By Renée Tillotson
I’m writing this letter to say that my 64 years on this earth have shown me that things DO change, that things CAN get better. In fact, throwing up our hands in helpless resignation denies the history of progress.
Shift happens… paradigm shifts, that is! And they don’t happen randomly. Human consciousness causes and shapes them. And we seem to be experiencing one right now.
I feel as if we are collectively giving birth and also squeezing through the birth canal right now. The mother is feeling ripped in half, and may not even survive the birth. The baby is undergoing bone-shifting pressure to come into the world… and may not make it. So much pain for new life to emerge. And we as a human race go through it over and over again for every precious infant who is born. I’m speaking about the Black Lives Matter movement.
For every great success in social justice, we must undergo a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness. What does it take to unearth an outdated paradigm? I believe it requires ripping our old, no-longer comfortable world-view out of our minds, and replacing it with a new, more resilient, spacious one. Anyone of conscience who has watched or heard of George Floyd’s death and many other abominations that white Americans are inflicting upon their black brothers and sisters, feels outrage and sorrow – to the pit of our stomachs and depths of our hearts.
The demand for shift screams from our heaving hearts, from the revolt in our guts. For big, long-ingrained practices to stop and to transform into a new way of being always require sacrifice, just as a mother must endure to bear a child.
I was dismayed to talk with a couple millennials last week who seemed to shrug off the possibility that violence to black Americans at the hands of police and jailers could be near an end. Some injustices are so egregious, that we’re tempted to despair of humanity ever moving on. Remember though, that for the mother and emerging infant, the intensity of the labor feels as if it will never end. But the new child does come.
Everything new in human life (as simple as a new recipe) is built upon an invisible pattern created in the human mind. Everything big (as grand as a new scheme for governing ourselves) is first fostered in our collective consciousness until it finally bursts forth into the physical world. That new thing begins nebulously as a dream, enters the human mind as a thought, is passed between minds as a vibratory image or song, is sketched out as a pattern through human language and design, and is finally brought into existence through the courage of human action.
Kindly allow me as a simple citizen of the world to share a few paradigm shifts that I know of. Each shift in the collective consciousness arose from people taking bold stances and/or suffering as sacrificial victims in the face of gross inequities. Their suffering awoke the sleeping consciences of their fellow human beings to such a fervor that social/political change for justice became irrepressible.
My story begins with Mahatma Gandhi freeing his teeming homeland, India, from more than three centuries of British domination…crafting the art of nonviolent resistance.
India 1608 to 1947
When the British arrived in India in 1608, they instantly recognized its earthly riches, while deeming its culture and people to be utterly inferior to their own. They ruled the people of India for centuries until the ugly brutality of the British
rule became repugnant to the English themselves. The Amritsar Massacre took place in 1919, when a British general ordered his troops to fire their rifles into a trapped crowd of unarmed Indian civilians, killing up to 1,000 villagers that day, and injuring thousands more. Indians were shocked by their rulers’ inhumanity, the Brits dismissive. The shift had begun.
Mahatma Gandhi stepped in to ask Indians to see themselves not as a subservient, backward people, but as a powerful force capable of self-governance. Gandhi convinced his people to non-violently resist the British laws that were unjust. He taught them to bravely turn the other cheek and take the consequences – which they and he did for decades.
The British jailed Gandhi on numerous occasions, but could not keep his resistance movement from sweeping the country. In the historically accurate movie “Gandhi” we watch with horror as one non-violent resistor after another walks towards the British and British Indian soldiers, only to be beaten down to the ground… for what? For daring to collect salt from their own beaches, which the Brits claimed they alone had the right to access but which all human beings need to consume for their survival. We watch the soldiers struggle mightily with their own consciences.
The Indians’ self-sacrificing courage in the face of violence and injustice eventually won the Britishers’ respect and commitment to moral behavior, and it swelled the Indians’ own confidence in ruling themselves. Gandhi’s people had affected a paradigm shift. In 1949 the British Empire voluntarily gave up her Crown Jewel, granting independence to India, which became the world’s most populous democracy. Victory!
