The Power of an Education

I recently read (read=consumed) Educated by Tara Westover. Several elements of the story she recounts in this award-winning memoir are familiar to me: a secluded childhood, a paranoid father, & fundamentalist religion. However, Westover’s education did not start until she began, as a teenager, to self-teach in order to take the ACT & be admitted to Brigham Young University. This is where my story drastically differs from hers.

My mother spent 14 years curating, delivering, & facilitating an enthralling education for myself & my two sisters. She bought entire curriculum sets with my father’s hearty approval (which I am certain were expensive) that we followed devotedly. As I recall, the middle school & junior high curriculum was heavy with historical fiction that brought Native American customs, the U.S.A. before, during & after the Civil War, & the World War-era to life via narratives about children my age. I peeled through chapters nearly every day, moving freely from my bed, to my desk, to sitting against the wall (this is an important detail as I am a kinesthetic person–sitting still is extremely difficult for me– now teaching children in an environment that offers only tables & hard chairs for 8+ hours a day), as my mind lit up with imagination.

In high school, the curriculum shifted to a classical program that was steeped in WASP ideology (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) & theology. Still, it emphasized reading entire books & I read The Social Contract, The Communist Manifesto, The Last Days of Socrates, & an entire book by Frederick Douglass (I do not remember which it was), among many others. I distinctly remember walking up & down our driveway as I read the entire Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in one day. Despite the stimulating challenge of deciphering these texts, I rebelled against this curriculum primarily because I found it boring, lacking in diversity, & biased. I like to think that my arguments against it were well put together. The ability to put an argument together well: that came from my education.

Tara Westover’s book ends with a powerful & succinct attribution of all the changes she underwent, that wrought freedom in her life, to an education. That resonates profoundly with me because regardless of the content of the books I read, in reading entire works of classic literature, I learned to see a viewpoint through to its end, to follow lines of reasoning to logical conclusions, among other important skills.

Most of all, the thorough education that my mother brokered (& my father sponsored) for me prepared me for college, where I learned to trust my intellect over backward religious ideas, & to believe in the capability of knowledge to liberate & empower anyone–regardless of their social standing.

To this day, I love to read, to think, to argue. Those are gifts I attribute to my education. I believe every child deserves such an education. This belief is a big part of why I go to work every day. I am a teacher now, of various subjects, & passing on what I have learned–and continue to learn–gives me a sense of purpose. I hope that what I do empowers a new generation to harness their intellect for the sake of true freedom.

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This Twilight

 

For the first time since we all found out that the man whom everyone should have known was a pedophile, is in fact a pedophile, I am allowing myself to be true to my memories. He was, of all the wealthy white men in the community where I spent my adolescence, one of the nicest.

When I first heard I guess my memories were buried deep & the shock of considering the abuse from the victim’s perspective kept me from remembering what I do, in fact, remember. The man was mildly interested in my life, far more interested in the lives of the teenage boys in my peer group, but never unkind to me. I remember that he was fun to be around, for the most part, & eccentric. One time when we were on a “mission trip” to Jamaica a little deaf girl was prancing about in front of him, mouthing words to an unknown song or the storyline to a drama played out in her head. Her flip-flopped feet kicked up dust in front of his perch on a concrete curb. Eventually he sat up, brushed off his bum, and said, clipping the end of each word, “this girl is beginning to annoy me.”

I don’t know why but that memory has surfaced & resurfaced in my mind since we heard the news of the sexual (I’m not sure exactly what they are) charges against him. Some part of me wants all my memories to serve as road signs that point to his perversion. I think it might be my ego, striving to reduce him to a sin, an other, rather than a complex human. But that memory is simple, clear, & could have been anyone. Plus, when I look through the photos from that trip, I see him there, talking to a chicken (Henrietta) with a bad leg in one image, holding a large insect & smiling in another.

