“a ballet being fought in the alley”
“The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all, they just stand back and let it all be”.
Bruce Springsteen’s observation of the passive poets in ‘Jungleland’ has been a phrase that has resonated in me so completely and so early on in life, it has become a part of me. I can remember as a little girl, sitting in the car with my Dad listening to the “Born to Run” album, as we so often did, and as the hauntingly smooth saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons drew to a close, I made a decision. I would not be those poets, I would build myself brave enough to speak out.
Two strong influences in my development as a person are 1) having grown up with the influence of Bruce Springsteen and other staples of Classic Rock (Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Cat Stevens, just to name a few) and 2) the practice of yoga. I cannot say I always knew what I was learning. In fact, I cannot say that I was always aware I was being taught. All I knew is that my heart led me to classic rock and the yoga practice with absolute certainty.
During the hours I spent on my yoga mat at the studio I called home for many years, I was grateful. I was grateful for everything; my amazing family, my health, that I had found yoga and had a beautiful space to practice in, as well as the hardships, the disappointments, and the humility I have bumped into along the way, because from all of it, I was learning. There were so many times I would find myself in a Natrajasana (Dancer’s Pose) or Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) thinking “this is too good to be true”, here I am in a place I am loved, doing something that lights my soul, and coming into my desired way of being a little more each day.
It is true, I was learning; just not in the way I expected. One Saturday morning, after having just returned to Cleveland after a long hospitalization (where I had spent months resisting almost everything the doctor’s said) I made my way to class at “my” studio. That morning I found myself in a humbling and pivotal position. In the “grounding series” of Baptiste Power Yoga, the teacher called out for the nine thousandth, (or at least it felt that way) chatteranga (low plank). I began to roll up my mat, thinking “she is effing crazy, there is no way I can do this. Why is she making this so hard?” Then, I heard the instructor say: “Consider that I have been doing this a long time and I know more than you. You can. You are strong. You are capable”. So for the first time in a long while I did. I risked disappointing myself and finished the class. At last, for the first time in my memory, I put my faith in something other than anorexia. It felt incredible to unlock even one of the chains that I had bound myself in for more years than I care to admit.
That is the moment I decided to trust my teacher. I wish I could say she was speaking to me; that she saw me and believed in me. Truthfully, it is embarrassing to admit that, although I had practiced there for some time, I am certain she did not notice that I was at that Saturday morning class or knew who I was for that matter. For many years this is the way things went. My teacher would say something and I would believe her. Even if I observed differently or did not agree, I trusted that there was a reason for what I was seeing and it was not my business to know it, but the intention was good.
Slowly my trust extended to many other teachers at “my” studio and I believed I was a part of a community I felt proud of; a group of individual’s genuinely seeking to do good and make a difference. People warned me in every way. Some were gentle others more blatant, the message though was the same; don’t be “blinded by the light.”
During class the teachers eloquently and powerfully taught a brilliant lesson, full of alignment cues to ensure safety and longevity in the asana practice as well as professing pillars of yogic philosophy in a way that made them available to the masses. It was so easy to believe them because they put on a good show. They said the right things, they were confident, and it was what I wanted to believe. Still, there was a painful misalignment between the performance they delivered in the studio and the behavior outside of the studio.
Teachers would often say to “be brave”, “have the conversations you need to have”, “be of support for one another”, “get out of your head- your world is out here”, yet I observed active avoidance, short and distant conversation (to almost everyone), and a lack of returned respect. Still, like many others, ignored all of it, and made excuses for and justifying, the behavior. Worst of all, I talked myself into believing the excuses and justifications were true. That I was “wrong”, “quirky”, and did not deserve to be seen. The more I beat myself down internally, the more I practiced, just to believe that I could feel something other than sad or left out. However, in my heart I knew it was not true, and during class I still let myself believe I was loved, that everyone was just trying to be the best version of themselves, and that it was a supportive and elevating community.
It was not so much one epic moment that led to my disenchantment with the yoga “community” I had surrounded myself with, rather a series of moments. It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together slowly. I never really mattered to them. It became obvious that saying “I support you” was different than actually supporting someone and that it really does not matter to them how many or how badly people are hurt by their actions so long as they do not suffer the repercussions.
I am still grateful for what I have and am learning throughout the time I am at the studio, although I am a bit fearful to proclaim, I believe some of the teachers practice what they teach. The others have still taught me yoga, just in a different way. Rather than lessons in how to be of support and a part of a community, they have been more exemplary of how not to treat people, how not to be in society. As it turns out, they have been the greatest teachers of how to love beyond condition and find compassion. These are the kind of people that make us harder, better, faster, and stronger.
Often it is really difficult to find the space to love the people I said I would. Slowly though, it is becoming easier as I continue to practice loving the things I resist even more – a lesson I learned from hearing and observing my dear teacher and friend, Marni.
This has been an especially difficult piece to write, and
harder to share. In fact, I have turned the idea over many times and have been hoping that I am wrong. I have reached out every window, walked down every road, searching for any kind of signal that I may have misunderstood. However as time passes, my beliefs have been reinforced and enhanced. It was not until I realized how many others had been hurt that I considered sharing anything at all.
There is not much I claim to be certain of, what I will say though, is I am sure of this. If this kind of community exists here, it is not the only place. I stand by what I said as an eight-year-old girl listening to Bruce Springsteen, I will not be one of the “poets who stands back and let it all be”. If people continue to be silent and continue to live in the false reality where all that glitters is gold, there will be just as many, if not more, people who are on the outskirts of these communities feeling unjustifiably humiliated, less than enough, and undeserving of reciprocated respect and attention.
I speak not to say “they” need to change- people are who they are and if you make the commitment to love them you must, because if you do not you are no different than they. What I encourage is to look deeper – whether it be into a seemingly revolting or seemingly perfect exterior. When we look deeper we become able to catch a glimpse of the blocks of guilt and shame, the long bands of loneliness, and the sharp, jagged edges of rejection and dreams left behind,. We find the intricacies that make up the person before us – everyone and everything becomes art.
So this is a call to the dreamers, the ones who know what it is to love, and what it is to feel hurt. To the strong souls who continue to get up time and again, to the tough and tender hearts that are capable of loving one another, not despite their imperfections, but rather because of them. This is a testimony to those who are willing to listen to each other without wondering how someone else’s words pertain to yourself and look upon another without comparison, so that we may hear the unrefined inflections of honesty in another’s voice and see the shadows of sorrow in another’s eyes.
To the kind and faithful, keep loving, keep dreaming, keep the faith. There are still good people and may you perpetuate and help foster a more equal and peaceful society.