Hindsight 2020 • 1 January 2021

I asked the shala if they wanted to practice on Christmas, and they emojied back like:

Yeah, did you even need to ask? Yes the ritual remains on religious holidays, apocalypse days, and snow days. You still don’t know the schedule?

Oh, right. That was when I realized: some time last year the entity that is the shala crossed a threshold. Ten years of practice without a break. What a surprise. In that time, the organization has convened for every practice day. I was not tracking this, but realized that subconsciously the log I’ve been keeping for the group on Slack since March – an entry for every practice day we take in lockdown – has been a way of tending the space. Today, following Led Primary, I posted Shala Log #245 to note that practice was complete, I’ll see them again Sunday, and 2021 has begun.

Zoom sickness is real. The app is problematic. Still, Led Class with its thumbnails of mats and cats explode my heart. Many of us teachers find that Led is easy on the deep mind, whereas observing Mysore style practice grinds away at the soul somehow. I think our community should be extremely cautious about what is happening to our most experienced Mysore teachers right now, and not expect the most knowledgeable of them to labor too long each day in Zoom rooms. Reducing Mysore to 2D has the potential to erode the skills cultivated by years in Mysore rooms learning to teach with our teachers. I have a theory about why and how, for another time.

Led is different and kind of amazing. There, I have learned to syncopate my sentimental noises between the beats of the count. How to mute myself out while toddlers climb up parents’ standing poses, and cats lay in laps for ut pluthi. How to catch three people doing the same thing simultaneously on three continents, and connect them in sync with a couple of words. It brings a lot of energy, which has been harder for individuals to generate in isolation; and it eases the loneliness in a real way.

Over the years, the hardest thing about working in a transient town has been that I often get just a year or two to teach the foundations to people on post-docs or at the beginning of a tech career that soon takes them to India or Singapore or SF. So I invest deeply for a couple years in people who ten go out to the wider ashtanga community and, I thought, would never return. It is just a lot of goodbyes. But now a good number of those long-departed are back, from kind of everywhere.

And a few more new souls have found their way to us through fairy doors in the digital, in ways no less real than walking up to the shala. So OF COURSE the Zoom thumbnail collage blows my heart into a million pixels. How can we all be here, actually breathing in synchrony, actually meditating in the same way as a whole? Our coming together makes such a positive difference for us all.

While I count, I study what I can about their surroundings, the movement of their ribs as they breathe. Sometimes there will be two different people in Seattle or Tampa or Minneapolis and the light in both rooms will change at just the same moment, because one cloud just moved. Always the dogs on various continents get rowdy in unison (how do they decide?); there is no perceptible logic to the children, roommates and cats. I want more than anything to introduce them all to one another in the real, put them in a room to breathe together, to learn again through gesture and touch and the carefully unsaid.

Later, I have no intention to settle for two-dimensionality. But it’s good in the way that early internet ashtanga (The EZ Board, Ashtangi.net) was good: a search function for like minds that can later give way to the more-real. I predict some resistance in transition back to 3D, because it will be awkward and uncontrolled and intimate and scary…. But that’s for later.


In September it got too cold to teach outside, so I rented a car and drove to Montana. Up over the Mackinaw Bridge into the rocky shores of deep Lake Superior, down through Wisconsin and Minnesota, a few days in haunted South Dakota, then a loop around Devil’s Tower up into the bottom right corner of Montana and my parents. Teaching all the way on wobbly wifi; sleeping in tents; listening to local radio for a sense of each place’s mindset; reading DeToqueville in the evenings to bookend what felt like the Death of America.

I thought I’d keep going to Seattle, to be the one person in attendance at my brother’s new show at Jacob Lawrence Gallery, but that was when the fires hit. My parents and I cleaned Billings out of box fans and furnace air filters and FedExed them west so he could keep breathing. And then, facing my anxieties about Montana and falling hard for their bribe (a new calico kitten named Allegra – the one word, an Engadin greeting, they learned on their first-ever trip out of America last year) I settled in to my parents’ basement for a couple of weeks. The biggest weeks in a very big year.

It’s been three years since they moved off the campus of the rural children’s mental hospital where they had worked since 1969. Yes, I grew up on campus of an idyllic ranch… that was really a mental institution. Long story. Now they live in town, and work as a hospital chaplain and childrens’ therapist. Other people’s trauma is their normal; they are both a little Gandalfy in their calm-under-pressure vibes, and in their taste for epic drama. Gandalfy but small (we all wear the same clothes interchangably). So it had not entirely registered with me that Dad was facing severe Covid trauma daily in the ER. Not until I was there. He brought home all we needed to know in his sad evening heart and downcast face. The deaths he was holding space for during September are too private and heartbreaking to share here. We would process together by pumping blood through the heart, biking out through corfields into the high brush plains of Yellowstone county.

My grandma’s last bike, out of many, is a BMXish fold-up cycle with wheels half the circumference of a proper road bike. She rode it into her 80s and now it’s my mom’s. I’d pump those tiny wheels 5-10 miles every night, still slowing Dad down enough to ease my worries about him going over his recommended heart rate. Best weeks of the year, just being there beside him, in motion, as he played his part in history and worked through his feelings about it all. And now I have this weird cycling habit.

On Sept 30 I was outside Oskaloosa, traipsing around places my paternal grandparents, and their parents, all lived from the middle 1800s until 1954. That morning during teaching, a weird email came in. A too-familiar name, a number to call immediately, and certain dread. My student Lisa had died for no reason in the night. Her young sons and husband were in shock; they just wanted me to know. I didn’t know what to do on a leadership level, so I drove and cried and talked to Lisa for ten highway hours across three states. She too was from eastern Iowa. And that day, I felt she was hovering both there, and around Michigan with her shala and family, and all I could do was just be with her in this in-betweeness of place and aliveness and endings.

On a personal level, losing her is a slow stab of pain, mostly because I heard so much about her sons each day in the before, and still feel right now that part of them cut off as she disappeared. On the drive back home, I got to the place of being able to tell the shala, in digital, that a vibrant and adored one of us had suddenly, unreasonably left her body. Holding the space for their loss was the job, I thought, but the next day they all just took it over. They found ways to grieve through cooking, tree planting, letters, ritualized memory, and a dozen different sorts of potent memorials. Lisa thorugh this has done an Obi-Wan, transforming into a disembodied, sweet spirit around the 2D shala.

What the students’ ability to grieve and serve in 2D showed me was that much of the value of my work is not done by me but by the community of care that forms around daily practice. I have no interest, now, in facilitating lone wolf ashtanga. I have been the lone wolf, purifying my nervous system at 3 in the morning and silencing the mind, dreaming of caves and liberation from the messiness of community life. It’s all very comfortable. Being alone feels amazing. And in this era, my work is not for that. It’s to facilitate practice in a way that helps us to find union outside of the individual, so we can be there for each other in grief and tragedy and joy and celebration. We live in a world that makes it very hard to forge communities the size and density that churches, temples, mosques and synagogues were to our ancestors. The woo-woo that held those places together doesn’t stick anymore, but the initiations of birth and maturation and death still need a collective to hold them. When you are a child and your mother dies, you need someone to bring you meals, to express how important she was in the world, to care about how sad you feel and witness what this means for your life. We all need to do this for others too, or some of our empathy function is lost. There is a long history of lone wolf practice and abandonment of others in the spiritual traditions. It has always tempted me, but now at the time at which isolation most available, it has somewhat lost its intrigue. It feels like the world needs more of us in these times.

I think a lot – a LOT – about solidarity. And about how you don’t know who you are, or how strong your practice is, and especially how real your relationships are, until there’s meaningful stress put upon you. It is then that the fake friends, fair weather practices, and superficial personae are swept away. What I saw about myself in September is that when things get tough I’m less stoic and equanimous than I feel day to day. But the shala itself showed me how strong it was. I guess a decade of daily practice will do that to you.

In October things got insane in Michigan. Insane. The highest drama history I’ve lived through. You probably heard about gubernatorial kidnapping plots and rich racists trying to cancel voters in Detroit. Look closer, and it gets a billion times weirder. Anyway, I have been learning the real estate market here for two years, since I became the lease holder for the physical shala on Main Street. I was the first person in my family to purchase a home, back in 2013, so the learning curve has been steep. But under Mercury retrograde and a collective sense of terror as the election approached, with mortgage rates the lowest they’ve ever been, and at the cusp of the dramatic inflation I expect in 2021, I saw a moment to make a move. So I doubled down on my commitment Michigan, sold a place downtown and bought the one my old-lady self will want in the forest. It was a way of opening to that collective moment of terror and using it to invest more deeply in this place.

For now I am getting to know the most obvious new neighbors: hickory and oak trees, birds with bright red heads and blue ones that flutter in groups, deer who lie down in the snow in the evening to rest, but who are gone in the morning when instead huge turkeys – their beaks buried down in their neck feathers – stand sleeping in the snow. I guess this land is particularly safe in these times for even the slowest and meatiest of creatures, a human or two included. But that’s all I know, so far. I’ve been an urban, and really an international, being for so long that it will take me time to learn what languages are spoken out here.


Summer was a whole new world of practicing outside. In the spring, the 2D shala formed itself and came to life around the planet. In the winter I went alone to South America because I could not stop dreaming about the Amazon rainforest trees, and because more than anyplace in the world I wanted to visit the home of a beloved Argentinean friend. Those memories, rich and full of color, have nourished me all year. I think the fact that I was traveling alone, and keeping silence most of the month, opened my mind up to a huge amount of sensory experience that I am still tasting, savoring, 11 months later. Before that, right at the start of 2020, I spent the holidays and New Year teaching in Seattle.

How the 2D shala formed is a good story, but it’s getting into afternoon here on New Year’s Day, and this morning is the only time I’ve set aside for writing… and there’s something important from the start of the year I want to document instead.


In January 2020, I had a kind of dream.

(TW: SKPJ. I apologize if this dream offends anyone, at all. Because it is offensive in a way. But I think this dream is supposed to be shared – I think that’s why it showed up in me—and I spent all of 2020 afraid to publish various previous drafts of what went down….)

What I’m about to describe happening on the astral plane started to heal my heart of the pain that dominated the previous two years, since we learned that Patthabi Jois sexually molested some female students in the classroom. And – far more surprisingly – that a group of senior students (mostly alpha men who presented themselves as authorities over the community) had shunned and silenced the women he harmed.

The dream of restorative justice I wrote about last January weighed on my heart for two years, from the time Jubilee Cooke generously met with me in person to remove the scales from my eyes. All the teachers I’m close with have felt this soul-crushing grief in different ways: be it as guilt; self-doubt about our own discernment all these years; as loss of trust in colleagues who have failed to atone for their actions or help lead us out of the cult mentality. And especially through sadness about treasured friendships whose foundation now feels unstable. In all of this, 2018-19 was a painful time for those of us who have been around a decade or two. We lost so much that held us together, in trust, story, place and path.

I coped by going deep local, focusing on how real the practice is in the daily life of each of my students. Their clarity has grounded my faith in the path more than ever—especially because they have been so stable in the absence of a binding myth. But still I felt sad all the time for two solid years, starting when Karen Rain came forward in 2017, about the sins we as a community committed against our most vulnerable women. About how we did not take care of our most tender.

About how we became followers, when we needed to be protectors.

So in the dream, I become a snake. (Thanks to latent Christian programming for the full archetypical buildout in my dreamlife.)

There is a bolus in my belly that I’m attempting to digest (like the way pythons digest small mammals in documentaries), but it won’t decompose. So instead my body is trying to yawn it out. I yawn, and arch my spine, and try to do a kind of peristalsis to move the bolus up out of the belly. Over a long time, it inches up past my floating ribs, opening up the constriction in my heart as it moves up. It passes through the throat, stretching open the soft palate in a way that feels excellent inside my skull. But it jams into my jaw, threatening to block me from ever eating again.

I’m stuck there a while. Then I’m reminded that I am a snake now, and snake jaws are detachable. Aha! So I unhook my mandible and continue giving reverse-birth to the bolus. It is a slow, slow process and as the bolus exits my body my jaw feels healed somehow, the anger and grief stored there coming out like afterbirth as the bolus drops to the floor in front of me.

You must know who it was. But not in the form of a godman: in the form of a foetus, innocent and fleshy and reverse-birthed from my body. A person I never chose as my teacher, a person who never even knew my name, who was nonetheless deeply enmeshed in my DNA as a result of twenty years of unbroken ashtanga practice. When he came out of my body, as a foetus, I saw that he was pure potential. In that moment, his karma was unknown. Just a being, a soul, with as much innocence and deviance as beings do have. In that moment he had not become the great and terrible things he would be to the people in my world. He was genetic material, formerly part of my coding. I never quite knew he was in there. But now he’s not.

So 2020 started with a clean CRISPR edit of my subconscious. And now I’ve had a year to practice autonomously, without this tender helpless stranger lacing my double-helix. It hasn’t really been any different. There’s something much deeper imprinted in me through years in Mysore rooms and on Mysore streets, and it’s materialized by the conch, the discus and the sword—not the reduction of our ritual potency to one human being.

Except I’m not so sad anymore. There is a lingering regret that the easy trust is gone, but it’s not the ache of a terrible family secret working its way out of my system. I just practice, and do the teaching practice, and find that I deeply, easily trust this path.

I also find that I have nothing to prove.

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Authority • 3 January 2020

1. The fantasy of restorative justice

I choked on the publish button month after month after month. Because the voices I was listening for were silent. I kept believing the silverbacks still with us would say:

I’m sorry. Our community is traumatized in part because we created a rigid culture of guru worship. I will model humility and do my part to end the cycle.

Just a fantasy? No. Mary Taylor made that move. One hero alone. She stepped out from behind the curtain onto which we project our ideas of her, becoming human, awkward and emotional. And I waited, as most of the others let her stand alone out there and take fire. Or, as they transformed the scene into an opportunity for self-promotion – the classic beta move of “I was right all along and now my hour has come.”

After Mary set the standard, I thought we would see a tide of younger teachers show the work of a soul search. We would get real about the hazards of spiritual celebrity.

If you get those moments when we are all pieces of one being, and the past is now, and the solar system is inside us, then you can read history as if everything connected. It’s an analytical tool. The question becomes: “how could a face of Being, a face of Me, act this way?” When you were 9 and you first learned about genocide, were you one of the anomalies who responded that way by nature? That tender existential soul search?

(Content warning: Oneness. Humanity of sexual assailants.) Using the analytical tool of connection, it looks like Patthabi Jois isn’t a supervillian any more than he’s a god. He’s part of a social construct built out of transference and mirrors. It is on us, now, to understand how he was made into those two extremes. Sociology 101 (Max Weber) notes that charisma is a quality of groups, not individuals. We create the godmen. That’s on us.

Why did I think all the silverbacks, and then the whole second gen, would move towards atonement? Because consciousness wants to evolve. Consciousness likes the hard lessons; they give traction and urgency. No injury; only opening. That mantra is not for the body; it’s an extreme challenge to the psyche.

I also reasoned, how could any practitioner not go to the crossroads with Patthabi Jois? Bless the wise part of this also harmful person who finally, as a ghost, is pointing us in a useful direction. You know who meets you at the crossroads, right? The devil you need. The shadow inside. In the dark night that makes you never the same again.

Going to that crossroads was the vinyasa. Inhale walk into the night. Exhale sit down with the devil and work out which part of humanity could celebrate god-man worship as women were harmed and shunned for decades. Stay there as long as it takes. Do not get up until you get the anger and the heartbreak and the fear on an empathic level. Inhale go home and talk about the lessons freely. Especially with any student who finds the conversation awkward.

That is a teacher’s basic responsibility. To model difficult growth.

We saw the crossroads, but only some of us actually went there, and even fewer came back transformed like I expected.

Eventually I learned why we didn’t get that healing “I’m sorry” from the silverbacks. The answer is that some are too broken to speak. But others: it’s that they feel entitled to their personal psychological comfort.

I take that as a warning. Growth includes psychological discomfort. Socially privileged practitioners will reproduce this entitlement to psychological comfort if we do not see what we are doing. This is dangerous for vulnerable students. Leadership includes reputational and emotional risks to protect the most vulnerable.

Throughout 2019, I believed a tide would follow Mary. Accountability would lead to atonement. Atonement would take the form of self-reflection about the social causes of misogynistic abuse in a spiritual community. After soul searching, we would see where we went wrong: collective transference through dissociative celebrity-guru worship.

Guided by humbled leaders, we would make the sacrifice of the habits that hurt the vulnerable women. The group transference. The sense of entitlement to a spiritual object in the form of a human.

A post-authoritarian era would begin. Restorative justice would be gentle. We’d wake up and stop expecting a sage on a stage, a person who can’t be expected to remember our names, to meet the most tender needs of our broken inner children. We’d tend each other’s inner children. It takes a village, not a strongman.

My fantasy wasn’t all wrong. These things are happening in places. Thank you to those broken open, connecting, making new paradigms. Your work is why I finally feel less choked.

Writing in depth here is a chosen part of my teaching practice. To be human, and fallible, as a yoga teacher in public. While silent last year, i saw so much that was beautiful – particularly the cutting edges of the ashtanga facet of modern yoga. When I have time, I’ll share what feels new in old yoga.

Ashtanga: always old; ever new.


2. Conceptual Colonization. Or, Freud and Yoga.

Here’s the main thing I learned as an ashtanga teacher in 2019. People brought up in the west are vulnerable to mistaking a cross-cultural yoga teacher relationship as a psycho-therapeudic one. Few people know the explicit theory of transference and fewer still have received psychoanalysis (I have). But for all of us whose first language is English or German or French, &c., Freud has been in the air around us a hundred years. Because of his genius, the implicit model a western mind has for healing is systematic transference, and long-run integration of that transference. This is not ashtanga method. It is psychoanalytic method.

I had to spend many, many winters with my teacher in India to get that through my skull. He wasn’t walking me through some transference drama, the way my excellent therapists have done. He was annoyed by my transference. Every time I suppressed my own emotional intelligence, instead choosing to cultivate overwhelming devotion and thoughtless acceptance of his every instruction, I killed off the human connection that’s possible when you let your whole self into the room and don’t assume the other person reads your mind and has a perfect plan for you.

There weren’t a lot of students in Mysore in those days, in the chaos before and after the big guy died. None of the social monitoring to determine who is a devotee, and who is spiritually worthy. It was largely a community of wanderers and rugged individualists. Authorization was rare. Ashtanga was cool. In that open minded, un-crowded environment, my teacher had time to chip away at my surrender mentality. Sometimes, light would shine through my thick skull. My insistent, worshipful transference would crack and we’d be two humans in a room. Yoga.

Stop before you say this reflects a complete cycle of projection-capture. That’s conceptual colonization. It’s also a reduction of the spiritual to the psychological. And it’s upsetting, because it turns my teacher into an object, me into the subject whose growth is what matters. Western mind tends towards objectification and other forms of materialism, despite a mystic current that feels more like yoga. (I first found the latter in Martin Buber.)

The common authoritarian doctrine that “people deserve their fantasy of the perfect parent” in a spiritual group setting is neither accurate to Freud, nor accurate to yoga. What it is, when applied to yoga, is conceptual colonialism.

Now that I understand my teacher as a human, I wonder why he bothered to get to the other side of my colonial mind. The bother of it, the energetic cost. I don’t know. Perhaps because I was a particularly dissociative student. Or maybe it’s that my conditioning with psychotherapy made my drive to create a transference relationship with him painfully obvious.

