Friday, January 29, 2010

Part of the Human Heart: Celebrating Haiti's Strength

Last night I went to a memorial service/ benefit for Haiti.  It was held at the Integral Yoga Center in Manhattan in a tightly packed meditation room where people sat on pillows on the floor.  It was organized by my dear friend, yoga and Dancemeditation teacher Anita Teresa. 

Anita led the group through a heart opening, expanding meditation and visualization.  It felt like a way to honor the depth of loss, to wrap my mind around a tragedy so huge.

What came up for me is that fully experiencing grief takes some safety, some space.  People in Haiti don't have that right now. What they do have is strength, and its incredible. 

Another friend, dancer and Dancemeditation practitioner Nisaa Christie, has had questions come up in meditation around what the earth has been going through with the earthquake and aftershocks.

Anita invited her to dance.  She let her body lead her through an experience of the earth, prompting me to ask 'Who will pay attention to what the earth needs, too?'

Her dance gave us a way to feel into the earth, to honor the process of shifting and change, beyond all human concerns, without denying the great tragedy to people and animals.

Later we were led in Kirtan by a group of beautiful singers and musicians.  I felt we were not singing only to/with the Divine, but also directly to/with the people of Haiti, lending them our voices, our strength alongside their own.

I thought of children I'd read about in the New York Times the night before showing both resilience and extreme vulnerability after experiencing enormous loss, and I remembered being little, sitting on the floor in my preschool singing 'this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine'. When we were led in a version of that very song I imagined those kids finding their way to safety, finding the strength and comfort they need, inside and out.

There was some discussion about our collective experiences with the tragedy.  People asked, 'why does it take this sort of crisis to come together? To give? To feel as one?'

A Viet Nam vet said that he had once seen a child shot, and witnessed the mother's grief, and in that moment he felt that he became that mother.  His grief was that strong.  He said that crisis has the power to shift us into a place of total empathy.

People talked about how issues of racism play into the U.S.A.'s relationship with Haiti.  There were expressions of hope that this tragedy might raise consciousness about the cultural, religious, and historical gifts that Haiti has to share with the world, despite news coverage which seems to be focusing almost entirely on the negative aspects of Haiti's situation and history, without context or any sense of the U.S.'s historical role in Haiti's troubles.

For those of us outside of the Haitian community, there are lots of ways to feel more connected, not just to the tragedy, but to the people.   Read Edwidge Danticat's Crick? Crack! and experience the Haitian people's perseverance through difficulty.  See a production of Once on the Island (or produce it) and learn how Haitians are world leaders by being the first nation to be founded by people who were once enslaved and overthrew their oppressors. Read The Magic Orange Tree out loud to kids and be transported by Haitian folktales while being enveloped in their rich storytelling tradition.  Ignore or actively refute news stories suggesting that Haiti can never overcome its difficulties.  Watch some dance.  Read some history.

I hope to learn some of Haiti's sacred dances.  Dance is the way that I feel closest to people.  I want to celebrate the people of Haiti.  I'm awed by them for letting their light shine, even in the face of terrible tragedy.  I want to hold space for that light.


boo said...

As someone who has lived through many natural and man made disasters, I too empathize with the Haitian people. As someone who still has to make support her family and friends on a very low salary, I unfortunately have very little to offer the Haitians other than my love.

Kate Temple-West said...

That love is not to be underestimated, boo.

Sandi Longhurst said...

what a magical event - love the Sufi sisters and the energy that goes into making the world a more meaningful place