Ashtanga Now • 7 February 2018

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Ashtangis live long and large; ideally practice refines the personality into a unique, perceptive unit that is more than a little trouble for whatever status quo. Our social nervous system hugs the planet. When a drama ripples through the subculture, it can be intense.

There have been some epic moments in the practice in the 18 years I’ve been around: Sept 2001 in NYC; August 2008 when Patthabi Jois sent a letter to his students asking them to teach traditional Mysore programs and continue coming to India every 18 months; June 2009 when he died; Dec 2017 when #metoo came for said dead man. These last two months in Mysore, I went ethnographic. Listened without much responding. Asked open questions, stayed curious, took notes– the way my ethnography teacher taught me. I don’t personally perceive a threat in these times; I do perceive a new global awareness of patriarchy. This winter, I was in a place to listen.

When I landed in Mysore in late November, my teacher dropped me into a node of the social nervous system—assisting him for the first few batches of practice each morning. First I’m going to describe my position there, then I’ll write a tiny bit from my notes regarding patterns in the patriarchy.

I’m writing on a plane home to Detroit, and now as we begin our descent I see this document has reached 25 pages. Before I post, I’ll cut out 90%. I’ll edit out comments on the Code of Conduct, and about healing broken gender dynamics, and post those in March and April when these topics are not so hot on the internet. Those will go up on time on the first of the month, since they’re already written… and since I won’t have a crew of beginners those months like I do in February.

Though I want to share my experience, I’m not trying to contribute to or feed off the drama; my motivation is to keep my personal writing practice alive, and as a by-product of that, to share some of my perspective with those who read here.

II.

Here’s an old post about assisting my teacher in 2014. I’ve studied with and assisted with him quite a bit since then, and this time around was different from everything before.

Most days this season, for the first time here ever, the teaching hours were consistently mystical. Not spaced out and dissociative, but sensorially sharp, non-narrative, and hyper-connected with people and objects around me. There was a sensitivity + stillness in the center of my chest. Afterwards I’d have a shower and a dosa and reflect on the quickly decaying experience.

Like leaving a great concert. Lots of nights, you go to a show and the energy doesn’t quiiiite come together. But then there are the epic moments when grace comes down. As a connoisseur it takes years of music study to really appreciate the art; it takes making peace with the awkwardness that attends your attempts at sonic creativity; it takes finding presence in playing scales for their own sake. But at random intervals you just merge. Absorbtion happens. And you don’t know it cognitively until you’re out on the sidewalk after, or in this case you’re at Sri Durga waiting for a dosa.

This season, day after day, the primary residue was a sense of connection. So many nervous systems, so much feedback between them: in influence given and received, in shared breath, in the singular feeling-tones of subtle emotions, in a sense of relationship that resonates almost as deep as kin. Sometimes yoga is art. Each day I was increasingly moved by this experience, grateful just to have the capacity to appreciate it all to some degree.

As for taking action, I wasn’t really. I was resonating with my teacher. At the very best, extending his intuitions and intentions, based on my knowledge of a head tilt, ability to follow his gaze, and rafts of pattern-recognition data stored up in my subconscious. Teaching at home is exhausting insofar as I have to make decisions. Responding to whatever’s coming up for a student, working with them co-operatively to pace their learning process in a way that supports their daily life – everything in this domain requires that I discern, weigh options, navigate consent. Assisting is just this: blanket the room as evenly as possible with your awareness, and be moved. Respect and care and love were there, irrepressibly, as you already know if you were in the room.

If hearing the description of something beautiful makes you angry, because there is anger on the internet, I am really sorry. It feels dishonest, though, to pretend it wasn’t healing, to pretend there wasn’t so much genuine connection—for many, not just me there riding the morning waves.

The good conditions were just luck, I suppose. But, preparation helped. I see two most obvious things that opened the door for assisting to be an absorption event: crossing a threshold into strong mutual trust with my teacher … and something about my hands.

I started teaching after a decade of practice, and after apprenticeships with two certified teachers. The jyotishas say my hands are star-blessed. Still with this preparation, and maybe a predisposition, I feel now how little I could sense those first couple years of teaching. My hands didn’t hear. But in recent years, rate of change in my receptivity concerns me – how much more development is still coming? What do I fail to perceive now, simply because I’m still so inexperienced?

