Yesterday was a big day here: the 22nd anniversary of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, when occupying Indonesian troops opened fire on a crowd of several thousand unarmed civilians. The people, mostly young, had come to demonstrate at the grave of a young man who was shot in cold blood by Indonesian soldiers. It was an act of resistance for which many paid dearly: when the crowd reached the large cemetery in the centre of town, the troops opened fire. At least 250 people were killed in under an hour.
This horrifying event also marked a turning point in East Timor's fight for independence, as it was witnessed by several foreign journalists including one who managed to capture the massacre on film and smuggle the footage out. When the footage was released to the world, it sparked an international solidarity movement for East Timor's self-determination, and brought the governments who were supporting the Indonesian militarily under strong criticism - including the US which had trained the Indonesian military and sold them the weapons they used to invade and force the country into submission. Many regard it as the first step on East Timor's path to independence, which they would finally achieve 8 years later.
Each year the massacre is marked by a national holiday, and the day closes beautiful tradition: after sunset, every household goes out into the street and lights candles in memory of those who died. Children play in the streets and adults sit and remember the past as they watch the future generations frolic with a lighter spirit than in the days of occupation or colonisation. Wherever you are in East Timor on 12 November, the streets will be lined with row upon row of lit candles. In the years before independence, it was a brave thing to do, a sign that the spirit of the East Timorese could not be quashed by intimidation and violence. Now it is a holiday of particular, poignant beauty, all the more so when the post-independence road is rocky, and national unity feels fickle and evasive.
As a foreigner, I can't help observing the contrast with the traditions of my own country, which by contrast feel trite and commercialistic. Tinny christmas carols in shopping malls and chocolate Easter bunnies feel pretty empty compared to such a powerful, simple thing as an entire nation lighting candles to remember. It makes me realise how much my heart cries out for more meaningful traditions, how much I hope to create those for my present and future family.
|A father and his children light candles in remembrance, Baucau, East Timor, 12 November 2013|
What does this have to do with yoga?
Well, nothing and everything honestly. When I reflect back on the Santra Cruz massacre and the thousands of other, un-rembered acts of resistance (whether noble or stupid), I am reminded of Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita gearing up to fight. Knowing that the consequences would be terrible, but acting anyway because it was for the greater good.
Yoga is action - and this, we must not forget. It is showing compassion to those in need, it is speaking for those who cannot, it is a thousand nameless acts of kindness or one single act of bravery. Each of us is called to act in different ways, each day we are presented with dozens of opportunities to do something good, something right, something that challenges our apathy. Something that stills the vicious tongue of our ego-self, the voice that fills us with scepticism and doubt, the voice that says "I can't make a difference, why bother, someone else will take care of that, it's not my problem."
Through action we change our karma and purge our samskaras. Through action we put our fundamental beliefs to the test. Through action we open up to our true natures.
A post-script: Typhoon Haiyan
This post was not intended as a call to action on Typhoon Haiyan. But it is in the news, and as someone who has worked on humanitarian issues and responses, I shouldn't be surprised to have found myself here.
If you are distressed by what you see, if you wish you could help but your ego-voice is telling you that you can't make a difference, why bother, other people will take care of that, it's not your problem, please know that your donations, however small they may seem to you, really do help. Forgo your weekly coffee and donate $5, or your weekly lunch date and donate $25. It's not about how much you give - it's about taking action if your soul is calling for it. Because it's the right thing to do.
Marianne Elliot has put together a wonderful post with some advice on what kind of help is most useful - I encourage you to read it, but don't stop there. Take action, however small. If you are called to help, listen to your true, compassionate nature.