Compassionate Community Days (Repairers of the Breach, Part 2)

This is part two of a multi-part series that is being written to share ALL the work that we’re up to, beyond the obvious affordable and accessible drop-in yoga classes. You can read part one here.

Compassion is a word that is thrown around rather easily these days, but like so many other words, we don’t always mean the same thing. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes it this way: “Compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering”.

Linking compassion and suffering is key, because in order to act compassionately, we need to first bear witness to suffering and it is the empathetic – not sympathetic – response to this suffering that IS compassion.

Of course, bearing witness to suffering is hard. Bearing witness to suffering without trying to fix it or change it is hard.  Bearing witness to suffering, holding space for what hurts, without choosing sides but with a commitment to naming injustice is hard. It takes practice. It requires community to both hold us accountable and to inspire us.

Our Board President and long-time community member, Alisa O’Hanlon, has taken the lead on a project we’re calling Compassionate Community Days. The goals are to invite and support Tacoma residents to exercise and practice compassion toward one another; to encourage community members to be courageous to move out of their comfort zones to discover the experience of another community member; to connect the singular events of compassion organized in Tacoma to activate the synergy of their collective effect. It’ll look like a month of activities, conversations, and practices all over Tacoma with many community partners to meet these goals.

She was inspired to dream this up after attending the US Conference of Mayors 85th Winter Meeting. There, surgeon general of the United States, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy said: “Addiction and many of the other illnesses we’re concerned about are diseases of despair, driven by deficits of hope. Everyone I have talked to who’s emerged into recovery has had one common thread in their stories that had it not been there, would have made their journey impossible…compassion.”

As an organization that is committed to creating love, connection, and mutual healing, the hard work of cultivating empathy and compassion is central. Alisa writes, “…being compassionate always includes being aware of suffering and taking action to alleviate it. Without awareness, no other steps happen; without action, no other steps matter.”

Yoga is a powerful tool precisely because it fosters the awareness and the courage that is needed to move through the world in this way. And yet, the industry and the consumerist culture of Yoga has been such that this incredible tool can be easily used to justify the opposite.  We can use it as a tool to avoid the suffering of others (and our own) rather than to face it.

When we talk about the SKY Community we are of course referring to the folks who come through our doors, as well as the folks we visit through our outreach classes, but we’re also referring to the wider community of Tacoma. We don’t want the magic that happens within our walls and in our outreach classes to stay there, bottled up. Our commitments as an organization are not only to our students, but to our city and beyond. We believe that Yoga is one of many tools and practices that can serve to help us face the heartache of the world with courage, clarity, and compassion so we can move beyond platitudes of love and peace and actually do the work of justice in the world. These times are calling for nothing less.

So, keep an eye out for the Compassionate Community Days calendar (launching soon!) and the many opportunities for listening deeply to cultivate empathy and compassion.  And if you think that what we’re up to is worthwhile and a benefit to this community, please consider Giving Big!

And stay tuned for part 3.

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