yoga & mindfulness at the RNC/DNC: angel kyodo williams speaks up

angel Kyodo williams, of Mindful Votes, and OTM’s Kerri Kelly lead meditation in the Oasis at the DNC (image via Facebook)

The Off The Mat, Into The World‘s Huffington Post-sponsored Oasis at last week’s RNC and this week’s DNC has garnered criticism from yoga bloggers and the press (for different reasons, of course). But other than PR-friendly HuffPo articles and brief Facebook status updates from Seane Corn, we aren’t getting the inside story from OTM or others who are directly involved in the Oasis.

Until angel Kyodo williams left a detailed and insightful comment on my recent post summarizing the conversation around OTM’s presence at the national conventions. williams is an African American/mixed race writer, ordained Zen priest and the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. She was at the RNC last week with Mindful Votes and will be at the DNC this week.

This is what she had to say (adapted from her original comment, with additional info via email):

some of these comments point to exactly what the OTM effort is about. we are completely polarized. even as progressives we are quick to shoot each other down without checking in, speaking on behalf of others and going to extremes to express our views in ways that are neither respectful nor compassionate.

i won’t speak for anyone other than myself, but as i expressed to Alex Pareene at, i was not “conned” into doing anything and to suggest i was insults my intelligence and capacity for decision-making on my own behalf. i’d like to believe people don’t think that as a very strong, very informed, politicized woman, priest, meditation and yogi teacher-practitioner of color, we (me and my team of 3 other folks of color) were naive in our thinking about what the pitfalls and potentials are of this effort. having actually been to the RNC and now at the DNC, we don’t regret it at all.

the “evangelical” label is a petty swipe that has no merit here. it’s mean-spirited and exactly what isn’t needed any longer. no one is going out an knocking on doors peddling yoga or meditation or smoothies. this won’t “make it OK” and no one suggests it will. nothing is making it OK, at this point. but exposure does, indeed, create potential opening. it’s not a quick fix. or even a fix, necessarily. but it’s an opening where we have nothing but closing. how many of us practitioners were once closed to all manner of things that our mindfulness and yoga practices have opened us up to? is it the ideal platform? perhaps not, but not one yogi/meditator is selling their soul or their values. these are solid people entering with open hearts & curious minds to at least look.

i know the stakes are high. higher really than they have ever been. i truly believe that we are in a desperate battle for the future of this country and i’m clear that one vision that is being presented would be a very, very intolerable future for me personally. but i have to trust that my practice and it’s values has something to offer that may transcend even my own understanding.

i know that it’s hard, particularly in such an intensely meaningful election for all of us to not feel that it’s time to dig into our corners to win the battles we feel are before us. i’ve got strong heels and i can dig in with the best of them. RNC, DNC–no doubt, this isn’t easy, there are challenges no matter how you cut it.

but i know Seane, Kerri and other leaders of OTM share my view that while there are risks involved in how our communities will misinterpret the intentions, the possibilities outweigh the risks. and when you’re in a situation that feels desperate, as it does to many of us, hopefulness can lead to insight. insight can give rise to vision. vision can see us through these dark times.

OTM’s involvement in the Oasis is visionary. not because it’s free and clear of questions, diceyness and truly valid pushback, but because that was obvious all along and they — no, we — did it anyway. we chose, and choose, to not be shouted down by our community, but to listen to what the concerns are and step outside the box anyway. it’s fierce and we need fierce right about now because we’re in a shitstorm no matter what side of the aisle you’re looking from. we need fierce on all of our behalves, though, not just for half of us or 52% or 270 electoral votes. because when it’s all over, we have to live with each other.

will that happen in 1 yoga class presented by a lefty do-gooder yogi, sponsored by a conservative-turned-progressive-hell-on-wheels of a woman? maybe not. (though something pretty unlikely happened four years ago.)  but if someone’s got the answer, bring it on. i’ll get off my yoga mat, meditation cushion and soapbox and get behind it.

let’s have a dialogue, good people. with our fierce convictions and in respectful opposition, let’s find a better way than we have been because pendulum-swinging back and forth isn’t working for anyone but those that thrive off of our loss of hope that we’ll get anywhere at all.

angel Kyodo williams is anchoring, a sister campaign to because she believes in inspiration rather than separation, and trusts the wisdom of her practice even more than she trusts her self.

  1. I feel and appreciate the passion here, but I’m still completely confused as to what the politics guiding the Oasis may be. From this and other posts I’ve read, what I’m getting is essentially the belief that it’s good to expose the powerful people at both conventions to yoga (and meditation) because those are good practices and something good may come of it. If there’s more substantive political thought and action going on than that, I can’t figure out what it is. If anyone else knows, I’d appreciate having it spelled out more clearly.

