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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, 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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Ashtanga, Classes & Workshops, Health & Wellness, Meditation, Music, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Shastriya Sangeet, Sitar, Tabla, Yoga

Coloring & Uncoloring the Mind

Yogis, Yoginis, Musicians, and All Creative Warriors: join us on Saturday, April 7th for a special Ashtanga Yoga class and classical Indian Music workshop! We are going to have some fun learning about Coloring & Uncoloring the Mind while connecting these two ancient traditions. So honored that Sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee will be joining us at Playful Yogi Space! Slightly terrified to accompany him for the music workshop on Tabla, but maybe I will play better with my legs behind my head. ; ) Travellers from NYC : feel free to message me if you have transportation questions. Nearby train stop is Pearl River and we can try to help you find a lift from and to the station if needed. See you soon!

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