The Vietnam War
Before turning to America’s racial story kindly allow me to share paradigm shifts that I experienced in the early part of my life.
Like now, a lot was going on in the mid 1960s. America sent troops into Vietnam in 1965. I recall going to Peace rallies with my parents, holding signs up against the Vietnam War and singing Kumbaya with Joan Baez at Peace concerts.
Soldiers who had no idea what they were really fighting for began coming home from Vietnam, either in boxes or with missing body parts or emotional trauma. The turning point of America’s collective consciousness seemed to come when I was in high school. Americans finally began to realize the human toll we were inflicting upon innocents in Vietnam. Seared into my brain – and no doubt into the collective
American consciousness – is the 1972 photo of a young Vietnamese girl fleeing a Napalm bombing, naked and screaming. At that moment, the winds of public thought shifted, drowning out the beat of our war drums.
The next year, 1973, America withdrew its troops from Vietnam in shame. It was the first time we had ever left a war without winning it, but I feel that it was ultimately a win for our consciences.
The Cold War
The Cold War simmered for my entire youth. I can still feel the tension my parents experienced and I didn’t understand at age 6 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 13-day (October 16–28, 1962) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which is evidently the closest we ever came to dropping bombs on each other. Even after we signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963, prohibiting all testing of nuclear weapons except underground, the scare remained. A little girl I went to camp with about 5 years later cried herself to sleep every night, afraid that a bomb was going to fall on us in California.
The Soviet Union seemed like a scary thug overhanging all of Eastern Europe, and it seemed absolutely impregnable
to me from my earliest memories. I was a little too preoccupied having our three kids in the 1980s to fully take in the immense paradigm shift taking place under Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, who introduced the most striking political, economic and social reforms since the Russian Revolution. His new concepts of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction) shook new ways of thinking through the communist block.
Imagine my utter astonishment when the Berlin Wall, which had so stubbornly separated democratic West Germany from communist East Germany under the Soviet Union for my entire lifetime, was suddenly dismantled in 1989. I felt as if I were in a dream, the event was so inconceivable.
Meanwhile, a dissident Czech playwright named Václav Havel led the Silk Revolution, a completely nonviolent separation of Czechoslovakia from the dreaded Soviet Union, also in November 1989. The communist world was ripe for radical change. By 1991, the Soviet Union itself dissolved, freeing all of its republics.
Black America 1619 to 1865 to 1964 to 2020
In 1619 black slaves, the majority of whom had been captured by West Africans and sold to European slavers, arrived in the American colonies. The American South built its agricultural economy on the backs of these doubly-sold slaves and their decedents.
Perhaps we all remember shuddering as children when we saw drawings of slaves stacked like cordwood within ship hulls, or separated on the auction block from their spouses and children, or lashed to near-death by their heartless masters. Such images haunt our collective conscience, especially in a country where we resonate to the principles of human and individual freedom.
When we could live with ourselves no longer, President Lincoln officially freed the slaves in 1862 with the Emancipation Proclamation. Dialogue between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a self-educated escaped slave, evolved Lincoln’s thinking on slavery. Huge suffering, including the Civil War in which black soldiers fought valiantly, brought about enough of a consciousness shift that Congress ratified the 13th Amendment in 1865, purporting to legally end slavery in America.
Immediately, the South enacted Jim Crow laws in 1865 to at least separate whites from the blacks they could no longer enslave. During my parents’ youth in the 1930s-50s, blacks in the South were legally barred from eating in the same restaurants, using the same toilets and attending the same public schools as their white counterparts. But public sentiment was beginning to change, especially after black American servicemen distinguished themselves in WWII.
The US Supreme Court outlawed segregation in the public schools in 1954. Victory! Actually desegregating schools has happened slowly.