All I can say is that I am grateful to have gone the distance to find the person on the other side of my spiritual object. Otherwise my entire relationship with ashtanga would reduce to reactions to him as an object, and my head would explode each time I disagree with him. Most people are quicker studies, but I was especially committed to the fantasy of psychological enlightenment.

The upshot is what you see here. A certified teacher accepting herself as an everyday human. Relating to her teacher as the most mundane kind of guru — having finally understood that role in its cultural context as a person who sees what you don’t see in a limited domain. Doing all this this in the open. Without fear.


3. The psychological theory of enlightenment

Psychological enlightenment: spiritual perfection reduced to the level of psychology. The fallacy that an individual personality can be purified of conditioning, plus by a belief that the method to achieve this is surrender to a human god. If you just dissociate enough, your personality will disappear and you will never feel bad or screw up a relationship ever again. Weirdly common motivation in yoga. (Bad news: emotions and personalities get stronger because of practice.)

I suppose the psychological theory of enlightment happened because some cultures went without legitimate religion for 100 years, and in their hunger for transcendence they substituted psychotherapy and self-help for spirituality.

Western students, those looking to fill a void in our lives, can become so certain about this process that we feel entitled to our transference. “I need him to act like X,” is something I’ve said in the past, and heard a whole lot this year.

The psychological theory of enlightenment tells us we can’t wake up without someone to credibly fill the therapist-god shoes. And to the degree we buy that, we in turn think it’s fine to let our own students pedestalize us. Because, according to that theory, all students “need” a cosmic grandparent to put on their inner pedestals. (Pause to note the corrupt position that puts you in as the teacher….)

Expecting a yoga teacher to skillfully cultivate and hold massive amounts of group transference for the end-goal of teaching individuals to intergrate it – that’s not a thing. Charismatic leaders don’t do that. Ever. But we can be so deluded by this story of liberation that we feel entitled to our cathexis. Cathexis at any costs, even if there are bodies on the floor.

Expecting your own teacher to batch-file sangha psychotherapy leads to a particular, postmodern derangement. What happens is you convince yourself that any human behavior by your beloved therapist is arranged for your own learning process. They don’t do human things. They only act unsaintly in ways supernaturally designed to liberate you.

This is all kinds of trouble.

The tradition of the yoga student-teacher relationship as I experience it in India is distinct. It can be understood on its own terms, without the objectification or the reductionism to psyche.

Here’s the thing. Spiritual intelligence is different from psychological intelligence, just as kinesthetic intelligence is different from moral intelligence. None of these is proxy for another. Spirituality is its own domain. It’s not psychology. (By analogy: mastery of the body does not cause moral development; rather, an extreme focus on kinesthetic mastery might account for our immaturity in moral reasoning.)

This substitution of psychological growth for spiritual enlightenment is the motive for western mind to colonize yoga with Freudian ideals. I revere psychoanalysis, and rely on it to conduct myself professionally. But, Krishnamacharya yoga, learned with someone who has a non-internet human relationship with you, is not conducted the same way.

It’s hard to see this, because the ideal of the adoring, omniscient grandparent got baked into the ashtanga cake circa 1970. Many of us can’t imagine the practice without the celebrity worship and ecstasy that accompany group transference.

But… all along, the mystics have moved among us, doing their practice without the inflection towards a cosmic grandpa. I’ve been talking to Danny Paradise about that, recalling the days I was locked in my transference and just thought he was a punk. But yoga from the place of radical personal responsibility + connection with everything is so real. He’s been on that program as long as I’ve been alive. Took me a while to come around.

The ethnographer in me has seen the mystic Jedi approach to ashtanga in pockets around the world all along. But now it feels like the future of a spiritual practice that makes you useful, and smart, and highly respectable in a world that needs you now. The world needs disciplined independent minds because zombie authoritarianism is coming on strong.

4. Psychoactive texts

Say you grew up in a family of astrologers or yoga teachers in south India before the internet. Freudless. In theory, being exposed to westerners who treat you like cosmic grandpa could be completely alienating. Or, it could be thrilling. Humans are humans are humans. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Because I don’t understand the Indian side of the Yoga/Freud comparison intrinsically, I’ll rely on a download about the differences and similarities between Krishnamacharya’s yoga and Freudian analysis. Yes, that resource exists. Last year I studied it like scripture.

I don’t believe much yoga can be learned in books. But, some publications aren’t so much books as psychoactive substances. This one is dense, unexciting, and lacks editing for a mass market. Good. Knowledge like this should be some trouble. This book guided me for months, from the day it came to me in Freud’s home of Vienna – where I’d first read it on the plane to Montenegro — then back to Michigan where it defined my summer studies, and then to the Pacific Northwest where its message finally germinated in my mind.

So in May, the wonderful Austrian Mysore teacher B gave me a copy of Freud and Yoga by Desikachar and Krusche as I was leaving her home. She directs the shala in Vienna, a city where Freud isn’t just in the air. He’s in the blood. A lot of those ashtangis are psychotherapists. They know the edges of their own paradigm and how to differentiate it from other modes of thinking, same as the book’s coauthor.

I returned to Ann Arbor and took on an apprentice for the summer. She arrived from a faraway country, and we got two months together to support her in her transition into the teaching life. When an apprentice comes, they practice beside me each morning before class, then watch me teach or assist daily, and then meet with me weekly to talk about theory and method. The schedule is grueling for them, and easy for me. At 43, with 20 years of practice experience, the practice has made me far stronger than the 10-year asana champs; in the same way, my 49 year old teacher is faaaaar stronger than me when it comes to the long haul of running a Mysore room.

Anyway, to ensure apprentices get the message that this is only the beginning their Million Hour Teacher Training (TM), they also choose a special topic of study and are asked to do whatever it takes to get me sufficiently interested in their topic to learn about it together with them. (Incidentally, so I feel comfortable inviting individuals based purely on their merit, and so they remember that they might fail, and so I can start paying down the debts of generosity I owe my teachers… this apprenticeship is free.) This summer, she knew immediately; she wanted to study the comparison of yoga and psychology. Great coincidence.

Studying alongside her for two months is how I finally reached the perspective in this post. We began with something evil, Swami Rama’s psychotherapy book, subjecting it to our best critical analysis. Are there clues in the text that the author is a psychopath? (Yes.) Would we have the clarity to recognize them if we didn’t know his story before we started? (Maybe.) Several other students at the shala jumped in and formed a reading group, and the lot of us are still processing the threads opened during that time.

Then at the end of summer, I taught a regional retreat at a Jiddu Krishnamurthi center in Cascadia. (Cascadia is a Unified Utopian Zone that transcends state boundaries in the Pacific Northwest.) During that time, I was studying the Sutras with Chase Bossart, the close student TKV Desikachar (coauthor of the psychoactive book, and son of Krishnamacharya). Chase had generously agreed to do a month-long intensive for my students on the topic of viveka according to Patanjali.

This combination of J. Krishnamurti (a close friend of Desikachar and his father) coming back into my life after a long absence*, plus Chase telling stories about his teacher which I’d never heard before and which may not be documented anywhere yet…. well, it all came together and caused a small fireworks display in my brain.

The following questions appeared.

These are all about the evolution Krishnamacharya may have gone through regarding the role of the student-teacher relationship in yoga. And more importantly, the evolution this seeded for us. By December I’d found partial answers to all of these, but I suspect you, internet, know much more. Please reply if so.

If you care about decolonizing yoga, or a non-racist yoga, or a yoga that has begun to atone for its misogyny and perhaps learned to be of service to marginalized people, these questions may open up our field of possible futures.

I. What was the relationship of Patthabi Jois to his teacher Krishnamacharya in the years after the student started wearing gold chains and teaching from stages? Did Krishnamacharya worry about what was happening there?

II. What models did the world of the 70s-90s have for the living saint? Did Krishnamacharya accept the role of spiritual authority that others asked him to fill, or (as the story goes) he did refuse it? What techniques did Patthabi Jois’s old students use to forge his saintly image for those who would come later? Why didn’t Krishnamacharya’s students do the same to him; and did they try?

III. What was Krishnamacharya’s attitude toward celebrity students? Did it worry him that his students Iyengar and Jois cultivated celebrity students?

IV. Who was Jiddu Krishnamurti, and how does his biography show the ways that westerners demanded spiritual services from Indian god-men in the 20th century? What made his Dissolution of the Order of the Star so inspiring (or horrifying) to other Indian teachers? What was his warning for us now?

V. What happened when Krishnamurti met Krishnamacharya?

VI. What can be known about how Krishnamacharya’s vision for the student-teacher relationship developed after he left the Mysore Palace? What keys to Krishnamarchaya’s method are revealed by Desikachar’s radical pedagogy?

VI. This is a little crazy… but did Krishnamacharya deliberately construct a path out of authoritarianism and set it in motion decades ago, in a way that people throughout his lineage could pick up when Krishanamurti’s warnings came due?

I’m still processing the summer epiphany, and don’t have words for it yet. But the more it settles, the deeper my suspicion that Krishnamurti radicalized Krishnamacharya late in life in a way we have only just begun to appreciate. And the more I wonder if he left any record of objection to the way his students created a following. Did he? Because he knew those god-men as humans and as his own students, what could he see in their shadows as they took the stage that Krishnamurti refused?

These questions don’t matter because of curiosity. They matter because they might reveal the roots of authoritarianism in Krishnamacharya yoga to be dying. Or rather: long dead.

(*My introduction to J Krishnamurti was Mark Whitwell telling me to read both of the Krishnamurtis in grad school in LA. He said that would help me understand the problems with Patthabi Jois, who was still teaching at that time. I had no idea what Mark meant, but did the reading and loved it.)

5. Authoritarianism Gets Real

How to fight authoritarianism? Some ways: (1) Write its history from start to definitive finish. (2) Give up entitlement to leaders as cathartic spiritual objects. (3) Manage transference by being a whole human person in spiritual settings, and requiring anyone in power to do the same instead of playing like a saint.

(Trigger warning: same as above.) There are dozen ways to write our history. Revenge history, the study of the moral failures of past individuals, is the long lie that “I would have never done that.” CS Lewis called this chronological snobbery. For months, I’ve been countering that impulse by listening to a lot of Thic Nhat Hanh on Interbeing. He looks at atrocity through the lens of “how could a face of humanity come to this?”

This is a level of taking responsibility almost no humans have yet found possible. But ashtanga already gave us Mary Taylor, so I feel there will be more to come among us.

Again, using the research tool of “How could an aspect of my own species have done this?,” I have understood: there would be benefits to being somebody’s spiritual object. Then you get to boss them around, and they kiss your feet for it, and they’re not real people to you, and you’re not real to them. So we get religion. Corporate capitalism. Cults. Oligarchy. It is clear. Worship of power in the form of men answers the research question.

People are people. Power likes power. No surprises there.

Now several massive democracies, nation-states founded on secular ideals that once inspired many, rush towards fascism. There is a formula. These states are usually led by men who came to power through violence against ethnic minorities and favors to religious fundamentalists. Nationalist authoritarianism is not something to watch out for. Nationalist authoritarianism is here. It’s getting stronger today, tomorrow, next week. It’s in America. India. China. Parts of South America. Parts of Europe. And more…

We know now that ashtanga has its own history of authoritarianism, embedded within a greater context of liberation and healing and discipline and play and wonder. Its history of cult behavior is short enough we can piece together our own experiences of it, and its genealogy. If you know the history of an idea, and then you know it’s just one choice among many. A bad vibe that has a beginning, can also have an end.

Looking back, you can see: spiritualized authoritarianism was one way of doing yoga. And it’s now effete. As the global nation-state situation grows violent, the stronger the need to design the spiritual future creatively. We can use the ideas and historical knowledge at hand to cut through cultures of compliance. Mystics are great at resistance, because their minds are free.

Two of the key dying democracies are on opposite sides of the world. Yoga thrives at these poles. One starts with A, and one starts with I. In these nations, authoritarianism is turning towards fascism. As we make the ashtanga of 2020, please remember the aesthetic and the attitude that accompanied the original fascist ethno-state. It started with a stage. Add a charismatic male leader, and behind that large portraits of the same man. Then on the grounds before the stage, rows and rows of adamantine bodies, moving in synchrony, the model of coordinated mental and martial power.

As fascism takes form form again in the world, I’ve been on the lookout for new uses of its visual lexicon. Because this is how hypernormalization works. My friends: fascist imagery was already re-normalizing itself last year. The First Order. The Sith Cathedral. Evangelical megachurches. The Magisterium. Michigan Trump rallies. And….

Yeah. And that. See it? I know this is really hard to look at, but please. That aesthetic, and that attitude, is in our shadow too.

And because authoritarianism is an aspect of ashtanga history, our lizard brains contain the code for how to double down on transference onto spiritualized authorities. When we could instead let the mass guru thing die. We know in our bones how to center our practice around the pedestal and the person on it – whether we obsessively love or obsessively critique that object. What an easy way to find psychological comfort in uncertain times. To fill the void of parents, and presidents, and bosses who care.

Please. This is important. There are a million ways to nurture our practice for the future. A million ways it can look. A million ways we can express care, loyalty, investment, and faith. Obsession with authority is, we have learned, the worst of all known ways.

Understand our yoga’s authoritarian streak from the inside, from the beginning. Then gently, let it end.

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The Future • 1 June 2019

I. Pre-empting future suffering.

Ashtanga’s exhaling, everywhere. I returned home from India in March to the news that our shala’s rent was multiplying so many times over that we might have to close. No. Time to go into long-term planning mode.

The same week, two of the shalas I looked to as leaders – in Boulder and in New York –announced they were closing due to unaffordable rent. This is America ruled by real estate mafia: passive income for the 1%, double shifts for those of us who are actually productive. It’s a very challenging time to teach large group classes. A socialist esoterica school doesn’t get to have 2500 square feet on Main Street.

Except for when it does. I got quiet here to sort it out. I didn’t want to say a thing until deals were sealed. That’s done now. We have a long term plan and two contingency plans for stability.

They thought I might survive by opening a “yoga studio.” ADVERTISE. Build a following around my name as a brand. Run classes all day, with a variety of formats. Train teachers to take on my responsibilities as the main asana instructor, while I lead the business instead. Redefine my work to satisfy the building owners who want more rent. No. I’m not turning the shala into a store. Commodification is not a long term thriving strategy.

Ashtanga DOES need to exhale now. It is time for this practice to contract; become smaller; go back underground to do a ton of inner work. I will teach through this time and I will love it. The ashtanga I fell in love with 20 years ago was a tough-minded yet mystical counterculture. And as that, our shala will continue in a signless upstairs space on Main Street, where we’ve been for ten years. To survive, I’ll be running a variety of anti-capitalist-within-capitalism experiments. New organizational strategies are taking shape, little bit little. It’s so clear now that the ashtanga-splosion that happened the last ten years – obsession with postural achievements and worship of teachers –has been an avoidance of just looking inside. So now, we look inside or die. What will remain of this practice – given the economic pressure we are all under – desperately needs organizational forms that support grounded self-reflection, outside of the internet and yoga vacations. We will see what happens in Ann Arbor. The micro-experiments are up and running….

Something else I was quiet about… until the incisions were sealed.

The week after the news of our rent increase, I had arthroscopic surgery on my right anterior meniscus. The knee was fine as it was, but I saw a restriction in my mobility coming decades down the road. The time to stop and prevent future suffering was now.

Blame my practice if that’s the story you are telling. You’d be wrong, though it’s true I have practiced ashtanga daily since April of 2003, and much of the 3 years before that. I’m not pursuing flexibility. Rather, the coup de grace for my strong, mobile knee came when I collapsed upon seeing my father in pain. Long story. Two months in Mysuru healed the MCL; 4 minutes on an operating table gave the meniscus new life it would not have enjoyed in any other era.

Surgery was wonderful. I watched, without the meds. You know that thing, when peak experience bends time? The mind slows perception so you can count the stitches in the baseball that’s flying at your face. Watching a tiny knife inside my knee was like that.

The surgeon allowed me to watch the procedure, with one shot to the L3 to numb the lower body for 20-30 minutes. He doubted my ability to stay calm, watching my own body opened up without feeling. He had the anesthesiologist roll a stainless steel cart alongside my bed, needles and a face mask ready to go the second I lost my composure. And then he tested me, describing the procedure while we both listened to the heart rate monitor speed up as things got real.

Realizing this was a test, I took a controlled belly breath and asked the heart to slow. Magic. The surgery team prepped for 50 minutes; I kept the heart slow and steady enough to earn their trust. They said this level of control shouldn’t be possible. But then something happened. Over the course of a minute, I lost sensory AND motor function below the L3. The diaphragm would contract up under my ribs on a conscious, controlled exhale, and then halfway through the next inhale all ability to feel and to DO would drop away. If there is one thing I always have, one strategy above strategies, it is the ability to breathe with consciousness and control. One breath, I had it; and the next round I had half. Only the bottom of the exhale and the top of the inhale. But I needed the breath to stay deep and slow in the belly to keep the heart rate impressively slow. One false heartbeat, and they’d snap the gas mask on my face and sign the down-regulation job over to the drugs.

There was the face mask. There was the anesthesiologist with a hand on the mask. There was a wheel of gleaming tools rolling towards my leg. And I could not ask my breath to inhale, or feel it if it did. This is weird, but I prayed to the heart rate. Not a prayer from the heart, but a prayer TO the muscle, asking for a particular rhythm. Specifically I prayed to the beep. And all nine of us in the operating room stayed with the beep for four long minutes of meniscus shave. Please beep, be steady. Take care of our patient.

She beeped. The mystical thing was knowing in my unconscious gut that the breath was down there in the belly even while my pranamaya “I” was offline. My training in nervous system self-regulation couldn’t help; but the autonomic system had me. For half of every breath cycle, there was nothing my “I” could do. This was visceral-mystical game, half the inhale and half the exhale as will, half as surrender, and the heart holding both sides accountable. That shot in the spine represents the most drugs I’ve ever done in my life. It was a very good trip.

I said no to the Oxycontin they offered for no good reason; a day with ice and the books of Sheldon Pollock was sufficient. I tried to watch Innerspace too, but the real thing’s better.


II. Authorities of Post-Authoritarianism.

Sometimes you just need to hear it from a man. And old man.

You know? The realizations. The “new paradigms.” The re-programming instructions on how to fix yourself. It helps to hear it from One Who Knows.

Yoga is in a big post-authoritarian moment right now. This is positive. Thank god. (Insert subconscious grandpa god-image.) Thank… the men who have come to save us…?

How is this post-authoritarian again?

Please think about John Friend. Sorry. Not the man, the syndrome. The man with a roll of paradigms inside his coat, one for every era. Savior – Power Abuser – Savior again. Doesn’t matter what story we’re all telling, he just needs to be the one with the Solutions. The movable Savior.

Anyone can be that guy. What is required is a careful understanding of victimhood. He describes the Problem, and uses one or more Victims to illustrate why his Solution is necessary. If someone notices the pattern, the Savior himself moves into Victim mode, giving birth to new Saviors who become emotionally invested in defending him and his holy Solution. It’s totally fine if you hold some Solution dear – new paradigms can be great. But just go behind the energy for a minute. The second the Savior plays Victim, you know he’s not in it to help anyone at all. He’s playing for power. This means many more future rounds on the Savior-Victim-Problem wheel.

