The other day a Fellow Worker told me their favorite thing about me is that I’m an optimist. That stumped me. This is not how I would define myself. I do talk often in my yoga classes about the practice teaching us to believe in possibilities that we can’t yet see. If we show up and do the work, what we once thought impossible can be realized. This is what I hope for individually in my own evolution but also in the wider context of creating a better world. But I think of hope and optimism as two separate things. I do not believe in pretending away the horrific realities we face; and all too often that is how “optimism” comes to be expressed (though I don’t think it has to be that way).
Everything feels horrifying right now. I don’t believe in bypassing that reality just to make ourselves feel better about our individual experience. The world is literally on fire and it feels like we’re doing anything but respond in the ways essential to dealing with climate change. We’re the midst of a pandemic that our country has royally fucked up managing. We’re at the onset of an economic depression that I don’t think we fully know the impact of yet. The world is beginning to wake up to some of the horrific racist oppressions that Black people live with daily. But not nearly enough is being done to change those oppressions. Protesters are being assassinated in the streets for speaking up against a world that murders Black Americans. It’s all terrifying and this is a small sampling.
I fight cynicism continuously because cynicism only breeds inaction and robs of creative organizing (which we need in order to win). But I do not feel like an optimist. I’ve always identified more with the concept of: even if you can’t see a better world, you do the work anyways to create it — because that is what it means to be a moral person. Doing anything otherwise continues injustice.
This yoga practice I do for many reasons. Some simple reasons: the vigorous movement aligned with breath-focus helps to regulate my always anxious nervous system and eliminates excess nervous energy. These reasons are enough in and of themselves to practice — they help me show up in the world. Practice also gets me into my body, which is important since I’ve spent most of my life trying to be anywhere else. But, as I’ve spoken of many times, I find it often to be a space to contemplate metaphor — of what arises in practice to analyze about what I believe about the world.
Most days when I practice, I don’t necessarily believe I’ll be able to land my most difficult poses (I’m sure there is self-esteem shit to analyze here, but that’s a discussion for my therapist). But I show up and do the work anyways, because I know it’s good for me — and, over time, if I keep showing up, my practice changes. There are some days where I’m too exhausted to do the work and I either need to heavily modify my practice or rest. But it’s okay, because I know that the next day I’ll come back and do the work. But only if that last part is true — because in order to get anywhere, you need more days of practice than of rest. Yet, rest is important, and it helps you continue to show up most days (and fights burn out). Then finally, there are those transformative days where I believe that I can do certain difficult aspects of practice. Those days maybe I don’t “land” certain poses — but I feel energized about them differently, I feel like I discover new things, and I see possibility.
Hopefully the metaphors of practice shine through, in how I think we have to show up to fight injustice and build a better world. It’s good to take rest when needed, and not feel guilty about it, because it allows us to show up the majority of days (and we do need to show up the majority of days rather than grant ourselves endless rest and leisure — because nothing will change that way. This metaphor, of endless rest, is how I think about refusing to accept one’s privilege/rest in your comfort rather than rise to do the difficult work that needs to be done). It’s okay, I think, that most days, particularly these days where everything feels insurmountable and petrifying, to show up often to the work without knowing if your goal of a better world will ever be realized. It may not sound exciting but I think it is probably the most realistic long-term viewpoint. You show up because you know it is the right thing to do, you believe that the showing up has value, and it accumulates, even if you don’t always see the results immediately.
However, those days where I believe in the possibility of myself and my practice — and the energy I feel in those days — makes me want to feel more hopeful about the possibility of us collectively and our organizing. This does not mean ever being a Pollyanna or other toxic optimism that ignores injustices or the uphill battles we face. But, I think believing that change can happen fuels more creativity, imagination, and energy for the work of struggle. Even as I type the last sentence, I feel doubt that being hopeful can alter what we face. Well, that’s because it can’t — hope without action is meaningless. But, hope alongside action fuels the work in powerful ways. I’ve felt it and seen it. I think this is partially why so many social justice struggles are led by youth cultures — because the youth still have hope that a new world is possible; part of the trick is figuring out how to not lose that hope as we become aging activists.
Everything is terrifying right now. And I’m not going to pretend that a positive mindset, particularly one that ignores the realities of this era, erases what is happening. I’m sure most of my days will be about showing up to the work (forever imperfectly), without being able to see how we win, because that is what you do — you show up for the work needed to fight injustice. But, I hope to have more days of “practice” where I truly believe that we can “land our poses” and that we can win. To be clear-eyed about the world but to also have hope — this is how I dream we can show up to the work of building better worlds.