Thanks to everyone who helped make BeCause Yoga’s first public event a huge success. I was thrilled to have so much support from within the San Antonio yoga community. Together we raised just over $4,000 to support the vital, nonjudgmental reproductive health care and sexuality education Planned parenthood provides to all who need it.More events are in the works!
I think I first saw Patricia Ireland in person at a Planned Parenthood luncheon with my mom in the late 1980s. She was the President of the National Organization for Women, which at that time was a really big deal. NOW had INFLUENCE back then as one of the prime organizers behind the 50-state effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. When NOW supported a candidate, it meant something. And when NOW made a decision to NOT support any candidate in a race, they made that known… and it meant something. Patricia Ireland was NOW for me.
A decade or so later, I got to work for her as the National Conference Director for NOW, organizing her last conference as President in 2000, when this picture was taken.
I will never forget my first day in that job. I was sitting at my desk filling out my paperwork and she walked in, extended her hand and said, “Hi! I’m Patricia.”
Me: “I KNOW!”
I learned SO much in that job, from so many women all over the country. It was my introduction to activism, organizing, event planning, fundraising and nonprofit management. It was my introduction to a whole history of poor people’s activism, indigenous people’s activism, disability rights, LGBTQ activism beyond the AIDS crisis, and the labor movement. I loved NOW because it worked in ALL those areas, because ALL of those issues were (and are) “women’s issues.” All of those issues are feminist issues. It laid the groundwork for the career I pursued next, organizing and advocating on a wide range of issues all over Texas.
Over the next decade, I put 300,000 miles on my car driving ALL OVER TEXAS attending labor union meetings and fish fries, farm worker marches, meeting with women’s rights groups, environmental activists, immigrant rights groups, health care providers, teachers, autoworkers, steelworkers, students, PTAs, school boards, superintendents, nuns and clergy … so many groups! So many issues.
I learned the tactics: insider tactics, outsider tactics; direct action, protests, marches, press conferences, lobbying, policy making, rules and regulations.
One thing all the groups working on all the issues had in common — regardless of whether they were chaining themselves to fences or desk-bound analyzing policy and drafting legislation — was a passion for their cause that drove them to work to complete exhaustion, the kind that hits you before you even know it. This kind of exhaustion can take you out of that important game.
Lessons I learned the hard way.
This is where I come in now. With BeCause, my goal is to bring healing embodied practices to these groups working for change: meditation, somatic awareness, breath work, and yoga. Activists and advocates need to re-learn how to feel what they feel in their bodies. They can’t just go around being outraged all the time, running on impulse, empathy and anger. Integrating embodiment into their work will make them better at what they do by bringing their own humanity back into the equation of this change we do FOR humanity’s sake. Teaching them to rest when needed. Take a breath. Pause. Rethink. Resume.
We need them in the fights, and they need us. They need yoga. You need yoga. BeCause has got you covered.
Stay tuned for a new weekly schedule of in-person public classes in San Antonio. Your monthly subscription to BeCause will support my work with the groups AND give you access to the yoga you need. It’s all for a good Cause. Be the Cause.
This photo is a little fuzzy, kinda like my memory. But it actually wasn’t THAT long ago that I was honored to serve as the Chief Lobbyist for the Texas Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. It was a job that I had been working toward for years—a DREAM come true to get to work for reproductive justice under the inspirational leadership of Cecile Richards, and all the amazing state and local leaders in the Planned Parenthood family. At that time, I considered it the pinnacle of my advocacy career.
I grew up in a time when abortion was legal and we described ourselves as “pro-choice” — because at that time, safe, legal abortion was still an option for those with the means to access it. Since the 80s, though, the right wing has chipped away at that “choice.” Also, my political analysis has evolved and matured, and I understand better the many barriers that still exist(ed) for, well, probably most women. Today, I fight for reproductive justice—an all out effort to secure the right to reproductive healthcare for all people who need it.
Planned Parenthood is still at the center of this fight. In fact, they’ve been the bullseye in the target of the most virulent and sustained anti-women, anti-reproductive justice effort waged nationally, statewide and even locally.
That’s why I chose Planned Parenthood as the beneficiary of my first social justice fundraiser organized under BeCause Yoga. It’s felt so good to reconnect to my activist roots, and reignite my righteous anger over the widespread injustices being promulgated against people seeking health care services (Planned Parenthood provides primary and reproductive health care services to ALL people, including trans men and women), all under the cynical banner of so-called “pro-life.”
I started BeCause Yoga to promote and provide wellness programs including yoga, somatic experiencing, meditation and other embodied practices for individual wellbeing and collective empowerment.
Your support helps me do that!
