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These are difficult days in my little city. Since the presidential election, LGBT friends have been harassed and threatened. One was nearly run off the road as she jogged near her home. Adults and children alike have been bullied for the color of their skin or their family’s country of origin. University police have harassed and bullied students. Anti-semitic graffiti has been painted around town.

Things are not good and they don’t look like they are turning around any time soon.

In light of this disturbing shift, I will also be shifting my energies. On Tuesdays, I have been writing Art in Action posts which offered practical, tangible ways of implementing our focus of the week. Starting today, Tuesdays will be for a piece called heARTful Action.

heARTful is my made-up word meaning, awareness from and leading with the heart. With this wave of hate and bigotry, I will focus on how to stand up for the most vulnerable in my community and help as best I can to create a culture of inclusion and kindness.

I have no idea how to do this.

As the political, cultural, and social smoke clears, I will endeavor to learn what is needed most and how I can help in my area. In heARTful Action posts, I will share what I am learning and offer practical, tangible ways that you can do your own heARTful action.

For folks in the Charlottesville area, there will be events and experiences in which you can participate. For people living elsewhere, you can use what I’m learning here and apply it in your community.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.® Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

For today, two places to start:

~ Choose Something that Matters
Look at the current landscape in your community and think about what really matters to you. For me, it is helping vulnerable people and supporting the environment. What matters to you on a deep level? By following our highest values positive change can happen.

~ Listen and learn.
I don’t know a blessed thing about social activism. And I’m ready to listen to people who do and learn. I’m ready to listen to the people who need help and learn. I’m ready to gather people who care about the things I do and listen and learn. I’m also open to resources like this and this
(If you have resources about starting social action or helping those whose rights are in jeapordy, please put them in the comments below.)

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BONUS: Some thoughts on symbolic gestures
Some of the things we can do are more symbolic than practical or direct. Does a symbolic gesture mean nothing? Take for example, the “safety pin movement”: wearing a safety pin to identify yourself as an ally, a “safe” person to anyone who is afraid in the current environment. There are differing opinions about this: some for and some against. Here’s my take on it. I think public and symbolic displays of support are important. Demonstrations, signs and symbols don’t directly create change but they set up a culture and community of support. AND symbolic acts can’t be the ONLY thing we do, but they can be ONE thing we do to say that this situation is not okay with us. So I say, wear a safety pin (and as the second writer suggests, a Black Lives Matter necklace, too) but ALSO take direct action. More on that soon, love warriors!

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They started tearing down the forest behind our house this morning.

The screaming sound of grinding trees started before 7:30am and I felt sick like I’d both eaten a bad egg and hit my head on a rock. We knew it would happen eventually. The land behind us is part of a big tract that has been slated for development for years.

But the sound of it. The sight of it. It was almost more than I could bear.

I rode my bike fast away from the arboreal carnage, swimming in bad news and bad feelings: another unarmed black man has been shot, and now another, another bomb, and the election, this election that flirts with hatred, chaos, violence and fascism is only 43 days away.

Then a conversation we had with our 25-year-old daughter, Reade, floated back to me. On the morning radio show she listens to (Elvis Duran’s syndicated show) they suggested that when something bad or difficult happens, to expand your view of the situation. Rather than zeroing in on this upsetting thing, open up and see what else is going on.

So while my heart felt tight and my gut felt stony, I opened my eyes and also saw the pink early morning clouds and felt the cool September breeze and the excitement of teaching bubbling in my chest.

I still find it devastating that they are destroying all those beautiful trees. And that the world is on fire. But it’s not the only thing that’s happening.

