Photo: Seane Corn
Later, she and Nikki got together and Nikki was able to have a sincere conversation and share with her how triggered she got by the word and how she had also reacted as a result. Nikki was insulted for her race and culture, and that pain is centuries old and runs deep. Her reaction, like the drunken man in the slum, was a reflection of that profound historical wound, especially potent because racism still exists today and continues to perpetuate both pain and separation.
This is not a story I wanted to expose. I struggled with writing it. It is unconscious and cruel and flies in the face of our intention in being here. But even as it was happening, I knew that I must share it. If I shame it, I avoid the opportunity for growth and healing. It was a profound teaching and certainly revealed much about my own assumptions. I will never again assume that either the group or myself is infallible when it comes to making the very mistakes we are so committed to healing. I can't assume that because someone does yoga or is educated exempts them from being ignorant or sheltered or even sensitive to the realities and complexities of racism or culture.
Our commitment in taking these trips is to dignify the human experience and serve from love. Instead, we insulted the very humans we came to serve. How ironic. How perfect for God to expose my own naiveté and arrogance. I asked spirit to show me where the holes were. He did. I asked to be shown my own limitations and inexperience. He did. I asked to be given the opportunity to cultivate wisdom. He certainly gave it.
Sometimes God has a bizarre way of answering our prayers.
I'm hopeful you don't vilify the participant. She was ignorant, not intentional. She also supported me in wanting to share this story on Oprah.com. She rightly suggested that there must be many other people like her who don't know the power of that word to hurt when used in certain context, and she is hopeful that this story can raise awareness as a result.
Beside creating educational and healthcare opportunities, our intention in bringing people into these different cultures and introducing them to population perhaps so utterly foreign to their own, is so that we can transcend our fears and presumptions, see beyond color, gender, sex and economics and discover the places within, beyond culture, where we are deeply connected. It is an opportunity to learn about each other and heal. It is to truly see the connections and similarity of spirit, not the differences of race or culture. I am certain that spirit wanted me to have this experience so that I dropped any idealism I had about the challenges of bringing people into foreign cultures and work even harder at shining the light on ignorance. Mostly my own.
So this is what sustainable activism looks like to me. You tell the truth and expose lies, your own and others; only do so with respect and compassion. You respond when others might react. You listen deeply and are mindful of your words. You honor both the light and the shadow aspects of the human soul. You don't shame, judge or vilify. Instead, try to bridge chasms and find a language that supports various points of views. You do not make someone wrong so that you can feel right, but also don't withdraw and become passive in the face of a challenge. You share own your feelings, speak honestly and respect others. You work hard to confront your own limitations and take responsibility for the outcome of your choices, both good and bad. You see the connection that exists within each being and allow that truth to motivate every decision, choice and action. You allow empathy to express and love to lead...and finally, know fully that the only true stand to take, the only right action necessary, is to do whatever you can that will manifest peace and honor deeply the God that exists within...and within all. This is how spiritual activism can change the world from the inside out.
Building a birthing center in Uganda
Seane helps deliver a baby
How Seane came to believe in God
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism, unique self-expression and inspirational style of teaching that incorporates both the physical and mystical aspects of the practice of yoga. For more on Seane Corn, visit SeaneCorn.com.