Activism, Ahimsa, Ashtanga, Health & Wellness, Hinduism, India, Liberation, Media, Meditation, MeToo, Paradox, Satya, Sexual Health and Wellness, SexualHealing, Shastriya Sangeet, Social Justice, Sustainability, Tradition, Violence, Womens Wellness, Yoga

#MeToo Healing Part 2: Media, Truth & Non-Violence (Satya & Ahimsa)

This is a video from the Indian TV news after I was raped/sexually assaulted at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness guesthouse in Mumbai, India in 2009. I still do not know what the reporters are saying in this video but I can tell you for sure that the animated depiction of two men knocking on my door, and “me” opening the door to converse with them in my room, is totally false. The way I am depicted is in blatant disregard for the facts, as if a fantasy by the reporters is acceptable journalism. I never wore a crop-top at ISKCON. I wore long kurtas. Nobody knocked on my door at the guesthouse apart from the man from room service delivering tea to my room the night before the attack. After drinking that tea, I blacked out. I woke up semi-conscious in the dark hours of morning with a man already violently moving on top of me.

Sexual violence does not heal in private. It festers. The mediation of our #MeToo stories – and the public investment therein – is essential to the healing of sexual violence because sexual violence is a social epidemic that can only survive if it can promote itself as something “private”.  Assuming that we want to end the epidemic of sexual violence that plagues the planet today – and that on this battlefield we are fighting for a healthier future for all – we must acknowledge that the media has a great responsibility to bring such “private” matters to the “public” in a skillful way that both public and private can win, or heal, together. Skills are what we go to school to develop, along with knowledge. However, speaking from my personal and direct experience, the mediation of sexual violence has felt like an unskillful, losing battle. 

When the media lacks integrity, we all lose. There is no healing where there is no truth nor, at least, the intention of seeking the truth. In Ashtanga yoga philosophy, the value of ahimsa (non-violence/non-harming) is connected with that of satya (truthfulness). Ahimsa and satya go hand in hand such that we do not use the seeking nor telling of the truth in a way that could be harmful to another. Telling our truth requires as much conscious intent as does seeking to know our truth.

This seems like a conundrum, especially for victims of sexual violence. How can I speak my truth about the harm that another has caused me without causing them harm in return? Two concepts need to be clarified to answer this question. First, what is harm? Second, what is my relationship with the one who has harmed me and the one to whom I am speaking about this harm?

First, harm is that which hinders or injures the integrity of another. We harm ourselves when we harm others. If one has already injured their own integrity by acting in a harmful way towards themselves or another, then it is actually helpful and not harmful to articulate this loss of integrity. Only by accepting a loss can we accept a gain to restore it. A crime can only be brought to justice if it is acknowledged as a crime. Justice is the restoration of balance in the pursuit of an ethical relationship with each other.

Second, all relationships are non-dual. This means that our experience of harm is something that has arisen in relationship, in a connection between the parts of a whole, and therefore it can only be resolved through relationship – not in some isolated and disconnected idea about “self” or “other”.  We too often take the part for the whole.

Perhaps the best metaphor for non-duality is to look at our own bodies. If there is pain in the knee joint, then there is something that has gone awry in the relationship between the hip and the ankle. If the knee doesn’t say anything, the hip and the ankle joints may not accept the problem in their relationship, and the pain will only get worse. The knee must speak up for itself in order to correct alignment to prevent further pain. Should the knee fear harming the reputation of the hips by expressing the truth of its pain? Of course not. And our knees naturally have no hesitation. Similarly, we should not hesitate to speak up about the truth of our experience in fear of doing harm. Where the harm has already been done, the integrity has already been lost.

Keeping with our metaphor between the hips and the ankles, we may need to recruit new muscular assistance from our body in order to correct the alignment that is causing pain. This is akin to the role of the media. In reporting on sexual violence, the media should be employed to help correct the alignment that caused the violence. However, adjusting one’s alignment can go either way – properly to relieve the pain, or improperly to make it worse. If the media increases the tension in the joint by misreporting the violence, or by sensationalizing the experience of pain, the alignment is not going to improve and the pain is only going to get worse.