A person who is teaching hand-blind may try to make things happen with their fingertips. It’s impossible to describe this, but intuitively we sense that non-feeling fingertips are creepy. Not empathic. Sometimes sexual. There are exceptions, but in I have learned it, most movement comes from soft palms. I often keep the fingertips barely off body, sensing the emptiness in the space between. Hands live-wired can find this yabyum of fingertips receptive, palms a little bit active. The balance favors holding space, not touching much. What’s a lot of work in teaching at home is setting up fields of awareness and safety where consciousness might move itself. I trust that when it is time, consciousness will move. As it is moving now, everywhere.

I learned last month that in the corporate yoga world, there’s a move toward consent cards for touch. Excellent. You’ve got various people you don’t know dropping in for a class after probably tough days; the relationships aren’t grounded in mutual receptivity or a sense of long-term care; there’s talking and/or music; and you’re a 200-hour trained teacher who might not have a decade-odd daily practice to draw on. Why touch people in such a context? The hyper-sensitivity of Mysore style in 2018 is a beautiful counter-point. Ideally, relationships are years-long; and teachers are long years into daily silent practice practice. If they don’t perceive what kind of day – and what kind of year – you’re having based on the resonance in their body, then something’s off with the situation. Like maybe it’s a workshop, or there are tons of drop-in students. Commercialism and consent don’t mix well. But the grounded, stripped-down context of a 2018-era Mysore room is there precisely so a student has verbal, facial, respiratory, emotional and bodily avenues for expressing how they are doing in great detail over the course of a morning.

If I was a live wire this winter, my worlds broadcast three different wavelengths. Mysore; my home shala in Michigan; and the ashtanga internet. All was well in the first two practice worlds; the internet was different.

The feeling in Mysore this winter was one of epic connection. You know the experiences when you make life-friends and you’re never quite the same – maybe the first weeks of college, or some camping trip, or an epic intermural season. Lots of years, Mysore’s not like that. This year, I knew we were making history for better or for worse; there was some presence of the past, but much more heavily a presence of the future.

Looking at my notes, the most meaningful conversations this season centered on two themes. First, the importance of voice and self-respect in the practice, a whole new conversation for the subculture about critiquing the kind of “surrender” that takes your discernment down a notch. About taking responsibility for one’s own path. About understanding the goal of practice as discernment, not bliss. That was last month’s post.

Second, and most meaningful for me, there was a lot of reflecting on motivation. Actually taking the teachings of the Gita seriously, without half-assing it. About practicing for insight, not to get things. About reflecting strongly on the things that darken the heart – jealousy, greed, laziness, hatred, whatever –rather than acting on them. About what service really is, and how little recognition is needed for service to happen.

I didn’t say much in these conversations, concerned that I’m too passionate on the topic to be credible. But consistently the inside of my nose would tense, then I’d be moved to bite my lip or look away.

Thursday I went to see Narasimhan, to thank him for all the knowledge he shares with my students when they visit him. He prompted me to ask the question on my mind because of all this: Why do I cry when I perceive that truth has been spoken?

“Because of the resonance,” he said. “There’s a vibration in the spoken truth that causes a vibration in your consciousness.” And sometimes the pitch is perfect, and then it moves you like nothing else can.

The chord was struck for me this winter. Again, and again, and again.

In the past, the ashtanga-conversation around motives of greed for getting things (postures, authorization papers, favor from a teacher, social media attention), and around teachers objectifying their students, has often taken on a “let’s be honest” tone. This valorizes the “authenticity” of just accepting that this is who you are. Who you are, if you are honest, is someone who is motivated by moving up a social hierarchy. Who you are, if you are honest, is someone who uses people for personal gain.

This has been painful to hear.

In my mind, there is an illuminating distinction here, between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for practice. Extrinsic approaches involve achievement goals. Intrinsic motivation includes self-understanding, healing of harmful thought/action patterns, finding joy of others’ happiness. With the Mysore social nervous system alive with conversations about the motive for practice, and the value of sadhana that’s not done for personal gain, I felt this incredible deepening of my friendships.

In recent years, Mysore has felt like a scene. A lot of people here to recruit new students, advance careers, get in with the teacher, have good stories for social media. It’s not subtle – these motivations scream themselves, and around town these are the voices that tend to get amplified. This year, a lot of reflection on extrinsic (hierarchy and stuff-driven) motivations have given strength to a counter-movement of investment in relationships for their own sake. Who around you do you find beautiful in their way-of-being? Who has a soul-level understanding of some life lesson that you’re learning now? Who is brilliant in ways you can’t possibly want for yourself, but just appreciate so much?

We know what friendship based in outer connection looks like – it’s the norm in social media land. It’s ally energy, in-groups, social hierarchy drives. Meantime, teh inner motivation I’ve experienced around me this season, it seems, has a potential to foster friendship based on profound inner connection. Simple, non-instrumental admiration, adoration and care. I witnessed life-long friendships taking birth all around me this season; I know you did too if you were there. Am I mistaken to read this as an outgrowth of a surge of commitment to inner work?

