Practicing Change

“Damn you! Damn you to hell!” I was sitting in meditation as the rage in these words spilled in through my open window from the street.  First – a sting to my heart, a mammalian mirroring response to the heightened emotions that were unfolding not 10 feet from where I sat. Someone walked on down the street, their condemnation slowly fading from earshot.

I watched as I moved through layers of sensation and experience, like a combination lock moving through a sequence of positions to open: the sting giving way to fear; the fear giving way to curiosity; the curiosity giving way to understanding; the understanding giving way to compassion; and finally the compassion giving way to a return to the breath and single-pointed focus. Yet the impact of this person’s suffering put before me a question that I am continuing to lean into.

Days, hours, maybe minutes later, this angry person might forgive, or even forget what had angered them, but as I rose from meditation that morning, I felt that I had been given an assignment. I have dedicated myself to the alleviation of suffering, yet in that moment on the mat, I saw and felt a visceral gap between who I am, what I offer, and what more is needed.

Making the transit from reaction to conscious presence is a powerful, foundational act, and has the potential to inform and guide our experience, thoughts and action in the world. Yet many have been feeling the call to make the transit from the individual to the collective, bringing conscious practice to the people and places where it is deeply needed: the streets, boardrooms, classrooms, police precincts and stations, village greens and parks, college campuses, prisons, to the practice of law and systems for wellness and medical care, to religious and spiritual leadership, and more.

When my dear friend, Gretchen Steidle, asked me to join her in organizing a TEDx on the intersection of conscious practice, and change, I leapt at the opportunity, and TEDxWashingtonSquare: Practicing Change was born. It has been an honor to work with Gretchen, a conscious change agent herself, and the many gifted practitioners who have gathered to share their ideas and experiences around #PracticingChange with us.  

Emerging from this event, are other important opportunities for #PracticingChange in the planning stages. I am deeply inspired by a workshop I am involved in planning with TEDxWashingtonSquare participants Erica Ford, a leader and peace activist working with kids in Queens, Eddie Stern, a yogi and teacher, working with many of Erica’s kids at Urban Yogis, Aqeela Sherrills, working with kids at the heart of gang violence to transform their experience of conflict, and Lt Richard Goerling, a patrol lieutenant in Hillsboro, Oregon, bringing mindfulness and meditation to police and transforming police culture from the inside out.

The person walking down the street that day, damning the one on the other end of the line, showed me the limits of my personal practice. It matters that I am able to metabolize anger, my own or another’s, as I sit on the mat and walk in the world. And, awakening is something that we can and ultimately must do together, across lines of difference and separation, in the face of fear, history and trauma, and for the sake of justice and freedom for all.