Ahimsa is Our Call to Action: One Yogi’s Perspective on the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. ~ Sierra Hollister

Via elephant journal
on Mar 26, 2013
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I was arrested yesterday.

Mostly I was arrested because I was protesting against Toronto Dominion Bank (TD Bank) and their investments and support for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. It’s a big deal because TD bank is responsible for the largest corporate loans for the Keystone project and in 2012, TD Bank was one of the largest institutional shareholders in TransCanada Corporation, the oil company responsible for the pipeline.

As part of my protest against TD Bank, I read a statement in their downtown lobby, asking them to cease all support and investment in the Keystone XL Pipeline. I also let the bank managers know that I would work to notify their banking customers as well as the local community that  banking with TD Bank means  supporting the most egregious and destructive development of fossil fuels to date. In addition to posing a significant threat to the climate, the tar sands are destroying local communities, trashing the environment for all species and threatening the water supply, from Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas.

Certainly, I was arrested because I refused to leave the bank property when asked to. But, I was also arrested because of something my friend Greg Yost said. He said: “its 2013, y’all. It’s time to be heard.

Greg is right. It is time to be heard. It is time to stand up to corporate greed, legislative idiocy, leadership mediocrity, environmental exploitation, citizen inaction and more.

Most of all, it is time to stand up and defend this beautiful blue green planet we call home.

Speaking of home, I’m wondering where the yoga community is? In my trek to DC, in the public hearings on electricity rate hikes and in the protests around town, I’m not seeing the yogis. And, it’s bumming me out because we need you. We need you to get up off your yoga mat and practice some actionasana. We need you to work for change and for the liberation from suffering for all beings.

We need you to help defend this lovely blue green planet.

I might know your struggle as I’ve wrestled with it myself. Perhaps it is the second sutra from the portion on contemplation? The sutra that tells us that yoga is the control of the mind fluctuations. There are many that interpret this in a way that results in inaction. Yet I would point you to sutras 29 and 30 from the portion on practice. Here are sutras that speak to our need to engage with the world as part of our beginner’s path. It is here that we find our foundation, our abstinences and our observances. And first, before anything else, there is Ahimsa. It is here that we find our call to action. The great vow of Ahimsa is the vow to not cause pain, to not cause suffering or harm. There are so many issues that we yogis need to address if we take this vow seriously. And, if you continue on to sutra 31 you find that Patanjali informs us that there is no wiggle room, no excuses.

These vows cannot be broken. To consider one a yogi is to consider one an activist. These great vows beckon us into the world, calling us forward to work for a sustainable and equitable future for all life, to take action when things are unjust, when pain is being caused.

The very latest on the Keystone XL pipeline is that the Senate voted in favor of this project right about the time that I was in jail as a result of opposing this project. Our own Kay Hagan is one of the Senator’s in favor of this pipeline. As my friend Greg said, it’s time to be heard y’all. Let’s push back and push back hard.

At this juncture, I can think of no more catastrophic pain than the pain of altering our climate, and the suffering that will surely result from destroying the planet.

I’ll be looking for you out on the frontlines because:

1) I love you and,

2) Ahimsa is our call to action.

pigeon poseSierra Hollister is a green yogini living in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC . She is an advocate for mindful change in this world, and for the protection of this planet. You may reach Sierra via her blog.

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33 Responses to “Ahimsa is Our Call to Action: One Yogi’s Perspective on the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. ~ Sierra Hollister”

  1. cori says:

    Thank you for reminding us that yoga continues & is most importantly applied off the mat! Sat nam Sierra!

  2. Tami says:

    Right on and well said!

  3. we all need reminding. and so, we have each other. for anyone who is interested, my blog is at http://www.dragonflysamadhi.blogspot.com

    all love, sierra

  4. Julie says:

    Awesome post and very informative. You inspire me, you always have.

  5. Daphne says:

    All people of faith and spirit must speak out on this. So many religions have this same creed: "The great vow of Ahimsa is the vow to not cause pain, to not cause suffering or harm."

  6. Emily says:

    So true, thank you for the perspective and for expanding the potential of yogis. These are the calls that beckon us to come out into the world and remind us that we are now, in part, of it all. With gratitude and an ahimsa hallelujah!

  7. Sara says:

    Yes! One of the most genuine understandings that has come through my yoga practice is the inherent interconnectedness of all- humans, animals, inhale & exhale, past present future, plants, soil, om om om… So even if I think myself totally innocent or not responsible for something (i.e. not directly causing harm/ pain/ suffering), I'm still participating in so many ways. So sat nam and blessings, may we act mindfully in ways that create the most healing! Much gratitude for leading by example Sierra <3 <3

  8. Richard says:

    Sierra – bravo! and thanks. Most people I know who go to church, attend meditation groups, use yoga as their spiritual practice do so for personal spiritual growth/transformation. The mat or pew is a place for refuge, rest, restoration. Thanks for reminding us that spiritual practice allows us to reconnect to purpose and meaning, our larger communities of living beings, God or a higher power, i.e. that which gives us the courage, determination, and patience to engage within the world. Spiritual practice is the vehicle for spiritual resistance of the destructiveness of our industrialized consumer culture. The inner peace we seek cannot occur unless we attain outer peace. As Arundhati Roy wrote: "What does “peace” mean? You know, we may not need peace in this unjust society, because that’s a way of accepting injustice. So what you need is people who are prepared to resist, but not just on a weekend."