So: yoga’s anti-authoritarian moment. It will have authorities.

Basically modern yoga is entering Season 2 of Westworld.

This spring in the ashtanga world, I’ve had old men (I’d call them colleagues, but they genuinely might be insulted by this) tell me I suffer from years of submission into the authoritarian/patriarchial culture they themselves embody… and which now they can cure me of. I thought my anger about this was just my own, but this month some of the senior teachers I respect most have told me they also can’t believe this moment we are in. Having to listen to angry, dominating men tell us how we’ve been wrong all these years.


Dominating men: do you imagine we need you to think for us? Do you think for a minute that we didn’t see your authoritarianism problem the minute we walked in the door? Do you think we didn’t create discrete, systematic, non-authoritarian ways around you from the start? We never needed to change you; we just made sure to show you enough respect you wouldn’t get obsessed with dominating us, and to stay sufficiently invisible that you wouldn’t “fall in love” with us. The anti-authoritarianism we’ve always had isn’t a Solution. It’s not a workshop title. It’s just that unlike the Saviors, a lot of us have minds that are grounded. We don’t get lost in big ideas. We use our brains.

We hear one woman say she was mistreated: we believe her. It’s just good sense to a grounded mind. Women don’t lie about abuse. And abuse can come from Perpetrators, from Saviors, from Saviors playing Victims. Dear Savior: you ever exploit someone who opened up to you, humiliate a vulnerable person for power, “fall in love” with a woman in your care? Is this question upsetting? Sorry. Don’t worry: the answer doesn’t make you a Problem because those of us with a grounded thinking process try to stay out of that game. But still, if these questions are upsetting, please lay off the Savior thing. It’s not helping anyone but you.

Putting energy into the Savior thing keeps us locked in a dominance system that was already old when I started yoga twenty years ago. It’s a way to keep dominating old men in power. But anti-authoritarianism grew up without saviors from the grass roots of grounded minds of generations of both men and women. I will explain.


III. Futurism

Going forward, Yoga will see an anti-authoritarian paradigm coalesce. It’s good in the long run, bizarre in the short run. There will be gurus of consent culture and trauma commodifiers. We will pay money and attention to learn about the post-authoritarian paradigm, from authorities who spend their days self-promoting on the internet rather than serving in classrooms. I want to talk about the established sources that the new authorities of anti-authoritarianism will mine for ideas.

The new gurus will get their material from nurturers. From field-tested anti-authoritarians. From people whose M.O. was always to be hyper-sentisive to the vulnerable, and to risk their own reputations on defending them. From people who have the moral intelligence to go against the flow of their professions if that is what it takes to protect their students. I’m thinking especially of a generation of senior women and men who teach only to their personal students, whose material is a non-branded form of asana that they created out of years of study and service. I suspect ashtanga lost some of these service-driven teachers, because our asana obsession and authorization/ certification hierarchy can be a distraction from a real commitment to serving those in need. My guess is that most of these people defected before my time, but some of them stayed and worked within the subculture. My first decade of practice, I ran across a dozen of the ones who stayed. These are the strongest teachers in the field. They aren’t writing about their work; they are DOING their work. If you’re here to co-opt my ideas about anti-authoritarianism, I won’t help you find these people whose practice and insight are so much better than mine.

….But I can say the ways that I have been post-authoritarian for the first ten years of my teaching practice, and how I learned to be like this. The reason to note this living history is, again, to challenge the proposition that the post-authoritarianism is new, and that there is anyone who can speak of it with authority.

Post-authoritarianism, consent culture and trauma sensitivity are the background intelligence of all of today’s yoga; since I started practicing it’s been a muted mycelial intelligence that makes this whole thing sustainable. It’s the nurturers – both men and women – who made yoga what it is now, and who continue making it every day. The majority of what we know isn’t from Saviors; it’s from servants.

For 18 months, every teacher I know who operates from nurturance has been alienated, devastated, even traumatized to learn that ashtanga yoga has a history of sexual abuse. Worse, we are still as a subculture muting vulnerable women. All of the nurturing teachers are sad for the women. Most of us are sad for the authorities who are broken because they didn’t nurture correctly when they should have, and can’t find a way to process their cognitive dissonance and guilt now. Our generation of nurturers is soul-searching, and blaming ourselves that we did not somehow do better. I am sorry. We are sorry. That we didn’t see. We’re worried about EVERYONE else, whatever their perspective on historical abuse of power in our practice.

Nurturers are great at moral labor; we’ll carry that guilt the Saviors are shoving off. And while we do so, our hearts go to any women who has ever been abused, silenced or shunned. This is how nurturance operates inside a person’s mind. It’s a kind of mind that rushes out to the most vulnerable person and asks what can be done. The answer is never to a Solution. It is so much more more humble than that. It is meeting their needs, without disempowering them by Saving them.

Repeatedly I tell the Saviors I have never been an authoritarian, that I don’t have the problem they want to fix in me. Because I have been taught and mentored by nurturing men! But a woman who is not broken and does not need saving is not of value in the Savior world. There are spaces online where ashtanga teachers discuss the discipline. One by one, non-authoritarian teachers have realized, we are not even heard in conversations about authoritarianism. If women say someone is not safe, we are disbelieved. If we say we are not Victims, we are disregarded. It’s fine. We just go back to our work of nurturance.

You know how the mind of an authoritarian works? It believes our broken-hearted softness makes us weak. For this reason, in the near future, anti-authoritarianism will pass from the everyday work of meeting needs on students’ own terms, to an intellectual property of the Yoga Alliance. It will be used in service of that organization’s epic colonialist dominance move. This moment in yoga history will end quickly, but it’s exciting to watch because it points to how authoritarianism could truly die. Dialectically. In our own times, on a large scale, we could see the emergence of a deep, even devotional, simple, non-sectarian, post-colonialist understanding of yoga. The sublime performative contradiction of colonialist, authoritative anti-authoritarianism could make the whole edifice explode. Think about it. Then what remains is the same old mycelial network, teachers who do the daily work of nurturance without thinking that makes them Saviors.

Here is why Yoga Alliance anti-authoritarianism will eat itself: it will be driven by people whose minds are not grounded. Leaders who don’t have that basic thing, the part of you that makes it impossible to play follow-the-leader, or to pretend the boss is always right. That healthy ego that keeps you out of cults. Narcissist leaders lack healthy ego, and their institutions lack enduring values. Their legitimacy claim is to Save you of their ills. History wrote this plan out for us already. It predicts things will get culty for a minute. Enemies will be sought and persecuted; saviors will play victims. Then it’ll pass, and the professionals will still just be here taking care of our students above all, and doing our reverent best to honor a priceless, ancient tradition from a world we can just barely understand.

I’m just the loudest of a deep background of teachers who serve. Most of us are nurturing women. And some of us are the kind of alpha-male the Alt-right never understood: the leader who lives to shelter others. My generation is full of these nurturing teachers, and we are the ones studying the wounds that the culty aspects of yoga creates. This is what nurturers do. We take responsibility.

This is a whole world of practitioners who have all along acted out of what I’m going to call futurism. Futurists are NOT idea jocks with a platform (any savior here to change the world: Elon, Zuckerberg, heads of state, the Yoga Alliance). Futurists are stewards of history, Earth, and human bodies. In yoga, it’s people who know that our role is to take care of our students, and of this practice that we fundamentally respect. Growing in to the ideology of service that my fellow nurturing-teachers taught me by example changed the entire meaning of my life. Before teaching, the meaning of my life came from the past. “Actions leave traces” was a statement that helped me find the meaning of the present in history, and I devoted my 20s entirely to historical study. When I started teaching, I realized that “actions leave traces” can’t be a warm, sweet, nostalgic trigger anymore; it’s a mantra that has me examining the first, second and third order effects of every teaching move I make. Teaching is not about me, and it’s not about short-run effects. It’s about what happens far from here and now. It’s about this student’s body when he is 85, and about what will come of Yoga in a century if we treat it as sacred – and if we don’t.

I learned futurism by tuning in to the murmur of the nurturance network. I’ll sample the murmur below. This is not language of dogmas, or solutions, or enemies. It is the mundane shoptalk of nurturers. People who identify risks early, and who are the first responders any time they can be there for someone in pain. The particular topic below is recent intuitive responses to routine abuses of power. The teachers who talk like this with me share the idea that what we’re working with is priceless and sacred. Students’ experiences are sacred. And the yoga tradition: yes, priceless.

I have found some of the futurists who populate the non-ashtanga world. We are united by horror at what the Yoga Alliance is angling to do to future yoga (remember, we see risk early). And we are drawn together by our worry about the effects of gymnastic internet yoga on the next generation of practitioners. Still, most of what I know about futurism is within ashtanga. In that world, futurism sounds like teachers talking over coconuts, or WhatApp across 12 timezones. This is not an ideological program. It’s the background value system of the quiet nurturers I admire most. I can tell you their murmur has had this post-authoritarian theme for the entire decade I’ve been looped in. (About a dozen of you might recognize our conversations in this anonymized stream.) Let’s just un-mute this background hum in yoga consciousness for a minute. Again, this is my anonymized verion of nurturers thinking about the future, feeling weird about aspects of the present that don’t bode well and need to be addressed quietly for students’ sake:

“…I feel weird about this idea that teachers have some sort of wisdom or grace the student doesn’t understand until they submit. Yeah me too. Surrender is a thing, but westerners turn it into a bypass. How many people have I met who got injured in a workshop after the teacher lectured about the importance of surrender? I feel terrible for these students who go through this. It’s also such a tragedy for yoga. Let’s not infantilize people….”

“…I feel weird about training my students to bow to images of other humans. Like, can idolatry of humans ever be a healthy example? It feels so dangerous for them. And I’d be mortified if they ever treated me like that later. Gotta do the right thing on this one….”

“…Ok so what does it look like to give power to students? Encourage them to learn to practice alone? Be radically faithful to them, but never ask them not to study elsewhere? Say ‘I don’t know’ a lot? Suggest to study the tradition early, so that they also feel like it is theirs – the teacher isn’t the guardian of the meaning? Give them the opportunity to hold us accountable by coming early any morning to practice alongside us? Exaggerate fallability; ask them to check our memory or facts…?”

“…I mean, can a shala exist without instagram? I think that is where students go to look for teachers now? I don’t know but doesn’t someone have to try to set an example for another way? Maybe that’s what is happening now – yoga teachers commodifying themselves and working full time to feed the mediabeast – but long run there’s gotta be people who show there is another way. I’m gonna sit this one out for the team…”

“… I feel weird about new students objectifying my teacher like some sort of god. It’s dehumanizing. It’s like western students feel entitled to having their own personal super-human to throw all their projections onto, like this is psychotherapy. This feels super dangerous, like a setup for alienation later. It feels important to just relate to teachers as humans and be open about the fact that we don’t assume they are always be right or always have a good reason for what they do. This culty vibe is just not safe for the future…”

“…Wow there is some seriously wrong unsolicited advice going down in classrooms. I can’t believe how disturbed my student is by this random thing a senior teacher said to her years ago. Leaves a mark. Dammit, it’s so sad for the student, and obviously the teacher was just projecting. I mean, you’d think our colleagues would understand the basics of consent? This is tricky because how we get across the idea that unsolicited advice is garbage, without playing the savior and creating some sort of perpetrator energy around the person who gave the bad advice? Seems more important than anything not to start up a victim cyclone about something a student can also maybe decide to blow off…”

“…I feel weird that old men sleep with young women who look up to them as teachers. Yeah, this makes me afraid for young students. I don’t understand how you’d ever sexualize a student? Are we the only ones who feel an incest taboo? Maybe at this stage we just don’t pretend this is legit, even if it means we’re socially ostracized for it? Maybe warn the young women…?

“…I feel super weird about yoga teachers making a big deal about their devotion to their teacher – they’re training their students how to be ritually submissive. Yes. Super awkward. Probably this is well-intentioned, but dangerous for the people in our care. Let’s keep our heart-feelings about our teachers to ourselves…”

“…I feel weird about the workshop circuit – this idea of acting like the authority and then leaving before I even know the effects of the work. Yeah, that’s super challenging. Amway Ashtanga – let the local teacher send you the money, and fix the mess you create. I mean, let’s find every way we can to take long-term responsibility for the instructions and the touch that we give…”

“…I feel weird about teachers in really attention-getting clothes, or almost no clothes. Can I say that? No I don’t think there’s space to say this out loud. Yoga’s still in second wave feminism right now; women’s power here is seen as super capitalist and individualist. Dudes will claim this gives them cover to go shirtless when they teach. But when I pay close attention to students I see it creates sexual overtones, and that’s why it matters for future students to do things another way. If we wait it out, feminisms that center the vulnerable will get popular enough to help out here. I can’t believe ashtanga still in second wave feminism…”

“…Sometimes I get an impulse to adjust someone outside the clear plan we have for their practice. Do you ever just roll with that? I dunno, kind of no. I used to before I really thought how the law of cause-and-effect plays out in my realationships; but increasingly I just feel super weird about random touch. I think the deeper my understanding of consent goes, the clearer I get about the intention of my every action in the classroom…”

“…I feel super weird about marketing stuff to students and especially about taking money from them if I’m not actually working for them. Yeah, that’s definitely weird. Easy money feels dirty because it’s not ours. Their resources matter. The money we earn is the money we work for. We’re not passive income bots…”

…And so on.

This is actual, anonymized shop talk from 2019. It must be offensive to some, but you may as well know it’s there humming in the background as a constant protective force.

This is the process of nurturing teachers anticipating problems – by feeling weird in their guts – and solving them before they arise. Gentle futurism.

By contrast, the Savior identifies problems far after the fact, and imposes new idea-based paradigms to solve the limited aspects of reality he perceives as the Problem. The point is to see the world from above and impose authority from that place.

Nurture is not an IDEA. It’s a methodology that works with the exact situation at hand, and never makes big moves. “Move slow and plant things,” the permaculturists say, in contrast to the authoritarian’s “walk soft and carry a big stick.”

Grounded thinking literally leads to ground-up forms of action. It’s small, gradual, slow, and mostly anonymous. Not idea-driven and centered around single personalities. Nurturing teachers emphatically do not need authorities to them straight. They need authorities to talk all day, from very far away, and stay out of the way of the work on the ground.


Yoga, Image, Power & Your Right To Know. • 4 February 2019

Something’s off in my community. A lot of us who’ve been around a while, we don’t have words for it. It’s a sense of unease. There’s air of disillusionment, and fearing. Self-silencing. The vibrant online spaces where teachers once supported each other in the work are destroyed. The community of people with whom we feel safe is, for each of us, smaller than before. And there is less meaning than before; so the cults of charisma and the young body beautiful are filling the void. This will pass. We’ll grow. We need connection, love, and practice. But right now: it may help to look straight at a deep contradiction we’re living out. Between the outward movement of self-promotion via images, and the inward movement of self-trust through sadhana. Between training students in celebrity worship, and putting the Hathayogapradipika in their hands.

What if there is one thing the young ones need to know about how to succeed in yoga, and we teachers are not telling them because we don’t want them to know?

For once I’m going to TL;DR this post at the end. But first, context. This blog is for sharing a point of view, not just points. And the beginning of my 2019 has been…… moonsets on rooftops after practice. Rejoining the Mysore soundscape. This is how I echolocate back in, like Star Trek teleporting but for the hyper-auditory mind. Listen up, listen down, listen north, east, west, and south.

Morning prayers from the mosque shore up the shape of the land: wails in an updraft from someplace watery and resonant like a basin. The rooster’s right over the wall, voice bouncing off breeze blocks and plastic. Electricity lines running two directions drone so strongly that the empty hollow in the middle of my brain fills with their hum. A few hidden fridges match that rhythm, but with this comforting metallic rattle. And then, there is my mind…

We took a week of primary series, grounding and coming into a group rhythm. On New Year’s morning, some hormone released in my brain halfway through, maybe a melatonin wave. I’d get to the fourth breath of a posture, fall asleep, and wake up again on the fifth breath. Ten years ago on my first silent retreat, we sat a yaza, watching the mind all night through the various states of consciousness. Learning to stay meta-aware, stay in the upright posture, as the body went into sleeping and dreaming and delirious modes, and back to craving for rest.

Esoteric traditions play with sleep as a way of revealing the mutability of mind states. What you learn is to sustain continuity of awareness regardless of brain state. Waking and sleeping and dreaming come and go; within them, words and images and emotions also come and go. There is usually some grasping/rejection around all of them. You work behind that, aware of awareness, allowing the show. That said, not recommended: pretty sure adding in sleep-breaths to vinyasas is not helpful.

January was a lot of time with my Ayurvedic physician. Taking a jungle doctor is taking a teacher: you show up to them with whatever’s been going on physically – mentally – emotionally – spiritually, and lay it down. Then you discuss, take instructions to heart, let the art+science of Ayurveda do its work.

This is emphatically not an authoritarian thing. My doctor has a degree in surgery and an MD, and twenty years of ayurvedic practice. When I sit down he notes with delight that we also met at 11:00 am on January 2 in 2017 – he’s reviewed years of notes, which I can’t read because they’re in Devanagari. He is delighted to see me, asks for news of work and family, say I am doing such a good job of taking care. No matter what my condition, every year he meets me the same way. But now his expectations are higher. He takes my pulse: “Tell me: what am I going to find?” Well, he has taught me to construct, and then perceive, the fluctuation of doshas within my body; so I tell him that vata is high while the rest is in balance. “You know Angela. You are correct.” Then I ask, based on what I’ve been through this year, what course of treatment he recommends during January. He brightens his eyes at me: “But what is your thought about this?” And I tell him. And he says this is what he also had in mind. I say that staying at his medical ashram throughout the week will make my vata mind restless and dissatisfied and he says that sounds like I’m giving myself a prescription to address this directly. “Yes.” “Then you stay.” No matter what the patient presents, this is always the message. You have wellness inside of you. Let us give you the tools to make that wellness stronger.

I’ve earned my doctor’s trust, invested in a long-term relationship, opened up to be seen. And in turn he is extremely attentive, spiritually and emotionally invested, generous with his knowledge and his resources. I don’t “sleep around” with other physicians when he gives me feedback I’m not ready to hear. I work with the feedback, sometimes disagree, sometimes do something else based on intuition (or based on willful stupidity, which is a thing)… and all the while stay the course with the ups and downs.

This is how it works. The healing isn’t reducible to concepts or techniques; it arises in the context of a committed and disciplined learning relationship. The agency, and increasingly the knowledge, is sourced from the patient herself.

This is how ashtanga yoga works also. We have, some of us, forgotten. We have, some of us, never understood.

On topic: in January I was still and listened. Listening behind, and around the imagery that barrages you here at the heart of ashtangaland. The practice is trying to grow up, into a method that places listening to the student at the center. If we don’t, we know all we are is an exercise cult. The healing pedagogy is what was always there but forgotten: asking the student to find, systematically educate, and listen to, an inner teacher.

So for January, sensing the quiet disillusionment, and the fear of speaking, that characterizes all devotional, long-time ashtanga students I know personally, I listened even more within my community. I especially listened behind and around the images of the western highly trained, thin, athletic, western body (I live in such a body) saturating this lifeworld – both the 3D and the screen-based public spaces.

The way we teachers are projecting images of our bodies is directly undermining the growth move this practice is making. It’s an extremely dramatic moment.


