The Yoga Picnic

by Alice Harrison

We use the tradition of yoga to move the body, tune into our breath, connect with our own rhythm. And yoga is a practice for life in every sense. Taking yoga off the mat is something you have probably heard mentioned in class, and you may have heard mention of the ethics of yoga, the Yamas, perhaps the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) or Satya (truthfulness). As yoga practitioners, we can commit to practicing these principles in our own lives. Perhaps being mindful of how we eat, how we talk to ourselves, or how we treat others in our day to day lives.

I am trying (still learning) to integrate yogic values into my life myself – to keep respect, honesty, integrity and authenticity at the forefront of my decisions or difficult conversations. Yoga is, after all, a practice for all aspects of life. And when we begin to integrate these principles, the ripple effect is immense. The meaning of yoga is “oneness” or “unity” – that we are all one, that everything in the universe is interconnected or part of a greater whole.

So then, in the midst of utter devastation such as that on the world stage right now, how can we hold and respond to the immensity of the suffering?

Tara Brach, meditation teacher and psychologist, advises us: “In contemplating how best to serve, it helps to pose a deep inquiry to our own heart: What is love asking from me here?

From a young age, our mother always instilled in us a great sense of social justice – she has been an activist for human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, worker’s rights – marching and using her voice ever since the 70s. Growing up, we always knew to speak up for those persons, places and animals which have been harmed and, as best we could, we did. My job for the last ten years has been as a criminal defence barrister – advocating human rights and constitutional rights is an integral part of the fair trial process.

In recent months, we have all been faced with an unfolding tragedy in the Middle East. It was clear to me that love was asking me to speak out on behalf of the occupied population in Palestine, to recognise that there is hurt on all sides but that it was these people who needed my voice right now. The Bhagavad Gita warns that, at certain times, to stay neutral or inactive is still choosing and still creating an impact. Instead, act and do so wisely – be a warrior with your hands and feet and a yogi with your heart.

Brach’s words are apt here:

The only hope for a more peaceful, loving world is for us to open our hearts to all who are suffering, to value and cherish all life. From that inclusive and compassionate presence, we will naturally seek to relieve suffering. It is our caring, not fear or anger, that can guide us in expressing our inner spirit with wise action. And act we must. We belong to this world, and we impact others with our silence or words, our passivity or activity.

Brahmacharya, another of the Yamas, means the right use of energy. In the midst of a health challenge this Winter, I needed to step away from social media. I needed to focus on grounding and healing and presence in my own body. I felt uneasy because, although I needed to, it was my privilege to be able to look away from the devastation. But my voice – I still felt called to use it and it became hugely important to me to turn up at events and show my solidarity. There is power and love in attending vigils, events and marches. On a beach in the West of Ireland, on a rainy December day, a large group of us gathered to fly kites for Palestine – the children of Palestine made the Guinness book of records for most kites flown in 2011. A family friend, a young cartoonist studying in Ireland, was one of the children who had flown kites in 2011 when he was just 14 years old. He held his final year exhibition in Galway and shortly afterwards returned to Palestine – just days before 7 October. It is him we are using our voice for. It is him, and all of the others. For me, feet on the ground, people power makes sense.

It is difficult, it is fraught and it is easier to look away. It’s our privilege to be able to. But can we keep coming back to that question – what is love asking from me here? Can we connect to that deep inner place of knowing and intuition? Can we listen and tend to our awakening heart? Can we seek academic sources to deepen our understanding of historical trauma? Can we channel our anger or grief into action and show up to protests, vigils, fundraising events and call on representatives? Can we use our voice in whatever ways we can? Can we call for an immediate ceasefire?

We are one with this world, with Mother Nature and all of her children. We are all connected. May we always live, speak and act from a place of love to protect her and her children.

With this I offer the prayer Lokah samasta sukhinho bavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

Ceasefire now.

~ Alice

P.S. If the above perspective resonates and you are seeking ways to be more active, some organisations you might check out are:

Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund: ​https://www.pcrf.net/​

Irish Artists for Palestine: ​https://irishartistsforpalestine.com/​

I also recommend the following:

Gabor Mate – YouTube: Collective & Individual Trauma in Palestine/Israel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFmJpzBYCvI

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