When I was 29 years old, I rented a large white van, packed it full of people, and drove to San Francisco to attend the “Not in Our Name” protest of the Iraq war. We wore matching T-shirts we had stencilled with spray paint the night before. They said “Let’s Lick Bush” and we thought ourselves hilarious. We were energized, optimistic and idealistic.
I sometimes miss that 29 year old. She was a lot of fun. Not to say I am necessarily less optimistic about the possibility of change at this point in my life, but I am also more quiet, reflective and introverted than I was then. Or maybe I’m just more comfortable with those qualities in myself and more willing to accommodate them. I also hate freeway driving. I’m amazed we made it to the city at all.
I sometimes mentally label that time of my life as my “activist era.” Of course, I was also soon to first receive my diagnosis of Bipolar 2 disorder, so I could also term it my “hypomanic era.” My first therapist told me she believed a lot of political activists carried this diagnosis. “I think you’ll find it’s a pretty good way to live” she told me, before ushering me out the door, having decided I was good to go after only a small handful of sessions. I only find this strange in retrospect. At the time, I just felt anointed. Truly, I wasn’t just idealistic, I was flat-out utopian.
What would my young, utopian self be organizing right now? What would she have to say about Trump, about the violence and xenophobia in our political landscape? I’d love to read the t-shirt. I could use her advice and exhortations.
But the truth is, I don’t think that wistful labelling is correct – this is my activist period. It does not look anything like it did 14 years ago. Rather than thousands of people in Union Square, I protest with 10 people in a very small, carpeted room in a wellness center tucked in a quiet residential neighborhood in Sacramento.
I believe great work is done in that quiet room, and in many rooms like it around the city, country, and world. I believe yoga is social justice, or at least it can and should be.
Each day, as we come together for class, we intentionally step out of the noise of divisiveness, and seek the quality of connection and union. As we come to understand that we are inherently whole, we see that we are not broken, society is. And from this firm, clear-seeing understanding, we can see where we need to bring this healing quality of connection to the world.
It’s not very dramatic. Progress is incremental, and it takes a long time, and a lot of sustained effort. But to nurture this power of perception in others is my life’s work, and I’m grateful to have found it. On hard days, I just hope fervently it is enough. On good days, I feel certain this quiet self-transformation is the only way we will ever truly transform the world.