I am delighted to be here, to see Kiniya in action for myself instead of just listening to Eliza’s many tales, and to see what a wonderful camp you all have built together following the Dudley traditions and mission from across the lake and following the traditions of the original Camp Kiniya. Eight years ago this place was merely a dream for me and other members of the Dudley Board. What a thrill and honor to be here!
The theme is team work. OK. I’ve been a part of teams all of my life, as you will, too—sports teams, teams that do tasks like starting the fire or cooking or cleaning up the campsite. And teams have other names, too—they are called task forces, classrooms, committees, Boards of Trustees. Every time you work with someone else on anything, you have a team. But today I am going to take a slightly different angle on team work by talking about anatomy, about some key parts of your body and how they work together as a team. But I’m not going to speak as a scientist; in fact, I’m not sure there’s any scientific basis at all to what I’ll be saying. I am quite sure there is a spiritual basis, however, to this important teamwork of the body and spirit.
Part of my inspiration for this talk comes from a yoga class I took this winter. You may know that Yoga is an activity that involves stretching and moving into poses that exercise different areas of your body to build strength and balance. And Yoga is also a mental and spiritual discipline, training you to be mindful of your body and its power. Advanced yogis are the ones who can wrap one foot around their heads while balancing on their big toe and reciting obscure poetry. No, just kidding—I think. I’m still a beginner at yoga. I won’t be doing any of those fancy poses today.
But I particularly like two basic movements of yoga because they are spiritually as well as physically provocative. And pretty easy, fortunately. The first is not really so much a movement as a sensation. Often in my class when we were standing or perhaps touching the floor bent over or even sitting on the floor, my teacher asked us to think about connecting to the ground, to the earth, “rooting down” she calls it, to feel the force of the earth pushing back against our hands or feet and supporting us. The earth supports us and holds us. Technically speaking its mass creates the gravity that keeps us all from flying off into outer space. Gravity also gives strength to our bones and muscles. In a symbolic sense, too, the earth sustains and supports us, nurtures us with food, and is a key fount of energy. As I concentrated in my yoga class to feel that support beneath my feet, I was led to think metaphorically about all that supports me, all that I stand on as I go through my life: my family, my friends, my traditions, my culture, my country, my spiritual beliefs. As I thought about “rooting down” into the earth, I thought about digging deep into the love from relationships, into the values I care about, into the central core, the meaning of my life, and feeling it flow into my body. Vague terms, maybe too philosophical or weirdo for you.
But try this. As you sit there, concentrate on feeling the earth beneath you. Feel it push against your bottom as you weigh down, feel its solid and certain support. Well, maybe the bench right under you is not all that comfortable and separates you from the earth directly, so try this. Stand up. Close your eyes. Place each foot firmly down to feel the solid earth beneath, concentrate on feeling it along your entire foot from your heel to your toes. Feel its force move up your legs. Push down, feel its firmness. That solidity is what you come from, all that has given you life. Imagine your roots reaching down and drawing strength.
The other yoga movement in addition to rooting down that I find inspiring, is its complement, its opposite: reaching up, stretching high and far, fingertips stretching upward. Toward what? The sky, certainly, but also toward dreams, toward hopes, toward whatever you aspire to be, toward your best self. So try that. Stretch up now.
You’ll note, of course, that your ability to reach high is absolutely dependent on the earth staying solid beneath your feet. Even if you go up on your tiptoes, you’ll not leave the certain support of the earth. If you stumble or lose your balance, the earth will catch you. Metaphorically you form dreams and reach toward them with the support and strength developed from relationships and traditions, the nurturing of the earth, of your life. If you stumble or lose balance in life, your beliefs and core values set you right again, they catch you. Your friends and family catch you. For one more analogy, think of sprinters at a track meet. They begin coiled at the starting line, hands and feet touching the ground, gathering strength. When the gun goes off, they spring off from the earth, flying down the track, pushing off the ground with each step. And at the finish line, they raise their arms in triumph. Your feet on the earth support your arms’ reach. Know that you are rooted and use that certainty to reach ever higher.
Most important for my message to you today, however, is not what happens at your feet–rooting down into the earth—or over your head—reaching up to the sky. Most important is what happens in the middle, the connector between your rooted values and your aspirations and hopes. It is in the middle that the daily work of the world, the daily work of your life is done, the small actions that will lead you to your dreams. The middle is where all of your organs are—digestive system, lungs, etc.—all that keep you alive. The middle is also, importantly, where your hands are and where your heart is.
It is your heart that takes all your relationships, all your traditions, all that you have learned and believe and translates them into dreams for your future self. All the power and energy of your roots channel through your heart and inspire those high goals.
Your hands are your tools for work and activity. They hold what you need, they move food to your mouth, they scratch what itches–they are necessary for almost everything that you do. Impossible to catalog it all.
But your hands and your heart serve an even more important function. They connect you to others. Your roots grow deepest, you achieve your highest dreams when you are connected to others. Your hands and your heart connect you to others in two different and again complementary ways: they reach out to help and they reach out to be helped. They help you create a team.
You extend a hand to help clear the table even when it’s not your turn, to pick up the stuffed bear that the girl in the upper bunk dropped as she fell asleep; you sing songs with the girls struggling at the back of the hike to keep them motivated; you touch the hand or wrap your arm around the shoulder of the girl who is unhappy or lonely. Your hand and your heart reach out to help when help is needed. The other fellow first.
It’s important to remember, too, that you must also reach out when you yourself are in need. You can’t carry your trunk by yourself so you get some other hands to help. You reach for a hand to help you over that last, tough rock ledge on the top of Mr. Mansfield. The hand of your friend is there and voila, you’re both at the top! And when you feel a little lost and alone, you open your heart to someone else—your leader, your cabin mate, the girl next to you in hymn sing, and you say help me, hold my hand, share your strength with me. No one can do it all alone, everyone needs help sometimes. Know that it’s OK, that it’s right, to ask for it. And when you ask for help you give another person the chance to give help.
Our hands and our hearts help others and they ask for help—that is the truest connection and finally, the most effective teamwork. We give and we receive and are connected as a team. Through our hearts we channel the power of our roots in the earth, the power that comes from tradition and love, so we can dream the dreams and aspire to goals that we will reach both by helping and being helped by others.
Stand up, take a second to feel the earth beneath your feet, take the hand of the person next to you, and reach up high—stretch together. Use the support of the earth at your feet and the strength and balance of the person next to you to reach even higher. Together. As a team. As Dudley women at Kiniya.
My yoga classes always end with our heads bowed and our hands together over our hearts, focusing the strength of our bodies into our hearts and giving thanks for the fellowship of the class.