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Hare Krishna! Go Vegan!

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I am writing this instead of sitting in meditation. Maybe I should have sat in meditation.

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!

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photo thanks – www.thehindu.com
Activism, Ashtanga, Buddhism, Hatha Yoga, Healing, Health & Wellness, Hinduism, India, Kundalini, Liberation, Meditation, MeToo, Perspective, Sexual Health and Wellness, Social Justice, Survivors, Times Up, Violence, Womens Wellness, Yoga

#MeToo Healing Part 3: Perspective & Kundalini

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It occurs to me that some people are uncomfortable with an open discussion of rape/sexual assault/sexual harassment, etc. There is a lot of fear around the subject of sexual violence. Indeed, an experience of sexual violence and its aftermath can be very frightening to say the least. Not everybody is ready to embrace the positive side of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that are pointing out, stirring up, and overturning the violent social constructs that ignorantly underly our societies today.

So, I want to offer you a more invitational perspective.

A perspective that is also more hopeful. You might say that it is also more radical. My perspective offers you a way of looking at the experience of trauma as a form of yogic awakening, a psycho-spiritual upheaval in the uncoiling of kundalini. Please don’t roll your eyes at the mention of “kundalini” nor at the cliché association of yoga with “healing”. A French theater teacher of mine once told me, “a cliché is actually a truth just waiting to be dignified.” Let’s see.

This newfound understanding – I would also call it my way of integrating my own experience of trauma – has been churning in my consciousness for at least the past 7 years, at least since I started practicing the sadhana of Mysore Ashtanga Yoga. In this time, I have seen my relationship with life evolve in a process of expansive transformation that seems somehow connected to my practice.

Indirectly,  I feel this perspective that I am about to share here was crystallized just this past week in an intensive Ashtanga yoga workshop with Ty Landrum on the Ashtanga Second Series – also known as Nadi Shodhana (cleansing the subtle energy channels in our bodymind). In this Ashtanga vinyasa workshop, Ty inspired me (and probably everyone in attendance) to think more multidimensionally about our practice, and thereby, all that arises along the ever pulsating continuum that is life and death.

For me, this continuum includes – among other things – a traumatic experience 10 years ago at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Mumbai, India.

An important benchmark in healing from trauma seems to be the ability to access its memory without being overcome by it. I am so happy to have arrived at this benchmark.

Before this experience in Mumbai, I don’t recall ever feeling such a primal connection to my survival instinct, to the desire for life itself.

In the yoga workshop last week, Ty was saying how our desire for life is at the root of all other desires. There is one creative pulse at the source of our being. Yoga practice helps us to combat the existential estrangement we feel from this primal creative impulse.

Connecting with this creative pulse is what our yoga practice can ultimately do, and thereby, liberate. Tapping into our most primal desire for life itself can liberate us from all other desires (and subsequently: sufferings) because all desires stem, like fractal reflections, from this primal energy. This primal energy can be understood as bliss consciousness, and it can also be called, kundalini.

I’m going to elaborate a little bit here:

When kundalini rises in our bodymind (physiologically, from the root of the spine to the crown chakra), it inevitably confronts any psychic knots in our energy system. Whatever is blocking our psycho-spiritual development is blocking the flow of kundalini. These knots or blockages in our subtle energy system can cause real upheaval in our lives – like a lightening bolt hitting a rod can electrify whatever is touching that rod. Undoing these knots to free the inner flow is part of the practice of yoga. The “sudden” and “jarring” experience of knots coming undone is related to the practice of “hatha” yoga, which literally implies using force to awaken our bodymind.

Now, if we can understand “trauma” as a sudden and jarring effect on our nervous system, then we can start to see its functional integration in and to the context/process of hatha yoga practice, in which the Ashtanga vinyasa practice is rooted.

Personally, the traumatic experience that I had in Mumbai in 2009 put me first and foremost into a direct connection with my primal desire for life itself. The experience of this desire was completely overwhelming. I am a person who refuses to eat meat, however, at the moment that I was attacked on a life-or-death level, I felt ready to murder the man who was trying to murder me. I was determined to stay alive. I wanted to survive. I did not want to die in that moment as he tried to choke me. I did not want to die as he pinned my body under his. I kept fighting. I kept screaming.  I felt so strongly that I couldn’t let him shut me up. And I am sure that is how I actually got his hands off of my neck. That is how I got his whole body off of my body. Not by the strength of my arms but by the persistence of my voice. He was afraid that someone would hear me.

When he finally jumped up and ran away, I jumped up and ran after him. There wasn’t even a thought in my head. Until, suddenly, jarringly, I realized that I was running naked. This realization stopped me in my tracks. It was a Zero-Experience, an experience without any other reference point that I can offer.

For now, I’d like to add that recognizing this traumatic experience as a sudden and jarring awakening of my kundalini shakti has nothing to do with any moral judgement on the experience.

This perspective is not about passing a morality judgement.

Morally, I would say, my experience in that moment was negative and should not be something that happens to people. We should do what we can to prevent such harm from ever happening and that is the virtue of the #MeToo & #TimesUp movements.

Spiritually, however, I have to say that it is in fact how my karma unfolded in the awakening of my consciousness. This process of awakening is a positive experience.

Can you relate?

More on this in another post.

Love & Courage,

Sandi

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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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