Voting Day

Yoga is often translated as “union” or “to join.” In a fragmented and often lonely society such as ours, this is a lovely translation. It imbues a sense of wholeness, a promise for peace through connection. 
I love this translation. 
Unfortunately, it is incorrect. (Dang it!) 
Yoga comes from the root yuj which means to “yoke” or “bind.” There is a fundamental difference between joining something together and binding it. “Joining together” brings to mind a desired, invited coupling. Binding, on the other hand, is a restraint against will. Binding is an act of will and force that is typically put upon something that does not want to be bound.
Yoking is also an agrarian term. A yoke is tool traditionally used to bind two oxen together. There often is a plow attached to it. I plow the field to prepare it for planting. When I bind two beasts together, I am able to double the power and control the rate at which animals move. And, with their combined power, I am able to till more soil. 

Choosing the term “yoke” to describe the practice is a conscious one. It depicts a specific action. I yoke, or bind, the two beasts of burden that keep me from knowing my true Self; the body and the mind. I force the body and mind to do my bidding, to work for me. They help me till the soil of my experience so that I may plant the seeds that will bear the fruit of enlightenment (or, more specifically, ensure that I do not plant the seeds that will bear the fruits of karma… but that’s a lesson for another day).
In doing yoga I am using my power, my force, my will, to control my mind and body. I choose what to react to. I choose what to do. When the mind skirts away, I bring it back. When the body says “no, I don’t want to!” I say, “just try.” I no longer allow my mind and body to dictate my experience. I do. 
That is power. 

Yoga is often described as something that gives us peace, makes us feel more calm, relaxed. And while this may be a byproduct of the physical practice, the original design, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, was not peace per se. The point was liberation, or more specially Kaivalya, which means “emancipation.” Emancipation is defined as liberation from the bounds of karma and the cycle of reincarnation. It also means freedom from bondage. So, while we may find peace in our liberation, peace in and of itself is not the goal of yoga. Freedom is. That freedom comes from first controlling the body and the mind. Power to control my experience.  
Again; power.
The third pada (teaching) of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the “Accomplishments.” It is primarily of a list of powers that an accomplished yogi may encounter on their path to liberation. These are magical powers; flying, walking on water, becoming invisible, healing the sick, etc. For many people, the third teaching is sort of glossed over. The siddhis (powers) are seen as fantastical, wishful thinking, bizarre even. They feel out of place with the rest of the teachings. 
This makes sense if you are looking through the lens of yoga = peace. However, if you accept yoga = liberation, then you realize, magic powers are just a stepping stone along that path. If all of this phenomenal world is make-believe, then there is nothing at all unbelievable about overcoming the bounds of “normal” experience. The yogi will naturally have the power to overcome nature.
There’s that words again: Power. 
Clearly, one of the fundamental aspects of the practice according to the Yoga Sutras is power. 
Why then is there a divergence in modern practice from yoga-as-power to yoga-as-peace? 
There are many hypotheses. Here is mine:
Because most of the people who practice yoga are women. It is not socially acceptable for women to step into their power. Women are, for the most part, not encouraged to be powerful. 
Yoga teaches us that we have the power to choose our own experience. When a woman steps onto the mat she is told, “You are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to be flawed. You are allowed to try and fail. Go ahead. It’s OK!” Telling our sisters and brothers that this moment is enough, that they are fine just as they are, is liberating. It is empowering. 
But, because it is not socially acceptable to speak in terms of power, we flipped the script. We found a way to make our empowerment less scary. We tell ourselves and others that yoga keeps me calm, more peaceful. Yoga makes me less hysterical. 
Don’t worry, yoga will not upset the apple cart. 
Except when it does… 
Women’s history is essentially the struggle against power imbalances, against our power being taken away. Yoga promises to light a way back to that power. Which is why, I want to encourage all my yogis to remember; you have the power to upset the apple cart by exercising your right to vote. 
Your great grandmothers fought for you. Your mothers fought for you. Now it is your chance to fight for you. You have the right to practice, to play and you have the right to vote. 
Do not believe you do not have any power. You have been given a right. Do not squander it and do not let anyone tell you do not matter. 
You do. 


I find myself regularly failing to meet up to my standards of acceptable behavior. I am either too short tempered, too timid, too impatient, too disorganized, too, too, too many things that do not add up to a good, worthy me! I spend a lot of time thinking about what I could have done better and then feeling a defeatist kind of regret at my obvious human-ness. 

But recently, I was introduced to St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. The cornerstone is the “examen.” The examen is similar to doing a daily meditation or prayer, but there are steps; Experience, Reflection and Action. In the Experience I go over the day’s events. I list all the things of the day; good bad, indifferent. Then I list at least three gratitudes. Then I Reflect. I take stock in how I measured up in my day. This is often a very uncomfortable experience. I have to be honest with myself and hold myself accountable for all my actions (or inactions). Lastly, I meditate and ask for grace. In the meditation, I wait and ask for direction, that’s the Action part. I ask myself What are my next steps? What am I going to do now? 

I am grateful for this practice. It has helped me accept my failures and reminds me that I am going to live to see another day. And with that day I have options. I can do better. 