The sensitive practitioners aren’t comfortable. People who’ve been practicing a long time but aren’t building a brand, and people who knew from day one that the practice is intimate and sacred. I’ll speak of this. Maybe it is easy to miss, if you’re wrapped up in being part of a following or building an identity. Following/branding becomes its own obsession, making deeper questions about the nature of yoga seem a threat.

Here in Mysore, the image of the awe-some asana is more overwhelming than ever before. If I go to a public place associated with the practice, I do not have the choice of not seeing images of perfect asanas. This is a massive, specific genre: the promotional image, “influencer”-audition material that has a “professional” sheen. There are other asana genres besides the perfect-promotional image, these can have an extremely different effect and so are worth comparing to the “Look at me I’m a yoga teacher and I am here to inspire you” lifestyle stream. But if I use social media, which I tend to do in Mysore to go with the flow, it’s almost impossible to avoid streams of perfect asanas. Going into public online and offline ashtanga spaces is consenting to this experience.

With an ear to the disturbance in the force, I’ve found it doesn’t work to ask people why they feel alienated. But when I ask how folks feel in the face of the Asana Machine, then we talk about The Alienation. After I while, we got down to this door:

How do you feel when you look at promotional asanas on the internet?

And the answer has been: If I’m really honest, I don’t know. Let me get back to you.

And when they come back I am hearing, more and more, and especially from young sensitive practitioners, that looking at asanas makes them stop feeling their bodies. It’s less the presumable negatives of eating disorder triggers, or jealousy (aka inspiration), or lust. I’m hearing about straight-up loss of connection to oneSelf. That plus vague sadness, an empty feeling that something is missing.

WOAH. Serious questions. Is there a specific quality of image that takes you out of your body? Do certain images shut down your connection to the one who knows? Do they assert authority over you?

I have made trying-to-be-graceful asana p0rn, to establish my credibility and demonstrate mastery of the physical practice. After listening this month, I won’t do so again. Well-lit, sinewy demonstation of asana mastery, displayed where it’s difficult for my students to not see, would be a contradiction to my teaching mission of cultivating meaningful, sustainable learning relationships. That’s all I’m doing: passing on an energetic, relational art. The last thing I want is for students to disconnect from their bodies in response to idealized depictions of me. The last thing I want is to transmit embodied practice by suggesting people to do (or admire) what I do. That’s not this method. It’s something else.

HOWEVER. There are other sorts of imagery – artistic choices that do not accidentally stack artistic and advertising tropes against the viewer. Uses of the screen that directly challenge the objectification and loss of embodiment. This has to do with lighting, movement, subject matter, frequency and location of the channel, and implicit messaging about the nature of the body and yoga itself. I’ve learned this month that, from an artistic standpoint, there is a range of techniques to evoke an embodied experience that are more likely to create resonance between creator and viewer. And, by contrast, there are ways to use lighting, form, and meta-messaging to assert power over viewers’ attention and embodied experiences: this is what happens in the bulk of images that reproduce the style of advertising as it morphs into the internet influencer genre. Stock asana imagery is essentially all the same, and essentially advertisement. But learning more about this has sensitized me to the narrow band of imagery that moves me in to my body: resonating with sacred art in any form is an experience not to be missed. We can only digest a very small amount of visual food each day, and while for many of us what we’re getting by on is asana stock, there is more artistic nourishment in this world than I had considered before.

After listening, and reading the experts this month, I feel like my aesthetic discernment is much clearer than it was. For me as a professional teacher, this was important work. It has deepened some of my concerns while opening up other artistic experiences I hadn’t yet fully appreciated.


I’ve been afraid for years to write about this topic, but now it can’t wait. So I did my homework.

My brother is a photography professor. He guided me through Photo 101 this month, showed me what to read and how to formulate good questions. It’s too much information to share here. It’s also too harsh to tell you his view of internet ashtanga. But…how would any art professional – with critical awareness of objectification, neo-colonialism, advertising psychology, and body dysmorphia – respond to what we are doing on the internet?

I didn’t know, so I started with On Photography by Susan Sontag. Went back to Marshall Macluan, the original theorist of what the media does with the image, and on to Neil Postman, who I’d forgotten was a savant future-teller of our present moment and beyond. Read Audre Lorde for the first time, which was no less gorgeous and affirming than climbing Chamundi Hill that same day. I will include other highlights from his reading list in the comments. The internet is amazing in that it gives us access to all this knowledge; it’s a tool we can really use rather than be used by.

Without doing the reading, one might defend idealized, repetitive imagery to advertise on the internet in these ways:

A. I am popularizing yoga. B. This is evangelism + capitalism. See: history of evangelism and its role in colonial and neo-colonial violence. See: psychology of advertising.

A: I am inspiring people. B. See again, psychology of advertising. Also the stuff from last post on Girard’s mimetic desire (a bombshell for me).

A: I am creating a following. It’s about community. B. See MacLuhan and Postman, then the thrilling new mass-market books by Douglas Ruskoff and Shoshana Zuboff.

A: I am depicting my students’ bodies, not mine. It’s not about me. B. See the last year of development of discourse on the relationship of consent and power. Is it honest to claim your students have enough relational power to get in there tell you no, when it’ll please you to go along with your agenda? What will they say ten years from now, when their inner teacher is stronger and they look back on your use of their practice for the internet? (These are somewhat alarming questions for me personally; I had not considered the weight of them until now.)

Learning to ask these questions has taught me that we can submit every image to what artists call a “crit.” We can ask: what are the underlying messages here regarding what asana is all about? Am I being influenced at a primal level beneath the threshold of conscious choice, and can I stop and deliberately not buy the messages for sale? Am I to believe that this person’s body is more special or strong than my own? That extreme discipline = liberation? Can I learn to do what they do, or feel what they say they feel, by following this person? Is the body a thing, to be paired with inspirational quotes that evoke meaning and spirit; or is the simple body, just being the house of being, sacred enough by itself? How is this distribution and consumption of imagery generating demographic data and ad revenue for the platform? What thoughts/ emotions/ addictions is the platform itself using to make me stay here?

Here’s the urgent thing. If you do a little research, you’ll find that there is a TIGHT link between authoritarianism and the use of repetitive, unavoidable, extremely arousing imagery. Ashtanga has the chance now to grow into a culture of student empowerment by sharing practical inner knowledge. This is what esoteric traditions have always done. If teachers continue to overwhelm the image space with repetitive stimulus of triumphant, clean, masterful bodies, then the sensitive, knowledgeable practitioners among us will continue to feel secretly alienated. And eventually if we still don’t learn, the ones who get it will LEAVE.

Because there’s an inner contradiction here. You don’t empower students by getting into their limbic brains and “inspiring” them to follow you. Doesn’t matter the words you put with that. The medium itself is the message.

There’s one more argument in favor of overwhelming the internet with visions of our perfect bodies and idealized depictions of our practices. It’s that we must break the old taboo on talking about your sadhana. Because rules. Empowered people must break rules. Be strong, don’t let the rules keep you down, publicize your sadhana as widely as you possibly can. That is power.

Wait, what taboo? There’s a thing about not talking about your practice?


Sometimes it’s a bad taboo. There’s a little validity to the argument that you should break it. I buy this maybe 15% of the time. Because secrets can hide abuse. It is good that dark things be brought to light. But what about the real juice of your sadhana: daily embodied process; the ups and downs; the “spiritual attainments;” the beautiful aspects of the relationship with teacher and practice; the devotion and stability that comes alive inside you? Do these turn to spiritual lead when you use them for clickbait?

Another reason breaking the taboo might be beneficial is that secrets can also keep good technique hidden. There is such a thing as withholding of spiritual knowledge, and especially in meditation communities, there is good argument that this withholding has slowed serious practitioners on their enlightenment path.* The irony here is that what is now being withheld is the spiritual secret that… talking/posting images about your sadhana might REALLY delay or deform your learning process. The new secret knowledge is that in the past everyone knew the teachings that talking about sadhana (1) turns it into something it’s not, and (2) dilutes your energy.

Personally I have observed this to be true, especially for practitioners in their first ten years. In my observation, there is truth in the old teaching. Talking and posting about sadhana a lot can get a person stuck. The mind just likes to make a thing of things. And a person can do yoga stunts every morning for years without learning to go inside, and just practice for no other reason than the experience itself.

Please don’t take my word for this. Read the scriptures. Run the experiments. Find that mind-stopping verse in the HYP. From there, equally accessible is AG Mohan’s gorgeous translation and commentary on The Yoga Yajnavalkya – here the understanding of yoga as an energy economy is introduced so beautifully, in a way that illuminates all asana practice in the Krishnamacharya tradition. His writing is a gift to us. From there, there’s a whole world of teachings on why you might want to keep certain aspects of your own experience decidedly to yourself.

Speaking from experience, I decided early to remain silent about the raw details of my practice. For two decades, this reticence about my sadhana has been my default, and it will continue to be thus even in these particularly strange times for our practice. I was strict about it for the first decade, the last 9 years I’ve broken the taboo more and more, to share about body challenges I want future generations to be able to avoid, and to communicate with students that I’m just another person on the path who suffers at times. What I still don’t talk about is the love I feel for my teacher and students. That feels too easy to exploit. For example, if I publicly advertise my feelings for my teacher, that is implicitly telling my students to treat me in a special way. If I publicly advertise details of my relationships with students, there are ways this may turn our connection into an advertisement, instead of letting them take the lead in deciding what they feel it should be.

I don’t know. Everything is changing. Maybe this is irrelevant now, or only intended for the few who do the work to find the secret heart of the traditions. Do new students have a right to know the warnings in the original teachings, before they start to imitate the internet?


DIGEST. We’re post-authoritarian now. So teachers’ job (same as my jungle doctor’s) is to listen, study students, give useful knowledge, get out of way. Actually it always was! Maybe some of us forgot. Again: the method = cultivating inner experience/knowledge. It’s inherently non-authoritarian. But WAIT. Problem: authoritarian use of the image (breaking viewers’ connection to own body) is high-jacking post-authoritarian growth. It’s hard to escape relentless images of perfect, disciplined, superior, achiever-bodies. We learn to venerate/imitate them. HELP!? Ok, when listening inside and listening to students, maybe we realize the response to certain (NOT ALL!) kinds of asana imagery is (1) shutting down inner body feelings + (2) maybe sadness or mimetic desire (equally alienating). This makes knowledge of art and history SUPER interesting. If you’re a professional, maybe part of that is getting this knowledge? Authoritarians + advertisers use/d repetitive, perfected, attention-demanding imagery to overpower viewers. Because it WORKS. The masses will “like” you. But some art can slow us down, bringing embodied connection, discernment, and inner authority. I’m learning this; it’s wonderful. Also SORRY, but what about using students’ bodies for ads, now that our society has learned consent and power don’t mix? I dunno: but in art they do “crit”: they study presumptions + effects of each image. Image has super-power because it goes to the gut, but crit helps us get discernment on that. This is where study could help us act responsibly, and maybe decrease the alienation and contradictions in the practice.

The NEW secret is that esoteric yoga says keep your sadhana a secret. Don’t share “attainments.” There are great debates about this. As teachers, should we tell ‘em sadhana was traditionally secret? Do we HAVE to tell em? We’re here to connect students to resources. To the claim that our work is to popularize yoga, that is evangelism and the idea has colonialist history. Not all images disconnect students from themselves: some imagery opens viewers up. But perfect, repetitive, eye-popping images have an authoritarian use and legacy. We might not realize ‘til we study our responses closely. Certain uses of the image is about getting power over others. Stock asana imagery is that. And it’s encouraging new practitioners to copy the format, and discuss/post lots about asana sadhana. Instead of experiencing why it might be awesome to keep practice intimate. Old school, but maybe also new school.

Posts: https://tinyletter.com/insideowl

Letters from the Internet • 7 December 2018

Zelda Spoonbender, feline dominatrix, has retired to her winter palace. Said residence is my belly. In my dreams I’m aware of whiskers in my face and weird warmth in my spine. She’s invented this inter-species tummo, purring fuel into my solar plexus so that I wake easy before the alarm, stoked to salute the sun for the 5755th (+/-30) practice day in a row. Stoked, even though said sun won’t show for another 4 hours.

Somehow that makes it easier: being so far beyond the sunrise’s event horizon. It is just dark and cold all the time now, like when you’re floating in space. There are no ideal conditions, except for the ones forged on the inside. Freezing four am ain’t bad, the way we’re living it. More:

Feet on the floor and Zelda’s beta-twin, Moonpie, hears me from downstairs. She gallops across the 120-year-old floors. By the time she hits the stairs she’s up to a full whimper-sprint, crying for me to rendezvous at the the bathroom. This is the one place that is hers only; over five years she’s worn down a plaster corner for marking it so much. She bolts in, tail quivering and eyes wide, vigilating for her big sister. I latch the door, turn on the heater and throw her catnip-stuffed banana on the bath mat. She dives and misses, but immediately enters a full kitty-crack placebo state. Ecstasis. Ecatasis?

So here I am, eyeing the twenty-three pieces of clothing I must layer on before going to the shala in the snow, jazzed for practice like a kid, and Moonpie makes her move. She chortle-meows, the result of trying to roar while also diving (again) for her banana; while also stoned. She opens her round eyes to the roundest, in the middle of her round moon head, and does this arm-raise thing, fluff-belly prone and like a cartoon human who just woke up. Then she makes her biscuits. In the air. Literally she is cuddling space. It’s cosmic. Inhale right paw squeeze, exhale release, inhale left paw squeeze, exhale release, remember to purr, remember to lock eyes with the human. Cute catastrophe. My world disappears. There is only fur + rapture. After timespace coalesces and collapses a few more times, I try to talk sense to Moon about the need to get to work.

This is not a drag. Cold Midwest magic continues on through these quiet deep Mysore mornings when all three batches of my students start practice in the dark. The trees downtown are strung in lights; the collective mind of this super-concentrated town is fixed into its end-of-year projects; and when you go outside now there’s a frosting of snow on everything, just a powdered-sugar skiff. The daily work is simple but not easy, teaching not so much WHAT to practice as HOW. Let the discipline and passion ramp up only to the degree you can outrun it by a hair with equanimity. That’s the will and surrender thing: run as hot as you want, but only as far as you are cool. Cool enough to have nothing to prove, sweet enough to let the curiosity grow ever stronger with the skill. Playful when it’s hard. Open in the mind.

I am teaching a teacher for the first time in a couple years. There is a lot to say about this that will go unsaid for now. But I want to mention the ways that original values and motivation define a path. All I can hope in this weird time for our practice is that yoga will evolve to be something deeper and less delusional in the future; what I see I can do for that is invest in a few people who have the potential to take it further than me if they want. So I’ll train someone for their own sake, and for the sake of practice. Not for me. Not for money or power or to make my job easier. The meta-message for a new teacher is that you’re never going to get any bling from this; teaching isn’t an actualization or an arrival, not a way to “make it” or get fame or wealth. Yoga’s just sacred. Offering the tools to a tiny number of new transmitters, in the simplest and most disciplined way possible, with no investment in the fruits of that action… I guess this feels like the strongest move I can make for the practitioners who haven’t been born yet. My way of being a good ancestor in the practice. Same as me, there will be others who know that all we can do to give thanks for this priceless healing knowledge is pay our thanks forward.

The funny thing in all this, though, is that it’s the students who train the new teacher. I want them to invest their own experience, their own support, their own variable consent day to day, in the teacher’s direct experience. Long run, what this means is that the new teacher has not just me as a colleague, but an entire shala of people personally invested in their initiation into the role. This process does amazing things for the lines of interaction in the Mysore room. The students are the ones who know what they’ve learned from me and from their practice. They know what they feel. They teach the new teacher how to be with them, how to leave them alone, how to be with their energy and if needed their touch. When I give an instruction, it’s asking the student to manifest their knowledge in what they’ve been already doing for years, so that the teacher can try to feel that understanding intuitively. The amount of data available to the new teacher is overwhelming, of course. That’s why learning to teach this method takes a very, very long time and is mostly not describable in words. Apprenticeship: the teacher has to learn how to learn. Again, and extremely extremely well.

The other thing going on at home these days is that people come from other states visit for practice. I mostly let them decide what our dynamic is going to be, while always looking for funny ways to explode the stock role of the Yoga Teacher Who Knows. As visitors and I improvise new ways of showing up for reals, I am even more careful not to touch them in a way that might make them hungry for more of what I have. Sorry. My work is not a transaction: “service” in a yoga context refers to something called karma yoga, NOT to a drive-through “get-serviced” industry.

Yoga is meditation, is all. We are just being with ourselves, rhythmically always, and ecstatically if possible. When we get down with technique, it’s half high-end biomechanics as described from the inside, half how to think like a cat. Backgrounded with the meta-message to take the long view: move and breathe the way your 90 year old bodymind wants. Sattva guna. So easy to contact, really, in these quiet long night days.


At night I’ve been reading helpful things, not for myself but for this work. How can my daily experience of teaching yoga be so mundane, understated and predictable… while on the internet the practice calling itself ashtanga is perceived by new readers as an exercise cult? The few locals unfortunate enough to have fallen down the yoga social media rabbit hole suffer for it and tell me it’s crazy out there. I don’t know, but maybe it has to do with the way the internet works now.

What helped this month was Barbara Coloroso, who evolved Catholic authoritarian education from spanking and behavior mod to a pedagogy of accountability. She did this because children who learn to hang on an authoritarian nun’s or parent’s approval/insults make the perfect “henchmen” for abusers. The “not-so-innocent bystander,” she writes. When you’re trained to hang on outer approval, you don’t learn inner accountability structures. Then in an abuse scenario, you don’t know what the right thing is. Coloroso’s anti-fascist intent is supporting humans to learn to protect society’s most vulnerable people, especially when the cost for taking action is social disapproval. The Catholics understand how wrong authoritarianism can go, in a way that has enabled Coloroso to work out an antidote to the culture of silence it created. She’s brilliant. I’m waiting for her to get a genius grant.

It has helped also to read bell hooks, a most beloved writer and human, who has been making books for 25 years on how to teach critical thinking. She articulates things I have felt in my bones, about how mutual respect of teacher and students edifies, and how learning without that respect degrades your soul. She’s done a lot to evolve the work of her mentor Paolo Freire, whose first articulations of a Pedadogy of the Oppressed inspired the field of radical education but also, at its worst, fostered a disdain for mastery that led to the new age cultures of the blind leading the blind. She writes in her latest book that she would never assign an exercise she would not herself do. She writes that establishing a context for students to have voice and express a personality over the course of many months together in classroom is key for pre-empting alienating authority dynamics in the classroom. Yes.

And (this is freaky) it has helped way too much to go back to Rene Girard. Girard is one of the few French theorists I really found silly when studying philosophy and sociology. Now I feel like I’m reading him the way you read Milton Friedman to understand rapacious capitalism. Girard : Facebook :: Friedman : The Chicago Boys. That is, Frankenstein. I am too optimistic to believe his theory of human nature, but the problem is, he accurately described 40 years ago the collective mind that would emerge today. For him, the organizing force of a society is everyone’s wanting what others seem to have, and the ritual scapegoating that emerges out of copycat jealousy spheres known as society. Public executioners, and the executed, are the twin gods in these worlds, where there are constant cycles of deification and villificaton simply to channel the violent envy everyone is experiencing because they want each other’s cars and lovers and yoga postures. Thanks for the insight there, Sauron. Here’s a fascinating overview that skirts the issue of Girard’s religious commitments.


