The Peace Project: Conversations and Connections

The Peace Project is being birthed from a desire to come together with community members in an effort to connect at our deepest level: that of the story of our humanity. No matter what our background, there are story threads that connect us all. I believe if these stories are revealed, we can weave a together a tapestry of connection that can grow greater compassion, and so greater peace.

When I asked if community members wanted to have a conversation with me, it was Leigh Anne Keller, a lovely member of our Jala community, who said her story was one she was ready to share. We talked about some of the trauma she’s experienced in her life, so much of which is becoming a too-common story we’re hearing again and again as more people become willing to share the pain and shame they’ve held onto often for years or even decades. Leigh Anne lived through personal physical and sexual abuse and went on, as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, to hold the abuse and pain of other children. But it was her healing that we talked most about. She said that in one of her darkest times she realized that her trauma would continue until she could integrate all parts of herself in order to heal and carry light.  This light she speaks of, for her, means speaking out about who she is and trying to connect with humans in a way that can move her and others from survival mode–a way of living that keeps us in the space of fighting with one another rather than connecting–to really thriving and transforming. “We’re destroying each other,” Keller says. “But there’s another way.”

Keller and I spoke of the split that happens to someone when they experience trauma–sexual trauma, physical trauma, and mental trauma. This is a split that means that as beings we are no longer whole, unified individuals. That split tells us that we should hold shame at the core of us, and shame tells us there’s something inherently wrong with us, something inherently unworthy of being whole that will keep us split. At the heart of the practice of yoga is a path of union between all of our parts with a greater consciousness that unifies all humans.

“A person can split initially when they first experience trauma, but there isn’t one split. If the trauma continues, or if healing doesn’t begin, then a person can continue to split. Human beings have an amazing capacity to split again and again on the inside, fracturing more and more of their self, while continuing to look like they have it all together on the outside,” Keller spoke, describing the way this splitting keeps us from being able to connect with our self in any significant way, so that connecting with others becomes impossible. This disconnection truly does keep us living in a spirit of fear–fear of the other and fear of the world. This fear, and the split apart self, isn’t the only story though. Keller knew for her she had to turn away from the illusions of separation she saw in the world to heal the inner world of herself. And so this becomes her story now–one in which she is moving through healing so that she can share herself with the world. “Pain can be transformed if we take it within,” she said.

How can we see our own pain, and become strong enough to hold this pain, so we can transform it? How can we make the body strong enough to hold ourselves up through transformation? And then in holding our own, how can we create a space where we can connect with the pain and the beauty of others?

For Keller, her pain built what she calls her “warrior” who has been able to take on the pain of others. Speaking with her, I thought of a recent Krista Tippett interview with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, in which she describes a Hebrew myth story of the birth of the world:

“This is the story of the birthday of the world. In the beginning, there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. Then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident. And the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness in the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day. Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people; to lift it up and make it visible once again and, thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This is a very important story for our times — that we heal the world one heart at a time. This task is called ‘tikkun olam’ in Hebrew, ‘restoring the world.'”

I connected with this interview so deeply; the way that she uses myth to tell a story that is larger and more important than the simple form of story might seem, and the way that she describes what we as humans are able to do and be. We can be light for the world; we’re made to be so. Remen said, “I think that we all feel that we’re not enough to make a difference; that we need to be more, somehow, either wealthier or more educated or, somehow or other, different than the people we are. And according to this story, we are exactly what’s needed. And to just wonder about that a little, what if we were exactly what’s needed? What then? How would I live if I was exactly what’s needed to heal the world?” A very important question indeed. Keller saw her opportunity to heal her part of the world as she heals herself by connecting to a yoga community and by speaking about not just her trauma but the way that trauma is being transformed back to a beautiful strength in her, as she reintegrates herself and as she connects to people around her, trusting that they can hold her for who she is.

Imagine this story–a young girl is carrying a clay pot. In it, is all the goodness of the world, the goodness that will create light within the world. The girl is on a journey to reveal this light but just as she emerges into the green world, she is tripped by a dark, thick root in the ground. The girl tumbles over, spilling her vessel of light, watching the light of the world fragment into a thousand pieces and spill out away from her. Except for one small piece, all that she held is gone. She gathers herself up, knowing she must regain all that she’s lost, ashamed to speak of what’s happened so that she might ask for help. And though she believes there’s not enough left, the light she’s held onto carries her forward through unimaginable dark places; it carries her onward to people who shine back to her a familiar light. These are the ones holding what spilled out from her; pieces of light that fragmented outward. Each time she meets someone like this, it’s as if a mirror rises up before her, allowing her to see a light that she knows deeply within herself. And so, journeying on, this connection to the light of another, becomes enough. And she remembers, “There is a crack; a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen, Anthem)