I am a householder yoga practitioner and I have two ‘jobs’ I shall never retire from: Motherhood and teaching yoga methodology. The community yoga studio I co-founded in October 2001 with my friend Sarah Church on the heels of 9/11 was originally inspired to help us reframe the ideology of super-mom-hood so that we could be good and present parents to our children, preserve our own sense of self-worth AND stay sane in an overwhelming world (all the more so today).
Now, on the heels of COVID-19, I must reframe my understanding of the privilege I hold as a white person in America. As much as we may want to hold on to the past, it is clear to me there is no ‘going back to normal’. I am not disabused of the fact of my white privilege. I am not disabused of the fact that I have not lived a single day of my life under the threat imposed by a disenfranchised existence. And I am not disabused of the fact that I am part of a system that, on the surface, serves me – as long as I agree to subscribe to living at the level of its platitudes.
I do not agree with the system. It isn’t equitable and it doesn’t work. And I gave up on platitudes a long time ago, during my divorce, so deceived was I by our system of justice that wants us to believe it is actually just. How about we strive and commit to doing a very deep dive into ourselves to see how we are each contributing to these systems that only seem to serve those who uphold them? Yes, we’ll flounder in doing so – we always have and we always will because we are human. Let’s not take it personally. Instead, let us do the work of looking good and hard at how our own mind colors the world we all share – inequitably.
We are at a turning point in the history of the human race. Is it not obvious that our well-being is intricately tied to the health of this Earth that sustains and nurture us? That our personal lives are not separate from our professional endeavors? That company culture affects individual mindsets and collective productivity? And that flexibility and fluidity adds to our ability to meet the requirements of our lives – our jobs, our households, our parenting, our health – far more efficiently and effectively than do the traditional outdated and controlling hierarchical dynamics at play in our world? Sit with this for a moment.
And now ask yourself this: How can we best contribute to a necessary shift of the status quo in our personal perspectives and organizational cultures moving forward? We are all part of the community, part of the problem, and part of the solution. We own the responsibility of doing the work. If there ever was a time to take courage in change, this is it. Do not get caught up in being afraid of what you’ll see; ALL of who we are is who we are. Instead, ask yourself, How do I want to be in the world?
My father taught me many of life’s important lessons, like how to treat all people with the same kind of regard for their humanity no matter their circumstance or presentation. My mother taught me to value my family, in hardship, heartache and health. Family, says Jack Kornfield, is the mirror in which all our wounds, as well as our blind spots, get magnified. Family, it turns out, can mean quite literally the (tribal) family; it can also mean our place of work; our community; our circle of friends; the family of muscles and bones and connective tissues and cellular memories that make up the realm of our very human body. And while the yoga mat is a worthy place to experiment with physical ability, discernment and consciousness, we are called now more than ever before to take this awareness and understanding of our body, our self and our exquisite uniqueness off the mat into all of our relationships and into action in the world. The world requires more than ever before that each conscious contender step into the heart of conflict, engage in conversations that matter and take actions that will shift the dynamic from weakness to strength, negativity to positivity, from self-preoccupation to self-awareness, from self-absorption to compassion.
And so, in the year Covid-19 struck, I took a dose of my own medicine and decided to embark on a social-emotional experiment: To become an active participant in the outer fringes of my habitual life and get really uncomfortable in my privileged white skin… Thus, my re-purposed self is now a nationally registered and MA-licensed EMT practicing emergency medicine on the front lines. My efforts have not been without their challenges, pain-points, and small humiliations; but I’ve rebounded and rejoiced and found a renewed sense of freedom in knowing, from the heart of experience, that I can actually lean back and allow myself to be guided, from within, by my very own soul – when I choose to sink in and listen well.
I still have no idea what the future holds and what that path looks like – do any of us really? But here’s what I’m beginning to understand: When we drop everything we think we know and start marching to the drumbeat of our own heart, there’s value in not planning everything out, in not knowing what comes next and what it will look like, because this is exactly where all the fantastic possibilities abide. Excitement and fear can feel very much the same, yet fear holds us back while excitement gets us curious about the potential that exists in this liminal space of not-knowing.
We all fall into the ruts and cliches of life (contrary to what Facebook posts and Tik-Tok trends might otherwise indicate). I have also made a personal choice to not stay stuck there, to not pretend everything is “great” when it isn’t. The narrative you have created around who I am and what I am about is not even close to the truth. I know this to be true because this story is constantly shapeshifting to best meet the needs of the kind of being I want to be in the world. My resume appears to be a random, serpentine path, yet every twist and turn has been made not in reaction to my life, but rather with the intention to be as present to the circumstances of it as possible; some of these conditions were planned and predictable; others, arbitrary, unforeseeable and – like Covid-19 – impossible to fathom; and they all taught me what hardship and resilience feel like.
We all have insights that cannot be acquired through knowledge alone, and we all have experiences that only life can teach. And if you really want to exact change and are seeking to build bridges to create cultural change within your organization, let me ask you this: How may I be of service?
Read more about Nicole’s personal story on Boston Voyager