Dear yogis friends and whomever it may concern,
I write this letter with the idea that my humble experience might be of help for someone and also as a reminder to myself.
As many of you, I was invited – no, urged – to watch and share the Kony2012 video. And maybe unlike many of you, I could hardly stand the ten first minutes but I went through the whole piece. I was angry, to say the least.
Was I the only person to be hurt by the “black victims, white savior” cliché? Was I the only person to know that Kony and his so-called troops were out of Uganda, inactive since 2006? Since 2006, there have been many oil discoveries in Northern Ugandan, and many (non Ugandan) drilling companies conducting test drilling within protected ecosystems. Was I the only person to be hurt in my dignity to see Jacob’s heart-wrenching tears being filmed? Was I the only person to notice how the Ugandan grassroots workers and people from Gulu were invisible? I can go on asking questions to myself (and to you all by the way). I was angry and very concerned about this false narrative that not only harm the “designed victims” but calls for an American military solution to stop the bad guy (do I have to remind you how this strategy has miserably failed?). I was angry and concerned about the rise of a fake consciousness from well-intentioned people who re-tweet, forward a video without the slightest information on the people featured (the organization, Joseph Kony, Uganda) or checking the facts.
It is with that state of mind that I headed to Bern yesterday, to attend a yoga workshop. I was accompanied with my yogini-friend Chloé Mukai.
Will Lau, our teacher started the class with questions, many questions inviting us to reconsider the way we see the world, the way we look at things and situations. If a pen/ a situation/ a guy is “inherently” yellow/ black /white/ straight /good/ bad/ rich/ poor/strong /big / small”, then there is absolutely nothing we can do to change it. If this is not the case, then it is all about our perception. For instance unlike you and me while eating, a grazing horse can see almost all the way around its body. Unlike many humans a mosquito do not differentiate body skin colors but only sees red patches. Some human people like the English chemist Dalton will not see “red” where many others would see “red”. This way of perceiving colors differently is commonly called “color blindness”.
Yogis are not interested in discussing the myriads of perceptions every being might come out with. We are interested in seeing beneath the surface and beyond the symptoms. Yogis look for the root causes.
Will Lau reminded us “Tibetans say that misperceiving our world is the cause of all our pain”. Misperception/Mis-knowing or avidya in Sanskrit as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us, is the cause of all our suffering (Yoga Sutra II.3). All suffering… that’s a big one! My teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life put it simply: “there is no out there, out there”. This painful situation of mine did not come at me but rather it came from me. It came from my previous experiences (or Karmas which simply mean action – past, present and future). As a Rwandan woman, I have suffered from the so-called “white savior complex”. From those who did nothing but let the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda unfold silently, or even worse supported a dictatorial regime and, in the name of humanitarian action, helped the killers escape.
I want to be free from labels, pseudo character or supposed identity (including Rwandan, woman, African versus whatsoever) that are keeping me locked in painful situations where I see “me versus others”. I want to be free from this vicious circle. I don’t want to dwell in negativity or cynicism because this or that “other bad person” did this or that to me again. So what can I do? This question remained in my head, all along the asana practice, the relaxation and the closing meditation.
On our way back, comfortably seated in the train we ate dinner. Chloe had brought her lunchbox and fork from home. I bought a delicious vegan salad at Tibits and they gave me a plastic fork. The conversation kept on between Chloe and me. Among many things, we talked about “the Kony video”. Ten years ago, when she arrived in Uganda, Chloe met with young, fresh from college American guys who were making the movie “invisible children”. It was such a relief to know that the filmmaker and his team arrived in Uganda when the issue was acute and they had the guts to speak out.
I finished my dinner and went to throw the empty lunchbox and plastic fork in the bin. And all of a sudden, a moment of clarity hit me: BAM!
I simply realized that like Chloe, with my tin bottle of water I should have also brought a fork. It is scary to count the natural resources-related conflicts happening now and those coming in the years ahead. Suddenly I remembered the movie “Lord of War”. This movie has the merit to highlight the arm industry. The main protagonist, Yuri Orlov is a gunrunner from Ukraine. Despite the fact that he was caught trafficking arms, he will be released and soon back to business. Orlov considers himself as “necessary evil” (which is a fallacy: evil is never necessary). At the end of the movie, a postscript notes that the five largest arms exporters (USA, UK, Russia, France and China) are the permanent members of the UN Security Council. It was a shift in perception to see warlords (amongst whom Kony) as by-products of the “main organization in charge of peace”. And yesterday it was a shift in perception to realize that I could stop Kony without getting angry with anybody. I simply had to start with myself. This is very empowering.
Every single thought, all our individual choices fuel wars or create conditions for peace.
All the information I had about Uganda and Kony did not prevent me from boiling inside whenever a well-intentioned friend sent me the video. Will’s teachings were not totally new to me. It took a plastic fork, a happy friend and a good yoga teacher (repeating the seemingly obvious) to make “the connection”. Removing the veil of anger and starting to see the filmmakers as candid people who eventually did their best to address a big problem, was magic. The strong asana practice (inversions are so powerful if you want see the world upside down, and literally so!) combined with the philosophical teachings helped me see my own cultural conditioning, my habitual patterns (samskaras in Sanskrit) i.e. feeling overwhelmed by anger “because of” cliché statements. There was nothing to be overwhelmed about. With a quiet mind, I would have immediately seen the opportunity to step into the conversation and bring a constructive perspective Everyday and mostly in difficult situations, the Yoga practices offer us insight and practical ways to find steadiness and be at ease whatever the outer circumstances. I am deeply grateful to have theses practices of Yoga in my life, and this is a reminder that indeed it is a practice… Adopting a vegan diet was only the first step, there is still a long way to go…
As much as Africa is not a continent of poor, desperate people and warlords, the developed world is not populated with do-gooders, rich and happy people.
We are in this mess together. Finger pointing or acting from a place of anger has never brought lasting peace to anyone. Shedding tears for Jacob and re-tweeting “stop Kony” does not enhance goodness. Each one of us is responsible for the condition of the world we live in. An American military intervention in Uganda is unlikely to be the solution. It is quite the opposite. Warlords and abducted children are only the gross symptoms of a culture based on greed and gluttony.
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength comes – maitri adisu balani (Patanjali Yoga Sutra III, 24). In this present moment, I see the ancient teachings of Yoga manifesting in my life and in the world. I see soldiers of peace working together all over the world. Just as I finish writing this piece, Twitter alerts me that “A global day of Action – Shut down Monsanto” will take place on March 16th
Internet, Facebook and Twitter are powerful tools but nevertheless tools. As yogis, spiritual activists or concerned citizens, we have to keep asking ourselves if we are using them to serve a greater purpose.
With love (and great laughs at myself), I wish you magical moments that renew your commitment to serve goodness.