Proceeds raised from sponsorships for the Poses for Planned Parenthood event will go to Planned Parenthood South Texas. Proceeds from regular ticket sales will go to BeCause to support my efforts to bring yoga to the staff of Planned Parenthood and other front-line social justice organizations at no cost to them. Make your contribution here!
It’s the END of June.
And I am still struggling with finding my rhythm in the “new normal.” I guess it takes a little time to readjust… like it did in the beginning.
This pandemic has unsettled me on a lot of levels. It has revealed the schism between what I know intellectually, and what I know through experience. The difference is more than discovering your favorite restaurant has a new menu. This morning I’ve been trying to put my finger on what has changed. I’ve been trying to find words to describe the dissonance I feel, my even more than usual difficulty in “going with the flow.”
The pandemic created a disruption in what we used to take for granted. As I try to break it down, it’s not just the momentum of life that has changed. It’s not exactly that it changed the direction of our course. It’s not just that we stopped doing some things and took up doing new things. It’s not just that the rhythm of our days and weeks have changed.
Something fundamental about the quality, the experience of life has changed.
In our isolation, WE have changed. Our bodies’ chemistry has changed, so our perceptual apparatus has changed; our cognitive processes have changed. Our perspective as social beings, members of society, has changed. Our sense of time has changed. Our ideas of what’s “normal” or what “should” be have changed.
Our priorities may have changed. Therefore our strategies and tactics may need to change.
What we think we used to be, what we thought we wanted or wanted to be has changed so deeply, and so subtly.
The “in-between” has changed. The unspoken has changed. What is implicit and explicit has changed.
It’s not like I wanted to be a chef before and now I want to be a doctor. It’s more like what it means to be a chef or how it feels to be a doctor has fundamentally, indescribably changed.
I’m dealing with these things. I think that for some people, their role and purpose in life are more clearly defined by the relationships that define them… their roles in a family, in a business, etc. For me, even those feel like they are shifting. There is no solid ground. I circle back to my oldest and deepest friendships and my most intimate relationships. They are as rock solid as ever. But I’m starting to see through the illusion of permanence.
A friend tells me that this is what our yoga training has prepared us for. So I return to practice. I hope you’ll join me.
This is a post written mainly FOR other white women about how I am working with my own internalized racism. It’s a snippet of my journey to understanding (ongoing work) and my attempting to do better. It’s a draft. It’s imperfect and incomplete. It’s a start… just like this process.
First, a poem:
we all got tickets to The Truth
finally we thought finally
when the curtain fell away
our indrawn breaths could be heard
even in the next theater
even the gasp of the mime
who had slipped in among us
a loud whushing like reams of litter
whirling upward in a gale
hands shot to mouths and mouths
fell open I couldn’t say within
how many seconds
all our minds shut some
slamming others just a click
like 300 parallel
rows of tipped dominoes
a racket of almost unison
believe me we wouldn’t
have resisted anything
but the truth
so instantly and universally
yet we sat there and waited
for something else
which you could say we also got
if you count the mime’s
so she wasn’t even a real mime
probably part of what was
clearly just a performance
“Believe me, we wouldn’t have resisted anything but the truth so instantly and universally.”
I saved this poem back in September, but this line strikes me now as I continue to work deeper into my anti-racism work, studies and conversations.
I became sensitized to my own unconscious racism many years ago in grad school, at the age of 28 or 29. I had traveled from The University of Texas up to the University of Wisconsin to attend a National Feminist Graduate Student Conference. It was early in my career as an aspiring academic, and I was ambitious and excited. This was my first multidisciplinary conference, where I was exposed to feminist thinking on a lot of subjects I hadn’t thought about before, or even knew existed. On the last day of the conference, the organizers, who were grad students at UW, invited attendees to consider organizing and hosting the conference at their school next year.
It didn’t take a lot of coaxing for me to volunteer.
I returned to Austin ready to pull together a diverse, multidisciplinary organizing committee to put on the best conference EVER!
I started with people I knew in my department and college. Then I reached out to faculty in other colleges to help me recruit motivated feminists to join the effort. We had a core group and eventually enough people for committees, and I sort of saw myself as the central organizer keeping us all on track. We used this new thing called a “listserv” to stay in communication with each other (it was 1998!!)
I thought things were going pretty well. We had many colleges and departments represented. We had women of color and LGBTQ women on board.
But, somewhere pretty early in the process, the women of color let it be known that they considered the process itself inherently racist, and the white women involved part of the problem.
As the self-appointed leader of the effort, I took this very personally. How could they accuse me of being a racist?!?! I was NOT a racist! It was a complete impossibility!
There were many impassioned emails exchanged—DAILY, for months. There were efforts at teaching. There were efforts at learning. Concessions were made. I was not alone among the white women befuddled by what was happening, but others engaged in dialogue. Chandra Mohanty was going to be our keynote speaker. She took our situation to heart and even worked with us white women to break through our resistance, our defensiveness.
