Lessons Learned from my unlikely teacher, Bank of America....
Monday, March 05, 2012
“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”â€¨— Friedrich Nietzsche
One of the earliest tales in yoga mythology is about the warrior Arjuna heading into battle while consulting with Krishna about the moral dilemma of engaging in a brutal war with his fellow humans. As it turns out Krishna encourages him to follow his Dharma or his ‘duty’, which in his case, was to wholeheartedly step into the battle so that he can restore balance and justice.
In this modern era of global conflicts that are not quite as easy to understand as the ancient battle described in the yoga texts, there are still some comparisons that can be drawn. Everything from poverty, to corporate and political injustices, to basic human and civil rights seem to be more and more intense these days. While it may feel better to turn off the news (and I highly recommend that as a practice from time to time), we can no longer simply go back to sleep and pretend that we are not living at a very critical time in our collective history.
Ever since the Occupy Oakland camp in front of City Hall was disbanded (or raided or imploded, depending on how one looks at it) in December 2011, I have not been able to teach yoga on the streets to the Occupiers and the commuters in that area so I reapplied my energies to daily life including my social work jobs, yoga classes, and yoga therapy workshops. For the past few months, I actually felt that things were going fairly smoothly and on some level I did allow myself to ‘go back to sleep,’ forgetting the bigger societal woes that many face -- that is until one fateful day in February when I received TWO separate and contradictory letters from the exact same representative at Bank of America. I was then abruptly shaken out of my slumber and I am wide awake now! And much like Arjuna, I am called back into a battle that I would prefer not to deal with but it seems this is my Dharma or my ‘duty’ to see it through.
I want to explore how my current ‘battle against Bank of America’, my campaign to save my home from foreclosure, holds some key practical and spiritual lessons for me.
In mid-February, I received both a foreclosure notice and a ‘congrats on your trial loan modification’ letter from the same person at BoA. While the legal experts I have consulted with say that this is legally acceptable practice, even they agree that it is a more costly procedure for the banks. And a more stressful and confusing process for their customers.
Now if my relationship with BoA were a relationship between two people – not a preposterous idea considering the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United – how would that look? If I were in a relationship with someone (i.e. landlord, parent, friend) who was letting me live in their home and they came up to me and slapped me across the face and said, “I am going to kick you out sometime soon. Not sure when, but be ready to be kicked out!” and then in the next moment they gave me a huge hug and said, “I know how hard you have been working to pay me for your room, so I am going to give you a chance to stay. I won’t give you any specifics, but just keep paying me and we will see how it goes.” And should I inquire about any specifics or which scenario is more likely (getting kicked out or getting to stay), the reply causes me even more confusion and distress because I can’t get a clear answer. What type of relationship would this be? I would say I am in a pretty messed up dysfunctional one for sure. So, how do I stay engaged, and not loose my cool or my mind?
Over the past few weeks I have come up with 10 key practical and spiritual lessons I am learning through this experience.
1) My Mantra is the “Serenity Prayer”
In moving through this process, I remind myself over and over that there are some things I have control over (i.e. my breathing, my attitude, and if I decide to walk away from this ‘battle’) and some things that I have no control over (i.e. the bank losing my documents, the outcome of the loan modification decision). The Serenity Prayer definitely brings clarity to an otherwise perplexing situation and allows me to channel my energies into the things I can change and let go of those that I can’t.
2) Speak my Truth (Satya)
In yoga, knowing and speaking one’s truth is a very powerful and empowering action. Sure, the government bailed out the banks just a few years ago, and yes the banks managed to settle a major class action lawsuit in which they walked away not having to pay for all their misdeeds. And part of my practice is to not forget these wrongdoings. (For a very comprehensive description of the Truth about our banking industry, check out Rolling Stone’s article: “Too Crooked to Fail”:
3) Always be compassionate with everyone, even the BoA representatives
Ok, so even if there is a lot of top management wrongdoing going on, whenever I get on the phone with a front line representative, I do try to cultivate as much compassion and lovingkindness for the person on the other end. I have learned that some of the phone representatives barely make $15/hour and so far as I can tell, none of them have a Union backing their jobs. In this fading empire, people are struggling to make ends meet so I feel for those who have to deal with stressed out, disgruntled customers with little training or backing from their employer. I even got one of the representatives to be a little bit choked up about her work situation and another to disclose her own housing woes. I TRULY hope there is healing going on in these bank-customer conversations.
