Category: Metta Blog

Yoga Day 2018: For Peace

Today is the fourth International Day of Yoga—June 21 was proclaimed as such by the United Nations in 2014. As noted on the UN site about this day, the purpose is to “raise awareness about the benefits of practicing yoga.” The 2018 theme is “Yoga for Peace.” Who would argue for less peace in the world (that’d be nuts!)? I sure wouldn’t. Yet I think this phrase deserves some critical discussion. But first, for self-reflective honesty, I should tell you about my motivations. I’ve been developing a home yoga practice for about 10 years and teaching small community classes for 7 or so years. And you know what? I can’t bring my nose to my knees in uttanasana, which in some circles means I haven’t accomplished much in all this time. A small part of this “failure” has to do with physical limitations, but mostly I simply don’t care whether I can reach the “full expression of the pose,” as I’ve heard myself and other asana teachers say. The point of yoga for me isn’t about the poses, even though practicing the poses really helps my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Despite having a home practice, where it’s just me doing my thing in a comfy old pair of sweatpants, I find it really hard not to conjure up images of people in fancy Lycra twisting themselves like pretzels when I think of the word “yoga.” What associations come up for you? What is Peace? When we think about “yoga for peace,” we have to think about the effects these images have on our understandings of peace, and what makes peace possible. To get to peace in yoga, we must work past the saccharine references in glossy images. We can’t down-dog our way to peace, no matter how many 90-minute vinyasa classes we might fit in the week. I feel great after an asana practice. But that feeling is temporary, and just a feeling. Real peace comes from the practice of, well, peace—even when we feel angry or scared or incapable of challenging inhumane forms of power. Which goes far beyond sticky mats and chanting om. For this Yoga Day, I invite you to join me in discerning what peace is and how we achieve it. Below I share 6 resources that make me go “WOW,” plus a short yoga-inspired relaxation practice that I created for the Metta Center’s Certificate in Nonviolence Studies course (feeling good in the body absolutely matters; if our nervous systems are haywire, our minds will be haywire too). 1. The Problem With Wanting Peace in Baltimore Kazu Haga gets down to (nonviolent) brass tacks in his essay for Waging Nonviolence. His piece was spurred by events following the 2015 police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. The city erupted into protests, which prompted tone-deaf calls by authorities for people to be peaceful. Haga writes: “The biggest misunderstanding that exists of nonviolence is that it means simply to ‘not be violent.’” He isn’t advocating for […]

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A Yoga-Based Practice for Body, Mind & Spirit

This past Sunday, we wrapped with Week 3 of the 2018 Certificate in Nonviolence Studies course. Part of the week’s learning focus was observing our desires to do harm, for the purpose of eradicating these impulses.
Eradicating means to pull up b…

Memorial Day: A Reflection

I regard myself as a soldier, though as a soldier of peace. ~M.K. Gandhi~

We bow our heads in reverence to all those who have given their lives in witness to the truth, or had it taken from them in that effort; who upheld peace and justice in the fa…

Foundations of Resistance- Reflection

FOLLOWERS of that great pioneer of nonviolent action, the late Gene Sharp, often speak of the “pillars of support:” no dictator can function without police, armies, bureaucracies to carry out their orders (I suppose today we’d have to add a “deep state…

