Organic Activism, Health and You

The goal of Prostrations for Peace is to bring people to one place—the shore of Lake Michigan in Rogers’ Park—and create a communal response to the suffering generated from war. On July 15 at sunrise a bell will ring for the first day of the Iraq War, thirty seconds later another bell will ring, and thereafter all day, a volunteer will ring a bell for every day of this war until sunset. We invite anyone to come and participate by expressing themselves via prayer, sun salutations, making flags, standing in silence, or contributing to an organic altar.

Throughout the day, if 5 people show up or 500 is not the point. The point is to break out of the numbness and bitterness that has alienated us from the reality of suffering that has darkened so many people’s lives both here and around the world. The point is to open the heart and feel that the suffering of others is our own—not metaphorically but physiologically. Ignoring pain and suffering brings illness and perpetuates more suffering.

Like many people, I have become numb to the endless death and destruction and the debates surrounding this so-called “War on Terror.” I went to rallies early on. I read news reports. I shook my head. I ranted and raged with friends. I wrote some op-ed pieces. But in the end, I thought, what can you do? I comforted myself with the idea that Bush will be out of power soon and that the democrats will do something. But the cost of inaction has taken its toll on my body and spirit, and I can no longer wait for the actions of others. My health and the health of America are too important to entrust to politicians.

Initially, the idea came to me while I was doing 108 sun salutations, which I did to try to break out of a general funk I’d been in all spring, a funk caused by my own sense of powerlessness over so many things I have been feeling: the awful violence at Virginia Tech, the emotional struggles of my own writing students, the violence that goes on everyday in my own neighborhood of Rogers Park (just last week a young man was shot on my street by the police), my aging parents and my own awareness of mortality, and of course the endless explosion we feel in our bodies every time we hear those two words—‘suicide bomb.’

Over the years practicing yoga, I have learned that like all forms of spiritual practice, yoga must be used in our every day lives to be understood and cultivated. We must make our own self-styled rituals and ceremonies of its many forms and techniques. In my experience, yoga has been most efficacious when I have felt most at odds with myself and the world, especially when overwhelmed by the emotion of despair.

I did my 108 sun salutations and felt relieved and lighter. The next day I went to the pier at North Shore beach where I often practice and I did more, and a few days later, more still. One day I did sun salutations for nearly 2 hours. The rhythm of doing the same 7 poses over and over felt liberating. The fatigue came and went. The air expanded and fed me as did everything around me, the water and the sand, the sun, the birds and the voices of people on the beach. I wanted to do more. I wanted to do them for some reason other than to just do them. Then the idea formed.

But an idea is only an idea. It doesn’t become an action until it is uttered aloud in the presence of another. Once out, it has it’s own life, and indeed, this is what happened with my idea. When I shyly told others that I had this idea of creating a kind of ceremony on the lakefront to respond the war, I heard the same frustration I was feeling: Yes. Good idea. Something should be done. A ceremony. I want to help! When? Where? The look on their faces and the sound of their voices had this vitalizing affect on me. I told more friends.

Ideas begat more ideas. Emails, phone calls, meetings, and then suddenly we have this blog and posters and a network of people working on organizing this ceremony. This is organic activism. This is what we invite you to experience and join.

When you practice yoga, particularly when you perform sun salutations, repeating 6 or 7 poses in a meditative cycle with the breath and the body in rhythmic motion, the body becomes like a cauldron. With the infusion of oxygen, we use our own heat to cleanse, revitalize, and reconnect ourselves to the world that sustains us.

Every day as organisms we create problems and suffering for ourselves and other living things. Every day we can act to heal, cleanse, inform, educate, and perform rituals to bring us together and to lessen the suffering we share.

Compassion is a physiological truth that perpetuates the health and wellbeing of all living things. Act and spread the word.

-Michael McColly

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