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May 20, 2021

Voter Suppression & Living your Yoga.

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A mindful life is missing something if we don’t also look at what’s hard to see or hear.

Yoga is a practice of dancing with shadow and light. If this were an article all about light and love, it would be easier to read.

Dark money refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. A dark money movement is, right now, in the midst of a massive effort funded by millions of dollars to pass voter suppression laws in key states.

Voter suppression is a tool of oppression.

As a yoga teacher, I often look at these complex issues through the lens of my yogic life, which is guided by the yamas and niyamas.

Ahimsa

My teacher, Swami Omkarananda, taught me, “If you are ever struggling on the path, go back to the first step: ahimsa.”

Ahimsa, or non-harming, is the practice of living in the right relationship with self, others, and all. As John A. Humbach describes it beautifully:

“A relationship is not ‘right’ if participants seek to overbear in power (oppress), to overreach in resources (exploit), or to mislead for selfish advantage (manipulate).”

Oppression, exploitation, and manipulation are all forms of harm. Anyone actively or passively participating in harm is not truly practicing yoga.

Compassion is essential to non-harming. Listening is essential to compassion.

Compassion is a mindfulness approach, where we take empathy to the next level. Empathy allows us to really feel and understand what another person is feeling. Compassion is taking that feeling and putting it into action in order to relieve suffering. One of the greatest acts of compassion is to truly listen with presence and mindfulness.

Listening is essential to truly hearing. What we don’t hear, we can’t truly see. Then, others’ suffering becomes invisible to us. We turn away from what is difficult.

We spend our life resources on our own experience. Maybe we even spiritually bypass the suffering of others by applying expansive truths to real-world human life suffering.

Empathy fatigue and compassion fatigue are real.

In a world where we are exposed to so much suffering, it is human nature to turn away from that which is unpleasant as a self-protection mechanism—this is also ahimsa.

Ahimsa is about living in the right relationship with non-harming self and others. However, nonaction in the presence of injustice is also harmful. This is clear to us in the story of Arjuna’s difficult decision to fight for what is right in the Bhagavad Gita.

For those of us committed to social justice, this means practicing compassion for ourselves.

Applying mindfulness, presence, and awareness so that we can know when we need to lay down our warrior energy and apply our nurturing and healing energy to ourselves.

As a sexual assault survivor, I have come to know, deeply, that I have two powerful energies within me: that of the survivor and warrior and that of the compassionate healer and nurturer.

When I am aware of balancing these energies, I continue to find more real joy in life while maintaining a commitment to practicing a compassionate yogic life.

Satya

Voter suppression is oppression. Oppression relies on training people to live with lies.

Satya is the practice of being truthful in actions, speech, and thought. Living with lies is contrary to the practice of satya.

People often struggle to be able to hold multiple truths at one time. For example, I trust this person or institution, so anything that is true that is out of accord with them, I can not see. I can not hear.

When untruths are presented from people or systems we trust, it is often difficult to see the whole truth.

If a leader I trust is telling me that the recent election was fraudulent and that the current movement toward making voting more challenging is necessary for election integrity, it will be hard for me to see the truths that:

1. There is no credible evidence of any election fraud in the 2020 election.

2. The current movement toward election integrity is a lie. That these laws are truly voter suppression aimed at making it harder for certain races and classes to vote in order to continue to oppress, exploit, and manipulate.

Why do we live with lies?

The oppressed are often forced to live with lies through punishments ranging from microaggressions to death. Those who are not oppressed live with lies because it’s not comfortable or easy to sit with the truth of suffering in others.

This makes me think of the line “You Can’t Handle The Truth!” from the 1992 military court drama film “A Few Good Men.” It is human nature to separate ourselves from the things we fear as a form of mental protection.

“We did it quickly, and we did it quietly. Honestly, nobody noticed,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of “Heritage Action of America” in a video recording recently obtained by the watchdog group “Documented.”

In this video, Anderson is talking to big-money donors about a massive effort to make it harder for certain people to vote.

So far, they have succeeded in Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Iowa. Many more GOP-led states are quickly following suit in this effort backed by “Heritage Action of America.”

Voter suppression legislation is being propagandized to their base as election integrity based on the big lie about election fraud in the 2020 election. The truth is that this massive effort is oppression, exploitation, and manipulation.

Satya means that we need to sit with the truth. The whole truth. Unpack it.

And be with complicated and nuanced problems. Oppression is an extremely effective tool because survivors of oppression often don’t want to have to continue to face, and stand with, their fear. It’s often too painful. That is valid.

This is why it’s important for those who are not oppressed to listen. To be willing to be uncomfortable with the truth and to act compassionately.

Tapas

I will be the first to admit that seeing these lies is not easy. It’s not comfortable to feel betrayed or lied to. It feels terrifying to not know who to trust.

It’s not comfortable to acknowledge the suffering of others. Acknowledging the suffering of others is the first step.

Empathy. Courage. Vulnerability. Compassionate action is the next step.

It’s also important to acknowledge that shame is not an effective social justice tool. As Brené Brown teaches, “We are not here to be right, we are here to get it right.”

We must be willing to be wrong. To learn and unlearn. To be awkward and humble. Shame is a tool of oppression. Compassion, accountability, and justice are effective tools for real change.

Compassionate action we can take now:

Contact your state legislators and governor, letting them know that you stand for fair and accessible access to voting and that you will be watching for any attempts to pass legislation that in any way suppresses the vote.

Encourage your elected officials in Congress to pass the “For The People Act” immediately to stem corruption in the United States and to stop voter suppression efforts in their tracks.

The “For The People Act” is the most important legislation of our time. If we don’t have fair elections that are not influenced by oppression and greed, we can’t pass any legislation or deal with any complex issues that center around humanity.

~

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