I am writing this instead of sitting in meditation. Maybe I should have sat in meditation. You tell me.
If you are a cow milk drinker and/or a Krishna devotee, you may or may not want to read this, but I would love to hear from you if you do. Please read with an open mind, then please do contact me and point out the errors in my own thinking. How else can we evolve?
Disclosure: I declared myself vegetarian around the age of 10 because I thought that a lot of animal “meat” tasted gross. I did like the taste of a few things: microwavable breakfast sausages drenched in maple syrup, scrambled eggs with fried onions and salty ketchup, raw salmon with capers and cream cheese. Looking back, I’m sure I liked the taste of the “accoutrements” that accompanied the animal meat more than I liked the actual “meat”. Maple syrup, ketchup, fried onions, cream cheese… sugar, salt, oil, fat, yum!
A cousin also opened my eyes at a young age to the violent reality of factory farming: animals being enslaved, tortured, objectified, and treated abominably for human consumption. He opened my eyes a little bit as well to the damaging environmental impact that this consumer behavior was inflicting on our planet. Not to mention the many ill effects on human health. These considerations made my resolution to renounce animal meat even stronger but some doctors tried to dissuade me. I felt a little bullied by their “authority”. They thought animal protein was “necessary” for my growth. I had not yet heard of Doctor T. Colin Campbell and The China Study, and apparently, neither had they. So I compromised with eating some dairy, fish, and eggs every now and then. I was ambiguous about fish. Were they also living beings suffering the pain and environmental degradation of factory farming? What about eating eggs? Until I started thinking of eggs like chicken menstruation, they didn’t seem so bad – I didn’t know about the nightmarish living conditions for so many farmed chickens. I was clueless that mainstream cow’s milk had become a despicably cruel and unhealthy industry. I loved those “Got Milk” commercials! I even wanted my own milk mustache commercial, darn it. I wasn’t yet clear enough to trust my own resolve and intuition.
Flash forward: in my late 20s, I was traveling in India – the country with the highest number of vegetarians in the world, and arguably the most tasty and versatile cuisine for herbivores! By then, I had adopted a very Indian inspired vegetarian diet. Lacto-vegetarian. My ex-boyfriend was Rajasthani and an excellent cook. I learned a lot of Indian style vegetarian cooking from him. I still drank milk – especially in my spicy Indian chai, which I enjoyed – and I still loved yogurt and cheese, also known as “paneer”, as well as “ghee”, or clarified butter (often recommended in Ayurvedic recipes). I was not yet contemplating the hellish reality that cows endured to produce these products for human consumption in our contemporary culture (very different from ancient India).
On this particular trip to India, I was traveling on my own, doing research and recordings for a documentary film project about Indian Classical Music (title: JHAPTAL). I was visiting different friends in several different cities. During my stay with friends in Mumbai, it turned out that their guest room had been infested with bed bugs just before I arrived. After two days, I was massacred by bed bugs and I had a horrible blanket of bites all over my skin. The itching was very painful. So I had to find alternative accommodations while my friends cleaned their room and took care of the infestation.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) ashram was just down the road from their house. My friends were ISKCON members. The ISCKON ashram in Mumbai has a big, beautiful guesthouse. There were rooms available. The rooms were spacious, clean, and affordable, with gorgeous balconies overlooking the temple. So I moved there.
While staying at the ISKCON ashram guesthouse, I woke up in the dark hours of morning, naked and screaming with a man moving on top of me. An unknown man had broken into my room and mounted me without me knowing. I was semi-conscious. I later came to reason that I had been drugged by the chai that I had ordered from room service the night before, after which I had completely blacked out. This man clearly did not expect me to wake up, nor to make so much noise upon doing so. He couldn’t shut me up. He ran away for fear of getting caught. I could not run fast enough after him. He escaped. I have told this story before. Please read my earlier post for further details.