All this was going down while the internet ashtanga world, and my email, were blowing up. The global if not cosmic context here is not to be ignored: for example, the secret FB page for ashtanga teachers blew itself up the same day the US government tried to shut itself down. The practice/internet disconnect was disorienting and harsh; it’s that other set of conversations through private message and on comment threads that prompted what is below.

III.

Disconnected notes from my journal: December 2017 – January 2018.

– The body teachers us that it is a gift when old pain speaks. People with a body practice know what old pain is, and that opportunities to heal it are rare. If there’s a suppressed woman’s voice, something new, the restorative move is to listen. Because it’s compassionate. Because it’s a gift to know what we did not know.

– Because the truth of others is not a problem.

– Because there is nothing to defend.

– Or is there? If there is defensiveness, that is important informaiton. Where there is defensiveness in the body, often there’s some history. Maybe there’s energy that’s not moving. Same in other layers of reality. Defensiveness is of interest when it comes to contemplative practice.

– I have not learned so much about Patthabi Jois this season as I have about my senior colleagues. There is heat around the idea of patriarchy. Protective energy. I don’t fully understand it, but I do sense it. I respect my seniors, so much, and have focused on perceiving them.

– It feels informative to empathize with their protective energy. It is important to believe those who have a bad experience to voice. It is also important to believe and not repress those who have a positive experience to voice. In my world, the vast majority of voices about Patthabi Jois are extremely loving stories of connection and healing. If these stories are used to quiet someone else who has been suppressed in the past, well, now is not the time for them.

– But also – and this is key – any effort to silence loving, grateful narratives is extremely problematic. Who would suppress such life-stories, and why?

– We know from George Lakoff’s public work that most thinking is subconscious and scripted. There is a script in ashtanga for silencing difficult narratives. This being 2018, you know what DARVO is. For anyone who teaches, it might be useful to use that as a manual for picking out the exact script used to suppress some women’s voices. There are three or four standard responses that proceed with escalating emotion, ending with an attack on the integrity of the perceived other. We always think when we’re making an argument that we are thinking it through, but if we’re repeating something we’ve plucked from the collective consciousness, most likely the thinking has already been done for us. Shoring up subconscious scripts is good for discernment in a time when negotiations about collective memory have hidden agendas. I’ll talk about this later when it comes to the Yoga Alliance.

– In 2018 I sense that one of the keys in my teaching practice is respect for the new generations of practitioners. I encounter a lot of milennials, the people the internet tells me to write off. Can you believe this (?): they’re the most morally intelligent generation I’ve found. I intend to pay attention there and give energy to supporting their growth. Ashtanga’s current obsession with the past is understandable, but very soon, consciousness needs to move. FORWARD.

– Charisma’s stock is crashing. Well unless you’re a racist nationalist – then this is charisma’s hour. But charisma is over for the rest of us. We’re learning to distrust it and critique it well.

– Western yoga teachers aren’t gurus. Yet there is a crew of white, European and American men who have grown accustomed to being treated as gurus the past 30 years. Some have expertly refused this power dynamic; a few have enjoyed it. Those who refuse to be treated as gurus consistently depict their own teacher as deeply flawed. Deconstructing the projection of perfection empowers students. This move also diminishes every teacher’s authority.

– Party line thinking will always present itself as a comfortable option in chaotic times. This looks like any culture of silence and complicity around a teacher past or present. Like any attempt to carry out a line of defense on behalf of an authority figure. This shows up in different ways depending on one’s positionally, but the energy is usually the same. Party liners facing off leads to factionalization. But seriously, true believers. Christ was not a Christian; the Buddha was not a Buddhist; no true teacher wants self-appointed para-militaries. They want students to walk their own path, in their own style, with their own steps.

– One of the most senior certified teachers made a strong comment about a situation in which one might perceive her as a victim. She said that social media promotes a culture of victimhood. It can be an intensely disempowering zone.

– The notion of discontinuity between old and new generations of ashtanga is based on lack of experience. Some young teachers are alarmingly inexperienced. Senior teachers have tons of know-how but might be incredibly out of touch with what’s amazing and super-intelligent in the younger generations. But there are those whose practices combine study with first generation teachers, and time in Mysore. There are dozens of us. From a methodological standpoint, we can tell you there is a continuity of development in this practice. It’s bizarre to hear so people act out and give power to narratives of “before and after.” I wish the young ones would have the respect and curiosity to meet and listen to their seniors, and equally I wish that the seniors would come to Mysore like their teacher Patthabi Jois asked them in 2008 to do every 18 months. This is one continuous family of practice. We are in it together.

