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Git Woke & Get Saved

This was originally posted on my Facebook in July 2016 and recently popped up as a memory there. I am reposting it here because it is still just as relevant two years later. I have also been reflecting more on the sufferings of my pre-Ashtanga days that this post alludes to, and would like to share some of those reflections soon.

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Sri R. Sharath Jois Ashtanga Yoga USA Tour 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. Photo thanks to Sonima.

When I came out of the Brooklyn Yoga Club after practicing with Sharath last month, I was putting on some sun screen just outside the club’s door in front of the Ganesha statue on Vanderbilt Ave. Three black folks, two sisters and a brother, approached me. They first commented that I was smart to have sun block in the bright heat and I laughed about being so white that I need it, and then the guy motioned to give me a pamphlet in his hand. I said “no thanks” to the pamphlet so as not to carry anything I won’t use. He said, “well let me ask you one thing: have you been saved?”. It was a Church pamphlet. Fresh from yoga practice, I felt a natural smile rise in my eyes as I looked directly into his: “yes, I believe I have.” He said, “well, good then” and smiled back. I offered them all sun screen and the two ladies said no thanks but he used some with a laugh himself. We parted ways with a warm feeling and I wondered if I really had been saved. What gave me the conviction to say so? Yoga practice is not a religion but it is a method to deepen our spirituality whether we channel that through a religion or not. I can safely say that practice has saved me from my sins in the sense of awakening and preventing me from repeating them. Yoga gives me the tools to observe my suffering and to better protect myself from creating further suffering. Before I started practicing Ashtanga yoga around the age of 30, I had made a lot of mistakes in my 20s that created immense suffering in my life, which I can see now were a direct link to previous suffering. I was in a web of alcohol abuse, promiscuity, extra-marital affairs, codependency, broken promises, irresponsibility with money, and victimization – much the result of being enmeshed in a cycle that I didn’t know how to cut. In practicing Ashtanga, I have learned how to wake up, and how to wake up earlier, literally. Mind you – I had been practicing vinyasa yoga for many years before coming to Ashtanga, but it was not until the Mysore Ashtanga practice & emphasis on 8 limbs that I began to experience a more multidimensional, ongoing, transformation. With practice, every day is an opportunity to git woke and to get saved. 

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#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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