The point that I want to make here is that I had a very visceral experience of extreme violence and violation. The “private” parts of my body had been trespassed, bruised, and I had finger nail scratches across my breasts. My body and my mind had been violently touched and tampered with by someone for whom I had given no consent to do so. I felt that I could have died while fighting that man off of me, but I survived. All this while I was in an ashram dedicated to Lord Krishna.
One of the Krishna devotees who came to my side when the police and doctor arrived said something to me that I have reflected on ever since – and my interpretation of it has varied over time. She said something along the lines of: “You are blessed that this happened in Lord Krishna’s home. Your karma ripened here for a reason. You could have died if it had happened elsewhere. He protected you.”
At that time, I really didn’t know what to think. Isn’t the whole world Lord Krishna’s home? Why wouldn’t he protect me anywhere? Why here?
For years, I struggled to work through the trauma. I didn’t consider it as a calling to Lord Krishna, specifically. I found a lot more help from the teachings of the Buddha. I even changed my name to a name given to me by a Tibetan Buddhist lama. I kept that name as my official name for one whole year. I stopped working on my documentary and all my film/video creative work. I started to practice yoga like never before. I became a vegan.
Overall, the trajectory of healing from this trauma has been transformative in a way that I feel much better about who I am now than I remember feeling about who I was before: clearer, calmer, and at greater peace with myself. Going vegan has been a real part of that. It’s a way to clear confusion, vagueness, and ambiguity about aspirations towards non-violence. Ahimsa.
It has taken me 10 years to put this life changing event into a positive perspective on many levels. I no longer doubt the meaning of being raped in an ashram dedicated to Lord Krishna. Krishna is also known as Govind or Gopal: the protector of cows.
Yes, spiritually speaking, the whole world is actually Krishna’s home – but different parts of the world call Krishna by different names. In this particular part of the world where I was, where my trauma occurred, the ISKCON Guesthouse in Mumbai, the name of the divine is called: Krishna. Krishna is a protector of cows.
At the moment between life and death, I was in some way protected in Krishna’s home. I survived. What is my debt to Krishna? My debt is to help protect cows.
The choice to go vegan was one of the most clear consequences of my experience of rape because I had so dramatically felt what it might be like to be a cow and experience such a degree of VIOLATION.
Buying “organic” milk was no longer enough of a reassurance for me that the cows were comfortable with constant human interference on their “private” parts. For the first time, it felt undeniable that the dairy industry is an industry of sanctioned sexual assault. No thank you.
Cows cannot argue for their own rights. Humans must give them a voice.
May ALL cows be protected. Hare Krishna! Go Vegan!
I recently started a Meetup group here in Boulder, where there are already many Meetups and many fun things to do, but this one – BAE (Boulder Animals and Environment) YOGA – was not yet one of the many, so I started it.
Part of my motivation must be the feeling that there are others who feel as I do: that the contemporary “yoga” scene tends to be very narcissistic (despite all our prayers and lip service to the contrary) and that there must be a way to collectively combat this parasitic trend of self-centered absorption by more consistently and practically connecting our practice with the welfare of others – especially the welfare of otherwise defenseless animals and the environment.
Frankly, I am tired of seeing yoga practitioners drink factory farmed milk in disposable coffee cups that cannot even be recycled. Torturing cows and trashing the environment really diminishes the credibility of yoga as a relevant spiritual practice in our world today.
Don’t you think?
So far, over the past 2.5 weeks, this newly founded Meetup has amassed 33 members online. It has also hosted 4 events, and has had a total of 4 people (5 if we include myself) show up.
I’m not yet sure how to get more of our online members to actually show up in the real world.
The first Meetup was scheduled to celebrate Earth Hour at the local St. Julien Hotel here in Boulder. For “Earth (Happy) Hour”, the hotel bar would be shutting off all non-essential lights while offering live acoustic music with organic cocktails to inspire people to be more conscious of our energetic footprint on the Earth. When I first heard about the event, I thought it would be a great first occasion for the BAE YOGA Meetup: it is yoga practice to discern what’s essential and what’s not, to seek to lighten our ecological footprint on the Earth, and to come together in a celebration of natural light!