On December 1, 1955 (one week before I was born), Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. peacefully led his first protest, the Montgomery Bus Boycott. MLK went on to lead the American Civil Rights movement, modeling it – to the extent he could – on Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent strategies.
Protesting blacks endured tremendous hardships, with Dr. King and his family receiving numerous death threats. In my memory, the real turning point of the movement came when Bull Connor, the Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety endangered the lives of black youths in 1963 by turning police attack dogs and fire hoses on them during a peaceful protest. As the viciousness of those attacks came over our television screens, white Americans were sickened and ashamed. The collective consciousness in America shifted, pushing Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Victory! For the moment.
In order to gain the majorities needed to pass these acts, politicians sadly had to remove clauses that would have explicitly outlawed violence against African Americans. They bowed to Southerners’ demand for “interposition”, allowing local and state governments to control their own law enforcement standards. We sadly left that battle to be fought at another time, in fact in another century… in fact, NOW!
In the ultimate sacrifice, Martin Luther King prophesied not “getting to the mountain top” with his people, and he was assassinated the next day. The sacrifices – willing or unwilling – continue.
There is no way to comfort a weeping parent of a black man or woman who has been killed by stone-hearted police officers, and no way to say we’ve achieved anything like racial fairness in this country. Yet the sacrifices made along the way have made a difference.
Among many other gains, we’ve elected a black president for not one but two terms – the recoil of which we are currently experiencing in the backlash of white supremacists today. I take joy knowing that two black women, Michelle
Obama and Oprah Winfrey, are among the most widely known and respected human beings on the planet. While blacks continue to fill the majority of our prison cells, women, blacks and other minorities have made strides in education and income.
What strides we’ve made since only land-owning white men filled America’s early Congress, Supreme Court and Presidency. How our paradigm has shifted in terms of who should hold office in America! Here’s a snapshot of minority representation in the US Congress In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was signed, compared to minority representation in TODAY’s June 2020 US Congress.
And we still have more work to do.
None of these changes in social justice spontaneously occurred on their own – they grew out of paradigm shifts in human consciousness – shifts demanded by the human heart and foreseen by the human mind. The people’s demands of conscience and their clear vision of a new tomorrow ushered it into reality, time and time again. Had they simply resigned themselves to the status quo, nothing new would ever have arisen in the face of seemingly insurmountable resistance.
My greatest concern lies with those who are suffering from the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party, whether the minority people of China who live with spies called “aunties” and “uncles” planted in their own homes to make sure they aren’t privately practicing their religions, the Tibetans whose genocide and ethnocide continues, and the people of Hong Kong, around whom the Chinese fist is tightening its iron grip. I can only hope that hidden flames of change within the collective psyche of the people will spring up someday and surprise me within my lifetime.
We cannot allow our lethargy or our lack of creative vision to perpetuate the old way. No! As human beings, we need to continue to keep our hearts wide open to each other’s suffering, and our sight trained on the next step to a better future. This is not only necessary, it is possible.
These and many other events in my experience have given me great hope for the present situation being a watershed moment in the United States… at least a significant step towards diminishing racial injustice and increasing racial harmony. I have faith that America’s conscience will ultimately win the day.
About the Author
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
by Marta Czajkowska
“The more you schedule and practice discomfort deliberately, the less unplanned discomfort will throw you off center and control your life.” – Seneca
Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and writer, suggested that anyone wealthy – like himself – benefits from practicing poverty. He walked his talk. Each month he set aside a few days to get away from the luxury of his comfortable bed, ate very little food and wore his shabbiest clothes.
The reason for this uncomfortable task? Completing it, he realized it wasn’t as bad as he had dreaded, and he felt much readier to face anything that life might have in store for him.
We can summarize the logic of voluntary poverty this way: Having comfort means having something we can lose. Fear of losing comfort enslaves us. However, when we deliberately practice discomfort, we diminish our fear of losing it. Merely thinking about misfortune won’t do the trick – for those of us who live comfortable lives most of the time, Seneca recommends that we create a situation of deprivation to prove to ourselves that we can do without, that neither comfort nor discomfort can master us.
