The other day,in a blissed out, peaceful state after a 90-minute yoga class, I saw two police cars in the middle of the road just a few feet away from the yoga studio, red lights spinning. Three police officers surrounded a bare-chested man who stood in the center of this trifecta, screaming, his eyes tossing fear from left to right and back again.
As a mental health advocate, this triggered me—to step up, to protect those who do not have the mental capability to protect themselves. I know the expression of disassociation when I see it, and I know what a brain cradled in doubt and pain projects. “You don’t really see me, do you? You see a madman, a loose cannon, and you think that because I’m unable to control my thoughts, you won’t be able to control me, and that makes me dangerous, doesn’t it?” Glaring at their guns in their holsters, billy clubs in their belts, I walked toward the wide-eyed, unarmed man and loaded the words in my throat, ready to fire them off if necessary: “If you hurt him, officers, I’m his witness.”
I waited for the moment when stereotypical officiousness would rear its ugly head, marginalizing and abusing the underdog under psychotic duress. I practically expected cruelty.
And I was relieved.
The officers were patient, calm, non-judgmental. And the man – screaming just minutes earlier – calmly walked into the handcuffs. It was terribly sad and ironic that this man’s brain disorder reduced him to hopeless surrender greeted by metal cuffs being snapped down across his wrists, while moments before he was unable to compel his hands to pull up his pants. I have unfortunately been involved in restraining children who were causing physical danger to people, and the fight and life force one must call upon oneself when restraining a child lost in the throws of violence was actually easier to handle than watching this grown man surrender to an illness he has battled his entire life. How many times must he surrender in one day? How many battles have been fought and lost? Watching him break broke my heart open.
Yet, these officers filled me with hope.
This wasn’t an example of police brutality or cruelty at all. These officers representing the seed of authority treated this man who was outwardly suffering from mental illness like a person, an individual worthy of respect and love. This was activism in action. After the man was placed safely in the car, I went up to the three officers and thanked them. I told them that I am a mental health advocate and that I consider the discrimination of people with brain disorders to be a civil rights issues. I very specifically thanked them for being patient, respectful, and calm. I was so impressed that they didn’t mock this man, or talk amongst themselves about him as if he was some “other.” They treated him like a human being. I pointed out that the man was so cooperative and didn’t get violent because of the way they treated him.
I looked the man in the car in the eye and waved goodbye to him. He had a look in his eye that reminded me of Jared Loughner, of someone not in his own body, not connected to his soul.
I shared this with a friend of mine who is a yoga teacher, and she pointed out that there is no coincidence that the peace and calm exuded by the police officers translated tangibly for this man. There is no coincidence that this all happened in front of the yoga studio, where people are quietly holding the space and intention for peace, love, and light in the world for more than 12 hours a day.
How pivotal it would it be if every police officer were given the opportunity to start their day with yoga and meditation? If part of the practice of protecting society and saving lives involved practices of healing and holding space for those in authority who risk their lives every day to protect our communities, our neighbors, and our children. Filling the world with the intention held in that yoga studio – love, light, and compassion in the world – changes communities and saves lives. It turns those on the front lines of protecting us all into the kind of person described in this poem by Rumi, which I was reminded of after this incident:
“I have come to drag you out of yourself
and take you in my heart. I have come to bring out the beauty in you,
and lift you like a prayer to the sky.”
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