Yoga teaches us how to be accepting. However, acceptance isn’t necessarily an indulgent, permissive mother. Sometimes she’s stern and demanding. Acceptance means we sometimes have to give ourselves the side eye and say, “really? Was that your best effort?” And when the answer is “no,” we have to say “OK, well, that happened. What am I going to do now?” And then we have to go out there and try again. Try, reflect, try again.

This is the grace of a mindfulness practice. It does not excuse us, but it does forgive us. AND it demands we do better. It is fierce love. 

As you head into your days, I recommend a daily reflective practice to help you manage your messy lives. How do you strive to be a better person? What happened when you fell short? What have you done lately that you are not proud of? How do you love yourself? And what are you going to do now?  

Try, reflect, try again.


I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Huge. I read them as a young adult and it was perfect escapism for me. I love magic, I love witches, I love quests. Love all of it. Huge fan.

When I was pregnant with my first son my best friend told me, “You are so lucky, you get to do this all over again with your kids! Imagine what it’ll be like to introduce them to Harry Potter!”

And she was right. Reading Harry Potter to my kids has added a whole new dimension of love for me. My kids notice things I don’t. They ask questions about things I wouldn’t have been interested in. And reading these books as a mother is different. A neglected child living in a cupboard under the stairs takes on a whole new meaning when you have your own warm, little nugget snuggled next to you.

Yesterday, my older son said, “I know why I haven’t gotten my letter to Hogwarts yet. It’s because I am an American. I would get a letter from the American school! Maybe they don’t start sending out their letters until you are 13. We do education later here you know.”

My son is 12 years old. He is growing up, but the shine of kiddom hasn’t worn off yet. He’s in the in between. He was joking, but also kind of not. He was wistful, hopeful. Sure, I know Harry Potter is make-believe, but I would also really love to be wrong. Maybe it is real? I mean, anything is possible, right? We don’t know all the rules of the universe!

This interaction made me think of the difference between growing up with something versus coming into something. When we grow up with something, it becomes a part of our personal narrative. We accept certain “truths” implicitly. We may pull the curtain back at some point, but there is still a part of us that at least remembers what it was like to wholeheartedly believe.

When we learn about something as an adult, we come with our own biases. We grew up with a different set of truths. We always juxtapose this “new” against the backdrop of our own upbringing. The new is compared and judged against what we already know.

This made me think of Gadamer’s hermeneutics. (This is going to get a little academic, but stick with me.)

Hermeneutics, broadly defined, is the study of methods of interpretation. For Gadamer, the limits of human understanding are key to understanding. We cannot escape the fact that we are beings with a past. So, rather than discount the limitation of our understanding, Gadamer embraced it. He believed our limited understanding played a pivotal role in creating new meaning. Our prejudices, however ill-informed, bring us to the table. They are like our assigned seating at the banquet, and the springboard for polite conversation. Our past directs our inquiry. Truth reveals itself through working with alien/foreign concepts. One must first use one’s own preconceived ideas and then, by engaging in interpretation, we rewrite our perceptions. Since this is an ever-evolving process, the barometer is always in flux. Therefore, there is no end to “truth.”  Truth becomes an understanding that arises from the work of people communicating with each other.

In order for all of this to work however, each person must be willing to play. Play means a willingness to let go of preconceived notions, to listen, to be desirous of understanding. If one is seeking understanding, one is engaged in the act of play.

When we look at the question of cultural appropriation, we need to remember that anything we study is juxtaposed against the backdrop of our bias. And no matter how we interpret it, there is a whole body of bodies that have grown up knowing a different truth. They grew up reading the books, doing the practices. In order to come to a better understanding, we have to agree to interact appropriately. We have to be willing to listen to each other, to accept that the bias we have is a bias, and maintain an open acceptance of play, a willingness to engage…

“I know why I haven’t gotten my letter to Hogwarts yet. It’s because I am an American. I would get a letter from the American school! Maybe they don’t start sending out their letters until you are 13. We do education later here you know.”

“Yeah, that must be it. I surely hope you do get your letter. I would love to have a wizard in the house!”

We went on to fantasize about what it would be like to go to a school for magic. Then he said, “Some of my friends don’t believe in magic.”

“They don’t? That’s crazy! I think magic is real.”

“I know! I do too! I mean who knows, maybe it is real!”

“Maybe it is. The universe is vast my friend.”

“Yeah, it is. Who knows!”

“Who knows.”

I think my son was using Harry Potter, the story of the forgotten boy who finds out he’s special, as a way of telling me that he didn’t feel special. That he wants to be special. He wanted me to assure him that there is a place in the world for him. He wanted to know if I believed in his magic.

Which, of course, I do.

But, then again… I don’t actually know what he was trying to tell me. Maybe he was having a rough day. Maybe there was some funky social situation at school and he needed to retreat back into the world of make believe. Maybe he was just feeling wistful. Maybe he was actually wondering if there was an American school of magic.

I don’t know.

But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we were connecting around a shared love. My connection to Harry Potter is different than my son’s. It means something different to me. When we talk about the stories, we don’t relate on a “purist” level because there isn’t one. Engaging in a purposeful life means that we must first work within our own experience, to circumvent our experience, to hopefully yield a better experience. We have to be our own kindergarten teacher, teaching ourselves how to play nice. Our flawed understanding is necessary to learning. It makes no promises for a perfect resolution. It simply extends an open invitation to play and asks that we enter the game with an open mind and a willingness to investigate.

And that my friends, is how we make magic.