This is one of those weeks I think my heart will always remember—though it would be easy to wish to forget. The mass shooting in Orlando that took so many beautiful lives has brought us to reckon with a hard fact: that still, after so many decades of fighting for it to be otherwise, our culture does not know how to make a place for all of us.
In the wake of this event we see unfolding a sort of Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita moment: the whole of humanity, with all of its beauty and terror and hope and shame, and it feels impossible at times to see through the chaos. It’s hard to know which branch to grasp at for safety: do we cling to hope? Do we fall into sadness? Do we scream with rage?
In all honesty, I hope we’re doing all of those things. It is time to do all of those things.
And when we do find a place to breathe, it will become time to remember, with a certainty that will undoubtedly be hard-won: fucking hell, we are in this world together.
Together. Connected. Yoked. Belonging to one another. The roots of the practice, and the very word yoga, are about this. Remember your connection to the world. Remember your connection to god, or universe, or whatever keeps you in that place of knowing that you’re entangled, in the best and in the worst ways, in everything it means to be a living being amongst so many others. We forget this at our own peril, and at the peril of each other.
One of the most helpful notions I have come across when I can’t for the life of me figure out what I have in common with someone else, comes from my philosophy teacher, Douglas Brooks. In the process of remembering connection, Dr. Brooks says, we must know three things:
- I’m not you.
- I’m something like you.
- I’m nothing but you.
I’m Not You
It might seem contrary to the idea of remembered connection that we look first toward difference. But this matters. And we can’t get to real connection without it.
“I’m not you,” in the most neutral terms, acknowledges that we are all individuals. I look at you, and recognize you as a person distinct from myself. Does that difference invoke curiosity? Fear? Indifference? Friendly regard? The way we answer this question builds or destroys worlds.
Knowing the potential for violence in response to difference, some may rush to gloss over differences, to quickly insist “we’re all one.” The tricky thing is, that rush toward one-ness may only enable further violence. To say, “I’m going to overwrite your story in order to claim that your experience is just like mine” is to erase another person, and leave them vulnerable to the things that endanger them simply because we’d rather look on the bright side. We can’t afford to do that to each other.
Right now, for example, we can’t insist that everyone has the same experience regardless of skin color, sexuality, gender, class, nationality, religion. We’re not in a fair game. Some people are losing much harder and more often than others. Real unity requires truth.
I’m Something Like You
Once we’ve gotten to establish the differences in our experiences, we might move on to finding common ground. It’s in this realm that most relationships are forged: we determine who is friend, enemy or neutral depending on how much we have in common, or on how much our differences complement one another. This is often a beautiful process. It’s one that makes me grateful to be alive.
But we must also be wary of the complacency of the middle-ground. The danger in this stage of reckoning is half-heartedness. Those on the comfortable side of difference may decide “I’ve listened enough. I’ve conceded enough. I’ve tolerated you enough. I’ve treated you as human enough.”
This isn’t cutting it. To forge connection across difference means we have to remain awake to each other. We can’t state once, “I’m cool with the ways in which we’re different. We’re good,” and be done with it. We must choose each other, against the forces that would divide us, every single day, in sincere words and real actions. It’s a practice. It doesn’t end. That’s a good thing.
I’m Nothing But You
It is far from commonplace, but every once in a while we get a glimpse of a shared connection so deep as to look like an absence of separation. It is a profound feeling of shared aliveness and spirit that is barely even described by worn phrases like “we’re all one.” It’s the place most spiritual traditions advocate for, in some way or another.
I believe this is the place where all those who grieve are living right now. It is the place where the loudest howls come from. It is a sacred grief, but one that is often derided or denied—probably because it is both sublime and terrifying to remember our utter connectedness, our inability to disentangle our hearts from one another. It makes us vulnerable. And it makes us immeasurably strong.
Maybe this landscape is called love.
Erin H/Grassroots Yoga
**If you would like to donate to the victims and families affected by the Orlando shooting, please visit Equality Florida Action, Inc. at www.eqfl.org
**If you are struggling after learning about the shooting in Orlando, please reach out:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
Text an anonymous crisis counselor: 741741