Action is the Voice of the Heart: Yoga as a Tool for Peace


On October 5th, Karen Kenney and Professor Dan Owusu will be hosting a collaborative event on campus to combine the peaceful practice of yoga, with a frank and powerful conversation on race and our community. Here, guest blogger Karen shares the genesis of the idea for the program, and why these seemingly disparate concepts fit together so well. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Karen!

thumbnail_Cl & KKThe word Yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj actually means to yoke, join, or bind and is often translated as “Union”. The real purpose of yoga postures is to prepare the body to be able to sit quietly and comfortably in stillness for meditation, Self-study or prayer. So, the physical practice of yoga is simply a gateway to the deeper spiritual practices of Yoga which include: Non-violence, compassion, truthfulness, contentment, self-discipline, and inner exploration. It’s a practice of remembering that regardless of our perceived differences, we’re all brothers and sisters and all one big human family.

I envisioned that Dan and I could create a powerful experience for both honesty and healing. If we could bring together a group of people; students, teachers, cops, politicians – anyone really, that’s willing to take a look at both the systemic racism that exists not only “out there” in the world – but also the personal prejudices that live “in here”, in our own thoughts, words and actions, then positive change could occur. If we want to have broad social justice, we must start with ourselves. There’s no changing the collective consciousness of the world, without first looking at our own individual beliefs and behaviors. When we can create an environment where people feel safe and at ease in their bodies, when we allow for self-observation with curiosity, instead of judgment, then miracles can happen.

The idea for our collaboration was sparked when I heard that yet another black man, Philando Castile, had been killed by the police. In my head flashed the words of writer and Zen Buddhist Priest, Angel Kyodo Williams, “Action is the Voice of the Heart”, and I knew that I had to do something. So I called my beloved friend and Wheelock professor Dan K Owusu, and told him my idea. Thirty seconds later he said, “I’m in” and we started co-creating our event.

Dan and I have been lucky enough to know each other for about 30 years. We first met at Boston University where we ran the weight room together as part of our work-study program. We became workout partners and right away our friendship had a brother/sister kind of vibe. Despite the outward appearances of our obvious “differences”: male/female, black/white – those things never came into play with us. It’s not that we weren’t aware of them, they just didn’t matter to us. The strength of our bond was built on all the ways we were the same.

We were both inner city Boston kids and we both understood suffering. My mother was violently murdered when I was 12 and Dan’s beloved younger brother had Muscular Dystrophy, and was expected to die at the age of 11. So things like being white/black, female/male wasn’t what defined us in each other’s eyes. We looked deeply beyond the surface of our gender and race and recognized in each other a kindred Spirit – that powerful essence of Divine spark that Yoga teaches lives within each of us and ultimately unites us all.

My heroes Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both knew this and used the Non-violent principals of Yoga to create massive social change. They took their own fear and rage at the injustices they saw and transformed it into determined action, with Love as an energy source. They’ve proven what’s possible when we’re willing to take an unwavering look in the soul mirror. If we shine a light on our own darkness and don’t turn away from what we find in the shadowy parts of ourselves, we can harness frustration, despair and anger; through the Divine alchemy of yoga, education, honest discussion, and a willingness to take responsibility for our “stuff”, we can create a force for good in the world.

There’s a quote that says, “Bloom where you’re planted.” So, at Wheelock, we must begin the healing process for our own racial division on campus. Through this workshop, we hope to inspire a dialogue built on conscious communication with a view of shared interests, instead of separateness and division. Because Wheelock trains and sends teachers and advocates out into diverse communities, they need to have sensitivity and awareness as to how these communities are affected by interpersonal, institutional and systemic racism. This event will give us an opportunity to mobilize students through Wheelock’s mission, to share what we build together on social networks and within their own communities. We can learn to transcend our fear, celebrate our differences and embrace our shared humanity.

This special afternoon of spiritual activism is co-created by Karen Kenney and Dan K. Owusu. It includes a Live Music & Fearless Flow Yoga class led by Karen Kenney (music provided by Chris Lester) – followed by a talk and Q&A with Dan K. Owusu, a Ghanaian-born artist and filmmaker and professor of Video Production and Race & Media at Wheelock College in Boston. He’s also the Co-Director of the Wheelock West African Digi-Story service learning program.

This event gives us a chance to get Rooted, to Reflect and to Rise – with a combination of breath, movement & stillness, down to earth straight-up discussions and a call to action which helps us transcend ignorance and darkness and move toward the light.

We’ll come together in peaceful community, put our yoga philosophy of nonviolence (Ahimsa) into practice and also have an honest discussion about how mass media impacts us all in terms of race relations. We’ll learn effective tools that help us deconstruct and understand the powerful messages we’re surrounded by everyday, and how we all make choices based on them. We’ll also take a look at how we can personally make a difference in the world by becoming more racially sensitive, thoughtful and aware. Our hope is to have us all leave our gathering feeling more connected, empowered and loving toward all of our brothers and sisters everywhere. We’d love to have you join us!

DATE: Wednesday, October 5
TIME: 3:00 – 6:00pm
COST: Free for Wheelock College Students, Faculty & Staff
PLACE: Earl Center for Learning & Innovation • Wheelock College • 180 Riverway • Boston, MA


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