It's understandable that we might be squirrely about the topic, given western ideas about yoga as spiritual or even religious, and keeping spiritual matters separate from matters of governance, like justice. This urge to separate, especially in the realm of spirituality and religion, seems protective to me, and even natural given the amount of harm that's been done in the name of world views and power structures based on religion. Many of us have been harmed.
And ironically, but not coincidentally, this is what restorative justice work is trying to address - healing harm in a way that heals and restores our relationships with ourselves and each other. So, seems to me if these wounds are still aching, then we dive in - so we can move through. How else can we have the kind of caring community we need to build and sustain restorative systems and practices?
Turns out, this issue is ony one of many wounds I - and we - carry that motivate me to search for a justice that heals and restores. It's personal. And that's OK. But I still want to engage restoratively, which can be quite a challenge since navigating these waters requires the very resilience and presence I'm seeking in my "RJ work". Yikes!
I've heard that "re"search is often "me"search.
Over the years in scuffles among colleagues that touch my wounds, I tend to fall silent, feeling frozen, exhausted, and wanting to walk (run?) away. Over the years, again and again, I've bumped into my own and others' difficulty with fight, flight, freeze and its affect on showing up skilfully and sustainably. What's going on? What to do?
I've come to understand these reactions as signs of stress and trauma that can't just be jumped over. Believe me, I've tried, but it gets triggered when I get close to community, which is rather inherent in RJ work. Fortunately, as we say in plant medicine, the poison and its antidote grow near each other.
So I'm learning. Looking now, in light of quite recent trauma research, I'm learning about the signs of a disrupted amygdala, dopaminergic dysregulation, and low vagal tone. What I mean is, our natural biological capacity for presence and inclination to c.a.r.e. and to l.o.v.e is damaged by stress (intense as with trauma, but also with less intense stress that happens repeatedly over time), and the isolation of modern life - literal lack of being in touch. And that even in our efforts to heal, we can cause further damage by maintaining or inadvertantly creating new systems that retraumatize us.
Anybody got that going on, or know someone who does? Anybody think this might underlie our problematic relationships, social systems AND efforts at social change? Many of us are interested in grassroots justice and social change, but let's be sure to look at what kinds of seed are in that grass! What will we grow if we aren't also knowledgable and taking responsibilty for our health and well being at these deepest levels?
The good news is we can heal. It needn't just be coped with or covered over with substances or subject to forced "correct" behaviors - including the "correct" way to do justice. But higher level thinking alone isn't going to get us the whole way. There are other parts of us operating, too. How do we reach those?
Fortunately, recent developments in the fields of neurobiology and trauma healing show a relationship between certain practices and our capacity for altrusim, fairness, love and compassion. This, in turn, points to increasing our capacity and resilience to engage with justice in ways that heal.
So, what promises the resilience to keep showing up with care and love so that justice can happen? Turns out, meditation. I know, the Dalai Lama's been on it for years! And increasing vagal tone through practices such as yogic breathing, toning, and physical postures.
And, please, don't take it from me about the connection between yoga and justice. Here's something the Dalai Lama has to say about how meditation supports social effectiveness:
...sometimes people have the idea that what really matters is single-pointed meditation on emptiness within the meditative session. They pay much less attention to how this experience should be applied in post-meditation periods. However, I think the post-meditation period is very important. The whole point of meditating on the ultimate nature of reality is to ensure that you are not fooled by appearances can often be deluding. With a deeper understanding of reality, you can go beyond appearances and relate to the world in a much more appropriate, effective, and realistic manner
I often give the example of how we should relate to our neighbors. Imagine that you are living in a particular part of town where interaction with your neighbors is almost impossible, and yet it is actually better if you do interact with them rather than ignore them. To do so in the wisest way depends on how well you understand your neighbors’ personality. If, for example, the man living next door is very resourceful, then being friendly and communicating with him will be to your benefit. At the same time, if you know that deep down he can also be quite tricky, that knowledge is invaluable if you are to maintain a cordial relationship and be vigilant so that he does not take advantage of you. Likewise, once you have a deeper understanding of the nature of reality, then in post-meditation, when you actually engage with the world, you will relate to people and things in a much more appropriate and realistic manner.
So, there we are. One pretty clear connection between yoga and justice. Something to contemplate.