Tending our Gardens
Updated: Jun 12
During the night last night, a massive storm hit Cape Town. It was raging and bucketing down. I am an avid gardener and huge succulent lover so I was awake most of the night worrying about my plant babies and how they were going to survive this storm.
This morning we woke up to our whole garden completely flooded, 15 cm underwater. I went into a panic. How on earth am I going to save all my plants and make sure they don’t rot and die?
I figured I had two options - cut my losses, stay warm inside and deal with the outcome after the storm had passed, or I could get out there, work at sweeping the water away to the best of my ability, pull out the plants that were underwater and save them. I could give them the chance to actually survive. I absolutely, without hesitation, chose the second option. Nick and I were out in the rain with our pants rolled up, sweeping water into the already overflowing drains and street, pulling drowning plants up and working to save our little garden sanctuary.
Thinking about what happened this morning makes me realise this is a good analogy for doing the work in our own lives, hearts and communities to fight against the terror that is racism. Let me explain.
Since the 1400s and the Spanish Inquisition when “race” was invented and racism started (Watch this Red Table Talk with Jane Elloitt - from about 16:30) white people have been systematically enslaving black people, using laws and legal systems, oppressing and killing them. White people have used black people’s labour, bodies, children and lives to further the myth of white supremacy. Slavery started in the 16th century and literally has not stopped since then. It has merely changed form and changed names (Watch 13th on Netflix for MUCH more on this). Now with the heartbreaking death of George Floyd, racism has been forced into the spotlight yet again and this time we, as white people, have no excuse not to do this work. Back to my flooded garden analogy.
The rain is white supremacy and white privilege. The garden is our global society and our communities, and the individual plants in the garden are all humans on this planet. Seeing this raging storm as white supremacy, the whole garden (read world) is hit by the rain. This storm affects all the plants in the garden but because of the situation, the location, quality of soil and the past history of certain plants, they end up submerged in water, drowning and unable to breathe. Some of these succulent plants are growing in the shade, so as well as being potentially stunted, compromising their roots to reach for the light, they just don't have the resources to build their strength to survive a storm like this. This is all while other plants in that very same garden have strong roots because of their past opportunities, better soil and superior locations. They have the immense privilege to dry out in the sun when there’s a break in the rain. These plants that have spent the entire storm drowning, fighting for their lives, need help. The other plants don’t.
Back to my two options. The first is to stay inside, keep warm and worry about the plants when the storm is over. This is comparable to white privilege. The privilege to carry on with my life, stay safe, not intervene or make myself uncomfortable in the present. But there will come a time in the future when the storm has destroyed many plants and devastated entire plant beds (read communities), which I will have to clean up and deal with then. The second option is to go out there with my husband (read community) and sweep that water away, get our feet wet and cold, become uncomfortable, out of breath and feel some pain in order to help these suffering plants RIGHT NOW to avoid future suffering, rot and death. Compared to what these plants have had to endure, getting our feet wet is the least we can do to help them. We pulled up the plants that were in the water-logged beds, took them to safety and will replant them in more suitable, appropriate places so that they can reach their highest potential. We did the work in our garden to help those plants and improve their situation. You see, the rain only negatively affected some plants and those are the ones we helped. It would have been of no benefit to go around pulling up all the plants simply because they were all in the rain (read all lives matter).
This white supremacist society we live in only negatively affects certain people that are forced to live within its constraints and regulations. The rest of us have white privilege to go on with our lives at ease. But, being 450 years too late, this is no longer acceptable. When black people are dying because of this system; when black people remain in the devastating cycles of poverty, crime and mass incarceration because of our decisions as white people; when the majority of our country live in poverty, in squatter camps without money of food for their families while the minority hold most of the wealth; while this is STILL happening, we cannot rest on our privilege any longer. We cannot shut our eyes to this and pretend it doesn’t deeply affect us.
As Jane Elliott demonstrates in another talk:
“I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our black citizens, if you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society. Please stand……
You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand…….
Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening, you know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it or allow it to happen for others.”
We are at a turning point in our history right now. When we look back and ask ourselves what WE would do when slavery was around, how WE would react to Nazi Germany propaganda, how WE would never contribute or be a part of those systems… we are part of those systems right here, right now in 2020. And if you are not actively trying to be anti-racist and help to dismantle this unjust, inhumane and deadly system, then you, I’m afraid, are part of the problem. What side of history do you want to be on?
Being Yogis we believe that we are all one, we believe in union, we believe that each and every being is divine (that’s why we say namaste to each other). We are supposed to be practising the Yama’s alongside the asana. These being ahimsa (non-violence, kindness and compassion), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), aparigraha (greedlessness) and brahmacharya (respect). If you’re not practising these and only practising asana, you are not doing Yoga. These characteristics are deeply embedded in what being a Yogi and doing Yoga means (not just that you’re able to do a handstand or touch your toes). It is our job to foster these characteristics in ourselves and apply them TO ALL BEINGS. Not just the to other people around us on their mats, not just to the people who look like us, but to each and every human.
If we are all so intimately and intricately connected, as Yoga teaches us, then if one is suffering, we are all suffering. There can be no freedom until we are all free. It is our responsibility, right here, right now to do the work in our own hearts, our own families, our social circles and communities to contribute to ending racism in its entirety. To give the most oppressed and mistreated of us all the opportunity to grow, live freely, thrive and breathe easy. To take our collective white knees off black people’s necks and see our brothers and sisters for who they truly are. Divine, holy, remarkable beings, with deep Love and magic in them, who deserve to be loved and treated with kindness and compassion, just as you would wish to be treated because, in the end, we are all the same. We are all connected.
I encourage you to go out there and tend your garden, look after the plants that need help, support them and give them the best opportunity you can for them to survive and flourish. And while you’re doing that, your own heart will grow and flourish in Love, kindness and compassion as well. As always, I am here for you, to help, to support, to share resources, to talk, to listen, to share. Reach out if you feel you need it.
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