  9. Susan says:

    Thank you for your efforts, Sierra! I am grateful to you!

  10. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Ok, I'll be the first to put up a bit of skepticism.

    It started with the "fighting corporate greed" thing. That, to me, is a signal. Blaming someone else. There's nothing particularly greedy about corporations, or particularly MORE greedy, anyway. They, you, we, all of us are greedy. That's part of why we need yoga. Blaming it on one particular group 'out there' is a way to transfer responsibility from ourselves but not necessarily a way to find real solutions.

    For example, the "living in the mountains around Asheville" bit. Isn't that one of those places that Yogis and Americans in general love to live where you have to "burn a quart of gas to buy a quart of milk"? Ok, it might not be milk for yoga types, but you get the point.

    Corporations, out of their greed, respond to our greed. That's the way it works. The free market negotiates peaceful exchanges of greed. Ahimsa for the real world in which almost everyone is greedy. (Never thought of that before! But the free market is, in fact, Real World Ahimsa! Ahimsa for greedy people!)

    One really big thing you could do is move to a city like, if you're in America, SF, NY, or Boston, where you can live a normal life without a car. By doing that, you could make a real difference in lowering the demand for oil, the particular greed we're concerned with here. That way, even if you are the kind of person who doesn't feel right with confrontational activism, you can go straight to the heart of the problem. And maybe do a lot more, in a quiet way, than confrontation does.

  11. Andrew Weatherly says:

    Thank you Mark Ledbetter for what you say. It will challenge people as there is truth in it. I was present at the rally. A few days later I saw a friend who had planned on attending but wasn’t there. He said that he was not there because he chose not to drive that day, and that was how he participated. I was envious that his life choices in our culture permit him the freedom not to participate in our gradual choking. I choose to live close to downtown. I ride my bike when practical. I hang my laundry, shop local, keep the heat low, and I teach as a profession. It galls me to the depth of my soul to continually give money to participate in our choking. I acknowledge the set of choices I’ve made in order to participate in our culture, and I keep choosing to do what I can to alter its destructive orientations.
    I plan on following the example of Sierra and the other three arrestees. Mark Ledbetter, thank you for challenging us to do better. Sincerely, Andrew Weatherly

  12. Dave says:

    I agree that corporations don not inherantly have to be greedy. They are typically greedy since that is the reflection of the people who run them. I disagree that living in a city is the most adaptive and environmentally friendly thing to do. Cities are typically inherently unsustainanble without cheap energy. While sustainability is a moving target based on numerous variables, it is clear that with a breakdown in the electric infrastructure, cities will be one of the most difficult places to live. If food cannot be transported cooled trafic light stop working etc, there would be chaos. Most heating systems would not work etc. So cities are like the cancer that drains the energy from the body in a massive way. Perhaps all of our grand expression called the industrial revolution is simply just the exercise in understanding our place in the ecosystem was really eating nuts and fruit in the canopies of the tropical regions?

  13. Dave says:

    Taking action is simply a way of becoming whole with one's inner truth. Many folks talk about doing things. Talk about how things should be. And talk is better than silience. But one cannot possible become whole if one is incapable of standing in ones inner truth and living through the sacrifice. That sacrifice may be one's freedom for a time, or perhaps ones life for that matter. It may be as simple as public humiliation or name calling, but it is still sacrifice and that is what changes ourself which in turn changes the world. It is about being honest in the world regardless of the consequences. That is what being spiritual is all about. And history shows that that is indeed what changes the world and our future. it is in fact the story of Jesus and many other spiritual masters.

    Lastly, it should also be stated that all actions taken in this way are what build thee foundation of transformation. Nobody has "the answer". What is important is that where ever you are at whatever actions you can take that reflect your inner truth, that is all that is required. Let's leave the rest up to the cosmos.

  14. Beth says:

    Sierra , your action and sacrifice inspire me and others. There is not one perfect answer to our dependence on oil, but your words and lifestyle choices offer all of us options to work with in our efforts to simplify our lives and protect our planet. The Keystone pipeline is a horrendous mistake in the making and it horrifies me that it may actually become a reality. Peaceful protests and lifestyle changes are our best tools for creating the world we want to protect for our children's children.
    Thank you!