FYI: While Cooling (AC) & Refrigeration consume the greatest amount of electricity between the Residential and Commercial sectors in the USA, lighting is still a significant portion of our footprint! “The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2018, the U.S. residential sector and the commercial sector used about 232 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity for lighting. This was about 8% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and about 6% of total U.S. electricity consumption.” – EIA.GOV Check out the diagrams here from the EIA:
Also to note: this Meetup was spontaneously announced to provide a social setting in which we could chat about what we can and want to do as individuals and collectives to better care for this planet, to combat Climate Change and stand up for animal rights, while supporting a local business who was making a practical and symbolic gesture in this regard. It was not meant to encourage the consumption of alcohol on the path of yoga.
I know many people for whom yoga has been a life changing path to sobriety. A consistent practice of Ashtanga Yoga in particular has helped people to free themselves from devastating addictions, like drugs and alcohol, and to restore clarity and more sane connections with other people in their lives. Check out The Trini Foundation.
That said, everybody is different. Some yogis and yoginis drink alcohol. Some don’t. Several revered Tibetan yogis drank a lot of alcohol, including the local legend Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. This does not sanctify drinking alcohol as a suitable activity for everybody. Either way, we are all in this together: drinkers and non-drinkers, alike.
So, it was kind of exciting going to the St. Julien bar that night, not really knowing if anyone from the Meetup would actually be there, and if they were there, who they would be. Indeed, one gentleman turned up. We had an interesting conversation.
This gentleman was European and had a physical manner of speaking that could be considered more common in certain areas of Europe. I lived in Europe for several years and have been told that I myself often speak with my hands like an Italian. Even so, I felt a bit awkward at first talking with this gentleman, as if my personal space was constantly being intruded upon by the moving of his arms as he spoke. More than once, he reached out to touch his hand to my hand in the midst of expressing an idea and it made me uncomfortable. We were just meeting for the first time and I did not feel at ease feeling his hand against my hand. So, I told him exactly that. He seemed surprised and subsequently made a more profound point. He said something along the lines that: these days, especially in the USA, people are very confused about how to naturally touch each other and to comfortably make contact with each other. So much so, he felt, that people have turned to animals more than other people to share affection because people no longer know how to be casually affectionate with people. I had to question if this was true in my case. It’s true that I hug and kiss my dog more than anyone but I have known her for over 14 years and we live together!
So anyway, I tried to bring the conversation back to animal and environmental activism issues, and the vision of BAE YOGA for which we were essentially meeting. I was curious if there were any causes he felt particularly strongly about that he would want to see us as a yoga group come together to work on in the future. In fact, he said that he felt humanity was the most important issue: that humans have to first improve their manner of relating with other humans if we want to get anything else done for animals and the environment. In his opinion, animal and environmental activism was born from the consequence of humans failing to relate with each other. I argued with him on this point. I asked: what if our relationship with animals and the environment is actually the primary issue? What if we cannot improve the relationships between human beings, how we relate with each other, until we improve the relationships we maintain with our environment, including all the animals with whom we share our environments?
What do you think?
“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” – Immanuel Kant
“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” – Lady Bird Johnson
Love & Courage,
After 6 years of teaching yoga and 15 years of studying yoga, I’m excited to now be connecting some of my time and activity on the mat with some of the time and activities that I want to be more involved with off the mat, especially: activism for animal rights and environmental protection.
BAE (Boulder Animals & Environment) YOGA is a project to support organizations fighting for a compassionate and sustainable planet. We connect the practice of yoga and meditation with activism, and we connect activists with the practice of yoga and meditation.
We cannot really take care of ourselves if we are not taking care of our environment, and we cannot really take care of our environment if we are not taking care of ourselves!
