This is part three 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 and part two here.
I found myself describing the 4th of July to my young child the other day as the day we celebrate an intention that was made, a declaration of liberty and freedom that was not the work in and of itself, but the announcement of work that was to come. As if he’d declared his room clean, set an intention to clean it every day, and we celebrated that day each year, whether he’d actually cleaned his room or not. He thought about this a while and then wondered aloud if that made any sense. “But wouldn’t I actually have to clean my room, not just say I was going to?” he asked.
July 4, 1776 was a day of aspirations. It’s important to say that the men who declared this nation independent – who aspired to be the land of the free - did so without the consent of the natives whom they’d colonized, murdered (and would continue to erase) and on the backs of slaves. Saying, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." while continuing to slaughter, imprison, and exploit any person who was not a male colonist is, well, problematic.
All this to say: this is a complicated holiday. Liberty, freedom, and equality: these things don’t happen on they’re own or just because we declare that they will. They happen through a willingness to do the work. They happen through deep listening, amends making, and the intensive work of repair. Repairing the breach between who we say we are and who we actually are.
When we talk about freedom, what exactly are we talking about? Liberty for whom and from what? Abraham Heschel wrote in his book The Sabbath: "Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people.” We cannot be free as long as we are being dominated OR participating in the domination of others. Liberty is not real until it extends to all, both the oppressors and the oppressed.
Most people who’ve practiced Yoga have encountered the Mangala Mantra or at least this part: lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, which is often translated may all beings be happy and free. Repeating this mantra, powerful as it is, is not the same thing as doing the work of peace, freedom, justice, and liberty. Setting an intention for liberation is not the same as acknowledging the ways we participate in structures of oppression. May all beings be happy and free is not just a wish, but rather a reminder to ourselves of why we do this. We don’t practice only for our own liberation, but for the liberation of all. We don’t practice only for our own health and wellbeing, but so that we can be active participants in the health and wellbeing of everyone.
The title of this post is from Ella’s Song. Here is a link to it, performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock. As has often been the case, the prophetic voices of women of color have been putting words to what is required if we are to move forward and create freedom and liberty for all. The lyrics come from the words of Ella Baker, a powerful figure in the Civil Rights struggle, and highlight themes of compassion, empathy, deep listening, accountability, and hard work. The hard work of freedom.
Here at SKY it has been our aim to create space for opportunities for this work to happen both within the framework of what is often considered “yoga practice” and also beyond. This is why we hosted a Humanities Washington talk on White Privilege and why we are hosting workshops such as Dharma and Love: Exploring the Central Themes of the Bhagavad Gita and How to Deeply Engage with a World in Crisis with Sitaram Dass and So You Want a Revolution? An Initiation into Spiritual Activism with Felicia Parazaider, as well as inviting The People’s Assembly to hold space for storytelling and deep listening with a Takeback event, among other planned workshops and events all with the goal of inviting each of us to participate in the work - not just the intention - of helping all beings to be happy and free.
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 4.
Go here to Give Big
Go here to register for Yoga in the Park