  2. I feel deep sorrow this election year. There is a great deal of disillusionment from all sides, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, disillusionment can be a powerful motivator to move from innocence into wisdom. Conversely, disillusionment can also be a convenient excuse to disengage. It takes real courage to act now, instead of merely watching and criticizing. It may not be politically savvy, but it brings much-needed humanity to the conventions. I thank the participants for their efforts.

  3. I cannot for the life of me figure out how giving free back rubs, facials and yoga classes constitutes political action or social activism. Please provide a clear example of how any one individual’s time spent in the posh Oasis spa translated into a genuine shift in their ability to constructively work across party platforms or engage the serious social and economic issues of our times. What is “visionary” about offering free spa treatments? What is “fierce” in this? I truly cannot see anything visionary or fierce in what has been presented on the Oasis thusfar. Maybe that message being lost in the media? Please, if you have concrete example then put them out there. I am genuinely confused by this whole thing!

  4. Hmmm, on one hand, this seems like such a tempest in a teapot to get to riled up about what I perceive as well-intentioned but way off the mark, misguided and naive attempt at… well, the question remains “what exactly” was this an attempt at? An “opening?” What the hell is that supposed to mean? How would one define “successful opening?”

    On the other hand, there are real politics and this is the relative realm; we cannot afford to ignore that there ARE sides (at the very least, in terms of values and visions, if not parties) and the time for wishy-washy lefty, new agey, — and in this case, literally “feel-good” tactics is past. So, I’ll drop this teapot now and get to work on digging in….

  5. I participated as a massage therapist (I’m also a yoga instructor) at the Oasis in Tampa. Having never supported the RNC, it was not something I ever envisioned myself doing. When I read the article by Seane Corn & Arianna Huggington in Elephant Journal, my thought was – where better to shine the light and love that my yoga practice fills me with? Am I able to expand and be present with others that I have great philosophical differences with? I decided to go, and many things shifted easily to allow this to happen. What I found was that it is easy to allow differences in beliefs and ideologies to separate us and make others “less than”. What I discovered was, it is much harder to do that when you look human beings eye-to-eye and share the experience of life. As I listened to informal conversations I found that there is much that we share, which allows us a common ground to start from. Instead of seeing each other as adversaries, we need to come to the table with the knowingness that we are all in this together and we must find a way (through connection) to move forward for the good of all. What I experienced through my willingness to be open and present was that I shifted and expanded to a place of non-judgment, being the “change that I want to see in the world”. While my experience may not change the world, it changed me, and the ripple effect goes out to all I connect with. Yes, I will continue to speak my truth even when it goes against the grain of the majority, yet I will do it from a place of inclusiveness rather than separation.

  6. “While my experience may not change the world, it changed me, and the ripple effect goes out to all I connect with.” Betsy, I think it’s great that you were willing to enter into an environment that challenged you, and able to face that and offer respect to those with different views than you.

    At the same time, this experience you had is something I noted somewhere in the comments of section of my blog. If the main thing that happens during these kind of event is that those volunteering are the one’s who experience the insights, it’s kind of self serving. That seems to be a common issue with service projects designed and run by people with a lot of privilege – they benefit more than the people they are serving.

    I don’t know if this was the case with Oasis, but I haven’t seen a lot of comments from people – delegates, politicians, media folks – who were participants. It’s mostly been people who were volunteers and at least three of them now have focused on exactly the same thing as you.

  7. Thank you for your reply. We can only change ourselves. When we set out to change someone else that is a form of manipulation. When we simply offer who we are authentically in the moment, we are living our truth to the best of our ability. Is that self-serving? perhaps, and yet what serves the Self and helps us to grow, helps others who are ready to shift as well.

  8. Betsy, I agree with your comment, and disagree as well. It’s true that we really only can change ourselves. That’s a very important understanding to have, regardless of what one is doing.

    At the same time, for many people in this world, simply presenting their authentic selves risks death or imprisonment. Even here in the U.S., doing so for many is a dangerous affair. Not too long ago here in Minneapolis, a transgendered woman of color was attacked on the street by some men, and is now in prison because in fighting back, she killed one of her attackers. Some might argue she should be in prison, but the fact remains that she was just walking home that night, and her life was in danger simply for being on the street as herself.

    Our engagement in the world, be it service or activist oriented, should not be about changing ourselves. Even if we really only can change ourselves. When I speak of making change, I’m not speaking about manipulating any particular other. I’m speaking about systems, like the US government, which are perpetuating injustice primarily in order to help those at the top make more profit.

    My experience has been that whenever I, or others, bring up issues of privilege, class, sexism, racism and the like within the yoga community, they are flipped over into individualistic focused comments. We don’t live in a vacuum, and even though we always need to return to our “own” practice, it can’t be just that if you want to reduce suffering or end oppression.

    Yoga folks need to be more critical in their analysis.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Did Off The Mat Go Off Their Rocker With Yoga at the RNC and DNC?