I got in trouble, a little bit, teaching my yoga class yesterday. I came into class quite upset, and decided to share where I was with my students. Usually I put my burdens aside, before I begin teaching, but this day was different. Not even twelve hours before I began teaching, the state of Georgia had executed Troy Davis, an innocent man.
When we had gone to bed the night before, there was a small glimmer of hope.The execution had been at least temporarily stayed, while the Supreme Court decided whether or not it would rule on the case. When we woke up in the morning, in our soft bed, in our cozy home, we got the news that the Supreme Court had declined to rule, and the execution had gone forward.
I was raised to oppose the death penalty, although my home state of California frequently executes those it deems deserving of the ultimate punishment. My parents believe it is wrong for the state to have the power to kill its citizens, and I grew up hearing about the racism and injustice in how the death penalty is administered. You are so much more likely to receive this punishment if you are poor and black!
One of my students did not appreciate my bringing my views on capital punishment into the yoga room, and she had the courage to say so. But yoga is just such a rich and complex subject. There is no area of our embodied life it does not touch on, so nothing is off limits for discussion during class! I also feel strongly that if we don't have the courage to discuss controversial subjects we will never be able to transform, as a society.
I think what distresses me most about capital punishment is the hard heartedness it seems to encourage in our society. Recently, at the Republican candidate's debate at the Ronald Reagan library, the moderator began his question to Governor Rick Perry with the statement that Texas had executed 234 death row inmates. At this point the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
The people applauding in that auditorium, I'm guessing, are utterly certain that "those people" deserve to die. The people applauding feel absolutely and totally sure that they are different and separate from death row inmates. They feel sure that they are good and deserving of life, while the crimes those inmates committed cancels their right to live. But can any of us ever be completely certain of how we would be behaving today if we had had a similar start to life as someone in prison? If we had been moved from abusive foster home to abusive foster home for our entire childhood? If we'd been addicted to drugs from age 10? If we'd suffered traumatic head injuries in early life?
Personally I am not at all sure. And that not knowing is a groundless, uncertain place. I am sure of one thing though. Inside of each of us, whether we are a prison warden, a prison inmate, a lifelong republican, an investment banker, an organic farmer or a third grade teacher, inside of each of us is something bright, clear, eternal, and untouched by the outer circumstances of our life. The reason we are alive is to discover this truth for ourselves. May we dedicate ourselves to this quest, and to cultivating compassion in our world. May all beings be well and happy.