An American Yogi: Notes on an Election Part 1
Last week was a tough week. On Wednesday morning, when I turned on my phone to see the US election results, let's just say I was devastated. I barely slept Tuesday night, but at some point I made myself turn off the phone and close my eyes. When I saw the news - I cried. And cried. I touched a layer of sadness within me that I haven't felt in years.
I teach a private session on Wednesday mornings and I wondered if I should go. After all, I was a bit of a wreck. And then I thought. "Do you still have something to give? Can you still offer something positive?" In the end, I decided to go. (Great decision, btw - yoga is always a good decision.) Afterwards, my student and I were talking and I was saying that I didn't know anyone who was openly supporting the candidate who won. I was sharing how it's hard not to wonder "who are all these people?!" and she said something that stopped me in my tracks. She said, "That's probably a big part of the problem. You don't know each other." And she's right. We're so separate these days.
These are the two big themes I've been wrestling with since I heard the news: this deep, personal sadness and a realization that we all need to work harder to bridge the chasm that's emerged between us.
These two things are ultimately related, but I'm going to write about them separately, or this will be a novel of a blog post ;)
First thing's first: why did I feel so incredibly sad?
The aftermath of this election has felt a lot like mourning to so many of us. Not just disappointment, but grief. To those on the other side, this reaction seems melodramatic. This phrase keeps getting thrown around in Internet memes and comment sections: butt hurt. Urban dictionary defines it as: "Getting your feelings hurt, being offended or getting all bent out of shape because of something petty or stupid." It means you're taking something too seriously, blowing it out of proportion. It can also signal that the person leveling the insult doesn't actually comprehend the gravity of the situation, and are making light of something that is, in fact, quite serious.
Buckle up, because I'm about to get real vulnerable here to prove a larger point.
The reason I felt the election results on such a visceral level was because it brought up the old pain of being abused and dehumanized, along with the anger of not being protected.
I have experienced sexual assault. More than once. I never reported any of it, because each time I was convinced it was partly, if not fully, my fault, and I was ashamed.
I have experienced verbal abuse. I have experienced repeated and blatant racism, misogyny, and unabashed human ugliness in my own home where it went unchallenged by those with authority (the other adults in the room).
I refuse to call myself a victim, but at times in my past, I was on the receiving end of persistent abuse, and I felt completely alone. No one ever looked me in the eye and said YOU DON'T DESERVE THIS, IT'S UNJUST AND IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. No one ever stood up to the abuser to say THIS IS NOT OKAY AND IT STOPS NOW. I finally started saying those things to myself and for myself, and as a result I've found a level of strength and fierce self-love that I never knew I had in me.
Still, you never forget those feelings. You never want to go back.
And I've had it relatively easy. Despite any negativity in my past, I'm still a white, educated, able-bodied, heterosexual woman from an upper-middle class background. I can only imagine what it's like for more marginalized populations: people of color, people living in poverty, LGBTQ, immigrants, the disabled...
But at least I can imagine. I can empathize. I can acknowledge what I don't know and listen to the voices that do.
This empathy and listening is real yoga. It's going beyond the limited, personal ego to identify with the sacred life force in all beings. It's humanity, compassion, dignity.
That's why people keep saying that this election was about more than politics. That's why so many of us (myself included) are so upset. Witnessing the awful things that were said and done on Donald's campaign trail, and knowing that so many Americans seem to share those attitudes and/or are willing to overlook them, to stand by idly while others are dehumanized and bullied...well, it takes me right back to being told to stop crying so loud after my first sexual assault when I was just 14, instead of being asked why I was upset and if I needed support. It takes me back to my dining room table, arguing with a total racist after he tried to explain to me "the difference between a black person and a ni**er" while the other adults sat by silently. It takes me back to all the times that I experienced or observed utter human ugliness and abuse of power, and it was allowed to pass. It makes me cry and it makes me burn.
So no, the people who are rightfully worried for their wellbeing - terrified of the repercussions for themselves, their families, their neighbors - they are not "butt hurt". They are hurting, yes, but they are not blowing anything out of proportion.
I've seen a lot of online comments in the last few days like, "I'm Mexican, and I'm fine." Or "I'm black, and I still feel perfectly safe." Or "I'm a woman and I'm happy with the result."
My response to this is the same as in a discussion of safety in yoga poses where someone says, "Yeah well I've been doing that pose / move / transition for years and it didn't injure me." And I say, "Well that's nice. For you." Whether in a yoga class or out in the world, YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE IN THE ROOM. It's not all about you - that's the ego talking. We all need to consider other people's experience. And yes, sometimes other people's suffering will outweigh your discomfort.
“Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Not a career. Not wealth. Not intelligence. Certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.” - Audrey Hepburn
There's more to be said about that kind of empathy on a practical level: how? what does it look like in real life? where to start? All good questions which deserve their own post.
For now, I leave you with this: If you know the type of sadness and anger that I'm speaking about - the feeling of being dismissed or degraded or abused with no accountability in sight - you are not alone. And there is nothing wrong with you. Take heart. You are never alone in your suffering. Sometimes the most compassionate and proactive thing you can do is to find the space and support that you need for your own personal healing. Insist on it. That's what I'm doing.