– Who is carrying the moral burden of reflecting on the history of ashtanga and seeing to it that vulnerable practitioners are honored, heard, and safe? From my perspective, this moral labor is being shouldered by devoted practitioners who have come to the practice in the last 10 years. They plus a few of the most senior practitioners whose voices are strong and clear. I see a lot of complexity in the relatively new, devotional practitioners: integrating different versions of ashtanga history requires significant moral, intellectual and emotional discernment. Caring for others in a moment of narrative conflict requires empathic strength and a sense of personal security. My deepest love and respect is summoned now by colleagues happy to step in to that space of non-defensive, curious growth and care. There are a lot of you who care for students and community in this way; I’m so grateful to know you.

We don’t get to live in 2018 and also be super happy about patriarchy. We can love patriarchy and protect it with all our psychic resources, but this means living in 1980. Maybe 1980 is better in some ways. But I dunno. 2018 is a damn mess so far, but it’s got me intrigued.

They say evolution is never really pretty. A big question for us, in the long view, is whether it will be beautiful.

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19 Comments

  • Maria Long
    Posted 8 February 2018 at 4:35 am | #

    SoMade a few days pilgrimage to Mysore earlier this month. Paid my respects to Saraswathi, Met and ate with the fabulous Anu, fulfilled some errand requests from people back home, and I’m done. Not everyone falls in love with Mysore magic. I am satisfied and grateful that you all make the annual trip and bring what you learned back home. I am also equally honored by touching Saraswathi’s feet as I am by touching Sharath’s. I am not interested in the difference. All of us who have a teacher with 20 plus years of practice and teaching are fortunate and finding him or her is anything but accidental. Welcome home

    • (OvO)
      Posted 9 February 2018 at 3:56 pm | #

      Yes. I heard you were in Mysore my last day there, and made several passes through Saraswati’s house in hopes of finding you. Glad to see you here…

      • Maria Long
        Posted 15 February 2018 at 4:09 pm | #

        I still think a visit to your shala or to one of those that host you is in the cards for me xo

        • (OvO)
          Posted 16 February 2018 at 3:28 pm | #

          yes 🙂

  • sally smith
    Posted 8 February 2018 at 12:03 pm | #

    I LOVE Mysore. I have only been once and it was an incredibly difficult trip. There was much turmoil in my marriage and difficulties leaving my kids. Not to mention some awful things happened to me by authorized “experienced” teachers while I was there as well. Regardless of all of that- I loved it! And would very much like to go back someday when my children may not need me as much and my job allows me to go for a spell.
    Thank you as always Angela.
    Much love, Sally

  • Peter Cox
    Posted 9 February 2018 at 10:28 am | #

    It seems quite inconsistent to complain about “the patriarchy” – a term that indiscriminately smears every man alive – whilst failing to directly confront the uber-patriarch of ashtanga, Mr Jois… and his questionable legacy.

    As a novice, I find the mythologizing of Jois troubling. Some considered words appreciated, Angela.

  • (OvO)
    Posted 9 February 2018 at 4:24 pm | #

    Peter,

    Yes, I hear you.

    What I hear about Patthabi Jois is that he was an amazing, brilliant, heart-exploding teacher. Hundreds of people communicate this, and that who he was in the world changed everything about their lives and helped them find peace. Then there is the new small voice that says he was a dirty old man, someone insulated by the people who worshipped him from having to see or rectify harmful actions – both overly intense adjustments and sexualized touch. I don’t doubt either narrative at all. They are nested stories.

    It’s also a human story – someone with too much power, and no accountability, will have a dark side. Maybe history will never know it, but it’ll be there.

    I never knew him.. I practiced with him (and more notably for me with my teacher, who assisted him) on tours in the early aught. I saw him from a distance (me drinking coconuts after practice, him up on his balcony over the shala) in his dying months in Gokulam in 2009.

    For me, the experience of Patthabi Jois is almost completely an experience of the symbolic space he occupied. That is a space of an all-seeing, god-like, trusted male leader who has a specific plan for the people in his care.

