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Growing from Loss: Thoughts on Yoga, New Orleans and Floyd Patterson

(Preface: If you read a version of this post recently via my Twitter feed or Facebook link, forgive the redundancy and simply skip to the bottom paragraph. It’s been added for y’all.)

Desireée Rumbaugh, an amazing woman on many levels and someone who knows a thing or two about facing life’s ugliest challenges, recently offered this nugget during her recent Anusara yoga workshop in Dallas:

“The thing that hurts you the most is probably the thing that’s the most potent for you, the thing that has the greatest potential to transform you.”

Of course, Desirée isn’t the first to offer that piece of wisdom.

Mythologist and author Joseph Campbell wrote, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Desirée’s lines also reminded me of Principle 4 of Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations: Tackle your toughest challenge today. (By the way and for the record, Scott defines a Fierce Conversation as “one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real.”)

A few weeks before Desirée was in Dallas, I was fortunate to be in New Orleans for two reasons: a weekend of workshops with John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga, and to spend time photographing in parts of the city that most tourists never see. It was Halloween weekend. It was also six years and two months after the perfect storm of Hurricane Katrina, the failure of the city’s canal system, and the neglect of the Federal Emergency Management System devastated the city.

I lived in New Orleans briefly in the early 1980s. Although the time was brief, it was deep, intense and has resonated with me since. Which is why the desolation and ruin that still exists in parts of the city is so challenging for me. The incredibly robust redevelopment in the French Quarter, along St. Charles, throughout Uptown and in parts of Mid-City is a

delight. But get off the beaten path, into the areas hardest hit by Katrina and its aftermath, and it’s a far different story. Much of historic Gentilly, gracious Lakeview, diverse Bywater and the fabled Lower Ninth Ward are pockmarked with desolation … six years later.

The good news — the inspiration and the blessing — is that these areas are in fact pockmarked with desolation. By definition, that means these communities are witnessing renewal and regeneration. It’s step by step. It’s literally lot by lot.

In some cases, yes, it’s block by block, such as in St. Bernard. There, a totally new neighborhood of stereotypical, urban-infill townhomes has replaced the former dark, dangerous, dirty and suffocating St. Bernard housing project near Bayou St. John. In one way, it’s becoming the new New Orleans. In another — still not seeming to fit in with the Crescent City the tourists see — it’s still the old New Orleans.

In other places, like the Lower Ninth Ward, where Katrina and the failed canal system took their greatest toll, the new construction seems even more out of place, more surreal. Yet, as in St. Bernard, the rebirth is there. Right next door to empty lots and on streets that still don’t have official street signs is new housing that seems surreal and misplaced — brightly colored box-like structures raised up on stilts, designed to be

eco-conscious and energy efficient. These are the homes built through the support of Make It Right, a nonprofit organization committed to building sustainable and affordable homes for working families in New Orleans and elsewhere. Yes, it’s the organization founded and actively supported by Brad Pitt.

The Lower Ninth Ward will be facing its most difficult challenge for years. Which means it will also be receiving its greatest opportunity for transformation and expansion. It must. Not only because that’s the way things work but because it’s part of New Orleans.

And New Orleans is the Floyd Patterson of American cities.

“They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most,” the great heavyweight champion once told an interviewer. “But I also got up the most.”

What’s your greatest challenge today? Face it now. The rest of the day will be a cakewalk.