Yoga and Activism go hand in hand and that is our mission, to go (“go go go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond” – Heart Sutra), hand in hand, together.
Animals, wild and domestic, have an essential presence in our environments, in our homes, in our hearts, in the circle of all our relations. When we cultivate respect and love for animals, we cultivate respect and love at the very depths of our human nature.
The practice of yoga is ultimately a practice of exploring this nature, of choosing how we relate with what is. How do we more skillfully and compassionately relate with our changing bodies-minds and with those of all other beings?
According to Yoga and Ayurveda philosophy, we are all already united by the same 5 elements (the Pancha Maha Bhoota पञ्चमहाभूत ) : Earth (Prithvi पृथ्वी ), Water (Apas/Varuna/Jal अप् ), Fire (Agni अग्नि ), Air (Vayu वायु ), Space (Akash आकाश ).
May we cherish these elements (in all their forms) inside and out!
We are all already united.
Vaguely, I remember at some point in my studies with Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor (at this time I was in New York, before I came to Boulder to continue studying with them) where Richard was talking about the first verse of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra(s), the terse two words: “Atha Yogaanusasanam” (pronounced something like aahhhtaa yogaaaanooshaasaanaam).
This verse is often translated as “Now the study of Yoga”.
What I remember most is Richard emphasizing the importance of “Now” in this verse to suggest that we have now arrived at the study of yoga because nothing before now led us anywhere else, actually. We’ve made many attempts through many different pursuits and paths to achieve some kind of solid destination in the external world by which to measure and affirm our egos – however, all of these achievements have proved of temporary importance and fleeting satisfaction. Nothing outside of us has become a reliable, permanent refuge. Alas, we awaken, surrounded by the ashes of our impermanent stories, wondering: what happened? How did I get into this? How do I get out of it? Thus, we arrive at the study of yoga… “Atha Yogaanusasanam” …
As a yoga student and teacher, I find it helpful to consider this first verse of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra(s) again and again. All too often our minds wander far away, far from being here, now, even when we are supposedly practicing yoga.
What does it mean to be here and now (perhaps this question could also be phrased as: what does it mean to practice yoga?)?
Is the “here and now” defined by an external place and a point in time? If so, where are the boundaries to here, when are the limits of now? We all know that we can be in the same room with somebody and still be world’s apart. We can be on the same clock as somebody but in a completely different experience of that moment. So it seems: the “here & now” is not measurable from the outside.
Being present is an internal awareness, a tuning-in to the present experience, a connecting with the bodymind in its immediate circumstances.
That said, what then is the value of physical space and conventional time? Does it no longer matter where we are? Does it no longer matter when we do something?
We live in a unique wave of human history when it is easier for us to communicate with people on the other side of the world then it is to communicate with the people next door. How many of us have more friends and familiar faces online then we do in our own neighborhoods?
Our sense of locality – our physical rooting in space – is threatened everyday by the quickening of technology and transportation.
Our sense of rhythm – our mental rooting in time – is threatened everyday by the convenience of technology and the immediate gratification of consumer culture.
We are living in a world, a planet, this amazing Earth, that is battling everyday a complete dissociation with its mega-bodymind, aka, Nature.
Nature is our Here & Now.
For this reason, atha yogaanusasanam…
(photos courtesy pexels.com)
A few Words for the Memorial of Elise Winters
March 3rd, 2019 at the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, NJ
by Sandi Higgins, February 2019
If I have anything to share in the radiant memory of Elise Winters, it is mainly thanks to my high school English teacher, Woody Rudin, who bragged affectionately about her every chance he got. I graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School Old Tappan in 1999, but Woody was still sending me personalized emails exploding with pride about his wife’s accomplishments all the way into 2010: Elise’s jewelry was showing at the Newark Museum, Elise’s jewelry was being worn by Gwen Ifill on PBS, Elise’s jewelry was rolling down the runway on the fashion models of Cynthia Rowley (and Woody was upset that the young fashion models were taken out of school indefinitely to work as models)…
I have only met Elise Winters in person briefly with her husband, but I can tell you, she was always there with him even when she wasn’t.