4) Set a Clear Intention
Let’s get one thing clear: I would like very much to remain in my downtown Oakland home and live in a wonderful community that is such a crucial part of my overall wellbeing. I am going to take very good care of myself and stay on top of what I need to do to keep my home from being taken away by the banks. And those that know me do know that I am very well equipped for a social or economic justice battle. Bring it on, BoA!
5) Deepen, don’t avoid, my meditation and yoga practice
I am very aware at how the “worrying mind” will take on this situation and gnaw away at it endlessly. Sleep and eating habits have been impacted. Now is the time to make sure that my morning and evening practice is not interrupted. Now is the time to keep my mind-body in its optimal health so I can deal with the increased amount of stress this ongoing dilemma has brought my way.
6) Maintain Balance
I am learning all over again how to turn off the computer, to limit the amount of news articles on the banks I read every day, and how to keep the positive and healthy things in my life (i.e. relationships, exercise and mediation routines) from falling by the way side. The best way I have found is to schedule in brief periods of time when I focus solely on the ‘battle with the bank’ and other longer times when I do not talk or read about the banks at all.
7) Maya: playfully accepting that this is just one part of ‘reality’
According to Wikipedia, “Maya is a Sanskrit term that has multiple meanings, usually quoted as "illusion", centered on the fact that we do not experience the environment itself but rather a projection of it, created by us. Eastern philosophy understood what Keanu Reaves was dealing with long before there were special effects to make the Matrix seem so scary, foreboding and triply. I remind myself every day that the world is a reflection of my internal experiences. According to some, Maya is merely ‘the structural integrity of one’s ego” and it keeps us from waking up to what is real. The way I see it, if I am distraught and preoccupied by a call I received from the bank a day ago, what beautiful things in life I may miss out on all together. The vibrant spring blossoms, the reassuring hug of my partner and the innocent laughter of children are there whether I notice them or not. It’s up to me to acknowledge my relationship to the world around me and how my attitude will be a filter in how I experience it.
8) Reach out to others, never go it alone
Now that I have a better understanding of what it takes to deal with a financial institution, I know I am not about to do the Don Quixote method and tilt at windmills alone. I now have on my team my State Assemblyperson, a powerful nonprofit that helps people deal with the banks, and a legal consultant. It’s a shame that so much energy has to be put into something that has become so complex and so unmanageable that no one person could possibly do it alone. Nonetheless, I have met many very well intended professionals who have their hearts in their work and put fairness and economic justice first. A beautiful reminder that there is goodness in all people and we must come together if we really want to see the world change.
9) Part of the “Battle” is for the greater good
I realize that there is a good chance that within the next 6 months, I will have to walk away from the home that I love so much. My hope is that through networking, speaking up for justice and sharing my experience that some others may also benefit. I have shared with many people via Facebook and in person standing in front of a bank, handing out copies of the Rolling Stone article, and I hopethat people will not go back to sleep and will find for themselves a way to ‘pay it forward’, creating a positive ripple effect in our society. If we continue to live in a society where money is first and everything else including health and community are a distant second, then even after my housing situation is resolved, I know that I will still continue to put time and energy into helping improve our society.
I tell myself over and over again that I must practice not being attached to my home or the outcome of this battle. I also know that a certain amount of passion and energy comes from having something worth fighting for. So many of the invaluable lessons mentioned above help me practice staying engaged but also staying emotionally neutral with how it all turns out. As with so much of my yoga practice and my personal development, I am a work in progress.
Kathleen McDonald stated: “Overcoming attachment does not mean becoming cold and indifferent. On the contrary, it means learning to have relaxed control over our mind through understanding the real causes of happiness and fulfillment, and this enables us to enjoy life more and suffer less.”
I hope that whenever you are faced with a stressful situation, you will come up with your own list of grounding lessons or mantras that help you through to the other side. All of the wisdom of yoga is ready and waiting for you. And it doesn't have to cost you a thing! Just as each of our life journeys are unique, the obstacles you face in your life may be quite different from what I have described above. The yoga mat may be where you first find a moment of clarity or connection to your True Self and a break from the chattering of the monkey mind.
But that is only the beginning.
Stepping off the mat and facing the everyday joys and stressors is really where the practice takes off.
Trust me on that one!