What brought me joy in reading this month were your letters. My god, thank you so much.

Last month’s post generated the most loving, personal responses I’ve ever receieved here. From a couple dozen of you who feel a long-time connection to the intimate voice here, tapping in to help me to understand what is actually going on in ashtanga now.

I truly want to understand yoga somehow, in these times, around this planet. That’s part of why I’ve gone more quiet these years. It’s why I’m not feeding, or reading, the feeds.

I will make time to write back after the new year, though sometimes I still don’t find words for writing back. For now I’ve re-read what you are saying, three times and more. First to get the sense of your experience; second to feel for patterns in the “data” across the group of letters; and third to digest my intuitions about what I’m really feeling out there.

Here is the thing about a letter, vis-à-vis a quip attached to a push notification. Letters condition us in the opposite way we are conditioned by social media. Staccato bursts that must be fast and short to be liked are more likely to be reactive, as well as angry or obsequious in tone. That’s the pace of such emotions.

A private personal expression takes concentration, creating a line in consciousness where connection and emotion can deepen over the course of writing. Language is a limited tool; my experience is that one of its few extremely good uses is between individuals and small groups, where we can develop relationship and understanding in slow ways. The emotions that go with this, I think, are the warm and connected ones. Care, admiration, listening, love even.

A letter is inviolable to me. I’ll not cite anything specific here or reveal in any way who it was who wrote. Even the one mail of hate, don’t worry: what you said is remains private between us.

In the most general way, though, I want to share two stable patterns. The kind of truth here is from my ethnographic and interview-based research methods training, which I took throughout the fourth year of my PhD. It’s not just what I want to see, but what the patterns surprisingly shore up.

First, there is a strong response to what I opened up about before, about the inner conditioning to privilege the emotions of the powerful. This is how everyone but the most entitled give our power away. And how the process remains invisible to those at the tops of hierarchies. So many people feel this happening inside them, but what I’m hearing is that the people we’re conditioned to protect from real self-awareness aren’t just those with the demographics of the silverbacks but also very much the Americans. We are an incredibly self-important crew, and the rest of the world sees this, sees our outsized egoes and the way that makes us presume to be the ones who know. And they don’t tell us, because they don’t want us to feel bad. This is a huge point of learning and resonance for me. My nationality gives me this opportunity to understand entitlement from the inside.

Second, holy, there is a lot of heart in this practice. People whose self-inquiry is honest and loving and damn devoted. People who feel pretty alone because of that. I feel like there is a whole ring of people around the world, practicing on a razor’s edge, developing discernment inside and out, sure that this is your path but not sure you have a community.

I have to say this even though there’s no fix for the feeling. Maybe just the winks and the possibility of magic in finding each other down the road.

More coming now that I’m back on schedule. Thank you again so much for writing.

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Broken Spells • 7 November 2018

Hey. Thank you to those who asked. This space went dark for three months, for two reasons. For twelve years I’ve committed to writing here at least by the month, but this fall was so huge. The streak broke.

Reason one: I have been ceding the podium.

This is what young western women are trained to do, when there are big men who are supposed to lead. We hold our piece. We stand by. And I am trained to be a good girl, complaint and loyal, one who follows the rules and supports everyone. As explained in the comments on the previous post, this fall, others needed to speak. It was not my time.

In August, the brilliant teacher Jubilee Cooke gave me an afternoon of her life. She made time for me and answered my questions with no agenda at all. I listened. I saw how I have not understood parts of my ashtanga family history. I had nothing to add. Personally, what I’m interested in for our community is generative culture and rehacking the internet. Fringey stuff. Posts I didn’t post.

Because on a community level, those thoughts felt less important than hearing from the silverbacks who were in power in America in Jubilee’s time. The zeitgeist called them all forth. We needed to hear from the ones who brought this practice to us and showed us how to worship. Thank you and we love you so much. What can you offer us now about your new learning process? Surely our wonderful leaders, who love us like we love them, would realize that we could not go forward without their going back to honor any woman who was disrespected, hurt or silenced. I felt sure that this fall they would wake up to how they (with the rest of us) helped create a system where they became protogurus, black holes of power and authority and reverence.

When I was learning this practice at the beginning of the century, ashtanga culture invested so much in our beloved senior leaders. We needed them, and we still do. In ashtanga we signaled their dominance in workshop marquis, domain names, cover photos on books. Most potently, we empowered them through the ritual incantation of their names in meaningful conversations. Silverback 1 says this, he is so amazing. Silverback 2 says that, yes he has taught me so much. We always loved them and needed them so much. As their era closed, I led my students on to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, to bask in their knowing, and feel so safe and loved and well led.

I did all of these things, and modeled deference for others. I loved our strong men. This love is in my blood. I won’t deny it. Not only do I like it that way, but I find this frequently healthy; it feels warm and safe and strong to be your dad’s girl. My own father helps form the center of my emotional deep-structures; this adoration has shaped my psyche and brought many blessings.

But there’s a contract when you ritualize a leader, and in our practice it was called due in this year. Not a surprise, from a certain altitude. There was a giant eclipse in on the July full moon of Guru Purnima, here in the year that Jupiter the Guru has (through the western view) traveled through the cosmic truth-finder territory of Scorpio. Expanding what was hidden so much we cannot not see. Today is Jupiter’s last day in Scorpio. The window I’ve been watching, waiting for them to step forward, closes in the morning.

Societies make ritual investments in our silverbacks for one evolutionary reason: so that they have the power to lead us when things get hard. I knew that this dream-team of beloved apostolic teachers were masters of timing. They were spiritual warriors of dharmic action. So I knew they would see their moment.

They would know how to make women feel safe when we needed it most.

And surely they did see it. But, Jupiter moves on now, and they did not rise to the times. Many days this year, I was more worried about the silverbacks and their emotional pain than about the women who really suffered in the past. Please please consider: suffering is not equally distributed. That is the last lie that power tells. But the vulnerable suffer more than those in power. Always always always. Nevertheless, still I worry about my beloved leaders, in part because I am still conditioned to care more about the emotional discomfort of those in power than about anyone else.

Right on time and apropos of everything: days after I met Jubilee, I recovered memories of being physically assaulted by boys in high school. Two incidents. I thought I’d survived, fought both them off, made ear-splitting noise, clawed and got their horrible mouths and hands off my tiny body. Turned it into a joke back at school. Sorry guys! Don’t feel bad that I rejected you. Let’s stay friends. This is how we collaborated to define those encounters out of my identity. I got to keep my life story happy. I remained good and nice and compliant. I believed it was nothing. Nothing in my nervous system. No shadow on my deep structure of trust. It was nothing revealing absolute nature of growing up a preacher’s kid in the reddest right wing of rural Montana.

Reason two this space went dark: September-October happened in Ann Arbor.

After almost a year of directing my energy to support the longest-term practitioners and not investing in many new relationships, I took on a handful of new students who had kept after me long enough to get me excited to do the foundational work with them. I also have gotten a little bit skillful at timing, sometimes. Eight autumn weeks in a Midwestern college town powerhouse + a bright-eyed crew of beginners: that is yoga gold. Everything else moved to the background, and I went mama-bird for the fall.

And then, Kava***** faced brilliant Christine Blasey Ford. He was a bomb here. A depth charge in the psyche of many who had written an attempted or actual rape out of our stories. This bomb went off in a way nothing else had yet during Jupiter in Scorpio. The recovered memories, the conditioning into compliance, the desire to be caring and liked and safe: these structures I’d churned through in late August were now the stuff of my town and my Mysore room. Healing, and heavy, and right on time. Painful. Intensely emotional. Not bad.

Still as old pain surfaced among so many ashtanga practitioners, next to nothing came from the old so-called leaders. And here’s me, watching myself carrying the same credential that the leaders use to hold themselves in a special place. The credential we as students use to hold them over ourselves! The line on the resume that’s supposed to make you turn up for their workshops and buy their videos and let them pretend to know things. Certification. A word we use to distribute power unequeally, and to evoke the privileges of silence when we have it. I was no different. When hierarchies maintain themselves through silence, it’s an indication they have nothing to offer. And here was me, doing the exact same thing to back up my seniors. I felt complicit, and didn’t want to be one of them. I decided the moral move was to give the title back. Do my tiny part to empty things out.

My therapist (yoga teachers need a therapist) and my mentor (yoga teachers need a mentor) fought me. They said I’d lose what brings me most joy in this life: my teacher’s trust, and Mysore. I said it was my duty to support the women. They said speak up already then.

But I can’t help heal anything. I wasn’t there. I can only listen and accept and show love.

I don’t know. I see that yes our history begins with patriarchs. Question is, how many degrees of our freedom does this delimit? Yes a person makes her own history, but not under conditions of her own choosing.*

I don’t know but here is a name to say. Jubilee. Jubilee. Jubilee.

A word of celebration. A word that sometimes means debt forgiveness. Jubilee.


Behind all this another shadow rises, from even deeper in the collective unconscious. The patriarch. Yoga George Washington.

The shadow shows up in the fear that the practice will lose its power without a dead beloved grandfather at the start of time. Back when Jupiter entered Scorpio, I put the name to our condition. Patriarchy. Men and women unfreinded me online and in person for simply saying the name. It was that threatening, just to note the fact of what we once were. Saying the word patriarchy seemed to suggest, to them, that a different way of being were also possible. As if there could be another way. Criminal thinking.

Let me repeat this crime. It feels good. Yes there is an empty space in the center of my psyche for an old, dominant grandfather godman. When I am in that place, I can not make meaningful life moves forward without the idea of a founding father behind everything. Know the feeling?

This psychic conditioning says “What did the old man say? What did he teach me? How can I honor that and lift him up in everything I do? How can I be happy or safe without my father? Founding mother: eh. Politically correct, but weak and has low standards. It’s the elder father who can tell me what reality is. That’s who God is.”

I believe all that sometimes.

I have worshiped these feeling-ideas so long.

Have you sat before an altar? Have you made one? Part of why ashtanga is my practice is that it teaches us to pattern consciousness in this way. An altar is a map of the surrendered deep psyche. That’s the altar’s function! Soul entrainment. You alter your mindstate before the altar. Wash your mind empty, and the alter will project inside you the shapes before you like a photo negative. Every time I’ve altered my state before an altar of a grandfather guru, that surrender has retraced the old-man-god coloring book page in my mind. The heart explodes. Then it’s the everyday self’s job to recolor the structure with whatever perfect god-guru it can find to try to reproduce that experience.

Because of this aspect of my mind, I went quiet last winter when in response to my queries about the hidden history of ashtanga I was told, “a woman should know her place.” That is a spell. You are a woman and you are to know your place. This isn’t the droid you’re looking for. Boom. My psyche is conditioned to certain types of surrender. So when an old teacher told me “Be careful not to ask the wrong questions,” as if the ghost of Guruji might come back to haunt me for caring about women’s bodies, that deep part of me indeed accepted this rebuke and retreated back into silence. For a minute. The more obvious parts of me knew it was wrong, that a crew of senior teachers were raging about losing their certification, so enraged by a minor status decrease… while refusing to answer my questions about whether any women had been harmed. This is how it works: the privileging of the discomfort of the powerful over the pain of the vulnerable. Submission structures deep in the mind can be invoked with ritual language. Blessings and curses work the same exact way. And I have learned to be careful which alters I alter for.

When I left LA in 2009 and started practicing by myself in Michigan, without asking why I constructed different altars. At home: my altar now is roses and rocks, with deities and teachers and owls and monkeys and tiny objects from students around the periphery. At the shala: the altar is always ever Ganesha. A perfect beast! The summoner of the group and of your mulabandha, the tragicomic remover of the human obstacles, there in the place I’d been trained to put a father-god.

And this year, our shala altar got a conch shell, gifted by a student home from the ocean. Because in my mind, the Patananjali’s shankha was always the counterpart to the dharinam. It’s so obvious. The conch shell is sound, it is the calling-together-tool, and it is the secret right-befor-your-eyes worship of the female body. Pudendic symbols are everywhere, but we have been listening right past them, forgetting to bring them into form. Shankha. Shankha. Shankha.

Witnessing this structure the old altars traced inside of me, I will give it a little less power.

So although I am heartbrokenly grateful he existed and accept the devotional place he holds in some of my friends’ hearts, this is not a post about Pattabhi Jois. Thank you, gone man. I say your complicated name. I say it out of respect for people who do love you. Out of recognition I’d be lost without this practice and the people it has given me. But also, most of the time, I refrain from saying your name out of respect for others who are not you. Because respect is to be equally distributed too, and there are a lot more of the vulnerable women who are triggered now by your name than there are, well, of you. Sorry, dear long-departed human being. Your emotions count for less than they did. I am not afraid to hear of your mistakes. And, we must keep moving on.

Controversy about ashtanga history, efforts to change the story from a good one to a bad one, calcifies a wound in my psyche that wants to heal. Fighting over the good/bad status of a dead guru I never knew confirms and confirms and confirms that all our meaning has to arise out of how we define our relationship to a gone grandfather god. Yes that conditioning is inside me, and no I’m not living that story anymore.

It’s important to note that for my generation of teachers, we can all collect power and reverence and defacto authority in one very easy way. By activating those old frames, to use Lakoff’s language. What we do is: we model for our students the idea of the perfect authority figure, and we show you how to surrender to it. We imply this is the embodiment of virtue. This is the ritual mode of frame reproduction. It gives students an implicit model for how to treat us. This is how I and my generation learned to treat the American silverbacks as gurus. It is, apparently, a bit dangerous.

I’m going to get myself in trouble now, being noncompliant for the good of the group. Last month, my junior colleague in Toronto promoted the work of a wonderful female student who had written a blog post legitimating the notion of the guru. Describing himself as her guru. We read how this white western male teacher gets guru-like (absolutistic) power over her even when he does problematic things, and thus we have a model of how we too can have a yoga boss. This power move rests on the energy and image of a virtuous, trust-worthy, compliant woman. Surrendered + supportive women are where godmen get legitimacy when their power is on the line. When the virtuous woman steps forward and takes the hit, performs the moral labor, and stands by her man, it is through her that we empower him. In my deepest conditioning, I am great at that move. It feels so good to be the adoring one. I have to go inside my psyche in order to understand these impulses and resist them. That is really hard, but the work feels good in a different way. If authoritarianism is getting this needy for legitimacy, maybe we’re on the edge of new growth.

Anyway, back to the depth charge of October. I tell my therapist and my beloved silverback mentor that I want to withdraw from the scene entirely. I say I have duty to fulfill with my students, and this duty is pure joy. Let me just be a student to my teacher. Let me be with him in Mysore and just absorb, and then be here and just transmit. Let me opt out of the symbolic churn of nonsense that somehow happens on the internet adjunct to the real practice. My accountability people tell me that’s to easy. That I don’t entirely belong to myself now. That I have a duty to speak from the place inside of me that doesn’t make everything about the old men.

They summon this other part of my mind.

Yes. In fact, I can do what I need to do without a domineering man standing over me.

But wait… I always had this. For a decade my teacher has done nothing but reject my efforts to be a nobody at the back of the room, has shaken me back alive when I disappear into a puddle of surrender and adoration and self-abnegation. Mysore from 2009 has always been like this for me. The opposite of the spiritual bypass. Forcing me, in my role as a student and teacher, out of silent invisibility.

Do not believe western people doing virtue signaling about guru worship on the internet. There are many sources of this practice, one of whom is my teacher in Mysore. This celebrity guru worship stuff – to whomever it is directed – tells you that a person has not put in the time it takes with a real teacher to understand.


I first went to Mysore in 2009. That self was fully formed as a practitioner, my tenth year on the mat, trained by the first generation through the advanced series.

Ashtanga yoga was my practice from the beginning; I was one of the lucky people who find in this life a practice that really does it for them. My dear spiritual-friend Angela came around the world and found me last month for the first time in 20 years. She said maybe we all have a particular imprint deep in the mind, and only a few of us find the corresponding personal practice that holds us and fascinates us and opens us in this life. She said she could see I’d found mine just after we parted in 1999.

That’s true. I grew up with spiritual people but didn’t entirely believe I had a soul until the imprints lined up, and something luminous started to shine out through that inner-outer correspondence. The year 2009 felt like a second life of my practice began in Mysore, in a way that shored up the western minded filter on my first decade with my spiritual match. Same practice, other side of world. So much happened in Mysore 2009. Some of it is documented in these archives.

One thing that happened, was that Patthabi Jois died. I witnessed the end times. I’d watch him up on his balcony, me in the street drinking coconuts after practice. One of last mornings, this set the stage for a dramatic, permanent change in my awareness. I don’t question the woo-woo around him; something was there. But something is there in everyone. It doesn’t make us gods. I read Memoirs of Hadrian that trip, in addition to lots of other things. A dying emperor was just one part of the massive epic backstory of this beautiful practice.

Backstory is important. Backstory is complicated. Hidden backstory must be known. If it is not, it will repeat and repeat and repeat. Adored men in power touching vulnerable women wrong, and those women’s own teachers not protecting them? This part of the backstory will force itself back into the unconscious and play out over and over again. Until it is accepted and known and put to rest. We have to do this. Vulnerable women need us to do this, for them. We cannot continue letting the vulnerable be our last priority. It’s just like this:

Oh thank heaven, we can really stop and listen and accept this now. Some people were demeaned and hurt and some lost their practice. It happened. We are so sorry. We will not let this happen again. We will not do this again.

Riding the derivative last wave of guru culture is a way of not saying this. Social media itself is largely derivative, so it’s not going to help. The internet will go on reproducing the deep structure of authority. It’s blind like that. We thought it was here to undermine authoritarism and opaque power hoarding, but no. The internet perfectly reproduces and amplifies opaque hierarchies of power. For now….

The men who were the women’s teachers needed to lead and they did not. Their silence is serious. And I’m done holding silence for them. They didn’t say what the time needed.

There will remain corners of the practice where any word in support of vulnerable women is taken as a threat. Where there is still power in the incantation that a woman should know her place. Where the past reproduces itself in sepia, all the undertones washed into rose.

I was angry when I first fell in love with Mysore, regretting the decade I’d been told not to go. But since then, circumstances unfolded in such a way to show me that I could have lost my practice. I seem to sense out there a group of women who really did lose their practices. Not ghosts. Whole women who moved on to something better for themselves. Ashtanga lost their names while busy incanting others. With Jubilee, one who left, I asked what she’d like to see from this community. She did not care, other than to say she hoped we can heal. Lady has a life of her own.

*This is me not citing Marx, because when he wrote that he forgot to include the generative power of his wife Jenny von Westphalen.

Celebrity is the Opposite of Relationship • 10 July 2018

Written early July, but the internet felt demented this month. So this is set to publish on the 31st.


1. Relationship’s not easy. Celebrity is the empty status of being above relationship.

It’s a weird time to be in a dunbar-number of committed relationships. Among those I love, there have been major life changes, new stresses, shocking news that takes weeks to integrate, challenges in the body, plus occasional mind-tornadoes. Not for everyone, but enough for to bring uncanny shudders to the stop-motion reality circus that is July 2018.

Twitter thinks July represents a new episteme, a down-leveling into the increasingly demented nature of our times. I’m going with the idea that it’s just a blip. If this idea of our zeitgeist doesn’t resonate with you, talk to a health care or emergency services worker, or some grandparents: they may say that these are the looniest times any of us has lived through.

