Hannah Muse — @hannah__muse on Instagram is a world-renowned teacher of yoga, mindfulness and mysticism. She has been a longtime friend of Synergy, modeling our Organic Movement collection throughout the years and a true source of inspiration, as her name suggests.
We spent time with multitalented and multidimensional beauty Hannah for our Fall 2020 Collection. She shared wisdom around activism, mindfulness, and her journey.
How do they not intersect?!
As we understand the interconnected nature of all things, how can we not see another’s humanity as deserving and important as our own?
As we connect to the Heart, inherently compassionate and wise, how can we not care for our kin on the other side of a city, or the other side of a planet, or the other side of a political spectrum?
As we sense the sacredness of the Earth, how can we not want to cherish her, protect her and honor First Nations and indigenous peoples who have historically, respectfully and responsibly tended to this great mother for millennia?
As we widen our capacity to sit with what is, including what has been deeply uncomfortable to face, how can we continue denying that systemic racism exists and is harmful to everyone?
I find it funny to call myself an activist, because it’s only natural for each of us to care about one another. This is what it means to have a heart. And if your spiritual practice is not breaking your heart open to greater compassion, to tenderness and deeper care, then I would question what your spiritual practice is doing for you, for the humanity you belong to, and for the world so worthy of your care.
The spiritual path can help us remember that we belong to each other. It can also help us expand our capacity to be present with what is - no matter how much we’ve been conditioned to look away when things feel painful or confronting. As James Baldwin said,
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.”
As for taking action? When we care about something, we act. Courage comes easily when we care. (The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for “heart”.) It’s getting clear on what we care about that can be tricky - we are swirling with so many choices, so many ways to distract and anesthetize us from remembering what really matters in life.
And then somehow along the way, some folks got the idea that to be spiritual is to sit and just be nice, to not make any waves. To that I will just drop this quote from the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna counsels Arjuna -
“akarmany cha karma yah : inaction is action”.
From a young age I was on a quest to understand the nature of reality, because I felt an immense love for the world, as well as deep grief for humanity as a whole, and the injustices and oppression I witnessed throughout society. I couldn’t make sense of it all from a spiritual or philosophical lens so I turned towards activism and politics as a practical way to do something about what was aching in my heart. From my teenaged years I started working for NGO’s and elected officials, from voting rights campaigns to wilderness preservation.
I started practicing meditation and yoga because I was burnt-out, over-worked, overwhelmed, losing sight and losing hope. As I cultivated a relationship with presence - with my body, my mind, my heart - I discovered so much. I became keenly aware of the unprocessed grief and tenderness of past heartbreak hardened into layers of defensive armor.
I discovered that when I approached social action from solely an intellectual perspective, not only would I burn out more quickly, but also my actions were more reactive and tended to be less impactful long-term - in terms of actually dismantling and reimagining systems. When approached with both the intellect and the spiritual embodiment of compassion and interconnection, I find there is so much more room for possibility and transformation at the root level. Instead of our action being about charity or righteousness, it’s about our collective liberation.
I never meant to become a mindfulness & yoga teacher... it’s just where the path unfolded! My devotion to this path is unwavering and ever always changing! When we are on the path of presence, there is always something new revealed to see and learn - never a dull moment.
It’s all about finding the balance - if yoga has taught me anything it’s to be able to increasingly abide in the paradox, or as we say at our house, the “both/and” - where seemingly-apparent opposites can be true. For example, holding compassion for folks while also not tolerating their acts of violence or injustice and saying NO. Showing up with radical honesty even if it rustles some feathers. Speaking out for equity and justice even if it’s not the popular point of view, even when it means you are going to lose likes and followers.
In an increasingly more divided world, I sense that discovering how to live in the “both/and” is a noble and worthy exploration.
Sometimes I call mindfulness “heartfulness”, since even scientific communities don’t have a clear consensus on the meaning of “mind” - are we referring to intellect, awareness, conitive function, the brain or nervous system. Meanwhile, many of these traditions which have given us mindfulness, considered the mind and heart as one, sometimes translated as heart-mind.
As for meaning of mindfulness, “heartfulness”, or “sati” in pali, quite simply it’s the awareness that emerges when we attend to the present moment - without judgement, without over-identification with the thoughts or sensations that arise or dissolve, and also without repressing, avoiding or distracting. Finding yourself distracted is totally natural in meditation, because our attention is conditioned to leave presence, and yet, as we practice letting the mind settle, we begin to discover that presence is always here. Always. Mindfulness is our training in remembering how to return to presence, to this wondrous and astounding flow of life as its unfolding, moment to moment.
A fundamental teaching in Buddhism, from “the three marks of the Dharma” is that all things are impermanent and our failure to realize this leads to our suffering. And that our awakening comes from realizing the impermanent and interdependent nature of all things.
It reminds me of my training in the Celtic Priestess tradition as well - in this nature-based worship, we come to know that everything is cyclical - the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons. The only thing that stays the same, is that everything changes.
Attachment is going to happen, and I am not some renunciate who is free of all attachments - no way! But it’s helpful to realize that with attachment can come a great sense of loss.
One thing I have done is really taken the time to grieve. Yes, sometimes we complain or grumble, but have you spent any time really grieving what was lost due to coronavirus? Whether it’s grieving the grand plans you had to postpone, the wedding you had to cancel, the vision of reality that didn’t pan out the way you thought it would, or friends who we have lost - your grief is worthy of your loving attention. Tend to your grief like a mother holding her child while she cries, patient and loving. Journaling or talking with a friend is helpful for me to process my grief. And letting those tears fall!
Once we’ve processed that grief, and loosened some of the grips of our attachment to the way we believed things “should” have been, we become free to experience the beauty and possibility that is unfolding right here, right now, before our eyes.
We become free to dream in a new world.
Yoga is a rich tradition to be honored and treasured and explored, rather than watered down and culturally appropriated. If you seek to discover the nature of reality, then yoga has so much more to offer than what meets the eye, and there are many guides who have dedicated their lives to studying the deeper aspects of the yogic path. I recommend finding a teacher that aligns with your intention. And maybe one that doesn’t take themselves too seriously while they’re at it!
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