among all the events I’ve witnessed rippling out from 9/11, amid the gamut of emotions I’ve experienced, one memory in particular stands out. Sometime just before my daughter’s first birthday, I remember listening to a newscast on the radio as I drove my kids home from their swimming lesson. I vividly recall, on that winding, bucolic road, being horrified yet again. Only this time it wasn’t an act of atrocity that left me reeling. It was my realization that my tears had dried up. That the power of my emotions had faded. I felt like I’d developed a callus on my heart and this sickened me.

That’s when my real worry for my daughter and her world arose within me. What if the legacy of this man’s terrible act is a world where we are numb to death and destruction? What if we begin to forget that each of the faces of the dead – “ours” and “theirs” — are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, lovers, spouses, mothers and fathers? What if we get used to living on alert, feeling a little afraid all the time, being on guard? What if war becomes our normal? What will that do to us? Who will we be then?

When we decide to try to live our yoga, we embrace a lot more than is initially obvious. Yes, we dedicate regular, consistent time to move and breathe on our mats in pursuit of outer and inner wellness and wholeness. We tone and balance our bodies. We open tight muscles, we relieve compressed joints. We work to feel better. As we do this work on our mats, we learn to nurture and value our imperfect selves. We discover our hidden potential and embrace the possibilities of our growth. We begin to treat ourselves with compassion and respect. In short, we begin to see ourselves as important, unique, irreplaceable parts in a vast, inconceivable whole.

But to practice yoga is to commit to meshing our inner experiences with our daily activities. As we learn to treat ourselves with value, respect and honor, we begin to treat others the same way. Waking up to yoga can feel as if scales have fallen from our eyes. It begins to be a whole lot easier to nurture and value the imperfect people around us. We are better able to see people’s hidden potential. It becomes quite natural to sense their possibilities. The compassion we have learned to show ourselves on our mats begins to flow to others. If we’re important, valuable, unique parts of a whole, it follows quite naturally that so is everyone. Everyone.

By embracing yoga, we embrace the knowledge that every life in this world is a unique, specially-created light shining with God’s love. As such, it is a tragedy when even one of these lights is snuffed out. I know that none of us could weather the tidal wave of grief if we truly felt the intimate pain of losing each of the thousands who have died in the wake of this age-defining tragedy. I know that our hearts are made to heal, and that calluses are one way of healing. I know that our survival depends on the sharpness of our emotions being smoothed and rounded with time.

But the yogi in me wants to be sure my daughter feels some of the horror of the aftermath of an event she is too young to recall. I want her to understand that, even though she has lived her entire life amid its wreckage, this is not “normal.” This is not who we were created to be. I want to rest in the knowledge that I have not raised a child who is callus to the suffering of the world. I want to teach her to remember all the lives lost over the past ten years. I want her to learn that we can honor each of them by holding firm to our resolve to treat everyone we meet – and even people around the world who we will never meet – with compassion and respect. I want to show her that, even in a time of war, we can live in a way that reflects our practice.

And, maybe — just maybe – as I try to teach her by word and example, I’ll be better able to live out these lessons I’ve learned from my mat.

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