The cosmic play is just as epic. True metaphor: the planet of war is moving very close to the earth, backtracking and circling us with nostrils flared and heaving. This stalking goes down in the light of an equally constipated Neptune, old mythic marker of delusion and confusion. And the longest eclipse of the century is on Guru Purnima. Hey by the way, yoga’s cosmic; ashtanga particularly so. The lore and location of the planets is background for teaching this yoga.

Anyway, a few dust devils are touching down on reality around me. In these times the most meaningful thing in my experience is showing up for the long-term relationships. Many of them. It’s not been an easy time. There has been far more anger, irrationality and body pain than usual.

This is not a problem; if anything, the steadiness of practice this month makes me think the yoga is working. If a practice can be steady under great weight, in the presence of great distraction, or when there is pain, then it can be steady for anything. When stuff comes up and we stay the course, I take it to mean yoga is working.

When I started meditating, I contracted this particular fantasy. I say contracted because spiritual bypassing is a communicative disease, passing from person to person in the form of ideas, clichéd motivational sayings, and coping mechanisms. Bypassing got in to me in the form of the following lie: I can meditate my way out of relationship pain. So, when there was any sort of difficulty in relationship, it upped the urgency to get my fantasy-idea of enlightened. Poof. Human suffering got you down? Too much uncanny self-awareness? Not a problem if you don’t have a self! Get enlightened today!

Meta-delusions here: Relationship wouldn’t be hard if I just didn’t care. Relationship wouldn’t be hard if I just didn’t have a self. It took a long time to see the way this lie operated inside of me, and then slowly to see through it and the fear that drove it.

This idea that not having a self makes relationship easy isn’t just avoidant and delusional. It’s the cover for the self-rejection that shows up in a lot of spiritual communities. If I could just not be a person, nothing would hurt.

But there’s a snag. Any true practice clarifies the personality. Leaves you less in the dark about the subconscious. Therefore MORE yourself. Just with increasing timespace between the stories.

Yoga mostly does this through relationship. In person, long term, real relationship. Breathing together, being together in space, over time. Learning to just be present. Yoga transforms through relationship.

This is a real principle in yoga. Did you know?

Relationship is your actual food. If you have a practice that happens on the subtle level.

For the meat-body practice, meals are the food. For the mind, sensory experience is the food. And again, relationship is nourishment. The spirit starves without it.

Relationship what we mean when we say transmission, if we don’t mean brand. Being together in present time, over a long time. Yoga, Eliade claimed, is the art of making peace with the fact that we live in time.

There is this fantasy now that you can substitute online for relationship. This is a two-dimensional version of the meditator’s stop-having-a-self fantasy. The idea here is that if you just keep things from being present and real by inhabiting internet personae, you won’t have to experience pain. In both the meditator escape and the social media escape, you don’t have to offer another person your three-dimensional presence. No breathing together. And no shared bodily experience in present time.

The alienation that I am describing lays the groundwork for fake relationship to colonize our minds. Because we get lonely.

By fake relationship, I mean celebrity. We settle for celebrity. We numb our critical minds and our senses to celebrity. We give our power to celebrity.

And then, maybe, some of us start to hope that we too could erase our small-selves so completely that we could become celebrity. The fantasy is that celebrity is the ultimate empty self, who has no relationship pain. Because celebrity is the status of being above relationship.


2. I love my friends who teach. Their show-up is strong.

Celebrity might destroy most of yoga. Is it time for such yoga to die anyway? I don’t know, but before it does, my teacher-friends and I have questions for the machine.

I’ll teach yoga in five countries this year, learning from devoted teacher-colleagues in different contexts. They are helping me articulate new questions, about how we as teachers use our personae, and how to resist the temptation to run away from relationship. I have learned a lot on the ground about what’s broken in yoga. That’s another post.

But first, what’s not broken is hundreds of my beloved friends-colleagues around the world, the ones showing me every day how yoga teaching is done. These people just show up, when the earthly weather, and space weather, and emotional weather, are all on fire. When relationship is really hard. When students are not kind. I learn from my friends how yoga teaching is done, because I watch them showing up for their many relationships anyway.

Celebrites may tell you that their specialness is a form of relationship. They love you sooooo much. You in particular. Like a god loves you.

It’s not true. It’s that normals feed celebrity. Adulation is a strange sort of denial. Worship turns humans into gods. But respect is copresent. Respect : relationship :: worship : celebrity. Both are glue.

I spent the first 9 years of my yoga practice among the elites of Santa Monica. I learned a lot among the ‘lebrities, primarily compassion. Never glittering praise, never the pedestal, never the many varieties of worshipful anti-relationship. Objectification is not nice, even if it’s what a person learns to crave when co-presence and accountability drop away.

Why compassion for the ‘lebrity? Because the hardest world to learn human lessons in is the one where everyone tells you that you’re special.

You know this if you’ve been close with someone who crossed over to the godrealm. If (big if) the dopamine-narcissism wears off, there is a special poverty of spirit one has to fight in order to stay a whole person in the face of a world that sees celebrity. Celebrity isn’t a person; it’s the way a group defines its objects.

Weekday afternoons, the yoga industry barfs in my in-box. Has this happened to you? It’s an experience common to my friends who teach. One has to laugh. The barf is beautifully designed.

And the barf is funny, because of the context in which it lands. I’ll explain. What follows is the work day of me, to suggest what it’s like for hundreds of fellow teachers around the world. If your teacher is primary caregiver to children or elders, or if they live in a place with rent so high that they have to touch people for more than three hours per day OR have a second job, their work is incalculably harder than mine. I cannot imagine. For these people, it is such a kindness to recognize what they are doing to create healing spaces and pass on real knowledge in the face of absurdity.

Please, be good to these ones who work the hardest. Recognize how much value they are creating for students when they could so easily sell out as I describe below.

Me, having fewer outside responsibilities than my friends, I get up between 3 – 3:30. Roll in to shala around 4. Clean. Practice yoga for about 2 hours. The energy economy of my breath, concentration and movement is always determined by the imperative to create a huge amount of energy to offer later when I’m working with others. If my students need more – like they did today, because it was a rare day to give new postures – I cultivate my awareness and reserves accordingly. My daily practice is there to sharpen my perception and stabilize my mind, to build up the subtle energy within the space, to demonstrate communicate that the job of teaching begins with meditation and self-care.

The most excited students start rolling around 5, so the last hour of my practice is in their company. Then from 6:15 – 8:30 or 9:30 I interact via touch and breath with people in deep states of concentration and very tender learning experiences. That’s prime time. Everything about my life is set up to sharpen my intuition and love and care for those 2-3 hours on the dance floor.

The shala is a cell phone free space except for emergencies and such. I mean come on. Would you meditate in a place with cell phones? There are no phones at yoga. We are just learning presence.

Holding a Mysore room is heaven if you ask me. So much happens. My mind perceives and generates so much. The heart is soft, mind is sharp, body in between. Imagine what that would be, beginning every day with a 5 hour semi-autonomous silent rave, for years, and years, and years? Yet for its wonders, this is an extremely hard undertaking mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. 4-9 is a hard five-hour work day, something which required prior training of more than a decade of strengthening my nervous system and stabilizing my mind. No way could I have taught Mysore in a consistent way during the first ten years of my practice. In the old days, yes, I could practice advanced series and then run around the room a few days a week assisting a senior teacher. But that’s just a taste of teaching actual Mysore, with the same people, in the same place, for years.

If you’re thinking why would a person do something so mundane and hard, ok. True. That’s how celebrity thinks.

I am like my teacher: I love to work alone. The energy is so nice. Quiet and clear. But there is one reason to have assistants: they are future carriers of the method and they can’t learn this method on an essential level – with the soul nourishment included – outside of relationship. An assistant is someone receiving a transmission, not someone there to do mechanical tasks. It’s their relationship, not their labor, that is of interest. Again, when relationship with students is the focus, it is best to teach alone. Yoga is relationship.

Back to my work day, there are two people here who assist me about half the time. We’ve worked together for 5-8 years, and I’d do anything for them because they’re carrying knowledge I personally consider sacred. Sometimes a teacher with their own shala elsewhere visits and observes/assists for a couple of months, to pick up what I’ve picked up from my predecessors. There is a thick seam of non-conceptual knowledge I can only pass on when we are both inside the states of consciousness that produce yoga’s knowledge-rhythm. Yoga is relationship.

It doesn’t matter if everyone gets put in their Marichyasana; in fact it’s important that some days I don’t help. Impressive adjustment is not what ashtanga yoga is. My teacher is emphatic that students don’t need confirmation of how good I am at putting their bodies in shapes – and in fact teaching them to rely on my skills is dangerous.

You might not hear this in internet-yoga land but: as traditional teachers, my colleague-friends and I never, ever want students to look to us to give them special experiences. The way people look to celebrities for special experiences. As a teacher, you never want students to depend on you for the excitement of practice and learning to move their own energy. You don’t want them to get addicted to you, to follow you around for years on end, to practice only when you’re there do to their work for them.

As a teacher, you are not there harvesting the students’ attention. You’re not collecting followers. That would be the logic of celebrity. The technology of freedom is contrary: you teach them to practice as much without you, and beyond you, as with you.

Well experienced teachers are good candidates for celebrity because they can manifest a lot of charisma, flow into and out of different emotional states easily. Nothing special; these stage skills are accidental by-products of understanding how to practice. And unlike whatever is happening in yoga videos, of course someone with a couple decades of daily practice, a highly trained mind, a teacher who has invested in them, and many years of teaching, can move a student’s energy. Energy is not secret, and not more spiritual than anything else. It’s just the kosha nestled between food body and the thinking body. But in relationship, in any true energetic or martial art, a teacher gives students cues for energy awareness and teaches them to move their own energy. So they don’t celebritize the teacher.

Freedom is the project. The student learns independence.

Relationship matters anyway.

So the teacher’s not at the center, the way my dear friend-colleagues do it.

Maybe there will be no more yoga in a hundred years. My teacher said that, equanimously, last year. I could see it. If it’s true, it’ll happen when the society of the spectacle finally takes control. And it will do that by making yoga not just about the body beautiful, but especially about celebrity.

Back to the non-glamorous life of the yoga teacher. Today I got home from the shala early, just after 9. I drank juice and showered, conversed with the cats, started soaking the kitchari for breakfast. Then the basic admin: go down the list of the students in my care, ask in my heart how each one is doing, and wish each one well. Then mentally, meditatively cut the cords of connection with what is going on with them, so their process is theirs.

Ritually cutting off the connection with the students means my own thoughts and energy are free to rest elsewhere for the hours to come. It would be extremely easy to spend the day processing the emotions of the many people one touched in an ecstatic altered state before dawn. That would also kill me. Cutting the cords means I can be really present with the new person they are tomorrow, rather than be present tomorrow to who they were today or yesterday.

Then around 10, I look at email.

I attend first to the matters regarding people immediately in my care. You think yoga teachers don’t have to read email from students? I have heard this from a couple yogalebrities. Exactly: they are above relationship. Being in long-term relationships means walking alongside people while they live. Being the one responsible, and accountable, for taking a person through the paces of an extremely transformative practice means also being receptive when they check in to tell you someone has died or been born, someone’s out of town for two weeks, someone has a financial emergency and needs to use the scholarship fund or the pay-it-forward program.

Teaching is not just being present for people in a silent room. Grounded teaching practice is not alienated from the life. Teaching is being present across time. The room is silent, but peoples’ lives churn on. In the Mysore room, I primarily hold the space. And the rest of the time, I am gently sensing the field in which my students and I live.

After I look at student email, I eat breakfast and maybe have a meeting. After, I see who else is trying to communicate with me in professional ways. Not by social media – that’s not even relevant for my week-day work. It’s that just looking at professional emails in the early afternoon is an experience of pure yoga insanity. Luckily I’m tired by this time, and have a happy belly full of sattvic food. So the insanity is cute.

This afternoon was a little extreme though, maybe because it’s the first of the week. I got two requests to contribute to teacher trainings, one of them a repeat-ask. And I ignored one offer to improve our shala’s website, because as the emailer pointed out, it has no social media opt-ins and is not optimized for premium search results. In another state of mind, that message would have gotten some snark in return because I’m tired of capitalism trying to eat the internet.

This is even crazier though: the first TT conversation emphasized how many people I could reach. As if the QUANTITY of people who say they’ve studied with me is a measure of my “impact.” Godhelpus. I said that traditional teachers focus on quality of instruction.

The other request, from out of the blue, suggested that I could teach how to do adjustments and count led class but call this a “clinic,” rather than a teacher training. This was supposed to be plausible deniability cover for the fact that I have promised my teacher not to do paid, group teacher trainings. Why did I promise this? Again because training someone is a personal investment in their transmission and I am committed to teaching the value of yoga as relationship. But you know, one could just change the name of this enterprise from training to clinic. In this case, I stopped short of explaining that teaching adjustments to any stranger who pays money for it is an especially dangerous way to make money, with no accountability for the harm done with the partial knowledge the paying customers receive. I did not say that being able to pay for training is not an indication that one merits this kind of power to potentially harm others and definitely harm the method. I didn’t clarify that Ashtanga yoga is so intense that adjustments make no sense outside a Mysore room. To keep my life simple, today, I just ignored the second round of that conversation. I digested my kitchari instead. They will find someone else to be their headliner.

But maybe first, they ask someone else who sees that celebrity is not yoga. And that person, too, will say no to being their yoga show headliner. This hypothetical person will have even less energy to explain their no. Think of the responsibilities they have already, and how impossible it would be for them to elaborate their devotional lives and values to a salesperson. No time for it. They’ll just keep their eyes on their path.

Listen. There are hundreds of people who work like this, carrying on long-term relationships with students, overseeing low profile yet extremely high energy grassroots organizations, being sought after in this way. Saying no because although the commercial yoga industry has no clue, they still understand.


3. The yoga industry is thirsty. Desperate. For celebrity.

Why is this happening? Why are serious teachers being targeted like this?

The reason is that the yoga industry is thirsty. It has a certain number of empty spaces it has created for celebrity types.

There is not only a constant need for surplus labor at the teaching level; and not only a constant mechanical search for new consumers to buy the teacher trainings that make yoga one of the most high profile industries in world history.

There is also an industrial need for surplus celebrity.

There are holes that can only be filled with people who speak with a certain level of certainty. There needs to be constantly novelty and charisma in those spots to keep the machine running. The workshop circuit never sleeps.

Listen: a celebrity is not a special human. Celebrity is an empty space in the industry that must be filled to keep everyone else in their place.

It’s not just in yoga. This is just the machinery of the society of the spectacle. It gives us celebrity the way industrialism gave its workers religion. To alienate us from each other. To make us weak.

Yoga celebrity is not bad by necessity. It’s just a device that holds a certain system in place, keeps the consumers consuming and the followers following, and doesn’t put the liberation technology in your hands. When I say yoga might disappear, I mean that the liberation technology might be forgotten.

Celebrity and relationship are direct contraries. It is precisely the fact that the celebrity is an object that makes them fun to objectify and follow, and impossible to breathe with.

Even for non-narcissists, it’s tempting to step into that space specifically because that’s where you don’t have to experience the challenges of inter-subjective relationships. Nobody can touch you there. You just get to be the cipher.

And, we resist the machine. Hundreds of my colleague-friends. Passing on the technology for freedom. Choosing relationship with some humility. Quietly, with devotion and clarity and strength. A couple of quiet hundreds out there and me, who is less quiet than the best.


Quitting My Yoga Practice • 13 June 2018

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This blog is an eleven year letter about finding purpose. Through the combination of (1) an inside path, with (2) systematically meaningful action. I’ve been scrutinizing my life purpose for two weeks and therefore not posting.

Today ends a wild waning moon cycle. Before that, May was about floating in space. That month was the first unstructured time I’ve had since 1999. I gave myself so much entertainment, excitement and worldly life that it was a set-up to forget about yoga. The question was: will my sadhana become expendable? Is it time to graduate from formal practice to life-as-practice?

It was time to look at the highly structured nature of my life, and at how much care I am giving to others all of the time. I relax within ritual. I believe that the most meaningful activity, even more than creativity and spiritual peak experiences (which I also pursue), is being a good friend-family-teacher-earthling. I’ve found/decided my life purpose, and operate in the “now what?” that follows that. This found-a-life-purpose world is an easy one in which to get lazy and fall off the razor’s edge. But, there are ways to remain sharp.

People think it’s constitutional, my ease in ritual and rhythm and role. Who returns and returns and returns to the same people and places not by nostalgia, but because that’s what excites her? They see how strong emotions self-generate every time I land in Mysore, or every time the tree in my front yard blooms; how I do insane devotional things for Seattle, the city I fell in love with at age ten. I’m told this patterning of action and emotion looks weird in someone who seems to be committed to novelty. From the inside I’d say that spiritual restlessness is fundamental in me. Specific patterns, practice, places and people are chosen as grounding in the chaos. I knew when I was shorter than the Montana wheatfields that I would get out of that place, would study history to make the world bigger, and never ever stay put. That’s still true. The restlessness isn’t a problem now though, because it’s got purpose around it. I am still a quiet disaster in ways that are just for me. My office, closets, sense of time and space: little churning cyclones. Very important, the entropy zones.

How ever. It is rhythm that makes me manifest. Like some sort of spin cycle. Service, friendship, beauty, whatever. What I’ve figured out is that to have some sense of inner path and outer purpose—one that’s not just some dogma or idea—this woman must have rhythm.

Yoga for me is the source of steadiness of mind; and that comes not so much through stillness but syncopation. The beat actually needs to be beautiful, not stupid or random, for my consciousness to stream in sattvic ways. Beautiful is rhythms within rhythms, a life of finely tuned cycles. The inner teacher in me isn’t so much some sort of knower who gets insights. She’s just, finally, a damn fine choreographer. My inner teacher knows how to DJ a life.

Time came in May to drop the rhythms completely for the first time since 1999. The last unstructured time in my life was that year, on a Fulbright in Managua. Landing in a city with no street names, with no friends, no maps, no phones, no responsibilities… just the names of the Revolutionary archives and an ongoing drive to study history of Empire.

I kept it secret, that I was a wreck. What I did with that unstructured time was relentless advnenture-intrigue: flattering a large retinue of revolutionaries with my scholarly fascination (read Omar Cabezas), sleeping on volcanoes reachable only by banana boats (image search “Ometepe”; banana boat here means barge that transports actual bananas), mantrafying my mind with epic poetry you would not even believe (Jesus God Leonel Rugama), running the hash on Saturdays and then getting wasted with the ambassadors before refinding my religion every Sunday by mainlining liberation theology at the Misa Campesina. This was all more life and excitement than I previously knew possible; I was dying inside again with every moment. Like an acute unhappiness that I had to look at every minute. My mind was lonely and hopeless. Pleasure (rum, reading) did not help. Even studying the American war machine could not ease the inner itchy unbearableness with a drive for truth, or a belief in justice. I wasn’t depressed; I was actively dying inside, drying up and crackling away from the edges of my inner self like a caterpillar whose dead pulp of possibility is desiccating inside its cocoon. It was like no hell I’d known existed, thought by thought, and it was there for no good reason. Compounded a hundredfold by guilt. Meantime I had no purpose, no path, no responsibility. No damn rhythm.