    Back to Lakoff, this metaphorical space exists in my semi-conscious mind and I instinctively seek figures to fill it. (Loving trust of powerful male leaders is probably natural for me because I had an extremely close bond with my wonderful father in early childhood – something I lost at age 16 when I rejected Christianity/Jesus and have systematically recovered in the last 15 years through self-study and therapy.) I catch myself putting my own teacher in that meaning-space now, even though he actively resists the role and I learn more when I set my conditioning aside. I did it to my professors, in ways that made me happy, I did it to my bosses, in ways that made me a great worker. And throughout my life I have given less trust and less power to women in leadership because they didn’t quite match up with the metaphors in my deep mind.

    What I am describing in my own mind is the meaning-space of the patriarch. In this sense, patriarchy is a word to describe objectively an widespread symbolic space in the collective unconscious. Matriarchy is another metaphor, and one that bears analysis too, but it’s a metaphor that has had less potency in the ashtanga world. Please correct me if I’m wrong about this. It would be interesting to consider an equal distribution of metaphorical power between father and mother energies.

    Personally, I instinctively buy in to patriarchy more than most people I know; it sooths my nervous system and my psyche. I have an extremely soft spot for strong men. I can make this conscious and see the ways it has limited me, but that doesn’t mean eradicating the conditioning. There are things about this metaphor I choose to keep alive in me, even if they’re much less overwhelming and mood-altering (and therefore non-addictive) when I experience them consciously.

    Here is my concern. If speaking about patriarchy touched a button for you, a long time reader who has at least trusted me enough to bother to keep coming back here, I’m going to be really afraid to talk about this symbolic space. Because of my conditioning around strong men and my desire to be trust-worthy, and because I want reading here to be an experience that does not leave people feeling angry, I’m going to want to avoid talking about patriarchy.

    I wonder if there is a way to bring this topic to the center without it being a threat, the same way I’ve worked with my students to bring Patthabi Jos’s dark side to the center of conversation without that posing any threat to their practice – so they can really consider the alternate narratives with curiosity.

    Here’s the reason. I think the symbolic space of the patriarch is what is in flux right now. Globally. In a big way. It’s not Patthabi Jois that has changed, it is the symbolic space he has occupied. What ashtangis are experiencing is churn in the vijanamaya kosha – the psychic, semi-conscious mind. I think that to the degree that we have tools for illuminating that churn, we will suffer less and make stronger choices.

    Would love to hear your further thoughts.

  • Michelle Ryan
    Posted 9 February 2018 at 7:03 pm | #

    It’s hard to talk about all of this, and I applaud you for sharing it so bravely, Angela. Thank you.

    You are spot on about this shift in paradigm surrounding the symbolic space of the patriarch – it’s not just Jois, it’s everything we’ve known and been conditioned to live with, both men and woman. The struggle to make the shift is real for most of us, regardless of gender. I spoke just yesterday with a student about Me, Too and Pattabhi Jois. She was deeply resistant to “belief” for the victims – she mentioned that “Me, Too” is going too far”; she bemoaned “good people” being vilified, and fears that “we will become a world where “beneficial” touch, touch without sexual intention, is taboo or misunderstood.” This student is a medical doctor, a sensitive and progressive woman of wisdom and strength, and yet, I had to carefully and gently share the perspective of Jois’s survivors – that intention does not mean anything if the touch is not wanted or oppresses or demeans – in as clear a manner as possible to help both of us come to terms with what’s happened/happening. There is a strong resistance to accepting the growing feminine emancipation arising out of Me, too from women as well as men. There is some safety in the accepted addiction to the male gaze that many women – including myself at one time – covet and seek for status. But, our world is changing.

    We’ve crossed the Rubicon, and we will not be going back to the times when even a gentle pat on the back by a male colleague will be considered appropriate in the workplace. Is that too bad? Maybe. But, maybe not for the woman who is in the lose-lose situation of having to say to that colleague “I’d prefer it if you didn’t pat my back.” At best, he takes it well and moves on and acts professionally. At worst, he make her life miserable, until she leaves for a work place less hostile. Unfortunately, I believe the latter happens far too often.*

    Even if it seems like we are in the midst of a male “witch hunt” to some folks right now, even if the words we are using to describe what is happening are triggering or angering for some of us, nonetheless, there’s no stopping this paradigm shift. I am thankful for it, and feel blessed to be witness to it. Heads will roll. So be it, long time coming. Women are done with modifying their behaviors to accommodate some men who don’t respect women, or at the very least, some men who haven’t figured out how read or earn “enthusiastic consent.” It’s a shift towards greater feminine emancipation. Thank you, Kaali Maa.