From my perspective at the time, our project of putting on a conference was being sidetracked by conversations about this baseless accusation when we needed to be raising money, sending out calls for papers, inviting speakers, and the other important work to make the conference happen. That was my singular focus. I felt a responsibility to the group from which I had inherited this project. So basically, I pushed through with the logistics and details.
The conference did happen and was actually a pretty great success, in spite of — and looking back, perhaps BECAUSE of — the underlying racial dynamics.
At the time, though, I was simply glad it was over.
As I look back on the experience now, reading these few paragraphs, I can see how my women of color colleagues weren’t wrong.
Think about that. It has been more than 20 years and I am just now beginning to understand what was unthinkable to me at the time—my own role and responsibility in racist structures and processes reflecting unequal power.
The experience pierced the veil of my racial innocence.
It was a critical experience in my life, one that forever changed me because it opened me up to a fundamental Truth that I have been grappling with now for 20 years. This Truth was not that I was or am a racist (although, that is a part of it). The Truth it opened up is that I might be wrong. I might study and be critical of dominant ideologies, but still might not recognize them when they are in play. In essence, I cannot view the system from outside the system. I am inherently in and OF the system. We all are.
Here’s how I work with it.
WHEN I GET DEFENSIVE about something racial, when I feel that I am taking something said about white people personally and defensively, I STOP. I just stop. LISTEN. CONSIDER. They might be onto something. They almost always are.
At the time, and for years after, I interpreted the criticism of my women of color FemConf colleagues as an attack me personally as a racist. And, in a way, it was; but their actual criticism was of the process, which had been shaped by a structure (the university) that was—in fact—functioning as a result of and a perpetuator of systemic racism. I went first to the people I knew. They just happened to be predominantly white. (That wasn’t MY fault.) I started with my own department and college—which happened to have no tenured women of color faculty. (That wasn’t MY fault, either) I created a committee structure that placed me, a white woman, at the center, and “invited” others to “participate.” (How ELSE was I supposed to do it… I brought this conference to Austin.) Etc Etc Etc. There are probably a whole bunch more things I still don’t recognize about how that whole thing went down.
My whole point right now is that EVENTUALLY I learned (am learning) to use my own feelings of defensiveness and discomfort—my own reaction of “NOT ME!”—as a signal to slow down, back off, step aside, listen… and learn. It probably isn’t a personal attack on me. But, it doesn’t mean I am not implicated. I might be. The thing is to figure out HOW I might be implicated and what I can, cannot, should or should not do about it.
All this is coming up right now because once again, a majority of white women voted for Trump, and I’m trying to figure out what I can do about it. I shared a post the other day on Facebook that I had seen on a (white, male) friend’s FB Story:
What I wrote with this post was, “Things to think about. I think she’s right.”
The post got a few reactions… just a few. But I have been thinking about those reactions, and the comments they generated. And the feelings (I imagine have been) aroused by those exchanges.
So, consider THIS little essay Part 1 of my own response to those responses.
I’ll start with why I shared that post on Facebook in the first place: When I first read it, I felt defensive. Just for an instant. but it was there.
I felt she was talking to me. Perhaps the thoughts accompanying the feeling were along the lines of: “But I AM one of the good ones! I am NOT like the women who voted for Trump.”
I stayed with the feeling.
I remembered, she gets to have her own opinion AND she gets to be angry.
And then I decided, she’s not wrong. If white women are perpetuating this thing, white women are part of the problem, and that’s the appropriate target for my own work, even though I am also a white woman.
Do I know what that looks like? Not yet, not exactly.
I don’t need to defend the (white) social workers she called out, or the white teachers in low income schools, or nonprofit professionals. I don’t need to attack them, either. And I really don’t need to defend Trump’s white women voters…
… finish that sentence: For being white?
White women, I believe our defensiveness in these situations (for those of us who feel it) stems in part from the fact that we DO recognize ourselves as part of this category, white. I believe this defensiveness is a reaction that reflects our own confusion around race and racism; around race as a personal characteristic versus a social construct. The defensiveness belies the fact that we do believe it is both. It’s a social construct except when it’s talking about us, so we take is personally… BECAUSE we have mistaken having a race or being part of a race with being racist… BECAUSE we have mistaken NOTICING racism, or ACKNOWLEDGING race and racial difference as being racist. BECAUSE in the status quo, if we notice the difference in power by race, we MUST acknowledge our own place, by virtue of our race, in these systems of unequal racial power. BECAUSE, if we acknowledge our own race and we acknowledge unequal systems of power based on race, then we must be racist.
And we don’t want to be racist!