So. This past month of unstructured time was a chance to summon old existential shadows. Good energy gets trapped in the unexamined places. I intended to stop being so orderly and predictable to see what I couldn’t see when I’m in my rhythms.

I didn’t set out to spend the month living next to an almost theatrical idealization of a cemetery bathed every evening in golden light, and frequented nightly by cloaked occultists. But that is how it happened.

I sank into the flowerbeds by that cemetery and read L’Etranger, this time in the original and only half comprehending. Wandered alongside the wall where they shot the last resisters of the Paris commune. Sat in a seventh-floor bathtub every night watching the sun set over the monster on Montmartre’s hill, Sacre Coeur. (Other cathedrals in Paris thrilled me with their brazen occult magick, but I sense that edifice belongs entirely to a different team.) As with every bit of the city, there is a whole long story of Montmartre, about one of the first grassroots uprisings against empire, resistance in the streets, redoubt to the butte later made famous as an artists’ commune, and the massive stone sanctuary the winners built there with a Jesus who I swear looks like he’s giving you the finger. In my 20s, traveling the officially illegal countries on a shoestring (Vietnam, Cuba, Laos…), I stayed out of Europe because I claimed the whole continent would be dull and rich and stuffy. Oh what I did not know.

This May I ate whatever, slept whenever, planned nothing, put the phone in airplane mode, left my laptop closed. I spent lots of time in shops, because a good number of Parisian people think little, delighted, super-attentive women in non-tourist neighborhoods are fun to dress, feed and teach new words. One day I slept 14 hours, got on the mat well after noon just because I felt like it, rolled out of savasana and immediately ate the croissant I’d left sitting on the side table to tease myself during rest. A few admired friends from grad school came to town; ever epic, now that they’re notorious writers what they do is chill in Europe in summer. To them I’m the washed up ex-ex-ex-intellectual who becaume a (cough) yoga teacher and is still too fit and too happy and lacking in scholarly achievements. We had everything talk about, which was done best in bars carousing. Something they’d never seen me do.

None of this sucked. The mind of suffering from 1999 did show up as an echo, interestingly. Everything was intriguing, diverting and delicious. But on an energetic level, I got scrambled. Rest-adventure may be good for the soul, but with my mind in one place, my emotions in another and my G-I tract washed daily in white flour, I landed back home feeling like a cubist painting of myself.

At every sharp edge of me, there was and is the echo of the question that has always organized this journal. What am I doing with my life?

Doing nothing is one way to push on that question. This time around, renunciation of structure didn’t kill me inside or force me up against the wall of existential crisis.

At least, it didn’t force the existential question any more than I always am wanting it to face me down:

What is this life. What is the consciousness of this moment. What is the purpose of this action.

Life and death stuff, really.


Back home again I am re-embedded in the action circuits. Hundreds of human interactions every day. Directing a program, iterative presencing with the same places-people who are also always different. Getting myself out in the door, into and out of the forest, into and out of the shala, into and out of different states of consciousness. Regulating my nervous system to be a still center amid huge amounts of information and activity. That’s what it is to run a Mysore program. Regular time in India is its own version of that.

But first, before this and after that, the last days of May happened alone on the coast Montenegro. What a place to get completely receptive after so much entertainment, the action circuits all buffed out in perception mode. My phone didn’t work. The light was this steady Adriatic soft-white, with air that temperature where you can’t feel the boundary of your skin. My physical body opened up to the whole environment as a diffuse sort of homeostasis.

It’s a place where it rains in sunshine. I’d thought that was just bad lyrics, but it’s also good magic. People would interrupt me over Greek salads on stone walkways along pink shell-dust beaches. I’d be eating extremely local olives, tomatoes sweet as strawberries, cucumbers bitter as grainy south-European espresso. Before we’d talk in English fragments about the wars, and NATO and the old embargo, they’d ask if I was from Moscow. How kind but no. I’d say Detroit, mispronounced the American way with an “oy” and a hard final T.

Oh! Hands on an imaginary wheel, steering, steadying. Shifting their eyes away from my face to the horizon to imitate the contemplative trance of the road.

Yes, something like that. That is where I’m from.


There was no reason to undertake spiritual practice in May, but that is what happened. Formally, methodically, superduper gently. It didn’t save my soul, or make my day, or whatever. I didn’t alter any adventure schedules for it.

Just the formal zero-time, in its own way, every day. Meditating on the breath, gently true to the method that I teach the mindbody of that time.

Practice is just practice. The new people on this adventure were not “my teachers.” My teacher is my teacher. People’s only role is to be completely ourselves, not tools for some narrative telos. Life is for living, people for loving. The whole yoga-context disappeared and there was no new one inside or outside of me to make sense of practice.

Still practice was there.

Coming back to baseline, my body’s been disorganized; practice is slow and nurturing in a way that eases the pelvis out of torsion. It seems 20,000+ steps a day on cobblestones will do that. The first days back, there was sharp asymmetry between my energy for teaching (full power) and practice (two extremely internal and quiet hours). There’s a lot of information for me in that breach. A lot. For example, for me personally, I see the honesty that arises out taking practice before I teach. I see how the intimacy and information-density of this week’s slow practices make me the kind of teacher I want to continue becoming. The sensitivity I have in the long relationships in the Mysore room is potentiated by hours alone daily inside my own energy-body. Again, this is just my experience.

By contrast, I see now a shadow: if I just dropped into my Mysore room without a daily practice, I personally could get big ideas about teaching. In a raw human way, I think that I could get caught up in compensation, supporting others to do what I’d not be making time to do myself. I describe this as human because one sees various body-therapists get off on such things – any caregiver with a “fix it” approach is broken, and we know it. “My body or mind is in pain, so let me not observe that and fix myself through you.” This is a deeply human tender, predictable thing that happens when a caregiver has no container for their work.

What I see now is that for me personally as a teacher, practice creates an raw and constantly self-updating kind of accountability. Qualitatively different from the accountability in student-teacher relationship. Counter-transference is evergreen; self-study keeps it clean.

I have a history of blowing off practice sometimes. The last time was 15 years ago April. So I don’t know what it would be like to teach without also practicing. The only thing that makes that sustainable is an understanding of practice as mental, emotional and spiritual care. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, at all, but a daily, technically clear, body-based breath meditation has been the program so far during my experience as a teacher.

I emphatically do not recommend this for anyone else. But I share this to note that it is my experience. I’m not the only one.

Sadhana is not an achievement or a hardline commitment and there is no prize. It’s just a wellspring of meaningful work and a good life, maybe even when sense and structure fall away.


While floating in space I asked the Austrians and the Montenegrians and the Netherlanders: do you have words to put light on this very specific idea called dharma?

Yes and no. People are brilliant. And their different languages come up out of deep wells of history that have their own meanings to carry forth. We laugh and dive into layers of connotation as I try to learn a little of their living history. Dharma per se, we repeatedly see, is intrinsic to a culture that is not easy to understand. But there is a nous-ne-savons-quoi around purpose that bears a deep existential look-see.

Purpose is values that are deeper than story. It’s a drive that needs no outcome or movement to mean anything at all. Purpose, in different languages, is a sense that has no actual attainable visible sense in it. It is a form of meaning too cellular to be expressed through achievement, yet must always be acted out.

I don’t know. Different language-groups have distinctly insights on what life-purpose might be. But while most of my writing stays unshared, this blog-space holds the line of the question of what is my path and purpose. The writing itself gives me space to see that there’s creative energy in jumping outside the question.

So now I see where the sadhana began, in my mind. It was science. The first year of grad school in LA, I did math. My main professor was one of the most committed and exacting teachers I’ve ever had. We did stats, probability, survey research design. I learned the value of a clean data vector. A clean unbroken data sequence contributes to Knowledge. A true scientist doesn’t seek fame; she gives herself over to the method required to advance human understanding of reality itself. Statistics done honestly is surrender, and you come to admire those who love the data more than the sex appeal of a massaged trend line. Most science is a little fake; I was taught how to sound out the cheats and love the quiet devotees.

And in that era, Los Angeles just after 9/11, I gave my body to yoga science. This was as genuine a surrender as my sincere quixotic commitment to honesty in data analysis. You know pure science is a myth, but that devotion to an honest truth search is the only hope in the void. You don’t ask about the soul in science. Non-lying is just a way of life. Its fire is so clean.

Science gave me a decade and more of superfocused, systematic action with an extremely sensitive bullshit filter. Concentrate the mind; do not invite complication; do not under any circumstances astheticize the search for wisdom. Find a line of true knowledge and know your discipline stone cold. Move the collective understanding forward. Know also that you don’t know. What you know as a scientist is your method. You understand that the temptation is to cheat truth to get famous, and that there will always be careerists who stop putting science first and put publications first instead. The early training was never to take that bait. And to remember what you don’t know as a scientist – no matter how stone cold clear your analysis – is how your limited method articulates with reality. So you have to stay curious and open as much as you stay committed.

This was a world view with integrity and purpose. It wasn’t rigid like you might be imagining. It gave great data. It turned me into a massively more healthy, happy person who could look at herself and could show up for others. It mainlined me straight into persistent non-symbolic states of consciousness, as they say.

But I see now that when I started to learn other bodies, other minds, another world view began to mix in with my science. It was the unknown again. It crept in where the science couldn’t serve me.

A complementary and parallel way begin in me then, eight years ago now, as the radical indeterminancy of each human bodymind exploded into my world. The uniqueness of every self. The not-going-somewhereness of many experiences of practice. This understanding came as strong emotions is best not to express: adoration mostly, plus a kind of devotion that aches for epic action at times, and a sense of mystery that science conflates disapprovingly with mysticism.

Yoga’s not science for me now, not like it was. These elements of emotion and meaning are bad for that kind of knowledge-building. But I’m moved forward, and backwards, and into stillness by action that is no longer so vector-like.

It’s adoration without an object, devotion without a deity. It’s hard to say so, but the parallel complementary path is art.

That’s what I see now. Science got me across the foundational years. Then teaching began. And slowly my mental-emotional nourishment shifted from science to art. Art is much easier to bullshit, and much harder to assimilate into my learning process. I don’t recommend it at all. I don’t identify with voices talking about how their “practice” is their cooking/cleaning/walking/gardening and their “study” takes place with random people who contradict each other, and their “teachers” are the flowers and the sun. Art practice is still practice. It’s still clear.

So that is what this is now, for me. It’s a habit that started rigorous, but now feels non-replicable. The difficulty in it is humbling, and funny in ways that nobody outside the art itself could understand. Often practice is just there and beautiful for its own sake.

If this practice that some of us do is art, no wonder it gets a few vicious critics, ones who want to fix others because they are broken, who wring their hands and instruct strangers to be normal and socially acceptable.

Art can be froufrou, sure. Just objects. And then also there is the sort of art practice that’s committed and doesn’t ever apologize for itself and doesn’t expect to be understood. Yet sometimes amid all the misunderstood-ness, there’s connection. And those moments of shared meaning so massive that they are worth everything but everything, every sacrifice and all the years of anonymous creation, and every systematic invisible step of the path.

What I’m experiencing now, if it’s an art of yoga, is the kind of difficult that is easy, and yet extremely hard to break.

P.S. I’ve edged out of corporate social media, but am still very much online. There are a newsletter + email contact here.

The female body reloved • 1 May 2018

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What is consciousness like on the alien worlds with five suns or twelve moons? Unthinkable to us. Language, duality, polarity, metaphor, consciousness, light, night, season, cycle: on Earth all this rises in bodyminds formed by just one sun and just one moon. Culture and religion feel secondary: I suspect consciousness takes its shape from the lights in the sky. And goes from there, to the tides in our spines.

The species made up some solar religions, and also some lunar ones. And they also made body-earth traditions in which you get to worship both. I like the latter. Over time I forged a fulcrum on the inner and outer cosmos, in the form of a bodymind ritual that happens at the same time, and same place, and same points, in every cosmic cycle. Yoga for stability of the mind. This sameness is just a useful illusion, leverage for a body floating in space. But is it any wonder that testosterone peaks (yes) with the sunrise, and estrogen undulates as a 28-day tide within the tide? Nuh uh. We are little planets, made of planets, orbiting with other planets.

The tide inside is the fluid in the spine. Liteally! It’s called the cerebro-spinal rhythm or primary respiration. It’s a pulse that travels as a wave from the cranium to the sacrum and back, a couple times per minute. The first respiration begins when you live in a uterus, continuing all your life in fluid, not air. By my lights, “inhale up exhale down” is a mantra that very very slowly makes the inner tide conscious. God yes; give me a faith that moves up and down and surely as it moves left and right. “Oh yogi do not do asana without vinyasa.” Why? To genuflect with the body. Because there’s a sun and a moon.

Because tidal waves do show up in different fields of the self. For example, at menses estrogen drops as surely as the ocean sucks out to sea before a wave crashes. Over and over, year after year this goes on; and then the macrorhythm of this microrythm draws back and comes in like a tsunami. Estrogen retreats, menopause begins, and the newly- hypersensitive nervous system is naked ground. You can stand there and get smashed. Or get to elevation, higher mind, and witness what comes next in awe.

There is a specific, violent reason we don’t believe menopause is about beauty and power. But it is both. I’ve been there for it many times now. I’ve learned just a very, very little about the Change from teaching me through their experience.

The Change is taboo. There is a curtain of dread and shame that separates most of us from cultural knowledge of menopause.

Here’s a hint. PMS can be like a homeopathic dose of the Change. The small estrogen drawback that teaches about the bigger one to come. Shows you how to balance your system, cycle by cycle. So what is PMS? The little dread, the little disavowal, the little crazy?


I speak for myself here, but when I say this in person the women in my life nod. I live low impact, practice most every day, chart life by the moon, have been sattvic for 20 years. My take is that the estrogen shift of PMS makes one see all the true things. It’s huge bolts of intuitive knowledge a mind can’t even hold. It’s when you’re right; but if there’s been much undigested emotion the past month, the leftover feelings get uncorked. Fear, anger, and sadness surface in concentrated form. So if it’s been a hard month, the mental and intuitive clarity comes with some sort of cleansing, maybe in the skin or emotions or bowels. Real yoga, being folk medicine, changes that gradually. (No really, a lot of things called yoga won’t help here.) PMS is a report on how the previous month is still affecting you. Sorting this out over time conditions the hormonal system to move towards homeostasis when menopause comes. I’ve witnessed that this last part does not have to be hell. Not at all.

Smart men, too, learn these things. Through their beautiful reverent perceptiveness. The ones in my family envy my clarity shots. For me it is just one day in 28, when I get to see so much more. “You are always right; it just takes me much longer to figure it out.” For many, PMS is when you uniquely don’t care about being liked or making everyone comfortable; things people report not caring about much at all after the Change. PMS can be a hormonal cocktail of intuition and precision that gives knowledge of what it may feel like to be queen, crone, goodwitch or prophetess. Take your pick. There are others. The mature feminine’s a full deck.

The lunar traditions have methods to regulate the power surge when the hormones change. You practice renunciation. You hold the truth in your throat until you can unmix it from the emotion. Maybe you start the walk out to the red tent. With the yoga, you do not react to the emotion. Rather, sift it out from the intuition; and come through all this one cycle to the wiser.

So, menopause. Dread and disavowal hold us in ignorance. Another yoga tool is a Get Out of Jail Free card I don’t often use because it can turn into a spiritual bypass. But this situation is sufficiently dire for it. It’s “cultivate the opposite.” So if there is disdain, the countermove is compassion. For dread, I use curiosity where others go to welcome or playfulness or gravitas. And where one has projected insanity onto another, the move is consider their direct knowledge of hidden things.


It’s not like transformation’s easy.

Do you think you come back from your rebirth in the wilderness like you walked out of a yoga spa? Not if you faced death, and made your life again out of what you saw. Not if you converted your system to different fuel. Lost a self and gained a new one. Menopause can entail all this.

Change is never really easy in seasons of the self. But typically we ritualize and glamorize transitions. Finishing school, having a child, taking a partner. Even death we can pack with meaning and beauty. So what is the deal with the disowning of this initiation?

This might explain it. If menopause is the last maturation, it is what the uterus-bearer must face to stand beside the time-tested patriarch. Think about it.

The dread-shame is a durable emotional structure in public life. It keeps us from recognizing the power of the Change, and the knowledge and intuition of the matriarch that equals or exceeds that of her counterpart.

There is something insane here, and it’s not the post-menopausal woman.

Culture is cruel to her. If there’s ritual-cultural reverence for any identity-change along the lifespan, then a person integrates the past with the future. If not, loss of an old self is a lessening. We know it’s wrong to shun a person as they step across a life threshold. We see the marks that shame leaves, especially when it lands at crucial junctures. There are pockets of high skill in supporting a woman’s crossing over. But so far I’ve only found a few in the field of the taboo. So where does one go? I don’t know, but it’s not the medical establishment and it’s not western yoga.

We don’t have great stats on the female body. From the medical standpoint, there is no evidence that women even cycle together (1). Small wonder: this is the same system that holds the male body as the “normal” research subject because uteruses are too complicated. This system gave us HRT – a history worth knowing (2). Western medicine is great, but Claudia Welch (whose teaching counterpart is often Robert Svoboda; neither of them holds out their expertise alone) reminds us again and again that it does not help to expect your MD to understand menopause (3). It’s just too complex. I don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far is that in addition to an Ayurvedic, consistent, adaptable yoga practice that sensitizes us to the many energies within the body, the best practical tools come from shameless women on the other side who are in one’s family or community. What they experienced before you is relevant because they’re close in genes and geography. Fewer variables. There is some great reading in this domain, but so far I don’t see expert information being exclusively reliable. The happiest ones in the Change-space are those who become their own curious physicians. Different kind of science. Subjective science.

For now, western yoga does a disservice by taking little interest in the inner female body. I wonder, what great percentage of the yoga world is in the Change-window, which can last for one year… or fifteen? How many teaches don’t know they’ve appropriated a folk healing tradition designed to facilitate extraordinary liminal states, including birthing, dying, and the Change?

Please, do not let anyone jack the heat and close the windows and tell you to practice harder. Notice if they don’t notice your exhaustion, heart racing, or newly hair-trigger fight-or-flight response. Discern if a teacher can’t distinguish folk medicine from a photo op.

The work of a teacher is to be a book of technique they can adapt to the individual, in support of their whole life. Ignorance of the Change means we will not perceive and revere it. So many times in my twenties in the LA yoga scene, I heard teachers respond to women in their 50s who had instability of the pelvis (including incontinence and air release) by publicly telling them to improve their bandhas. I had no idea that the psyche and tissue of the pelvis (what bandhas are made of) experiences its own full revolution. None. It is just that crazy to live in a world not really guided by the knowledge of women on the other side.

Now I have some tiny idea. We can stop, go back, rehonor the female body. Relove. Rewonder. As she reanimates, regenerates, rewins, rewakes, respeaks, regains, regrounds.

For some short time, thousands of years, not everywhere and not forever, men ruled without women. Super weird move there, Earthlings. Your species did harm. Now there’s not much time to reverse the wars and the climate change.

Meantime there is fighting around sex and gender. This will continue until we discover the secret fulcrums that hold the battlefield in place.

If these two deep structures disintegrated, so much would open up. There’s more I don’t see, but these two are crystal clear. A matched set of taboos.