Eckhart Tolle speaks to this in a recent interview. He was asked if he thought that the state of the world is particularly bad at the moment or if it only seems that way since we are bombarded by instantaneous news from all directions. He responded (in part):

The news is a manifestation or reflection of the collective mind which operates like the individual mind. The individual mind (and people may be able to verify from their own experience) tends to dwell on things that are more negative than positive. If someone offends me today my mind can dwell on that for hours on end or for several days. But if I watch a beautiful sunset, it’s less likely that the mind will dwell on that for hours or days. … Through the media we get a considerably distorted impression. Yes, these dreadful things are happening but there are also many other things happening that are actually good that are not considered newsworthy. (Eckhart Tolle, Awakening to Higher Consciousness Interview with Deepak Chopra)

Spend 10 seconds with the headlines and I expect you’ll see the truth of this. There are constant reports of horrendous things happening everywhere…but that is not all there is. The double whammy of the news’ skewed emphasis on the terrible and my mind’s tendency to dwell on the negative can leave me feeling hopelessly hopeless. And with a throbbing head and a sick stomach.

When I drop into my body to really feel how an expanded view works. Right now, when I sense my body, the first thing that I’m aware of is tension in my lower back and my feet are cold. Right away, my attention goes to what is unpleasant or challenging. But then if I expand my view, I can feel that my breath is moving fully and my hair feels good on my shoulders and there is a pleasant soreness in my legs and core from class this morning. And then, if I expand it even further, I notice what I’m not noticing: the backs of my knees, my ears, my forehead. Suddenly, there is a lot more going on than a squinchy back.

Taking an expanded view doesn’t mean that I ignore the difficult bits. An expanded view gives me perspective. Everything is not a mess. There are all kinds of things going on. Spinning on the negative only offers me a distorted view of the situation and leaves me paralyzed. From an expanded view, I can make choices: stretch, take a ride downtown, have hibiscus tea with a friend, plant some trees, reach out to an African American friend, make a campaign contribution.

An expanded view helps me from collapsing into hopelessness and gives me the space to do what I can to make a shift.

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Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. ~ Sy Miller & Jill Jackson

One hundred and fifteen yoga mats squeeze into the old school auditorium and on each mat, a person ready to practice. Before the teacher begins, two assistants weave through the maze and leave a small card at the top of each mat. One hundred and fifteen cards each with the name of someone who has died in acts of racial violence and police brutality. Each card is unique. There are plenty of names — far, far more than our numbers here.

I’ve never done anything like this before: a yoga class and peace vigil to bear witness to racial violence in our country to benefit the Black Lives Matter movement.

I’m not a particularly political person. Stories of violence and hatred upset me so I read news sparingly. Even my beloved NPR becomes too much for me. After listening on my way to teach class, I would find myself staggering to the studio feeling buffeted and disoriented by the latest reports of brutality, bloodshed, hatred, and racism, so I often turn it off. But lately, it’s been too much to ignore.

While I am honored to be participating and am grateful for the transcendent leadership of Eboni Bugg, I feel awkward, too. As a white woman, should I be here? Am I offending anyone by tearing up when the card with “Xavier McDonald” is place on my mat? Is it okay for me to lift my fist? To say that this is important to me, too? I honestly don’t know. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening. I itch to do something to help.

The yoga vigil was beautiful: the music, movement, guidance, all 115 of us, all with our names. I’m glad I was there, awkwardness and all. And it wasn’t nearly enough. I left wondering what to do next. Organizers promise events in the future, but at the moment, I am at a loss.

I was grateful, then, that a friend shared Patricia Pearce’s article, Three Ways To Be A Peacemaker In A Time of Hatred, as it offers a personal practice of peace-making.

The three ways that the article suggests are:

Stand in Solidarity with Those Under Attack
Love the Person Consumed by Hatred
Heal Your Own Mind

These are practices that I can do anytime. I don’t have to wait for a vigil, a rally or a march. I can be a peacemaker right now, exactly where I am.

It’s impossible to have peace in the larger community unless we have it in our own hearts and minds. So while the Black Lives Matter network addresses the enormous issue of hatred in our country, we can use these peacemaker practices in any situation: in our cities, our communities, our families, and inside ourselves.

As I move through my interactions with others, with the vitriol at National Conventions, with the news on NPR, and the voices in my own head, I can practice being a peacemaker. By supporting those under attack, offering love to the attacker, and caring for my mind, I am making small steps toward the healing I wish for the world.

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