True Generosity: A reflection

When I give someone a handout, they call me a Saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist. ~Archbishop Romero Matt Harman, a student in Metta’s Certificate in Nonviolence Studies, has offered this reflection on generosity, inspired by the idea of “true and false generosity” as explained by Paolo Freire.     Gandhi often spoke of the dignity associated with self-sufficiency I understand Gandhi’s insistence on bread work as a way to avoid or break from cycles of false generosity. False generosity is a term used to describe the detrimental consequences of charity based upon unequal relations between life. This type of giving is a consequence and perpetuation of maintaining unequal relations between life. For example, in India during the satyagraha independence movement, Gandhi encouraged the people of colonial India to spin their own clothing as a form of self-reliance. In essence to avoid the tariff system which tended to favor the export of raw materials and the import of British textiles, an oppressive economic cycle. True generosity is often described as the act of recognizing the mutual dignity inherent in all life then subsequently working to balance the ongoing, and evolving, empowerment of all life. In short, it is teaching someone to produce or acquire their own means of sustenance rather than handing it to them in the hope that they will one day become self-sufficient without the transformation of society as a whole. Yet sometimes an individual experience can transform a seeming act of false generosity into an expression of true generosity – I call it love. For instance, I often distribute fresh food that would otherwise be thrown away to people who are hungry simply because I know how it feels to starve. It is as painful as it is transformative and anyone who has experienced prolonged starvation and lived rarely wishes it on another life. Living in an affluent country that produces and imports immense quantities of food, few of the people I give food to are starving in the sense of months, years, at times entire lifetimes with little to no food. But they have days and weeks without much to eat, and their choices are as limited as they are erratic. From a macro perspective, my distribution of food may be perceived as false generosity because I am simply giving food without offering any program to get people on their own two feet. Moreover, the food I am giving out was produced via an unequal socio-economic order that literally helps create and perpetuate humans in need of basic necessities such as food and dignity. My personal experience leads me to perceive this act of giving food as a form of taking the products of an unequal social order and redistributing them imperfectly, albeit as best as I can within the current limitations of context I exist within. In short an attempt at true generosity. Moreover, I do not give out the food through pity nor insistence on future returns […]

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Not just a billboard, a story

On my rare visits to LA, I am always impressed (negatively) by the blatant violence of the billboards advertising films and TV. This past weekend was no exception. Apparently, there are fashions in violence. A while back it was crime, then a particular…

Q&A: Author Patty Somlo

Author Patty Somlo at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa, CA. Photo courtesy of Patty Somlo. Where do art and literature fit in the broader picture of peace and justice? That’s a question I’ve been fascinated with since 2009, when I served as Co-Founding Editor for a small book publisher. Part of my work involved reviewing manuscripts, contracting authors, and directing the design process. That’s how I first met the author Patty Somlo—by signing on her short story collection, From Here to There and Other Stories. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Patty elsewhere, including here. Through my former Metta Center role as Editor & Creative Director of Nonviolence magazine, I selected a couple of Patty’s stories for publication, because they reflected the organization’s mission to advance a higher image of the human, not to mention a greater sense of justice and dignity. In Patty’s latest collection, Hairway to Heaven Stories, faith and spirituality play a key role. The 15 stories present a microcosm of many US neighborhoods in cities where people of different races, ethnicities, class and sexual orientation live in close proximity to one another, with neighbors being both strangers and friends. Hairway to Heaven was recently published by Cherry Castle Publishing, a black-owned press committed “to practice literary equality and to embrace work that is informed by the social, political and cultural vigor of our times.” So what do you think: Where do art and literature fit in the broader picture of peace and justice? Read on for Patty’s take. What’s the inspiration behind this collection of short stories? Hairway to Heaven Stories is a linked short story collection set in what had been a predominantly African American neighborhood that is now in the process of gentrification. The initial inspiration for the book was my desire to write about gentrification and the pricing out of low and moderate-income residents from many American cities. One morning, I heard a story on National Public Radio about a traditionally African American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. that was undergoing gentrification. A community leader who was interviewed said that many longtime residents of the neighborhood could no longer afford to live there. I was saddened by this news. I knew the neighborhood, because I had spent time there many years ago, observing classes at Malcolm X Elementary School, while finishing my bachelor’s degree in Art Education. I had also experienced the effects of rising rents on a more personal level. In San Francisco, where I had lived for 20 years, and where my husband was born and started elementary school, rents and real estate prices started soaring in the 1990s with the dot-com boom, and then just kept on climbing. People were being evicted all the time, including low-income elderly, from homes they had lived in for decades. Once evicted, there were no places in the city these people could afford. Like many moderate-income renters in San Francisco, I worried that my husband Richard and I would be next. Finally, […]

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Signing Off (But No Coming, No Going)

Dear Metta Community,
In the spirit of what my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh would call “no coming, no going,” as of the end of March, I am taking leave from my work at Metta to prepare for the birth of my first child, who is due in May. I will a…

Summer Internship for Petaluma Youth

Six-Week Leadership Intensive in Nonviolence
for Petaluma High School Youth
Dates: June 15-July 20, 2018
Stipend: $100/week
The Metta Center for Nonviolence is a Petaluma-based non-profit organization founded by UC Berkeley Professor Emeri…