    With all that, the patriarchy is designed not only to marginalize and oppress women, but also to promote certain men over others. In other words, the patriarchy victimizes men, too – at the very least, it forces them to wear a mask that denies them the ability to show vulnerability, to express feelings of sorrow or fear, to express core feelings that may not fit patriarchal paradigms of “masculinity.” Thus, men are taught from boyhood on to deny and betray their truest selves. That’s brutality, violence, against men!

    Using the word patriarchy to name this phenomenon of power and control that colors our world is not intended to “smear every man alive.” Men are victims of it, too! I don’t blame men. I don’t blame women, either. I don’t think Angela is blaming men, either. But, this is the reality we all exist in. I can’t think of another word to name the phenomenon that deeply, irrevocably colors our shared reality and causes much of humanity, and most women, deep suffering. “Toxic masculinity”? “Subservient Femininity”? Neither are satisfying. Both lead to feelings of defensiveness, because we identify with name and form and tribe far too often for our own good.

    Fact: women are more likely than men to experience sexual harassment or assault. Fact: most men are not sexual harassers. And that’s the good news. Which means that in order for the majority of women to be victimized in this way, all it takes is (1) a few perpetrators and (2) a situation that allows these perpetrators to go unchecked.

    Most men and women don’t contribute to the first cause, but they may unknowingly be contributing to the second. So, let’s all try to talk about how we might all be contributing to #2 with wisdom and compassion and patience for one another.

    *(Which reminds me: My first experience with sexual harassment was with my sixth grade teacher, who liked to hug all the girls. Never the boys. This was 40+ years ago. We were made uncomfortable by his attention every day. When we collectively decided to tell him we didn’t want him to do that, he was an asshole – mean to us for the rest of the year, and made life, not to mention, learning, miserable. Just because we didn’t want him to act like a pedophile and told him to stop hugging us. We were not empowered nor aware enough to realize that he was wrong, it was illegal, and that we could tell someone of authority about it. Because girls weren’t taught to speak up back then. Are they even taught that today? Google Nassar for evidence of that. Looking back, who would have helped us or taken our side, even if we had?)

  • Vandana
    Posted 10 February 2018 at 6:07 pm | #

    ” It is important to believe those who have a bad experience to voice. It is also important to believe and not repress those who have a positive experience to voice. In my world, the vast majority of voices about Patthabi Jois are extremely loving stories of connection and healing. If these stories are used to quiet someone else who has been suppressed in the past, well, now is not the time for them.”

    This is a good start but is also concerning. Calling an intentional sexual assault a “bad experience” uses language to obscure violence by removing the responsible actor and the intentional acts he committed, and instead puts the blame for the perception of the act onto the victim. Immediately going to the positive experiences then further silences those women. Now is not the time to focus on positive experiences, at all, when the voices are finally being heard. Pattabhi Jois used his power and his students’ trust in him to intentionally sexually assault women. That is the truth that the ashtanga community needs to openly acknowledge if we are going to move forward, into the light, and continue with this practice.

    I will acknowledge that I work in the anti violence community so it is easier for me to spot problematic language when it comes to describing violence, and that I am used to seeing and describing violence. I hope our community can do the same as I love this practice dearly.

    Thank you for writing about and taking on this difficult topic.

    • (OvO)
      Posted 12 February 2018 at 10:26 pm | #

      Oh wow. I know it’s meant to be supportive in a way. However, this is a very condescending comment.

      For just a moment, it made me want to shut down my careful effort to speak here to an incredibly diverse and divided readership. It’s hard to get me to go dark like that.

      This comment is based on criticizing the author (me) for (1) not saying what I actually did say (that “now is not the time”). And for (2) using a harmful rhetorical strategy that is actually not present here unless one strategically edits the prose and excludes the entire context. I guess maybe these discursive errors are imputed because the “re-education” strategy here depends on the original author (me) being morally backwards in some way.

      This comment proceeds as if the post above doesn’t explicitly encourage people to educate themselves on the cutting edge of gender-based violence discourse (e.g., suggesting that everyone alive now needs to know what DARVO is, and is behind the times if they don’t). The comment seems to say that the person writing (me) needs to have her thinking even more neatly packaged and scripted. For these reasons also, for a moment it makes me want to just stop trying.

      I love being wrong, not understanding something, learning, and being educated.

      But I don’t think that’s what this is. I think this is script-on-script conflict. It makes my brain want to shut off.

      This exchange could be a helpful illustration of how conversations on this topic can quickly exclude many of the potential participants, and veer towards impasse as more and more participants (people like me) fear saying the wrong thing.