We commonly fret and worry about the unknown. Our fears often have no basis in reality. Once we face an empirical experience of poverty, we know it, we’ve lived it. By consciously creating a worst-case scenario that frightens us, then going through it, we free ourselves of fearing it.
Seneca wisely taught: “Poverty is good for at least one thing: It’s an opportunity to practice forbearance and discipline, a chance to see that you would not be crushed by fate.”
How to practice poverty?
Deprive yourself of something that feels scary to lose. You can start small, giving up something comfortable to your body, your image of yourself, or your style of living. If you love your hot showers, how about trying a cold shower? Letting your hair go gray? Skipping dinner? Cleaning the toilet at work? Going a full day without spending any money? Taking a bus? Putting on no makeup? Sleeping outside on the ground?
Dig a little deeper. How about stepping down from a role that gives you status? Apologizing publicly for a misdeed? Spending a night on the street? The more threatening a poverty practice sounds to your ego, the more it may loosen your attachment to comfort and free you from fears of losing it.
A bold half moon suddenly sliced through the night sky of my bedroom windowpane. The top edge of its half-circle paralleled the horizon line, while the bottom rim hung full-bellied, the entire hemi-sphere pouring out brightness and dashing me from my sleep. Like the body-less smile of Alice’s Cheshire cat, this moon demanded my attention, my consideration.
What do you want? I yawned, when it refused to be ignored. Its steady gleam silently persisted a few potent minutes without an answer. Then like a rounded cleaver of light, it dropped behind the distant ko’olau range, out of sight, with only a faint glint above the mountains marking its passage.
And what did this half moon come to remind me of?
Strike the balance. Cut straight to the living center
Sometimes I want things to be on either one side or the other. But no: Live with both, on the razor’s edge.
The two halves of the shell enfold the vital seed within. Cleave to the center, allowing paradox. The shell eventually opens and falls off, the sprout emerges.
How am I to live with my fellows? What is my kuleana, my dharma, my responsibility? The answer that emerged gave clarity: Yes, you are your brother’s keeper, your sister’s keeper. And you must also call for them to be lamps unto themselves.
A dear one who wants to slide into depression or victimization cannot be allowed to pull you into the black hole they may be gravitating toward. You encourage, you continue to shine your own light, and you call forth theirs. You may even fight to help them reverse that polarity and become self-shining again. In any case, be a polestar of reliable light.
Sometimes that’s all you can do, and you continue on your path through the sky.
Keep seeking your source within, following it steadfastly. Only in that way will you gain clarity of insight, with light to shed upon the earth. And whatever you have, shed it abundantly.
Claim your Magnificence,
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center for teaching mindful movement arts from around the globe. She is inspired by the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and by the lifelong learning shared at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. She intends that Still & Moving Center always be filled with laughter and friendship!
By Renée Tillotson
The quality of Kapiolani Signs’ product is always superior and prices are consistently better than anyone else’s. It’s such a pleasure working with the owner, David – he is fast, to the point and flexible in his thinking.
I’m always surprised at how MANY different products Kapiolani Signs can provide. They really takes care of all aspects of our signage, from external wall lettering and signage to vinyl banners and huge wall posters (like our Diwali ad and our 21 Day Challenge charts). They do original design, fabrication, installation, service and maintenance. They’ve even helped us with our sign permitting with the city/county.
Once David has our custom design, he can print all kinds of products: Decals/Stickers, Posters/Wide Format Printing, Vehicle/Boat Graphics, Plastic/Metal Signs, Routed 3-Dimensional Lettering, Banners and Light Box Signs.
David at Kapiolani Signs is practically a mind-reader…in a good way. Sometimes I’ll send him a rough guideline of my idea for our newest promotional or creative project and the next message I get from him is short and sweet: “Your signs are ready to pick up”. And they’re perfect.
