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  • Julie Lifton

What Is My Job?

Updated: May 29, 2020

When horrible things happen in the world, I question, for the umpteenth time, how far my role as a yoga teacher goes towards addressing the world around us. I know that my job is to continuously call our attention to the world within us, and that awareness of our inner world is essential to remaining authentic, clear, and clean back out in the world. There are schools of yoga whose goal is to go to the extreme of complete withdrawal into the interior world. The yoga that I love, and that I aspire to teach, is a yoga that recognizes the importance of access to our inner world so that we can live in the world more fully.

But, I am in despair. Especially this week, after the latest shocking and horrifying murder of another Black man, George Floyd, by Derek Chauvin (yes, remember his name, too!) a white cop, I am in despair. This despair was heightened by the response of the Minneapolis police towards the people seeking justice for that man, in sharp contrast to their patience, stoicism and tolerance for the heavily armed, volatile, and confrontational behavior of white “protesters” in Michigan demanding the right to – what, not wear a mask?

Really, ever since this administration’s instigation and escalation of racism in this country I have been living with a baseline of despair. I despair over the state of the world, the rampant hatred and contempt between people, and I limp into my yoga space, despairing over what, whether, or how I address these atrocities.

Bit by desperate bit, since November of 2016 I have felt myself shutting down. And, to be clear, I am well aware that it is precisely because of racism, because of my whiteness, that I have the space to shut down. I am well aware that my white despair (and sometimes shame) is nothing compared to the terror felt by my human cousins of color. Where I am shutting down, they are being shut out, ruled out, and wiped out by my human cousins of white supremacism. I am aware that this feeling of shutting down is of my own making, whereas the terror of being a person of color jogging, shopping, sleeping, walking in the woods, etc.… is NOT of their own making.

What I have noticed in the midst of this hardening of my heart is that there are cracks in the shell that get right into the center of it when I least expect it. There’s a crack in that armor when I realize how tender and vulnerable I still am.

Listening to the radio this morning, for example, I heard Randi Weingarten

(the president of the teacher’s union) talking to a NYC public school teacher and for a moment they stopped the conversation to express great respect and gratitude for each other. I began to cry. I cried out of tenderness and the heartstrings pulled by that simple expression of respect and appreciation. And I realize that it is exactly that moment of tenderness that I need to move towards.

That bit of tenderness can be like a wedge to pry open my heart and keep me human. I need to be the heart-centered person that I know myself to be, which made me a yoga teacher to begin with.

I have struggled with what my role should be as a yoga teacher since just over a year into my teaching. September 11th happened and I had NYC exiles sobbing through Savasana in my Nyack classes. There have been many distressing world events since then. Aside from any action I take as a citizen, what is my role as a yoga teacher?

I need to keep following that thread into my heart, and to encourage all yogis to do the same. My job is to facilitate each yogi’s return to their tender insides. To remind us not to get so hardened by the world that we lose the path to our own compassion, our tender hearts, and our warmth.

And I need to remind people from time to time that our practice is not just for us. It is to strengthen and support us, to help keep us whole so that we can be a stronger force for peace. And, “Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Om shanti shanti shanti. May our yoga help us find peace within us and may that peace in turn help us to create a more peaceful, and just, world.

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Julie, what a beautiful piece you wrote. So honest, so personal and I'm certain you're feeling what many more are feeling. Keep finding the goodness, kindness and innocence that by far out weighs the bad.

Love you Julie.

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