I went to Jamaica three times as a teenager & each time was enlightening, & impacted me emotionally & spiritually. The second time I went there was a young boy named Ramoye with whom I formed a relationship (children with open hearts can form bonds surprisingly quickly–especially with adults–or almost adults, as I was–whose hearts are equally open). He was probably 11, with a broad nose, heavy brow, &, at the time I was there, a deep scar on his forehead. Just the look of him told me he was one of those beautiful boys who has yet maintained the emotions that society will soon convince him to bury & numb: compassion, shame, surprise, empathy, happiness, etc. (the full spectrum of human experience which males are not socially allowed to display, at least not publicly, after a certain age). We spent hours together, silently, as he was hard of hearing (if not deaf–I can’t remember which). We communicated via wordless yells, chalk drawings, & verbal cues. Our bond was sweet, deep, as were many of the bonds that I formed with students each time I went there (we visited the same school for deaf children 2 consecutive Januarys, & then returned two years after, for another week trip).

The last day of my second trip to Jamaica, those bonds felt like grappling hooks in my heart. I felt that there was more to learn, more connection to feel, more hugs & laughter to share. I was devastated that I had to leave.

The man who we now know is a pedophile–a man who has destroyed years of boys’ lives with exposure to unspeakable inappropriate things, creating wounds of festering shame & pain in them–was the last adult to linger with me near the children before we left. His wife wasn’t far ahead. The bus full of the other white travelers was at the top of the hill that separated the school facilities from the visitor’s quarters. I imagine them all watching me make my way up that hill, my eyes noticeably red. Halfway up I remembered Ramoye, the boy with the scar, & turned around to find him. I hadn’t said goodbye.

There in the school courtyard, he was perched on a metal step, his legs wide, his elbows on his knees, head hung low, great tears falling into the dust. I don’t remember now what I signed or maybe said to him. I’m sure it was “good bye”, “I love you”, “I’ll miss you”, or some combination. We embraced & I ran up the hill behind the man whom we now know has done unspeakable things to young boys.

When I boarded the bus, no one said anything. I felt embarassed by my emotion, but also proud. Proud that my heart was alive. Proud that I felt seen by these children & that they felt seen by me. I felt the treasure of connection in my heart & did not take it for granted.

I remember that the man looked at me & said something truly empathetic. I think it was, “Oh, Lydia,” with a sad face. I can’t remember exactly, yet I knew it was sincere. He acknowledged my emotion, which is more than anyone else did, then, or numerous other times when feelings poured down my cheeks around that group of people. It made me feel connected.

A red-headed man from this same group of people once gave me a warm embrace, the hearty, Santa Claus-esque kind, when I was feeling sad about leaving the children there in Jamaica. That is a sweet memory for me, even though I do not speak to that man or his family anymore. Those gestures of support shown toward me were few & far between. The man on the bus that day, the man we all now know is a pedophile who had lied to his community to cover up his pedophilia for decades, showed me compassion in a way that made me feel just as connected as the hug from the red-headed man had. They were both genuine beacons of support & acknowledgement. Both meant a lot to me.

I miss the children from Jamaica, but I do not wonder about their lives so much as I wonder about the swirl of good & evil that can exist in a man. I wonder whether anyone is all the way bad, or all the way good. I wonder if we have all been victims & abusers, or if abusers are a certain group of people that should be kept away from society’s children. I wonder how long it takes a child who has been abused to become the abuser. I wonder if anything can ever undo the evil that a man can do inside of one life.

We all seem to have darkness & light inside of us.

Isn’t it a breathtaking responsibility to live in this twilight?

 

Sins of the Fathers

 

When I sit down to write a blog post about yoga, my practice, and what it has meant to me, I hesitate. It seems ideal and trendy and useful. But I haven’t managed to do it, even though I’ve planned to for over a year now. 

Part of the reason I avoid writing about yoga, I think, is that I have had far more transcendental experience in my practice of Christian mysticism. Yoga offers me undeniable physical benefits that I have come to rely on and am utterly grateful for, but being the authentic-to-a-flaw person I am, I refuse to fabricate tales of enlightenment via Indian mantras and fables (although I have caught myself envying these sorts of experiences as if they may validate my white lady yoga practice). I know there is something else at play. I struggle to put my finger on it. 