1. Men shall not try to understand the uterus. This is others’ business.

2. Menopause is to be dreaded. Is crazy and shameful and the end of you.

It makes sense that in the past those with a uterus did not trust those without to care about birth control. When women are responsible for birth control, a wall goes up in the form of disgust. Periods are ick; PMS is crazy. It seems like menstruation happens only for individuals, not also for pairs and for cultures. (No surpise, even medical science still doesn’t get that hormonal rhythms are intimately linked to every other process in the bodymind, and to a woman’s social world).

Not giving hetero partners at least equal responsibility birth control has consequences for their discernment around matters of life. Birth control that’s not a hormone intervention in a female body is a whole big experience of care, sensitivity, trust and responsibility through intimacy. (Thank God for hormonal birth control, by the way; it’s just that so many of us have gone through that experience, and deeper into our bodies, studied those drugs, and after years of worry and research eventually, ultra- carefully opted out.) How many agribusiness, and arms trade, nation-state, and social media CEOs are investing energy planning or preempting pregnancies with their partners? Hm. If they did they might know what life is. The ground floor of human reproduction, the main thing that we do, is not clear on their radar. Not yet.

But then this thing happens for those with a uterus. Concern about pregnancy goes away on a biological level. The energy economy of a woman’s body changes. In yoga, the life focus shifts to stabilizing her wisdom. Wow that is interesting. That potential.

How to fight this? Change the Change into a diminishment. Throw up a wall of ick at menarche, and double it down at menopause. Hm.

We know it makes no sense teach yoga without studying the history of colonialism in India – particularly what colonizers did to Ayurvedic doctors who had knowledge of yoga. Similarly, I submit that to understand the role of the mature woman in public life, it helps our hearts move forward to go back and study the burnings. Sorry. It’s sad. Earthlings: we burned the wise women at the stake for a long time, not so long ago. I have a weird feeling that menopause-dread is strengthened by a deep and rational terror of being publicly shamed or burned at the stake. We’re not so far out from that history. The last echoes may be in us.

This yoga is the cultivation of stability through rhythmic balance. Clarity comes from there. It’s understanding the elements of nature inside the body, threaded through the seasons on a planet that is never still. Collectively we have been out of balance for several cosmic minutes when it comes to integrating the experience of the female body. What would an resolution to strife around sex, gender and body identity look like? We have no idea yet. But it feels possible, and good, and sometimes very close.

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Losing Our Religion • 2 April 2018

Been watching my worlds in paradigm shift.

Since October I’ve been journaling on gender and sex. There’s techtonic movement in every social world I inhabit: yoga, academia, art friends, professor friends, Montana/family/church, the internet. Reality is breaking open, or breaking down, for a lot of people.

It’s ok. Reality had it coming.

Most of what I’ve written is unsafe for the internet. Unsafe. Not because I care what you think about me. The part that cares about that has to die for writing to happen—part of why writing is heaven). Not that being liked matters either, but I feel insulated by this paradox: the more dangerous I am with my voice, the more genuine friendship deepens in my life. It’s mysterious. I voice the scary things, and by accident the kindred spirits show up. So: not being liked isn’t what’s scary in writing about gender. What’s scary is that my view could make someone counter-react in a regressive way. There is bolt of hatred running through the world-mind right now. If I put anyone on the defensive, that’s contributing to it. That does scare me.

But we’re nearly all in flux right now around sex and gender. Expansively, or reactively. For me it’s showing up as a heightened sensitivity to suffering around identity, role, and vicitimization. I value freedom – including freedom from history (by knowing it inside and out), and freedom from futures shoehorned into tight roles. So I’m interpreting the current gender trouble through those values even as my world view has been moving to accommodate the moment. I have always been hypersensitive to the gender hatreds: misogyny, misandry, transphobia, homophobia and so on. I can make analytical arguments to “prove” a hidden violence is in play, but mine is not an analytical experience. It’s nausea.

Paradigm shifts happen in culture and carry people away with them, but what really interests me is the internally chosen shifts. We’ve been talking about this here for a year – those luminous moments and people who decide to recondition their minds. Some of you have shared amazing personal histories and hacks for self-creation, and I been thinking a lot about what you’ve said. What is that like, to be a person who has deliberately changed a received belief system that felt too small?

And, have you done it more than once? Stopped and responsively, deliberately remade some part of your mind? I think that the first time that happens, it’s tempting to take the new worldview as The Real Truth. Like the mystical-religious kids who morph into either market fundamentalists or Marxists (check). Like the vinyasa students reborn as ashtangis (check). Revolutions are often domain specific – a rebirth in the conscious aspects of the belief system around gender, for example, does not mean reorganization of the personality.

Here’s an insight many have found. If a person makes more than one big, coherent paradigms shift in their life, they realize: a paradigm is skin, not spine. You must have skin to function. It doesn’t work to take it off. But, if you’re exfoliating properly, it’s going to replace itself every seven years. (Otherwise you get crusty.) If you mature you worldview BUT stay friends with the past selves, then you learn to flex your metaphysics. Beneath the worldview are a person’s real values and character, which I suspect are pretty stable. (The kindest tender-loving kid from first grade is doing tough guy now, but I’ll always trust the soul in there.)

The thing about staying friends with the past selves (even delusional or toxic selves) is that it lets you remember how that corner of consciousness operates. Minds are not so private. Your old paradigm is still live in lots of other people, so the more you hold, the greater the range of your empathy. For me, flexing my metaphysics was Lesson One in meeting people where they’re at.

It becomes safer and safer to set aside an absolutist belief. Gently. There’s an underlying dynamic here. The subject of the current phase becomes the object (of the subject) of the next phase. You look at the past self from outside its skin (1)(2).

It’s hard to even know what your world-view is when your whole mind’s inside it. One of the discovery methods is to follow the emotional hotspots. So, in this situation, what experiences around gender and sex are supercharged…? Ok, great that there’s passion. One might open those doors, slowly and safely. The heat is there for a reason.

But I think it is the cold spots are the key for growth in consciousness. Anything that elicits “I won’t go there,” or “I won’t hear that,” or the dismissive and anti-curious “you’re making something out of nothing.” Those are the hidden doors currently getting blown open. Some believe systems have lots of triggers, but what about those that push almost everything out?

A lot of my perception this year hinges on being ¾ off social media. I have loved the internet for 20 years. Early social media was an underground full of weird creatives, not this thing you had to participate in to be socially viable. Now I’m more grateful than ever to have this blog space, eleven years going, as a portal for connection and change. There have never been ads here and I don’t keep stats; nothing to game. Seth Godin and Jason Kottke have written recently about the importance of blogs – of course Google discontinued the Reader years back because they want these outposts to die, but for MANY of us still using the internet as a quiet signal, and RSS is still going strong. That’s my feed once again. Meantime I think my ability to take a full, fairly nonreactive view of the present moment is predicated on not reading corporate-curated feeds.

The magical little girl in me knows that we all experience social media in either a childish or a highly evolved sort of magic-mind. Memes are spells. Mantras don’t start now with an inhalation: they start with a hash tag.

Be careful in there, my friends. The Christian magicians, at least, do more spellcasting for protection than they do for communication with spirits (don’t ask me how I know this). If you’re just wandering around the dungeon without at least a shield, you’re getting hit with a lot of dark art. I wonder if that makes us much more vulnerable to absorbing reactive, regressive, pre-scripted worldviews.


Question. If you had an afternoon, could you go back and write the arc of your unfolding belief-value systems from age 10 to now? I began doing this periodically at 22, when my commitment to post-truth postmodernism (which I’d thought was the end of the road) gave way to a stripped-down pragmatism that enabled me to do actual research. Mapping past worldviews makes history conscious! It opens up the horizon. AND I think this process helps safeguard against regressive worldviews, especially when there are so many charismatic haters now, trying to turn us into intellectual children.

Yoga is the cultivation of discernment. We don’t GET to hang out in defensive belief systems (3). Yoga is the play, and sometimes-resolution, of apparent opposites. We don’t get to linger too long in a reactive stance.

Here’s one short version with apologies if my taste in books is too strange. My first religion was a mystical Jesus obsession when I was 3, and some part of me still can go there. Not ashamed of having been 3. Then there was the superstitious kid, who didn’t understand physics but saw that one event follows another, and started trying to hack causality. If this cow lets me touch the whorl on his forehead when I climb up the fence, then the boy I love at school loves me. Everything was magic. Maybe Piaget has a name for that consciousness; for me there’s just a remnant interiority. A few worldviews later there were a libertarian phase, age 16 and learning to read the newspaper through the biases of the people I considered strong. But at 19 I moved to Costa Rica, learned about the CIA’s parallel state, and doubled back in those politics, developing a whole center of gravity to hold my new critique in place. All of that, I still sympathize with now. It’s not that I was delusional; I was right about limited, biased experience. Not stupid; just not as free.

The process got really tight in my 20s, while I read the chronological history of western philosophy from Democritus to Rorty. Men talking to each other. It was a setup. Identify with each view one so well that a little piece of you moves outside it – and when you step forward into that another little piece of you. Plato to Aristotle. Locke to Kant. Russell to Wittgenstein. De Saussure to Derrida.

This is how it works. Identify with the idol; heat-seek for inner contradiction; transcend/include. Study the self to forget the self (4). Get used to the rhythm. It’s not supposed to end. If you are on the active edge of human consciousness, the wave will keep you moving unless you give up and dig in to the sand and decide to be old.

The thing is, we are always always changing (5). We have no choice about this. Every cell, every thought, every experience is dying every second and what comes out of that is something new. The only place we have choice is around the tone and nature of this process of living. Commitment to expansion and growth is a meta-belief that changes change. Without it, entropy and regression are just as likely. Maybe more.


So. The most insane symbolic thing that could happen, happened. Talking about The Terrible Obvious can facilitate the next internal shift, and help it be responsive rather than defensive.

That insane symbolic thing pulled a base Jenga block out of the western mind’s cognitive structure of normalcy. It was the block called Meritocracy. We sort of knew that there was a lot of invisible rigging to the power tower. But on some level most of us could believe that the most important forms of power (I’m talking the traditional powers of government: monopoly of violence and wealth (6)) accrued by hard work, inborn intelligence, and talent.

Then the Seed of Chucky assumed the symbolic Seat of world power. Regressed. Incompetent. Unqualified. Unwanting. Genuinely racist. Whole-heartedly misogynist. It’s beside the point if previous people in the Seat were just as incompetent or unqualified. They didn’t use their non-merit as part of an overtly traumatizing, symbolic domination style (if you’re not traumatized, I would ask you to resonate with anyone whose symbolic identities do not overlap with the Seed of Chucky: an immigrant, a person of color, a female person, a homosexual person, a trans person). What I feel everyone adapting to is this: someone of no merit, someone who has literally achieved nothing in life, someone who didn’t even try… got The Codes. Meritocracy is broken. Symbolic power (just one kind of power) is embodied in a scornful, bullying, rich, white, misogynist, genuinely fascistic man who lacks curiosity, discipline, concentration, or thinking skills.

If meritocracy was our god, that god is dead.

Ouch. Ok. Good. What is the next generative move? (7) What is the big life-loving, freedom-expanding, move?

Or: extremely not good. In that case, what’s the next easy, available, regressive move? How do I re-establish a self in spite of this, without acknowledging it affects me?

Those are the questions I think my overlapping worlds are all living in. Here are a few random new ideas from out of that churn.

I. We’re all up on toxic masculinity. A lot of it is so sad, because it locks a man in having to know everything (especially being an expert on how others are stupid), having to do everything, having to kick ass to be loved, not getting to know your feelings, never experiencing sympathy and help, and tragic cuddle deprivation. I think toxic feminity is also pretty obvious in my worlds now. It hinges on the outward force of toxic masculinity (and vice-versa), which is the gaze that objectifies and conquers everyone and everything. A feminine mind that has internalized the gaze is always self-objectifying, which is incredibly neurotic and alienating and sad, yet a somewhat personal suffering. It goes toxic when that feminine mind needs everyone, not just her erotic mates, to look at her wantingly.

Relentless, overpowering domination of others’ attention is a major, and toxic, drive in our times. I think it is a power dynamic that grows out of biological truths expanded and twisted around a new kind of hyper-ego. And, I think we all kind of know this.

But what I see now is a particular, capitalist expression of this toxicity in the form of arguments that patriarchy is not a problem as long as “I get mine.” Hey I can work this system to my own advantage, so that’s feminism. Yes. This is a form of feminism. It’s also narcissistic and disconnected. If your idea of freedom is so limited that you’re happy with a violent society so long as you get yours; if you can smell misandry and misogyny on your own breath and are fine so long as you get the spoils of whatever game you’re playing… maybe time for the next turning of the wheel.

The best generative move I know from toxic masc-fem is mystic intersubjectivity. Martin Buber marks the way, and it’s a very sexy one (8).

II. Back to the regressive playbook. In perfect response to an Identity Politician running America, identity politics has hardened into two extreme poles (9). I think this includes a mass denial of the present moment. The right wing of identity politics looks backwards to a way we never were (the good old days when a man was a man and a woman was a woman (10). The left wing looks forward to the way we’ll never be –some utopian world in which Group X gets to have The Power, instead of addressing the unfreedom of our system of Imperial rule (11).

There’s a right wing identity politics? Yes, that’s what’s holding left wing itentitarianism in place, and understandably many in my world are swinging that direction. It’s Milo and Jordan Peterson. They’re enraged, condescending, and driven by a sense of victimhood even as they deny the victimhood of others. JDP exists as the world’s breathless (literally, he doesn’t breathe) defender of meritocracy – he tells you CEOs just work harder, are smarter, are more conscientious; and women get exactly what they want – they choose their subordination, choose older mates, have better things to do than direct society, and can’t be reasoned with because hitting them is frowned on. Also birth control led to a battle of the sexes and liberal divorce laws are a problem; boys should only take seriously girls who want to have children because those who don’t are alienated from their purpose in life – even though he concedes population numbers are just about to fall off a cliff because there are too many humans. Exhale.

Again, the head honcho of the free world is a nightmare clown. On some level I think most of us want to believe again in meritocracy. That’s not a problem, it’s just good hard reality. What breaks my heart most is the hidden ways that right wing identity politics hates men. I’m so sorry. What man wants to have his choices and roles narrowed down into pure suffering? What man wants to be disposable, the same way patriarchy has made you disposable all along as soldiers and workers? The intellectual and emotional challenge, and lack of compassionate support, for young men trying to find their way rips my heart out. You don’t have to be a condescending angry crustacean to survive the challenges ahead. Maybe for six months. But the thing is, crustaceans literally have no brains. A human has a whole mind and a great big fluffy consciousness to float forward on.

III. We go along now with the angry strongmen because we long for a good, strong dad. I do, at least. So deeply. I know because I have one; and I do everything in my power to give him space to be even stronger and more caring every day. But is an angry man with no feminine force within and beside him a good man?

To turn a mindset into an object, we need to be able to name and describe it objectively. THIS is why there is so much fight now around the P word. Patriarchy is not bad, and matriarchy is not bad. These are analytical objects. But if you aren’t allowed to talk about either of them, because supposedly they are not real, then you will remain forever trapped inside them. The strongmen will rage until the end against their form of power being named. That is the beginning of their end. Real men don’t suffer when we name that situation. Just the figureheads.

Once we are allowed to talk about leadership structures objectively, so much opens up. So much. The first previously hidden thing I see is how harmful male rule is for men. Unless you’re the isolated one on top, your very masculinity makes you subordinate. The women next to you, even, are potentially the quarry of the big man. In strongman and guru cultures without a healthy and equal feminine wisdom-decision source, I think what happens is that men’s ability to rise up to corrupt power gets crushed more than anything else. I’m not the first one to see this. But power corrupts, and as those in power become more audacious, the self-esteem of those who can’t stand up to it erodes. There’s little room now for women to speak to men of the pain of man-only rule. What I want to know is how much it hurts men to always be subordinate to a lopsided power that becomes increasingly corrupt. (Healing around what psychoanalysts call the mother wound feels like one very generative next move in this space.)

IV. If you know me, you know I’m my dad’s girl. He’s a conservative Christian preacher, and the last in a long line of first sons, a line that ended the moment I was born. I don’t think that was easy for him. And then suddenly, it was. At the same time, all this went in my mind from being fraught and shameful to being simultaneously adorable, hilarious,and deep well of meaning and archetypical power. A week ago he caught me reading Buddhism after Patriarchy when I visited home. Two if not three of those words would have put him on the defensive pre-2016. But this time he and my mom were just curious. What does Buddhism have to do with you? I took the route of describing it as just another paradigm, like Christianity or Yoga. Huh. And partriarchy? Well in Buddhism there was this weird idea that women couldn’t be wise and couldn’t lead. And then for the most part that idea went away, and this book is about how they’re still adjusting. Huh. Just curiosity in them, whereas two years ago I’d have been ashamed to share.

My dad is the magic guy in their world, and their house is one big altar of sacred and ritual objects. I hated that when I stopped being magical-mystical and went full rational-intellectual for a decade or so. There’s trumpet he fashioned from a cow’s horn that he only blows at three meaning-moments, including a call to prayer, and what he terms the crowing of a new king. This is the first time in his life he hasn’t believed in America’s king. But last weekend, he sounded the horn. I don’t know, but it made me want to try to pray.

V. Gaze as domination-of-all is problematic. But it’s just one of many ways of gazing, while looking on beauty is one of many doors to oneness. Radiance is real. The body in physical and visual experiences is also real, and so good. There is so much in my experience of beauty that falls in the biologically or energetically “feminine” fields. For example: my emotional body (how my feelings shift to mirror what’s happening in my environment) and my hypersensitivity to tiny peripheral-visual cues about others’ states of consciousness makes me a very good kind of being for serving as a connector. People-to-people. Or information-to-people. There’s something in there about leadership that has nothing to do with competition, objectification or domination.

In the meantime, in these present most ugly and painful times I’ve lived through, keeping my eyes wide open I perceive more beauty than anything else. All the time. I think this has to do with seeing chaos as literally and physically beautiful, as long as it contains a spark of commitment to growth. I can’t step out and see or name the paradigm I am in now, but when I seek the strong emotions in it, that one is blazing.

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1. I take this from Phenomenology of Sprit by GWF Hegel. Last part of the book is golden.

2. Same idea, different riff.

3. Anything on the abuse triad of victim/aggressor/savior is a defensive belief system.

4. That’s Dogen 🙂

5. That’s Octavia Butler.

6. Max Weber defines the State as a monopoly of violence. In other words the ultimate means of control and discipline are centralized. Weber is amazing, but I feel like Michael Mann’s Sources of Social Power is more and more relevant for an understanding of the current breakdown of the international system.

7. What is the next generative move? That’s from Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Marie Brown.

8. Best for this is his I And Thou. Could be called, How To Get Any One You Want.

9. Angela Nagle is so good on this. Her new book is short and kind of essential for people who use the internet to learn about politics.

10-11. A man was never a man and a woman was never a woman. Studying history, it’s clear that regnant system is one that involves marginalization of transpeople who have always been with us, and homosexuality that has always been in is. There’s a transperson in the Tarot. The Greek geniuses were gay. In America, colonial law erased the multiple genders in found in the native Americans, cut these people’s hair, pathologized their beautiful forms of self adornment, made their language illegal, and forced them into Catholic schools. I don’t know what genderways were lost here along with so much else, but the way we were is not Little House on the Prairie.