Sally Kohn says, “The opposite of hate isn’t love. It’s connection. You don’t have to love people to not hate them. You have to to see that you have something at your core, a fundamental humanity, a fundamental goodness, that transcends the division.” Acknowledging this truth, I am embarking on a project in order to listen to the stories of people in the community, for it’s our shared stories that lead to connection. It is too easy to not see the person across from us at all–to see only the embodiment of some political or religious beliefs. Our beliefs, however, are not all that make us who we are. Beliefs are changeable, no matter how deeply cemented they may seem. Our stories–the threads of all the griefs, heartache, fears, desires, wild loves, disappointments, successes–live in our cells, a larger part of what make us human. And if we’re not seeing that the person across from us is more than a set of beliefs, I don’t think we’re asking the right questions or really listening to the answers. Human beings long for connection–we are a tribal species, after all. I believe one of the roots of many of our human afflictions is the loss of connection, the loss of unity, that is a core desire of our being. Yoga is meant to bring us back to that. As teacher Sianna Sherman writes, “The path of yoga is not about transcendence and perfection but rather the realness, authenticity, and true showing up that is possible in our shared humanity.”
I have wanted to be a teacher for as far back as I can remember. It is the earliest memory of a desire for “work” I recall having, reaching back to when I was four and tried to teach my one year old brother to read. Over the past several years of offering our teacher training, and of teaching public and private classes, I am realizing more and more how much teaching relies on a reciprocal relationship between student and teacher. It is necessary that each, in order to establish and hold this relationship, listen deeply to the other in order to form a connection that allows authentic knowledge and curiosity to flow between the two. People don’t come as empty vessels waiting to be filled, and so, connection and listening become more important than drilling in information or conveying a “point.” I watch and listen to what my student’s bodies are telling me, even when the words fail them. I have learned to hold these students’ stories that are revealed through their body, and have realized just how similar many of these stories are.
It’s this understanding that makes me long to listen, for the sake of bridging this great divide and to work as a maker of peace within the larger community, to the stories of others and to listen for opportunities for connection. This practice of yoga is a peace practice. So if we’re getting on our mat and still hating people around us, allowing our perceptions, judgements, lack of knowledge, and frustration over beliefs that aren’t held as common to keep us disconnected, then we’re not doing yoga. I long to do something more than teach poses or to pour information into empty vessels. Etty Hillesum, who wrote from the Westerbrook concentration camp, said, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” I have entered the challenge to keep my practice on the mat and off peaceful because this world is troubled and there is work to do. And so I am leaning in to the practice of listening in a way that fosters connection and peace, that these qualities may be reflected back to the world, and so that the real teachings become something that I’ve not only given, but have received through the deeper, timeless connections that abide in us all.