I passed the 200hr (a sort of entry-level yoga teacher certification) course in May 2018, and have taught 1-5 classes per week since then. That’s a level of dedication I am proud of, yet I feel like a bit of an imposter when I teach yoga. Sure, I was trained. But these are ancient spiritual practices linked to ancient Indian texts like the Bhagavad Gita & the Vedas that I haven’t even made it through yet. I read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, but I’ve never set foot in India, the land where it originated! (I’ve never set foot in the Middle East, either, but I have read the Bible cover-to-cover several times!) Plus, I’m white. I’m female. So many yoga teachers in the U.S.A. and a disproportionate number of yoga teachers in the city where I live are white women. Are we pimping someone else’s genius again? Are we continuing the economy of white gain at the expense of people of color? All that to say, writing about yoga, capitalizing on this ancient system of stretches, postures, meditations, and breathing exercises that I have barely scratched the surface of, makes me uncomfortable.

I wrestle with the history of my people, the white race, on a daily basis. (Most of my family members would be appalled to hear me say that.) People every day defend white privilege and white pride, despite the statistics that prove the systemic discrimination that exists against people of color (specifically in the U.S.A.). Unfortunately, it has become a truly divisive issue.

India was colonized by the British–white folks at the time–who immediately implemented systems of taxation on the Indian people. Whether or not my lineage tracks back to those colonizers, heritage is heritage. My ancestors crossed the Atlantic from Europe. And their skin was white, as is mine.

I hadn’t been able to reconcile this feeling until I stumbled upon a quote in Barack Obama’s book Dreams From my Father. In the book, Barack is on a Kenyan safari with several people, among whom is an older white doctor who was raised on the continent of Africa and, at the time when his path crossed with Barack’s, lived in Kenya. He says, “Perhaps I can never call this place home…Sins of the father, you know. I’ve learned to accept that…I do love this place, though.” 

Maybe I am uncomfortable writing about yoga not only because I know so little in comparison to the great body of knowledge that exists, but also because of the sins of my fathers. Perhaps it is 100% right that I feel this discomfort. It results from a dark history, the flaws of my fathers. I can hold this uneasiness and still find life in my yoga practice, sharing it by teaching and writing. In fact, my privilege in studying and practicing yoga gives me the responsibility to share this with people who are unable to access it.

After all, my favorite yoga teachers are a handful of white women in Little Rock, a free-spirited African American named Jessamyn Stanley, and a slight Jewish woman with a big smile.

Despite our sins as white people, we are given gifts, invited to continue to participate in the story of humanity. There is great responsibility in this. Every breath and subtle movement in my practice is an offering back to the Universe, the human family.

Sins, saints, and saviors, we all exist on the same planet.

There is room in me for the pain and the practice. I take neither lightly.

Namaste.

 

Why Yoga?

Yoga matters to me, especially right now, not because it is something better than the other somethings. It is not the hobby to put all hobbies out of business. It is not the one true religion.

Yoga matters to me because it is what I have right now. In days past, I had Jesus. I had the words of Jesus, my sweet tattered Bible, and the Christian community (a tad unreliably but nonetheless,) surrounding me. Those days were imperfect but that study, the weekly and daily rituals (praying before meals, attending a service weekly, eventually spending hours in prayer and meditation), blessed me, and kept me from spinning my wheels in the mud of meaningless suffering. Now (praise ye the gods!), amidst hard financial and emotional times, I have the practice and study of Yoga.

I didn’t realize how much it has come to mean to me, and how much this ancient study/practice has blessed me until I was at a workshop in a neighboring town (holla at ya, Conway) yesterday, and heard a teacher talking about why she sticks to the more pure forms of yoga (the closer to Krishnamacharya–the better! was her angle). The impact it has on the mind. The connection to the Divine as the motivation behind it. The beautiful (albeit fundamentalist ;)) chants before and after each two-hour-long practice.

I realized as she spoke that if I did not have yoga right now, my little hands would feel awful empty. The presence of something on my palms–be it yoga or religion, study, or exercise–actually helps me open up to receive and release. Yoga, like the words of Jesus, draws out the Divine in me. These ancient prescriptions conjure up spells of light, love, and hope, and without spells, my days would be much darker. I shudder to think where I would have been without the words of Jesus nurturing my soul. This year, I have been to some dark places, and it is yoga that is helping me emerge.

