What a Yogi Learned at a Protest

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What’s your role in the end of the world?

Sunday and Tuesday night, I attended the protests in Berkeley. Taking to the streets by bike with others to make a stand against the injustice in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases was a really powerful event I couldn’t miss out on.. I live in Berkeley! No matter what you actually think of demonstrating, of Mike Brown, of Eric Garner, of racism, of police brutality, or of injustice, you cannot deny the pain that is being experienced and shared among so many. Having been inundated by it for days via social media, it finally arrived in my neighborhood and partly because of my own anger and partly out of curiosity, I took to the streets to see more. It’s been called violent and brutal and though there were certainly a couple vandals and cops alike out for a sensational story and the opportunity to break some things, overall it was an incredibly peaceful march.

If you’ve never stood up in protest for something you feel is worth fighting for, I think you ought to. I think you ought to take to the streets with fellow protestors and chant and march. I think you may learn something about your role at the end of the world. Here are a couple things I learned at this march.

Spontaneous Emergence. This is the theory that when all things are left in chaos, organization naturally emerges. This theory was recently introduced to me and though it sounded all good and fine, it sounded like theory. Believe it or not, I’m not much for theory.. But Sunday was experiential. That night, the protest made it’s way onto Highway 24. As the crowd moved to take over the freeway, the mass broke into three parts; the group that held the on-ramp; the group on the freeway; and the group securing the exit plan. Without discussion, control or bureaucracy, each group took their place wherever they were called and held their ground. I’m still shocked to admit I was on the freeway after a mad dash up a hillside with my 25 pound bike in tow – adrenaline is an incredible thing. But up there, against traffic and riot police, we had somehow all held space for one another to do this one act of solidarity. And taking over the freeway is nothing more than that – an act of will demonstrating we can, and we will, if we stay together. After riding our bicycles around on the freeway for about 30 minutes, we were pushed back and luckily, that large group had held the next exit so we could come down without encountering more police forces – preventing us from being left behind. None to be left behind. None to be arrested. None to stand alone. The natural process of this was spellbinding. Without control of one single voice directing the masses, we all somehow executed this action seamlessly, allowing everyone to come off the freeway largely without incident. Think what you will about the actual take over of the freeway – this is spontaneous emergence at it’s core. The unorganized becoming organized without dictation – but through natural energetic exchange spawned from liberation allowing everyone to move as needed to protect the whole. That’s something, isn’t it?

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Part of the Whole. One thing that became very clear is the role of the individual. How do you play on this field of demonstration? What is your role here? How do you effectively do your part? On our bikes, we were able to break ahead of the pack to stop or turn traffic. The beauty of this moment was recognizing my own role as one holding space for expression and release. This peaceful pack of chanting humans needed a clear way to walk, so I, among 12 others, rode ahead and together, we waved and corralled cars to prevent them from bringing harm to the walk. For these moments of no fear, I rode directly into headlights and stood tall toward cars with peace fingers in the air. I handed out flowers. It wasn’t until later today that I realized that this act is my role in life confirmed. I was in that protest to hold space. To ensure the safety of those willing to walk, I went ahead and stopped the cars. I became fierce, I became fearless, and in so many ways, I became very free. No because of these renegade tactics (which I admit sound extreme) but because of who I am, I was following my nature in extreme circumstances. This is my nature. To hold space, to protect the grieving and the healing and the angry, to move forward and hold on, to stop so we can stand. We all have a role in life – grand or small – we can learn these roles so quickly in the heat of a protest. Do we chant? Do we watch? Do we clean up? Do we tear down? Do we hide behind? Do we run ahead? Do we hold intersections, do we rush, or do we wait? I am still in the process of receiving all of that.

Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the Sanskrit term for non-violence. As one of the yamas, practicing restraint and moving peacefully, even in the face of adversity, is a strong and powerful lesson. This word often came into my mind throughout the night. Though largely a peaceful protest, there was definitely violent behavior exhibited on all sides and that, I feel, was the nature of these things. But as someone who likes to think of peace first and considers themselves a very non-violent person, I went through intense sensations of  judgement, criticism and anger. I judged myself for going down there. Police for force. Protestors for vandalism. Each of these emotions, if not observed and expressed, tend to lead to violence – whether directed at the self or at others. The practice was to feel these emotions while remaining equanimous. This is a very difficult experience and practice because when you feel angry, you want to be seen. You want validation and to allow the emotion to ride out of your body quickly. But it was also a reminder that ANGER is an emotion and PEACE is a state of being. In our language, we’re constantly saying “I AM so angry” therefore taking possession of the anger as who we are and what we are – I AM. Yet, we then say “I FEEL so peaceful.” Peace has then become a transitory and fleeting state of being – I FEEL. This is backwards!! We ARE peaceful – just right now FEELING anger. Anger passes, true peace is a state of BEING.. once you accept your being as a peaceful one, there’s no removal or transition – the emotions pass, not your state of being. With this concept in mind, I spent the protest and all these days since cultivating non-violence in response. By not allowing judgement to come to any part of my day – starting on my yoga mat. I’ve stepped away from all judgement of myself, including my experience of anger or any other emotion that comes up, so I can detach from the emotion and connect deeper into my being.

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Now, you may be thinking “TAYLA! What were you thinking getting up there in that trouble!? How could you?!” and I’ve been hesitant to even share this here because of that judgement. Because of potential ridicule or the horrible sense that I may turn people off, but then why would I protest to start with. It was truly a gift to be a part of that experience…  I feel I’ve learned so much about the world and my role within it – and if anyone else is paying attention and learning the same things, I’d love to exchange notes. To understand how humanity works, you must live in humanity. You must experience it as fully as possible. I honestly feel as though I haven’t seen people in a really long time. I feel so much more alive now. I could not understand that process of humanity if I had not somehow participated in it. Being up on that freeway, riding down the fast lane to the mass that waited below with open arms for me and the 200+ people was liberation. It was as if the world, for one moment, was free and wild. It was as if nature had taken over. Without this experience, there may not be another way for me to experience how human nature actually works in cooperation and peace in the face of crisis.

I hope peace becomes a movement toward change. I hope that we start – as a people – to take responsibility of our role and move forward with loving compassion in tow. I hope we don’t stop defending our peace. It starts with you.

May you be your biggest fan, not your worst critic.

I see you. I validate you. I appreciate you.

| namaste |


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