I could keep going around and around and around.
Put simply, I think a more productive approach is to drop all that and acknowledge that we might actually be racist sometimes, without meaning to, or without knowing it. You can’t fix it if you can’t acknowledge it.
We want racism to be about systems… but these systems are made of people. And we are the people. Our actions, our customs, our beliefs, our rules, our relationships constitute the systems in which we live.
None of us is immune to it — how could we be? It IS the water we are swimming in. Does a fish need to feel shame for swimming in water it didn’t know was there? No. But once you know it is there, you must do something about the quality of that water.
I guess my approach is to accept that I might not always know what all the water looks like. Is this water, too? It might be. Are we swimming in it? Probably.
I FELT defensive.
That’s really all I need to know.
How to conclude? I don’t know… because I guess I’m not finished. More to learn and do. My hope is that I continue to grapple, and do more good than harm in the process.
Tomorrow, March 31, marks Hanuman Jayanti, an important Hindu religious festival honoring Hanuman. Half monkey, half man, Hanuman is a pivotal character in the Hindu epic Ramayana, known for his bravery and selfless devotion to Lord Rama, whom he served throughout most of his life. As a symbol within the faith tradition, Hanuman stands for the power of devotion to discipline the unruly “monkey” mind and guide us into right action.
Tomorrow, in my Noon Body Strong Flow class at MBS Yoga, we will honor the spirit of Hanuman Jayanti with a strong practice focused on building the strengths that Hanuman represents: focus, determination and strength. We’ll hear some of Hanuman’s stories and learn a little more about this important figure while we practice the yoga pose named for him. We are in no way even approximating a true Hanuman Jayanti celebration, but we can acknowledge the celebration and offer in our own way something to the intention of the day.
Benny was my mom’s dog. He came to me with some pretty bad habits: peeing wherever he wanted, barking at everyone, and biting people, mainly the ones with red hair! So when I got him, I took him to obedience school. He was already 7 years old, but I was sure we could break him of these lifelong behaviors.
We both learned a lot at obedience school. One thing I learned was that Benny’s obedience was pretty much up to me — I was the one that was going to have to learn and practice how to be a dog’s master. Seven years later, Benny is just as bad as ever.
I failed obedience school, but Benny did learn one thing: how to focus. The game was for me to hide a treat in one hand and reach my arms out to each side. Benny’s job was to keep his eyes on ME, not the treat in my hand. If he could, he got the treat. He was really good at it! In no other task could he focus his attention and concentrate like he could in this one.
In yoga, you may find yourself going for the treat, the calendar pose reward at the end of all that work. But the real reward comes from learning how to stay centered and focus.
Yoga offers a complete set of practices to help you do that. What I love about the asana practice we do in class is that it anchors the mental effort in the physical body. In balancing poses, and in transitions from one pose to another, you’ve got to activate and fix your mind to your core, to the deep muscles that stabilize and ground you while all the “action” is going on in the periphery. Physically, energetically with your muscles, you have to pull yourself IN. In the body, you draw the abdominal muscles IN. You gently retract the limbs INto the sockets that connect to the torso—hips and shoulders. Plugged into your center, you can make any transition, from a strong, side stretching backbend to a twisted, forward bending balancing pose.
Here’s a little clip of a sequence that requires a LOT of focus. It’s speeded up to double-time, and I still falter, but you’ll see what I mean.
Yoga teachers often instruct our students to “focus on your breath.” But what does that mean exactly? This guided meditation walks you through observing several different qualities of the breath. Learning how to notice these fine qualities helps attune your perception of your own physical self right here, right now. Plugging into how you actually feel physically in your body opens the door to deeper inquiry into the self.
I love Fall. It’s a time of year when it’s hard not to notice the turning of the earth, the days getting shorter, sometimes cooler. As the prelude to winter, I think Fall can trigger melancholy in people. But I associate fall with my garden. Here in hot South Texas, Fall is the most abundant growing season for root veggies, greens of all kinds broccoli, cauliflower. I look forward to fall for planting seeds. When summer’s flowers have fallen, my garden keeps giving.
This year I started helping manage a community garden on the East Side. The Eastpoint S.O.U.L Garden (SOUL stands for Sutton Oaks Urban Learning) has 17 raised beds serving residents in what has traditionally been a food desert in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The garden gives me many opportunities to pay attention. Here are some images from the past few weeks.
Returning to the topic of compassion and cultivating our capacity to give and receive it… I recorded this guided tonglen meditation earlier in September, in the wake of Charlottesville, after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, but before Irma, Maria, and two major earthquakes in Mexico. The earth trembles for our compassion. Tonglen is a powerful practice that uses conscious breath work and imagery to inspire empathy and compassion, something we all need to practice. Give it a try.