At a Vinyasa (movement with the breath) class today, my Yoga teacher, Sherri, guided us through breath retention and some hella-difficult classes. After a brief savasana (corpse/resting pose), we engaged with her in listening to a song with repetitive lyrics in Sanksrit (holy language of ancient India/the yogis/inis). Singing along, I felt movement rise from my hips to my head and, in spirit as in body, I was at church again. Moving with the beautiful sound, we were alive together, plugged into source like blue Omaticaya Avatars seated, entranced, around Home Tree. Tears soaked my face as the words resonated with a magically unidentifiable part of my being:

Oh, my beloved
Kindness of the heart
Breath of life
I bow to you

And I’m coming home

Ong namo guru dev namo

Divine teacher
Beloved friend
I bow to you
Again and again

Lotus sitting on the water 
Beyond time and space 
This is your way 
This is your grace

Ong namo guru dev namo

Guru dev, guru dev namo

This is your way
This is your way
This is your way

(Bryan Kearney / Snatam Kaur / Thomas Barkawitz)

 

That is why yoga, for now. I am grateful for the teachers, preachers, and friends who create space that is safe and holy enough for the scared and lost parts of us to come home. Spaces that are big enough for tough emotions, and small enough for Love to fill, are resting places on the journey.

Praise be to Ganesh, remover of obstacles, praise be to Lord Shiva, inspiration of many asanas (yogic postures), praise be to Buddha, for being the Awakened One, and always, ever always, praise be to Jesus, for loving me first.

I’m coming home.

 

Grace & Peace,

 

Lydia Nomad Bush

Untitled Poem

 

Sometimes a woman must go

with herself

to a place

where she can be alive to the dark, unfriendly, & inhospitable

emotions that stir

beneath the white lie

of her smile.

 

She does this because her emotions put

her mind back into her body, where

she can breath,

create,

slither out of the snares

she walks into: naked doe dissected

day after day.

 

Every month she bleeds but it isn’t the blood that

costs her  

dignity.

It isn’t the blood that threatens her, nor is it the emotions.

The threat is the short list of predators:

ego, fear, and

denial of herself as the doe, of life

in this barren land

as the scalpel.

 

Sometimes a woman must go

with herself

to a place

where she can smile

in the dark.

Deals With a She-Devil

Deals with a she-devil

 

If a woman must pay her bills

then she must make her choices.

 

If a woman must change her tire

then she must allocate her wealth.

 

If a woman must look beautiful

then she must be the agent of her sexuality.

 

If a woman must kneel

she must do so of her fiery and free volition.

 

If a woman must do things for others

she must do things purely for herself.

 

If a woman must attend church

then she must yell at the gods.

 

If a woman must love deeply

then she must scream at the stars.

 

If a woman must belong to a man–

No. That must never happen. Run, sister. Run until you belong

to yourself, then run for

the joy of that

intoxicating freedom.

 

If a woman must fight to be free

then she must also reap the riches of her destiny.

Tapa(s) That Mountain

 

Climbing Pinnacle Mountain today was difficult. Stomach problems made it painful internally but it was not even an *Arkansas* hot day. There was a breeze that accompanied me as I wheezed, heaved, & groaned my way up the East Summit.

Damn, I love that mountain.

Every bit of the experience was familiar to me (though I did not used to be this challenged on the way up…). The contours on boulders smoothed by hundreds of feet scaling them each week, the canopy of leaves overhead, the friendly faces who greet & cheer you on as you ascend & they descend the steep trail. I adore the crags on either side of the worn path. I love the coolness afforded by the vines and greenery all around. I love the feeling of my chest rising & falling at the summit as I gaze for miles & miles, soaking in the sherbet sunrise. I hear firecrackers, set off not far away & roll my eyes.

God, I love this place.