      I know I’m not being adequately sensitive in my speech here. What I’m trying to explain is a subtle thing, and I’m super sorry if it comes off abrupt. But I didn’t want to leave this unanswered, even though I’m deep in teaching mode this week. I just don’t have adequate bandwidth during the teaching week to write with any sensitivity. However, if I still am able to see on the weekend what I see now, I’ll comment further at that time.

      With love and respect.

      • (OvO)
        Posted 26 February 2018 at 11:18 pm | #

        Circling back to Vandana’s comment, I think it’s useful to consider the concept of intentionality.

        At first it seems that attributing intention to harm done to a vulnerable person might strengthen the case against the one who did harm. “You hurt them on purpose!”

        I think the initial desire to do this comes from our culture’s implicit definition of evil. Don’t we really think that EVIL not as the unintended harm of what Weber called the “iron cage” of institutional practices or what Arendt called the banality of everydayness of harm… but rather harmful actions undertaken to do harm ON PURPOSE? Thus we don’t always see factory farms (iron cage) as evil, or unconscious racism (banality) as evil. But rather “evil” is the archetypical school shooter. To really isolate wrongdoing and attribute it to an individual, on a collective emotional level, we seem to need to be able to assign intent.

        However, this is exactly where individuals can exempt themselves from charges misogyny, racism and other forms of systemically harmful action. If we care about the metaphysics of “good” and “evil” as the criteria of justice, all one needs to demonstrate in order to wiggle out of fully addressing a mistake is “I didn’t mean to do any harm.”

        First, I think humans are basically good, and that in a great majority of cases where someone gets hurt, the person responsible for the harm really didn’t intend to carry it out. As an optimist, I do believe that most people, given full information about those with whom they are in relationship, REALLY do not want to hurt others. Even people who are effectively misogynist and effectively racist. The harm they do comes from ignorance.

        Second, here’s the rub. This moment is one for learning, more than one for retribution. Again, call me crazy on that.

        The forward-directional, learning-oriented, move when PersonA who harmed a PersonB says he didn’t mean to do so is to flat-out stop giving discursive energy to the question of PersonA’s feelings/thoughts. Don’t debate PersonA’s intentions. Show the generosity to let PersonA have his good intentions. Move beyond intention.

        Then refocus on the real effects of his actions on those like PersonB, whom he can understand better once he’s not in a self-referential stance. More curiosity, less critique.

        I know this idea might suck for those who are strongly rooted in analytical mindsets or a need for retribution. But it’s a move that serves vulnerable parties best. In part because it forecloses the option of making harm “real” only when conscious intent to harm can be proven.

        Meantime, retroactively assigning intention to someone long dead is going to lose most people in this conversation. It’s not demonstrable; it’s abstract; and it seems to be motivated by something outside of the immediate conversation at hand. This kind of litigious argumentation will lose a lot of people from diverse perspectives. It’s even where the above commenter lost me.

        • (OvO)
          Posted 26 February 2018 at 11:22 pm | #
          • Vandana
            Posted 16 March 2018 at 6:20 pm | #

            Thank you for your comments. I have had some time to think about them. The comments are somewhat defensive and I disagree with parts, but my initial comment was also quite blunt and confrontational.

            Here is what I can offer:
            – I have been reading insideowl for a long time. I have enjoyed reading the posts a great deal.
            – I think that it was too much for me to say “intentionally sexually assault women”. On reflection, I don’t have enough information to have come to this conclusion as I was not personally affected.
            – I don’t know if Mr. Jois’ behavior rises to the level of sexual assault. Kino Macgregor addresses this here [https://www.kinoyoga.com/ashtanga-yoga-accountability-acceptance-action-arena-sexual-appropriateness-hands-assists-kino-macgregor/] where she states ” What Guruji did qualifies as fondling and unwanted sexual touching but does not meet the standards for rape or attempted rape” and suggests his behaviour was not sexual assault.
            – The people who know are those who were targeted by these adjustments. Karen Rain (formerly Huberman), the woman who came forward with her testimony, says she was assaulted: [https://karenrainashtangayogaandmetoo.wordpress.com/]
            – With regards to “intentional”, Mr. Jois’ actions in what I see as the two problematic adjustments; the “mula bandha” assist (photographs) where he placed his hands squarely on women’s private areas and nowhere else, and in the video where he straddles women in supine positions, were either a) done “on purpose” for sexual reasons, or were b) inappropriate adjustments.
            – In my personal opinion, I don’t see how these assists/adjustments could have been anything but “on purpose” for sexual reasons. If they were not intentional then at best, they were just terrible judgement in performing these “adjustments”.
            – But I do agree that we will never know whether intention was present or not, as Mr. Jois is no longer around to speak to the allegations. And at this point, I don’t need to know.

