I Thought I Knew Gratitude. And Then I Went To Haiti.
I just returned from a ten day visit to Haiti. I have lived in Italy for three years, been fortunate enough to travel fairly extensively in Europe, the US, and to Mexico and much of the Caribbean, but no trip has broken me open quite like Haiti.
No place has crawled under my skin and opened my heart in this way, and I return to the States knowing I’ll never be the same.
Even as I write these words, my eyes are filled with tears, my heart and my gut yearn to return to that beautiful place that has so little but knows so much.
Haitians don't need our pity, they’re amazingly resilient and resourceful. They need our awareness, our compassion, and our genuine support.
During my youth, my parents did their best to expose us to those less fortunate, those who were born into circumstances they could not control.
This bred an increased sense of gratitude for all I had just by virtue of what I was born into, but more importantly, it decreased the sense of separateness I had between myself and others.
Something I can forget when lost in my own bubble is the overwhelming sense of oneness we all possess.
The people of Haiti are no more or less deserving of simple virtues like clean water, healthy food, access to basic health care, and the possibilities of dreaming than I am. They just live in a very challenging place, a country who can celebrate one of the only successful revolts in our planet’s history, but due to lack of support from developed nations, an inefficient and under-staffed government, and the unforeseen tragedies like the 2010 Earthquake and the introduction of cholera, killing thousands upon thousands of citizens, Haiti simply needs a damn break, some light, some positivity. And for others not to give up on them.
Throughout my life, I’ve been overwhelmed by major problems. I see a country like Haiti and there are so many issues, I can’t begin to know which one to tackle, and not knowing answers to all these problems leaves me feeling helpless.
I became inspired and empowered when I landed in Port au Prince and met David Darg, co-founder of the RYOT Foundation and RYOT.org, a relief organization that funds both relief and youth programs in Haiti. He took his skill set and resources and did what he could to bring real change to many lives. He didn’t see Haiti as a lost cause, nor did he doubt his ability to help people. He took small steps to influence major change.
Not to underscore my influence as a teacher here in the States, but until this point I doubted whether I’d made a real difference in people’s lives. Was I really needed? Was I really using whatever gifts I carried to benefit those deserving?
I’m not sure.
I certainly put forth my passion and diligence, and I’m monumentally grateful for my students and connections made thus far, but not until I exchanged smiles, hugs and yoga in Haiti, was I really exposed to the good one human being could do.
It wasn’t until I was exposed to the thousands who still remain in tent cities around the earthquake destroyed areas of Haiti that I felt a crushing appreciation for my small apartment in Chicago. On the cold, stormy nights, I am protected from the elements. The majority of Haitians are not.
It wasn’t until I went without running water, was unable to wash my hands, and advised not to drink the tap water, that I felt a profound gratitude for the clean water I drink and bathe in daily here in America, let alone the luxuries of a hot shower, a flushing toilet, and water that I know will not put me in danger if I ingest it.
It wasn’t until I walked, climbed, swam and stepped on the streets of Port au Prince, the beautiful rocky beaches of Jacmel, and the mountains of Cange, that I truly appreciated a comfortable and protective pair of shoes.
It wasn’t until I saw thousands of residents who are thin, truly hungry and in need of nourishment, that I began to genuinely feel grateful for my full belly and my full life. To return to the States provided an odd contrast; we have so much here and somehow we can’t get enough. Yogis Can Help would love to help each country find balance through yoga.
I consider myself a mascot for breath. Beyond achieving fancy-pants poses, a trim body, or perfect balance, my goal is to encourage students to breathe better, deeper, longer, with more gratitude than they’ve ever felt before.
It wasn’t until I taught cancer patients in Haiti breath practices, that I sincerely felt the power of the breath and how truly remarkable just breathing can be. If we breathed with the same love and gusto as the spectacular women in Haiti, many of our daily stresses and everyday anxieties would fall by the wayside.
It wasn’t until I experienced the freedom of movement, the uninhibited joy of breathing and stretching with patients in Haiti, that I felt what a pure gift yoga really is. We didn’t speak Creole and our patients didn’t speak English.
It didn’t matter.
We breathed together, bended, lengthened, and swayed together. We drew in breath like we were drinking nectar from the gods themselves and we exhaled like we were letting go of every last worry, complaint, and bit of negativity left in our souls. We didn’t stand on our hands, no one had $100 Yoga pants, a pristine yoga studio, or the perfect bodies for what would be deemed an ideal asana practice.
We had conscious breaths, open hearts, relaxed minds and willing bodies. That is all you need. Yoga is free. It’s meant to be. It’s for everyone, not just those who can afford it, those who can “master” it, or those with the proper equipment and clothing to practice it.
Yoga is ageless, colorless, genderless. There are no winners and losers, no one is better or worse. We are One. The more we give away, the more we get back, the more yoga spreads positivity and light, the more we are bathed in its reverberations.
I never felt so grateful for my body, for my big hips, my cellulite, my frizzy hair, my long gangly toes, and all the idiosyncrasies that make me unique, than when I watched dozens of women afflicted with cancer, most now living without one or both of their breasts, practice yoga without any sense of comparison or competition, without trepidation or worry, or when I received the warmest hugs from these women, without a shred if insecurity or inhibition.
I realize now more than ever that I am rich beyond belief. I am abundant, full, and able to dream, able to grow and evolve. And if the gifts I’ve been given without having to truly earn them can be used to bring light to those who are more than deserving, but as of yet are well under-served, then how damn fortunate am I?
Waking up with gratitude will serve me more than any other virtue. I hope you feel grateful for all that you have and all that you are right in this very moment, and know that you, too, have a gift that many can and will benefit from.
You simply must unleash it.