This walk triggers a plethora of memories. When I was a child the mountain seemed so long, the trek lest arduous but definitely more lengthy. During high school for a time I climbed the mountain weekly with a fierce group of young women. We explored the crags & swung off tree branches. It got easier for us every week, but never lost its’ lustrous challenge, it never stopped reminding us of the warrior-women within. None of us spoke out loud of how powerful it showed us to be, this weekly strength practice–we were taught to be docile & dainty–but I know we all felt it. And secretly shared it. If the other girls do not remember, then I will be guardian and remember-er, and secret keeper of these memories.

In yogic philosophy  there is an idea called “tapas”. According to Deborah Adele, Tapas is the fiery determined effort we can make to offer ourselves up to transformation, by way of strength training, meditation, or any other focused practice. Tapas is discipline, it is taking the difficult action because in your gut you know it is the right action. Tapas is the courage to step into the fire for the sake of being purified.

Pinnacle Mountain has been a place where I have cultivated Tapas. That summit has been & was again tonight the altar where I offer myself to God, to transformation, to my higher, truer, better self.

I love it. Oh, I love it very much.

Here’s to more cardio & less carbs.

Feel the holy burn, friends!

 

Lydia Nomad

Past, Death, Present

Many novels I have read are written in third person, past tense. As if the story has already happened, yet is now of crucial importance. Perhaps the stories that have already passed are even more relevant than what is known as “current affairs”. Maybe folks who often say “the good ol’ days…” in conversation are on to something. This moment, now, and how we qualify it, is intrinsically lacking if not seen through the lens of that which has come before. The stepping stones leading up to where we stand on the path in this moment are keys to understanding where we are, and why we are here at all.

Right now: I dance while I cook my own dinner in the house I pay to live in, decorate, and clean weekly. That is nice, but it isn’t a story. The story came before. The story is that there was once a girl who lived at the end of a dirt road whose mother always cooked the meals & whose father did the 9 to 5 & made demands on the rest of the family at his whim. This girl perceived these whims to be quite, quite, QUITE anti-female, and anti-her best interests (oftentimes laziness, or dislike of being forced into anything). This girl made the decision, there as she pulled weeds in her demanding dad’s garden, or vacuum-hosed out a vehicle, that she would be the boss of her own life, and she would not cook or clean. She would do the “real stuff” (whatever that was…).

Fast forward a handful of years & that girl is independent, for real. She has said “no more” to the strangle-hold family & cultural expectations (& her perceptions of those phenomena) & lives with a woman who kindly opened a guest bedroom to her in the second year of study at a local community college. That young woman stares down a  sauce pan, exhausted of eating eggs over-easy, yet, out of ideas, intimidated by complicated recipes & long grocery lists (& high costs). She eats over-easy eggs again.

Fast forward once again & the girl is back from 5 months spent abroad, a woman now, Not a young woman–a woman woman. She has clinical depression, but does not know it yet. She knows that she fell in Love with a (young) man. She knows his family made her feel comfortable. She knows she is now alone; he is not here, & no matter what anyone does or says, she is the only one who can finish her Bachelor’s Degree. She is the only one who can get her out of bed. She is the only damn one who can cook her dinner. She read that a key to lifting ones’ spirits is to eat well-seasoned, well-cooked food. She started with a shrimp & noodle dish. She wanted to eat something bland and simple like tuna or refried beans on a corn tortilla again. Yet she knew she was the one who could give her body what it deserves at least once a day, if not thrice. So she cooked noodles with clear sauce, and shrimp. Her hackles raised when a co-worker asked smuggly why she was eating something with no sauce but she knew inside, it was an accomplishment. She had gifted herself a good meal, & she considered it a worthy investment. She considered her own self worth a quality meal, even on an average day, even if she did the 9-5 all by her (bad) self.

There. That is the story, written in past tense. It is the story that makes what we see (a woman cooking her dinner) a story rather than a scene. The joy is found in the juxtaposition of where she was with where she is. Who she was bled out & gave rise to who she is in a dance of creation, death, & resurrection,

Perhaps the flesh of human stories exists in the past, in what the conscious mind forgets, & the subconscious remembers.

This whisper leaves my lips: thank you. For who the girl was, who the young woman is, and who I will be.

Creation, death, resurrection. Forever & always the circle of life. May every story–now and in the past–be doused in Divine Light. Amen & amen.

 

Shanti, friends.