Op - Ed

The yoga of politics

By Wendy Reese

Teaching yoga for 15 years, I’ve come to know that yoga improves balance, strength, flexibility and the ability to surrender. Unknowingly, I became a student of yoga from a most unlikely teacher when I volunteered for a nine-month appointment on our Select Board.

Our board consisted of a newly elected selectman and another appointed selectman. Essentially we were a brand new board, starting two months after town meeting. We jumped in, rolled our sleeves up and got to work. Perhaps because we were new and the two appointees were idealistic (we didn’t even know it was a paid position!), we took on far more than some of our predecessors. That set up an imbalance in our time and energy.

While we approved our town plan, we were unable to focus on moving forward with any of the ideas in it. We had inherited problems that were exacerbated by internal resistance, while others were met with external resistance. For me, it felt like we were trying to drive a car with one foot on the brake and one on the gas. It took a tremendous amount of strength to keep up.

The problem with trying to keep things “the way things have always been” is that it is a bit like expecting flexible young muscles to stay that way as you age without stretching them regularly. As a town, we are not a vibrant example of flexibility. After decades of being in the fitness industry, I know that inflexibility is one of the leading causes of injuries and reduces healing time. I think we can see plenty of examples of that in our town.

“Ahimsa” means peace and compassion in thought, word, and action. My nine months on the Select Board proved I have to practice this quality more, partially because I haven’t yet perfected “aparigraha,” or non-attachment, to outcome. I wanted to contribute in some small way to the greatness of our town and often took my role too seriously and personally.

I took the appointment because I was visiting Pittsfield during Tropical Storm Irene and it had left an impression. I was at the FEMA drop helping unload. I saw the best this town had to offer. Pittsfield is an amazing place. It’s part of the reason we bought a house here. George Deblon, the best road commissioner EVER, and Patty Haskins, our town clerk/treasurer, were two other reasons we felt comfortable here. It isn’t often that a small town is run as effectively and efficiently as our little town.

I think the majority of residents would agree we want to keep the charm and quaintness, the spaciousness of the nature that surrounds us, and have a tight community. I also see there’s some room for Pittsfield to stretch in its greatness through simple ways for the community to have a shared space to connect—be it on a basketball court or soccer field in the summer or in an outdoor ice rink in the winter, in the library learning together, on the green dining together, or in the town hall being entertained together.

One of my reasons for not accepting the nomination for an elected term was the freedom to volunteer in more areas that are community-focused. I hope more of my neighbors will follow suit, moving beyond the fear of repercussion from speaking up. The truth is, ALL of our thoughts matter.

There are many opportunities within our town to be active participants, starting with the upcoming Select Board meeting on April 5 regarding the budget. This is a time were we can practice ahimsa by having a civil discussion. We must ask questions with a tone of respect and compassion and allow the questions to be answered fully before engaging the next question.

Yoga has taught me to surrender my ego on the mat. If I try to push too hard, I always get hurt. The Select Board appointment proved the need for me to take that off the mat, too. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to surrender our ego and practice aparigraha, non-attachment. We could be surprised that there is an even better, brighter outcome than we can presently conceive or imagine.

With all my heart, I don’t believe it takes a crisis to bring out the best in our neighbors. If we are willing to work together, we may discover a whole new level of greatness here on an ongoing basis. Taking a page from how I close all my yoga classes—it has been an honor and a pleasure to serve our community. Thank you for that opportunity.

Namaste (“The Light in me bows and honors the Light in you and when we do, we are One”).

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