We’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I first used this quote when I wrote a version of my first post on Sandy Hook Elementary, back when Jared Loughner shot Gabby Giffords. I think that the ongoing resolution of this fundamental tension—being what I ought and allowing you to be what you ought—is the basic dynamic of a peacefully contentious politics.
The source of this quote is King’s speech “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” which he delivered as Oberlin College, but also at the National Cathedral in Washington on March 31, 1968, less than a week before he was assassinated.
He also wrote a version of this in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In other words, he was explicitly invoking mutuality in the context of some quite contentious behavior. In the parlance of the day, and perhaps echoing W.E.B. DuBois, he called this behavior “agitation.” We tend to emphasize the Hallmark card version of King, so as a corrective I am making much of this contentious side, but it bears mentioning that it was a contention grounded in a Christian understanding of love of neighbor and equipped with Gandhian nonviolence or satyagraha, “holding onto (grasping at) truth.”
Conflict arises quite naturally between people trying to be themselves, and rightly done, it can be constructive. Community implies conflict, but it also implies interdependence. We aim for kula or sangha, King called a group that realized harmonious relations in contention “the Beloved Community.”
We remember King’s birthday as a day of service. How did and will I spend the weekend in service? Today I will prepare the first classes of the new semester. This weekend I spent in an anatomy workshop with my teacher, as part of my yoga teacher training. But that’s all for my self–improvement, isn’t it? Well, yoga is allowing me to be who I ought to be, and I want to share it in hopes that others may find the same.
The first time I took an anatomy series with my teacher it was to better understand and support my own practice. It was part of an eight-month odyssey I took in working through some alignment problems in my right hip, that were due to a torn ACL, never reconstructed. Before this I had pretty good stability in the knee: I can rollerblade and cross–country ski. But the musculature, in compensating for a missing ligament, did pull the knee somewhat out of alignment and this affected the rest of the leg, the hip, and even the low back. By applying intelligence to the workings of the joint, I am able to compensate with alignment. So last time through such a series, it was for me and my practice.
This time, it’s in anticipation of students, in anticipation of being of better service as a yoga teacher in understanding alignment, especially with the beginning students I am likely to see at the outset.
But there are larger dimensions of this weekend as well. We began and ended the weekend considering the higher purpose of why we were doing what we were. We were in satsang, a gathering of truth, in this case, in truth about the body and how it should be aligned. Yoga can be for all: not just the flexible, and not just the stiff. Understanding human anatomy is to understand forces in tension: muscles operating on bones in opposite but mutual ways. These may act harmoniously or inharmoniously upon each other.
The last time through I was struck with wonder over the artfulness of our design. Three arches in the feet bear all the weight of the body, not only while standing, but in while motion. The pelvis, also an arch, bears weight of the torso, thus all the organs, the arms and the head, and sometimes another human. It connects with the spine that central conduit for information, which also tapers from sacrum to skull depending on the weight it bears.
A quarter of our bones are in our feet, which couldn’t be further from our head. Nerves to them govern locomotion. The bones and ligaments to them are incredibly complex, beautifully fragile; the muscles there, elegantly simple.
Overall we are not only beautifully, and artfully designed, but we are diversely and fragilely so. In gaining appreciation of this, and relying upon community to do so, could we do other than to carefully create and hold the Beloved Community in all our endeavors?
But the body is also tremendously resilient. With intelligence, we can heal. We can undo damage life has done to our fragile bodies, sometimes despite the pronouncements of Western medicine that we shall remain limited or are beyond hope. Last semester, for my class the Sociology of War and Peace, I adopted the text Constructive Conflicts by Louis Kriseberg and Bruce Dayton. Kriesberg and his associates are major contributors to an understanding of “intractable conflicts,” which they now call “protracted conflicts.” Empirically, even conflicts we think are “beyond hope” have proved tractable. There’s hope in the body and there’s hope in the body politic.
You know I will have had to work in some music today. For me, the order of the day is Sting’s “Fragile,” owing, I think to the overwhelming impression I had this time of our fragility and resilience. On this observance of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., may we apply an appreciation of both in attending to our mutuality and shared destiny, toward an uplift of the Beloved Community.
- Poverty, compassion and opportunity are at the heart of moral leadership (bangordailynews.com)
- Obama honors King’s memory (usatoday.com)
- A. Siegel: Honor Martin Luther King With a White House Pray-in on the Climate Cliff (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Remaining awake through a great revolution.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (preaprez.wordpress.com)