Rev. angel Kyodo williams | Beyond idiot compassion

Rev. angel: There is actual truth to much of the hype about hatha yoga—the yoga of postures, asanas. Science is now proving what yoga practitioners have known for thousands of years—that yoga strengthens the immune system, maintains flexibility and what we call “juiciness.” A dry activist is no fun.  [Laughs]

Yoga also provides a direct relationship with the body, which I think is essential for social activists. Our relationship to the ever-changing nature of the body becomes very prominent in yoga. The ability to affect what goes on with our bodies, as well as recognize those things that are beyond our control, becomes very crystallized. Through that a humility and compassion

Our interpretation of yoga, which we call Yoga Built for Justice, is that how we show up on the mat is how we show up in the world. So if we’re aggressive with ourselves on the mat, then we’re aggressive in the change work we do. That’s another example of how Center for Transformative Change strives to bring everything back to a social justice lens to change how change is done. We’re working with a very long eye to affecting the deep practices, structures, systems that impact people who do movement work.

I think it’s a spiritual movement, this transformative change work. We’re not going to ever call it that because we’re too diverse as a body to agree that it’s a spiritual movement, but I think it is.  And like every spiritual movement we need our congregations, our symbols, our songs, our shared practices. That’s what spiritual movements have that bind them together—their symbols and their myths. There were moments when nonviolence was understood as a spiritual movement, and that’s why it was so impactful.

The MOON:  Are there hallmarks of sustainable change—change that’s transformative, that survives for the long haul?

Rev. angel:  I think the most distinctive hallmark is that you’re living in the way that you want to see society shifted. So if you want to see Earth able to sustain the weight of humanity on its back, you make sure your own practices are sustainable. If you want to see a society in which there’s equitable treatment of people, you stop demonizing your enemies and honor the humanity of people you disagree with—both within your own organizations and people from afar. You remain strong on the goals of systemic change and the analysis of the underlying causes of social issues, but you maintain a presence of mind that embraces the humanity of all people. You don’t hack people to pieces with the idea that “Once we get rid of all these bad people we can live in peace.”

The approach is also so open to conditions as they are now, to being present to what is, that you are transformed in the effort of making change. We recognize that outcomes are important—we have goals—but we allow space for the fact that we’re not the only ones at the table. I may come thinking that we’re going to have toast, while you brought eggs, someone else brought cinnamon, so it turns out we’re going to have French toast, even though it’s dinnertime. But that’s what it means to include everyone at the table. It’s really a very dynamic and alive, nonviolent, hyper-sustainable approach to systemic change of social issues: grounded, balanced, clear-minded, leaving the dichotomies of us vs. them behind.

The MOON:  You mention fearlessYOGA, fearlessMEDITATION, and your book also talks about “warrior” spirit. Why fearless? Why warrior?

Rev. angel:  “Warrior” is a take on the notion of the Bodhisattva ideal in Buddhism. The literal translation of “sattva” is “awake being,” but the Tibetans often translate it as “awakening warrior.” A warrior is not your generic being; it’s a more powerful being than that. It’s not fighting to destroy another; it’s fighting in a noble commitment to justice in which we bring our hearts, our minds, our bodies to stand for life. There’s a noble quality to warrior-ship. We reserve that name for great characters who have noble spirits, who are dedicated the protection of the people. The Buddha was of the Shakya—the warrior—clan. The way the Buddha taught very much reflected the warrior frame, whose job was to protect the people. That’s what Bodhisattvas do, too.

“Fearless” became a way of expressing the necessity of meeting the devastating truth of life, with its imbalances and inequities, and showing up for it anyway. Fearlessness is about being afraid and doing it anyway. Our Fearless Practices express how. They support a new ideal, which is to be so invested in being of benefit to society that you’re willing to face the worst enemy of all, which is you; your ego. We hope to express the notion of fearlessness in a way that means, “I do my work. I have a practice and I show up for it. I deal with myself so that I can be of use to the world.”

The MOON: Can you talk about places in yourself where you get lost, or experience deep contradiction?  And also about your way out of those places?



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