June 11, 2011

How I Became a Karma Yoga Practitioner and Therefore, a Recovering Lawyer. ~ Christy Freer

Life is funny. Sometimes you ask questions, but either you don’t really want the answers or you’re not yet open to them, so the universe delivers in subtle hints and whispers. Then you just ask more questions, miss the signs, and lead yourself off track—or perhaps right back on the same path that you unknowingly repeat in every aspect of your life.

But, when you open yourself up, even the tiniest bit, after having been closed off for so long to your inner voice that dares to dream of a different life . . . well, then the universe picks up a megaphone and a sledgehammer.

That’s the way it was—or rather, is—for me. There I was, desperate to escape even for a few minutes from my 24/7 work as a corporate finance lawyer at a high-powered, high-stress job. So I read the French newspaper, Le Monde, because even my procrastination time had to feel productive. (“I’m not procrastinating, I’m keeping up my French skills.” How many of these stories have you told yourself?) It didn’t turn out to be very good escapism because at the time, I kept seeing devastating news stories about Haiti that weren’t being reported in the American press.

I remember thinking, am I missing something in the translation? Or is there really that much pain and suffering going on in our own backyard that isn’t making the news here? As it turns out, my French is still pretty good, and things in Haiti are still incredibly bad.

This country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, has been defined by a history of political instability and natural disaster. Since the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti has faced a cholera epidemic. And a hurricane. And the tragic inefficiency of international NGOs. Now, the mayor of Delmas in Port-Au-Prince is slashing tents en masse and destroying camps of internally displaced persons who’ve been rendered homeless by the quake, to reclaim that land for “the public.” Exactly who does he think is living in those tents?

Back when it was still nothing more than procrastination material for me, or so I thought, I found myself sitting at my computer, crying my eyes out and feeling my heart break. Someone’s got to do something about this, I thought. I’ve got to do something about this. I tried to get away from that uncomfortable thought, but instead found myself reading two different yoga studio newsletters promoting an Off the Mat, Into the World intensive leadership training in DC. Within three clicks on the OTM website, I landed on a page that read, in big bold letters, “OTM Global Seva Challenge 2011: Haiti.” Megaphone. Sledgehammer.

This was it. A crack in the door, one single thought, was all I needed for hurricane-force winds of change to blow through my life. I signed up for the Global Seva Challenge the next day. When I think about it, I realize that I’ve been changing for awhile. After all, one day three years ago, I stepped onto a yoga mat. This path has been unfolding before me for a long time, even when I wasn’t open or honest enough with myself to see it. And now, I’ve quit my job, enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program, and for once in my life, learned how to take a risk that makes no sense to my head, but that my heart somehow knows is the right choice.

As part of the OTM Global Seva Challenge, I have committed (along with my fundraising partner, Kristin Adair) to raising at least $40,000 this year for sustainable relief efforts in Haiti. The funds will go to support Off the Mat’s partner organizations in Haiti, run by Haitians who are working within their local communities to create long-term sustainable solutions.

If we meet our fundraising goal, we will have the opportunity to take our yoga off our mats, to Haiti to work with the organizations and on the projects our fundraising will support. Among other things, we’ll be building a community center and an orphanage, and installing water filtration systems in a rural community. Our efforts will also support microcredit funding and education, so that we’re not just giving dollars but also creating much-needed jobs and empowering Haitian entrepreneurs to build better lives for themselves. And we’ll be able to see exactly where our donors’ money is going. Perhaps most importantly for me, I will be able to look into the eyes of the children at that orphanage and tell them, in my broken French, that they are not being forgotten—not by me.

To Haiti With Love DC, on June 18, will gather an incredible community of yogis and activists who are committed to creating positive and sustainable change for Haiti. We will engage in a powerful practice of 108 sun salutations, taught by an amazing and diverse group of 12 yoga teachers from across the DC area. Each participant will raise or donate at least $108 to attend, challenging themselves on and off the mat to engage in seva (selfless service). Find out more, donate and sign up to practice or volunteer with us at http://tohaitiwithlovedc.org/.

I take comfort now in knowing that I have no idea what lies before me, but that I will learn something worthwhile from each experience along the way. I also hope that through my efforts this year, I can inspire and motivate other yogis, activists—and yes, lawyers—to be open to everything that becomes possible in life when you stop asking questions and start listening for the answers.

Christy Freer is a DC lawyer who is in the process of happily reconnecting with all the other roles in her life – yogi, singer, wife, mom, friend and activist. After having written contracts for eight years, she generally avoids writing like the plague but is happy to make an exception to share this story. She will be working with Off the Mat, Into the World throughout 2011 and beyond as a Seva Challenge participant to raise funds and awareness for Haiti. You can find out more about Christy, her music, and her Haiti work at http://christy4haiti.com/.

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