So, here's my recap:
I am currently attempting to learn to speak Thai, and last night was my weekly Thai class. There's a great group of people (mostly dive instructors) who meet every Wednesday night, with our lovely Thai teacher, Thip, to try to figure out this tricky language. We come from all over the world, as is the norm for the Koh Tao ex-pat community. Anyway, we had a break partway through, and I overheard one of the students talking to Thip about a recent train ride he took to Bangkok. He was telling her all about how a bunch of "Muslims" hijacked the train and it was really "scary and dangerous". Naturally, she was agreeing with him about this fearful incident. The conversation caught my attention and I started to eavesdrop. After a few moments I got a bit confused so I asked a few questions. Here's the conversation that followed, as best my memory serves me:
Me: "Sorry, what happened?"
Him: "Well all these Muslims got on the train"
M: "Right, so all these people got on..."
H: "Yeah, the Muslims dressed in their robe things hijacked the train"
M: "Whoah, really? Hijacked?... What did they do?!"
H: "Yeah, hijacked... Well, they all got on the train"
M: "Right, and then what?"
H: "Well, they were all sitting there, next to me, and it was really crowded. Then eventually police kicked them off"
M: "Wait, did they threaten you or cause harm?"
H: "No... I think they hadn't paid or something. They were Muslims all going to Bangkok for Mecca, or something..."
M: "So.... basically some people got on the train and then rode it. So they didn't hijack it. They rode it."
And the conversation kinda went on from there, with me trying to explain what hijacking actually entails, eventually evolving into a group discussion on religious extremism and a few of us making the point that people of all religions, races, etc., have the potential to cause harm, but riding a train and maybe invading a bit of personal space is not in itself an act of terrorism. We ended the conversation on a high note and got back to practicing our vocabulary.
Then, this morning I woke up and starting going about my morning routine, when I saw my neighbor and his adorable new kitten. My neighbor and I had a chat and admired the kitten's fluffy calico coat and big green kitty eyes for a while, while musing over the trials and tribulations of feline guardianship. I then asked what her name was.
"Ahmed", he replies. As with last night, I was confused. "What?" I ask. "Well, yeah, she's a girl... but she's definitely a little terrorist."
Sadly, you did not just misread that, nor did I mishear it.
These are not sheltered people. The people who inhabit this lovely little tropical island with me are world travelers. We live in a culture very different from our own. The majority of our interactions are with people from a different part of the world than us. And yet... these conversations both happened.
Now, a little background on me. My father was born, raised, and educated in Egypt before immigrating to Canada and becoming a Canadian citizen. He was raised as a Muslim (although he is now non-religious). Our last name is Naydani. I'm not just brown skinned cause of my suntan. I have more than a couple family members named Ahmed. None of us are terrorists.
After the brief visit with my neighbor and his ill-named cat, I came inside and turned on my computer and perused the good ol' interwebs. I stumbled upon an article titled: "GOP Candidate: Yoga Opens You to Satanic Possession". Of course, I read the article, which included some real gems, such as:
"Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?" asked megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Washington state. "Totally. Yoga is demonic. If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you're signing up for a little demon class."
Sweet Jesus. (No pun intended).
After reading the article, I headed off to teach my "little demon class" with the aforementioned events heavy on my mind.
As I set up the studio I kept wondering how we, as a species, have gotten to the point of feeling so much hatred, fear, and judgement for our fellow humans - as well as other living beings. Over and over we see how these feelings of separation cause so much harm. We start wars with other countries and people begin to hate those they don't even know. We feel our Gods are superior to Gods in other religions. We limit people's rights just because they love someone of the same sex, and judge people based on the color of their skin. We do terrible, awful, unspeakable things to each other and say it's okay just because someone else is different.
But are we really so different from each other? Here's a little more background on me: I have two (honors) university degrees in evolutionary sciences. Some of the facts I know include: 1. There is more variation within a race, than there is among races. This means that there is more variation between all the white people, than between the white people and the black people. 2. We have about 99% of our DNA in common with chimpanzees, who are our closest relative. 3. We share about 33% of our DNA with daffodils. This doesn't make us flowers, but it does mean that we are connected to flowers. And to chimpanzees. And to each other! And yet, we choose to focus on the minute differences among us, rather than focusing on all the glaring similarities.
Yoga, of course, means "to yoke", or "to unite"... effectively, "to come together". As One. Yoga teaches us that we are interconnected to everything and everyone around us. Yogis know that as such, what we do, and what we think, will affect us all. So we need to choose our actions, words, and states of mind wisely, because they matter. To everyone. Everything you do, say, and think, makes a difference.
So, what do I do, when I see all this hate and confusion around me? If I start to hate too, then I become part of the problem. My natural inclination is to judge right back, and to get angry. But anger and judgement are what got us into this mess.
Rainer Maria Rilke says: "your task is to love what you do not understand." So I guess that's what I should do. I don't understand why people feel so different than one another, and hate/fear/judge in response. But I guess the only thing I can do is to try my best to love. It's something we could all probably practice more often.
So, today, in class, I was blessed to be joined by people from different countries, backgrounds, ages, etc.. We came together to support each other and create positive energy as we celebrated our similarities, as well as our differences. And we each dedicated our practice to those that challenge us. To them, we sent our love, our light, and wishes of good luck.
Because, at the end of the day.... we are really all One.
So let's fucking act like it.