In my experience, the media’s reporting on sexual violence was harmful, even if it was helpful to bring attention to the problem.

I am grateful that the crime was of interest to the news, but it was re-traumatizing to see it so blatantly and rampantly mis-reported. Without any real investigation, the media ran the story like wildfire across TV, print, and online. Not only were the myriad reports rampant with errors, they were also sensational. Sensationalizing and dramatizing reports of sexual violence in the news can feed the same social hunger that drives these crimes to occur: the craving of sensation, the fear of fear, the need for power, the experience of powerlessness.

According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Since reading this blog post, how many Americans do you think have been sexually assaulted?

I am an American citizen and I was the victim of sexual violence in India.  I wonder: did this crime ever get counted? If so, where? As a statistic in India or in the USA?

Where are such international crimes brought to justice?

Courage,

Sandi

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Activism, Ashtanga, Buddhism, Health & Wellness, India, Liberation, Meditation, MeToo, Paradox, Sexual Health and Wellness, SexualHealing, Shambhala, Social Justice, Sustainability, Tradition, Womens Wellness, Yoga

#MeToo Healing Part 1: Paradox

The true testament of any practice (spiritual, physical, mental, etc) is what life experiences it can help you to work through. What does it help you to move through, to get unstuck from? My yoga practice (particularly, Ashtanga Yoga – in synergy with other elements, which I will also discuss in future blog posts) has helped me to work through the experience of rape/sexual assault/violence, trauma, and PTSD.

Ashtanga yoga practice helps me to get unstuck. Getting unstuck doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of something, like karma – though it could be interpreted that way. What I mean by getting unstuck is getting space between “you” and your “experience” or “story”. It means getting a greater sense of freedom to choose. It also means being present. This journey of unsticking, to put it lightly, is one that perhaps other survivors can relate to, despite all the differences in the details of our journeys.

The worldwide Ashtanga Yoga community is today reckoning with accusations of sexual assault against its beloved founder-guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (as are many other students with controversial gurus from many other yogic and spiritual traditions, such as in the Shambhala Buddhist community). This compels me to discuss my paradoxical experience at greater length.

The paradox that I and all people who share my scars must confront is: how can the founder of a yogic and spiritual tradition that has helped me to heal from sexual violence be himself a perpetrator of sexual violence? Can I still spiritually bow to him and his teachings with true respect? Can I carry on my practice without feeling confused or even complicit in some kind of contradictory value system, and thereby compromised in the healing process?

I tend to agree with the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, that we must speak out from wherever we are. It can be risky – but so is the alternative, to carry on as if nothing happened. We help to heal ourselves, each other, and our world by acknowledging and exposing pain while aligning this pain with the purpose of social justice and spiritual growth.

More in the next post.

Courage,

Sandi

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Activism, Animals, Buddhism, Environment, Healing, Health & Wellness, Liberation, Meditation, Music, Social Justice, Survivors, Sustainability, Vegan, Womens Wellness, Yoga

actually, it’s ours: in this together

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Yoga practice can transport us out of the suffering of conventional reality and reveal to us a kind of indestructible personal universe, a playful spaciousness within our own mind & body – but – that – is – really – only – a – beneficial – experience – if – the yoga practice also calls us to return to the conventional, collective, shared experience of suffering, the daily realities of this planet. We have to face all the HALAHALA! In yoga mythology, halahala हलाहल is the poison that arises from the churning of the ocean of samsara in the battle between the gods and demigods (perhaps a battle of our own intentions) for Amrita, the nectar of immortality. We seek the way out of the suffering in order to get back into it, we practice and non-attach, not to escape nor disconnect from the world, but to re-turn and re-connect with greater contentment, compassion, calmness, courage, purpose. ✌️💕🚀 Music: That Day Musician: Jef 🎶 #yogawithsandi

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