            What seems to be a statement from Sharath is what I believe our community needs to move forward: a straightforward acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Mr. Jois. In this blog post [http://grimmly2007.blogspot.ca/2017/12/inappropriate-adjustments.html], it was reported that Sharath “Update 1- Jan 2018 I hear this week that Sharath has addressed the issue in conference at least in Mysore, indicating that his Grandfather, Pattabhi Jois, acted wrongly and that there was an obligation to speak out.”

            These words give me great reassurance and I hope they were spoken as reported.

            My hope is that senior teachers in our community openly acknowledge Mr. Jois’ wrongdoing so that we may have some peace and move forward with this new information. I expect that each teacher (and student) is going through their own personal reckoning in grappling with these allegations. I am hoping that the #metoo movement of speaking truth openly will be embraced by the ashtanga community. Public acknowledgements may bring Mr. Jois down from the pedestal/god-like position which we put him on, but I am quite certain that ashtanga yoga will be just fine, and though Mr. Jois’ legacy will be altered, it will survive but in a more honest way. I expect it will be a relief for many students to hear their teachers speak about these allegations in a gentle but open and honest way.

            Thank you for listening and for providing this space for discussion of this difficult issue and I look forward to continuing to read your blog.

      • (OvO)
        Posted 17 March 2018 at 1:56 am | #

        Vandana,

        So agreed with all of this. Thank you for sharing all these resources. I’ll follow up on the items I didn’t know about and it’s good for these to be here for readers who trust threads here to be worth reading and have good information.

    • Outsider
      Posted 15 February 2018 at 8:19 am | #

      Thank you. I love the practice as well. Once I went to a workshop with P. Jois. He was 92, and was groping me during the lead class. It didn’t help that there were about 600 people, and the wast majority was having a great experience. It also didn’t help that my own teacher was standing there and watching, right on my side, and didn’t say anything.

      • (OvO)
        Posted 16 February 2018 at 3:28 pm | #

        Oh my god, I am so sorry. This is horrible and I thank you for sharing what happened. If you want to speak about it confidentially, I’m here on email, gmail address insideowl.

        • (OvO)
          Posted 26 February 2018 at 10:56 pm | #

          Again I want to thank the person above for commenting, so that people reading here might empathize with what they experienced. I have been thinking about the comment often, and hoping for some sort of continued contact with Outsider.

          In the last three months, on a couple of occasions like this, I’ve come within one degree of separation of stories of senior teachers failing to protect their own students when they were vulnerable. I’ve directly and indirectly asked my senior colleagues: did you fail to protect your students? A small number senior, white men have ignored or ridiculed me for this.

          There is a little disconnect here. Like there is a hesitation to put culpability for such an occurrence as what Outsider describes on the head of the senior teacher whose job it was to put their body and reputation on the line to protect a student in distress. From what I can guess, this seems to come from either love and compassion for these teachers, or from a genuine belief that the definitions of situations have changed. Or maybe, most likely, I just don’t fully understand.

          If there were some leadership to be shown here, it would be in the form of senior teachers who were there stepping forward and saying they have something to share now to give support those who were harmed. My own effort here is not very helpful – I’m just attempting to hold space all at once for multiple perspectives which are currently at odds… as this thread perfectly demonstrates. Yet already I feel some peace coalescing from the competing perspectives. But maybe that’s just because I have what’s on my text messages and in my email, and am off Facebook – where most conversation is toxic by nature. Outsider, I’d love to know here or via email whether you have any sense of resolution at this time.

          A couple of resources on this matter:

          1. an excellent article on how a broken relationship with one’s mother can make it hard for children to stand up to authoritarian fathers when they are in the wrong: https://womboflight.com/article-169257

          2. archives on restorative justice, addressing non-punitive forms of seeking healing especially when old stories come to light: http://restorativejustice.org/rj-library/#sthash.CQgsDLUY.mFljd59f.dpbs

  • bryan carpenter
    Posted 23 February 2018 at 1:07 am | #

    angela, thank you for your insight and candor, [as well as your valor in displaying each in an open forum]. i really connected with what Narasimhan said about the resonance of truth – – i have been moved to tears more over the past 6-8 months than any other time in memory, i don’t know if it because more “truth” surrounds me, or i am in a better place to hear it; the effect is the same, more tears. i embrace this insight about creating a vibration in my conciseness, [beautiful].

    • (OvO)
      Posted 26 February 2018 at 10:57 pm | #

      Thank you, Bryan. Your example of being and strength gives me a great deal of hope at this time. Maybe see you this summer.

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