1311 Kapiolani Blvd # 102
Honolulu, HI 96814-4513
Phone: (808) 596-0022
By Renée Tillotson
I was in love with every person in the room. I felt absolutely thrilled and inspired. The air seemed to crackle with newness and I was amazed at life.
How did I come to feel this way? Not even half an hour ago I had been dashing through a shower after Nia class to get to the concert in time. I could sense my shoulders clenching with tension as I drove to a place I had never been before, then nervously walked alone through the parking garage. My internal clock was ticking loudly as I searched in the building for the concert hall.
The concert had already started when I arrived. As I sat down and began to relax, I realized that the audience was rapt, and that beautiful flute and piano notes were tumbling from the stage out into the room. I felt almost instantly transported by the musical field that had been created in the room – as if I’d been picked up by a wave of music.
On stage, two musicians from very different traditions were improvising together. Peter Kater masterfully made his way up and down the keys of the grand piano, apparently trained in the classical tradition, pulling out original melodies as if by magic. R. Carlos Nakai played an array of Native American flutes, wafting haunting or mysterious songs through the air, sometimes chanting in a native tongue. As they swapped leads, one man giving way for the other to pick up a promising succession of notes, my excitement built.
What was going on?!? I was experiencing what we call ‘Universal Joy’ in Nia, which I often get when I teach or take a good class, coming out sweaty and exhilarated. Now here I was just sitting on a chair in the back of a concert hall, high as a kite!
What is this energy I was feeling? How is it shared? Where does it come from?
The pianist, Peter Kater says that their improvisation happens “through the grace of being present, listening and responding wholeheartedly from within the void…the womb of all creativity.” These two musicians were wide-open, and the flow they turned on had carried me with them.
Evidently, this feeling doesn’t even require music for me to get it. Once as I was walking through a quiet museum I came upon an original Van Gogh painting, uncovered by glass. As I gazed at it, I was struck by the energy that poured out of that canvas. It was as if Van Gogh had chiseled a hole through a wall in the universe with his paintbrush, like a window allowing the light to stream through…and it was still streaming through more than a hundred years later. I felt bathed in fresh light.
How does someone make it possible for the energy of creative inspiration to pour through?
Discipline seems to be one of the key requisites for good art to happen. People who truly master their craft are able to turn on the juice. Without years cranking away on his piano scales in minor and major keys, Peter would not have the musical dexterity to adapt to the fluid, sliding flute tones that Carlos was playing. I could imagine Peter’s musical calisthenics at home that enabled him to play the piano so athletically. His music pumped in ripples and waves through the piano out to me in the audience.
Creative energy doesn’t just pop into the human world by itself – in fact, sometimes it has to be wrestled out. The inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison, made about 10,000 different attempts before finding the right filament for his bulb. According to Edison, genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.
There’s a ballet dancer I admire, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who defected from the Soviet Union to America to pursue his dance career. Baryshnikov is as famous for his grueling self-training regimen as he is for his soaring leaps and spins. You can watch his jump practice below.
All that sweat-equity behind Baryshnikov’s dancing allows his driving passion to transport us, his audience, with his thrilling stage performances. The force of his artistry has carved a deep channel of inspiration into the dance world. Another video below shows some of his ballet highlights and how his work has impacted dancers and audiences worldwide.
In the third video below, watch the power galloping through Mikhail dancing from deep in his guts against soviet injustice. The angst shooting through his dance taps into a universal emotion we can all relate to, but few have developed their talents to express it so eloquently.
When a creative genius breaks through into something wonderful – like digging tunnel out of the darkness into daylight – they make it available not only to themselves but to the rest of the world. It’s almost as if the light is traveling through such a person, seeking expression. Whatever our strength and passion is, through wholehearted exercise of it, we can chisel our own windows in the wall to let the light shine through.
As students of various moving arts at Still & Moving Center, we apply ourselves, increase our skill levels and share experiences with other students, teachers, international trainers and performers, until we too tune into that universal energy. I can’t say exactly how it works, I just know that it flows through here frequently!
