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,
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.