  15. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Hey Dave, I would disagree with you on the environmental soundness of city living. But I'll save that for another time. Just want to clear up one thing. I didn't say that corporations are not inherently greedy. In fact, just the opposite. They ARE greedy. Because they are run by us and we are greedy. The problem at hand is oil consumption. Because we greedily prefer to live in places that require cars for normal living, corporations greedily provide us what we want. We can't blame them because they are us. We're all in it together. We drive, they increase oil producation. We move to the city and stop driving, they decrease oil production. Simple as that. Can't have your cake and eat it too, ya know.

  16. Marianne says:

    Thank you, Sierra, for the en-lighten-ment of this issue…I applaud you as one who leads by example ~ Deep appreciation of your share and your VOICE!

  17. Anne Craig says:

    I was arrested with Sierra. It was an honor to join with her and two others to do this 'action.' We are at the 'tipping point' of humanity's survival on this planet yet we dally. The call to awaken is upon us. It's not just about our selves, it's about finding our Self through action, through speaking out, through raising awareness, especially in this country which 'knows not what it does.'

  18. thanks so much for expanding this Richard. i am with you. sierra

  19. hi mark-
    it's complicated, isn't it? thanks for posting and sharing your thoughts. i am no perfect being. i do yearn for a sustainable and healthy life for all of us. the way we are consuming the earth and imperiling all life with our carbon habit does not feel sustainable. and honestly- i do think there is an enormous amount of corporate greed out there. corporations are run by people- so, clearly, greed in people comes first.
    i can only speak for myself- i am so lucky to live in a solar home with spring water and a garden that fills our root cellar and freezers and shelves. not everyone can do that. city living can absolutely be so much more sustainable than country living but i think it really depends upon the individuals- perhaps i am missing something but it seems like it would be hard to make a generalization about sustainability just based on zipcode.
    and, confrontation is not for everyone. it's usually not even for me 🙂 but, it felt really good to call td bank out on what they are funding- not only because stopping the keystone xl is a goal of mine but also because td bank likes to greenwash themselves as a "zero carbon bank" – which is just downright outrageous given their activities. again, thanks for being in dialogue.

  20. thanks for getting on here anne. you are such an inspiration to me. proud to link arms with you and sing our songs for future generations.

  21. thanks for taking the time to read this and respond. with love and gratitude.

  22. thanks for taking the time to comment beth. we are in agreement 🙂

  23. yet the broken-ness of earth and spirit are all around us. not only must we speak, we must act. the time is on us.

  24. Vicki says:

    awesome to the power of 1000. I was arrested at a sit in at westpac (aussie bank) during the height of occupy. solidarity my fellow yoga teaching activist. someone has to stand up for stuff and if we are going to teach others to stand into their power we should live it too. so much love for this. non violent resistance is the way we will change the world. #nokxl

  25. Laura Sorensen says:

    I have really enjoyed reading everyone's comments here. We all have caring hearts that yearn for expression at a time where there is so much pain, mistrust and greed. I must say my experience of being arrested on that day at TD Bank was enlightening. My heart was so strong, any monkey mind thoughts were dismissed. Vickie is right: we must live it in order for others to stand up too. My work with activism is always because I feel better about doing than talking. Thank you Sierra for sharing your story here.

  26. brooke says:

    I am thankful for you Sierra, in speaking up for our Blue Green planet in the clear and powerful way you do. As a busy mama/entrepeneur its very challenging to keep up to date the many things that need attention and action such as this. So thank you for shining light on the situation.. and I will do my part by sharing with my communities-especially other yogins, this article. Weaving in the yoga sutras in this manner really speaks to my heart as well. Lets hope we can all find that inspiration and drive to bring our yoga into the world as skillful action/activism.

  27. Jeri Senor says:

    We each (yogin(ini) or not) have our causes and our very personal path or Dharma. You are very brave Sierra, to speak up so visibly. And, for each who are authentically called to this life and particular challenge, may blessings be ever showered upon you.

  28. sierra says:

    wonderful to know that you are out there vicki ~ sending love and power your way. we will change the world. wahe guru!

  29. sierra says:

    thanks for taking the time to be here on elephant journal and to comment laura. and thanks for your leadership in so many things, certainly not the least being green activism. all love.

  30. sierra says:

    thank you brooke. and yes- bringing our yoga off the mat, into the world. i love that. imagine a world where we strive to not cause pain, to tell the truth, to not take what isn't ours, to have integrity in relationships, to not take more than we need for nourishment………….wow and that's just the yamas………

  31. sierra says:

    and blessings on you jeri <3

  32. christine says:

    Sierra, thanks for standing up and for inspiring others to do the same!

  33. azuremythos says:

    As always Sierra, you inspire me. Great call to action!

    You are a shining light out here in our blue ridge mtns.

    Its sometimes difficult to know how to move forward in such a seemingly backwards world.

    Media stunts can be an amazing tool to bring ideas to the "dinner table".

    Dave, I especially like what you said Nobody having all the answers, its true. But Dialogue needs to be addressed, and giving voice to the voiceless

    Sat Nam