About the Author
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center for teaching mindful movement arts from around the globe. She is inspired by the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and by the lifelong learning shared at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. She intends that Still & Moving Center always support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
Cliff’s hands weren’t hurt – but something was definitely wrong. One day he finally realized what it was, “You know, I really love building things with my hands, and I don’t get to do it much at my job anymore.”
As our younger son Govi has taken on the role of project superintendent in our construction company, Cliff has become more of the office guy, doing all the bidding and paperwork required for public works construction. While Govi has done the hands-on stabilizing of dangerous boulders above people’s houses, installing wire mesh on steep slopes and building retaining walls, Cliff has been mostly stuck at his desk.
I’m always intrigued about what it is that makes human beings human, and I suspect our unique hand/mind connection with its potential for creativity is an important piece of that mystery.
People love using their hands at work and in play. As babies we are absolutely fascinated by the movement of our newly discovered hands. As young children, we delight our hands’ abilities to create, whether painting a sun to shine on our stick-figure mom, or a playing song on the piano keys, or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by ourselves. As we get older, we might enjoy using our hands in shop class or chemistry lab. I liked geometry because I got to use a compass and ruler to draw lines and circles and shapes. Every day in Bali, we saw people making colorful little offerings of bamboo strips they had fashioned into tiny baskets, filled with various flowers, candies and bright bits of paper, which they place on their doorsteps and altars.
For some people, working with their hands is something done in community: the women who piece quilts together for the Iolani Fair, or the fishermen in villages around the world who patch their nets together during the off season, or the families who prepare their Thanksgiving dishes, laughing and squabbling in a crowded kitchen, and the ones who clean up afterwards, one person washing dishes, another drying them and a third carefully placing the silverware back into its special box to await the next holiday meal. One of the happiest sounds l know – besides birds chirping at dawn – is congenial workmen chatting on the jobsite as they ready their tools in the morning – sharing each other’s company with busy hands at work…
Cliff just loves the feeling of tools in his hands. He just loves the feeling of tools in his hands. Fortunately, since we started rebuilding our house Cliff’s got plenty of hands-on tasks to do when he finishes his office job! He’s been brushing various stains onto the wood we’ll be using to see which color we like. He recently worked on our bathroom floors, in which he had embedded stones and little seashells in the concrete. To be able to see the fluted shapes of the shells’ interiors, Cliff dripped resin into each tiny shell in the floor with one of the world’s most multi-use tools: a pair of chopsticks! So he’s happy as the proverbial clam now that he’s using his hands creatively again!
When our power went out with last week’s high winds, Cliff came up with a way for us to heat-up water for coffee and tea: he held a blowtorch under a pot on the oven rack. Hands and tools!
I love to cook. Something about it settles my nerves when I make an old favorite, and it appeals to my creative side when I come up with a new dish. My hands like stripping the kale leaves off each side of their thick stems, chopping onions in a grid design with a good knife blade, rolling out a pie dough crust, mixing the eggs with a wire whisk or chopsticks(!), stirring the hot chocolate with my favorite wooden spoon, spreading frosting onto a birthday cake. I also love to arrange flowers, and I have a new hand love that I’ll share with you some day: painting.
Some handwork requires acute intelligence and informed skill, such as playing a Rachmaninoff piece on a grand piano or performing a delicate eye surgery. Watching a true artist at work in almost any field, I see an amazing orchestration of the mind and hands.
‘Mind’ – ‘hand’ – ‘human’: I am fascinated by these three words being related linguistically. The Sanskrit word manas, meaning mind, is the root of our English words ‘man’ and ‘human’. In Latin, influenced by Sanskrit, manus means ‘hand’, from which we get English words such as ‘manual’ – as in manual or hand labor – and ‘manipulate’ – to move or operate by hand. We human beings use our minds and hands together to bring new things into the world, things which otherwise would not exist. Maybe this creative hand-mind partnership lies near the heart of what it means to be human.
Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,