The last I saw Elise was with Woody after a theater performance that I gave at the Bergen County Players in Oradell, NJ in the summer of 2017. They had graciously attended my show, Chapter Two, and joined me and high school friends at the coffee shop next to the theater after the performance. Woody and Elise were vibrant as ever and exemplified the meaning of togetherness in every sense. I wondered what could be in their water because they both had such a glow. They appeared to me as the perfect symbiosis, a natural partnership that anyone could envy.
Rumi says, “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” There may be no goodbyes for those who love with more than their eyes, but there is still grief for those who can no longer see the ones we love. Upon learning of Elise’s passing, I have tried like many to imagine: what words of solace could make a difference here? What words are strong enough to help lift the weight of grief?
As a teacher-figure, Woody has always encouraged my creative endeavors, in particular my writing. He has always given me an utmost sense of “being on to something”. That is the best way I know how to describe Woody as a mentor: he listens to what you have to say and looks back at you like you’re “on to something” (not “ON something” but “on TO something”). The joy with which he listens, the look in his eye, it all seems to suggest that there is something wonderful ever waiting to be discovered if one just follows their thread of inspiration. He doesn’t impose his own vision but naturally gives you the hope that yours has promise, that you have something of your own to develop. This is the quality of a real teacher.
Years after I had graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, while still struggling to make a living in the gritty, grimy, go-go-go of NYC, I got an invitation from Woody to join him at the Joyce Theater for a dance performance one night. Honestly, I felt ambivalent. I was uncomfortable in my own skin at the time. And is there anything scarier than facing someone who believes you have promise when the world has shown you how easily promises can be broken? Despite my ambivalence, I went to meet Woody. Of course, I heard more praise about Elise. And after our meeting for the dance performance, I somehow felt more hopeful. There were still good people in the world. Maybe I was still one of them.
Thank you Elise and Woody for sharing “a certain quality of light that seems to illuminate from within.” Peace be with you!
Obituary for Elise Winters (received by email)
Elise Winters, an artist and arts educator residing in Haworth, has died at the age of 71, having survived and thrived during 16 years of treatment for cancer at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey.
Winters’ artwork resides now in the permanent collections of six major museums in the country, including: the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wisconsin; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey; the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan, and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego.
In an article published by Ornament magazine in 2009, Winters was quoted as saying, “I have never been this happy about what I’m doing…the work I’m doing now feels like I found my voice and it’s flowing off my fingers.”
The article describes Winters’ one-of-a-kind art jewelry as having “a certain quality of light that seems to illuminate from within. This shimmering characteristic calls to mind the radiant sunlight of early dawn.”
She was chosen to be featured in the 2010 New Jersey Craft Arts Annual, titled “Make Me Something Beautiful,” held at the Newark Museum. Virtually all of the promotional advertising for that exhibition included images of Winters’ creations.
Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Winters taught art classes in various school systems, including the Dumont Schools, where she created a three-year program for photography which led a number of her students into careers as professional photographers.
She is survived by her husband, Sherwood Rudin of Haworth and two brothers: Aaron Winters of Rochester, New York and Dr. Dan Winters of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
A memorial gathering is now being planned to celebrate Elise’s life and her contributions to polymer art and to arts education. This will be held at the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, New Jersey on Sunday, March 3 at 2:30pm. The date was set to give adequate time for friends, family and former students to make travel arrangements and to prepare remarks they might like to offer. Everyone receiving this email today should consider themselves invited to attend and to speak, if desired.
Those wishing to make donations in Elise’s honor should consider a contribution to the Oncology Department of the Englewood Hospital, or to the Racine Art Museum, in Racine, Wisconsin.