Wednesday, July 29, 2020

I Am Held: Reflections on Octavia Raheem's Gather

Octavia Raheem

by Patrice Priya Wagner

I feel as if I've stolen a moment of secret pleasure whenever I read a section of Octavia Raheem's book Gather. After each chapter, I stop and ponder because I want and need to digest the contents of the few sentences I've just read. Each chapter is short and offers questions at its conclusion that prompt the reader to think and write on their own.

The format reminds me of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras that contain brief aphorisms providing much fodder for further contemplation. Gather can be read quickly start to finish but offers a much richer experience if the reader approaches it as an ongoing discussion with the writer that starts and stops at each chapter.

Octavia writes from her own life experience which gives white readers, like me, a front row seat in a seminar on Black Lives Matter, personal growth, contemporary yoga practice, and much more. Recently, I read the chapter "I Am Held" sitting outside under some leafy trees with sparkles of sunshine breaking through the branches to touch me. Here is an excerpt of what I read.

"I want her to welcome me. To approve of my presence. To tell me I am good. That I made the right choices. To congratulate me on my ambition and drive. I am waiting for her to smile at me. Her smile will tell me all of those things. She looks at me.

I am skin. Bone. Vessels. And a fabric of sheer tissues in her presence. Her gaze goes clear through my body into my soul. She moves in closer to me. I see her eyes open into mirrors. She exhales. I soften. I feel her breath in my mouth.

And I realize she is me.

She is me in our future. She is not smiling because she is waiting for me to honor all of my wisdom, to defy every condition and bond that no longer serves her, me, us. She is waiting for me to fully recognize that the light that I see in her is my own.

She is my future and my reflection.

I can stay hidden, small, and stuck. I can stand here and hold on to all of my stuff. It's heavy, yet so comfortable and known.

There is no way forward unless I put this shit down.

It takes a while. One by one, I let things go. One by one, I let go of the things. Her light allows me to see in the dark as I fumble through it all.

To surrender the conditions I've been clinging to so long that I've mistaken them for identity. To let go of ambition and ideas about 'success.' Who am I without this armor? Those definitions? That mask? That costume? That belief?"

After reading that, I had so much to dive into for the discussion at the end of the chapter ­–– Octavia's narrative came to me as partly a call to action and partly a questioning of who I am without the armor and costume. As a person with a chronic disability, my mind immediately went to the armor and costume I have had to put on in the past to be comfortable amongst nondisabled folks. Next, I wondered if people from other marginalized groups have a similar experience? Do Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) need to wear armor and costumes constantly when they're around white folks?

Who can we take off the armor and costumes with and still feel safe? Only people of our own marginalized group? There was a time when I hung out almost entirely with people who had disabilities, but not anymore. I've come to recognize people who, although nondisabled, understand how to interact with me and not say something hurtful.

My yoga class for people with multiple sclerosis consists of a majority of BIPOC and before Covid-19 arrived, we had had a few discussions about race issues. One conversation started with my admitting how upset I feel that generally BIPOC get poorer healthcare treatment than whites, based on numerous stories I've heard. Then I sat and listened as my students spoke one after the other about their experiences.

Thinking back on Octavia's chapter and what I heard as a call to action, I made a promise to myself to continue to listen to my students when they speak about their lives and any injustices they've experienced here in Oakland, California. What did Octavia Raheem's words make you think about or decide to do?

 Octavia Raheem
 lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she was co-owner of Sacred Chill West Yoga and Meditation Studio until its closure in the summer of 2020. She has received national attention for her work training yoga teachers and diversifying the yoga and wellness industry. Her studio has been featured on CNN, WXIA, and in Atlanta Magazine.

Octavia is a yoga teacher with fourteen years of experience and nearly 10,000 hours of leading yoga classes, immersions, and trainings in studio, corporate, and private settings. In September 2019, she was named one of four Yoga and Wellness luminaries who have transformed yoga in Atlanta by Natural Awakening Magazine. Octavia is also the author of the book, Gather. In Gather she invites her readers into a quiet contemplative place of inquiry, reflection, and deeper self-love.

She combines her passion for education, writing, yoga, and community in her job as Instructor (previously Co-Director) at the Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for Teenage Girls at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. Octavia is a proud wife and mother who is committed to maintaining a sense of peace, harmony, and wellbeing for herself, family, and community by practicing and sharing tools anchored in yoga, writing, the power of rest, and Yoga Nidra.

You can purchase Gather by Octavia Raheem from an independent bookstore or from Amazon.

This post was written by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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