Greetings from Mysore, India.
Warning: this is a Kali post. I am angry and not afraid to say it. But I am channeling my anger in a positive direction through self-expression, just like I encourage you to do also. I am walking my talk. Anger, when channeled into expression and sharing can transform stuck attitudes and thus transform our society.
I have been here for about ten days, practicing Ashtanga Yoga with Vijaya Kumar, an Indian teacher who is gaining quite a following in the yoga world. The class is full with people from all over the world, who come at 6am every day to practice their Sadhana.
Ashtanga yoga to me feels very much like a deep whole body and soul moving meditation, and when practiced with others it feels like a deep communion. We commune with ourselves, in the supportive presence of others, and thus we connect with the divine together. We breathe in deeply and move, we breathe out deeply and move. We feel all our stuck and closed places, and we softly encourage them to open. We go beyond our limits, slowly, posture by posture, stretch by stretch, opening by opening. We do it all in silence. The only sounds are the deep breathing of ourselves and others, and the occasional personal instruction of the teacher.
Spiritual Practice is Sacred Space
This is a sacred practice and it’s a sacred space.
Which is why, when someone, such as the founder of this practice, Pattabhi Jois, violates this sacred space by sexually molesting his students, it is not f*cking OK and cannot be justified in any way, shape or form.
So when my hostel friend – a man who gives me a lift to the studio each day – defended Pattabhi Jois with that old and tired victim blaming I was so saddened.
But you must admit, he said, this is a traditional culture, and those women were probably wearing revealing clothes (you don’t say – wearing revealing clothes in a very physically challenging sweating yoga class?!), and you have to understand men, they are different than women, you have to see that this is partly the reason why this happens.
What this ‘different from women’ translates to for this man I am not sure, but I am guessing something along the lines of: (just like women) men can get frustrated that their sexual desires are unrealised, and this frustration can be so great that (unlike women) they are unable to control themselves (translate: choose to be an arsehole) and take it out on the opposite sex.
And then he added, ‘and anyway, they should have said something to him and stopped him as soon as it happens.’
I screamed inwardly with the the wrath of Kali but outwardly I said calmly, ‘well, no, it is not OK to blame a victim for the act of violence perpetrated against her by a person in power, whom she trusts.’
But this man was not listening. He wanted me to cede that this was not a one-sided thing, and that both the women and Pattabhi Jois had played their part.
He was wanting me to agree with him. And he really wanted it. He made several efforts to get me to say that I saw his point of view. I do not. But what I do see, is someone who has been hurt, and probably has been invalidated by a woman, and who through this very wrong headed and round about way is trying to resolve his wound.
One finger pointing outwards and two fingers pointing back
Instead of turning inwards and facing his shit, he turns outwards and points the finger of blame onto a woman for the crime of existing and being attractive. That very same crime that probably broke his heart.
If someone chooses to side with a finger pointing culture that defends sexual harassment and disrespect through victim blaming and shaming, I will speak my truth. If that same person tries his utmost to get me to cede some validity to his point of view, I will name the dynamic. Right now, you are desperately wanting me to agree with you. Why? What is going on inside of you right now that is driving such a motivation? What part of you has never been heard, what part of you is so so angry for being abandoned, left, cut off from love?
This is of course very difficult to do. In a culture where we have been brought up to defend our rightness and to prove our worth through things like our knowledge, the conditioning goes very deep. It is deeply unconscious behaviour. We are not aware that we are acting out our inner pain. But to change it we must call it out.
What, if not this very dynamic, is the foundation of all wars?
I am right, goddamit, and you are wrong! (translate: I was hurt, goddamit, and you will pay!) And if you don’t agree with me, well then, I will have to kill you to silence your voice and thus eliminate this particular wrongness (my particular unacknowledged pain) from the world.
An inverted Scenario of the Pattabhi Jois situation
I imagined the inverse scenario. A room full of men, with their shirts off – as many of them are, including this particular guy, in an Ashtanga class, and the teacher – a revered and respected older woman, coming around adjusting these men and subtely grabbing their ass in the process. What would these men do? Would those who are not getting much attention from the opposite sex enjoy this uninvited caress (as some men will no doubt jokingly claim) or would they perhaps, just perhaps, feel violated by the teacher in whom they have placed their trust. Would they speak up immediately, and protest this treatment, or would they feel shamed and confused about what was happening and how their trusted teacher was treating them and go home wondering what to do? Do they speak up and lose their trusted teacher and guide, or do they stay quiet and keep going to the practice that they love?
When we enter into a practice like Ashtanga Yoga, which is a deep spiritual journey when practiced correctly, we are in a vulnerable and open state. We are inviting change and transformation in each and every posture, we are going beyond our limits, stretching the body but at the same time the mind. We are open. This is a deeply vulnerable and trusting space. And when a teacher who has lost his moral compass takes advantage of this situation to fondle his students, it is a fall from grace and a breaking of trust of the grossest kind.
Culture of power and domination, eventual becomes that sticky cake: Tradition
The me-too movement is about bringing these power dynamics out into the light. Because of course it is about power, not sex. It is about self-enhancement and ego enhancement through the abuse of trust. And this is so ironic, when we do our spiritual practice to first understand, and then transcend the ‘little me’ self.
I see this power dynamic very much in place here in India, where women still occupy a very subservient position in the society. One the streets women are usually seen with other women or with their husbands and children. There is a clear dress code which all women adhere to which is do not reveal too much flesh. This forms part of the sticky molasses referred to by my yoga friend as ‘tradition’. This particular sticky cake of ‘tradition’ is based again on the concept that the animal nature of man just may compel him to rape if he is provoked by the sight of too much female flesh.
My definition of a Rapist: Someone who doesn’t give a f*ck about his fellow humans and who gratifies his urges through violence. And who most likely is acting out on hurts that he chooses not to process in a more heathy fashion.
Tradition and stagnated gender role models
I am also struck by the Hindustani music with the highly feminised vocals of the women singers. Their vocal range is limited to ultra soprano. To me these women sound sickening sweet and somehow repressed. Their deeper ranges, their power, is not coming through. Many of the songs are duets, where the women are warbling up in the stratosphere, and then the male voice responds low and sultry and embodied.
I invite all Indian classical women singers to change this.
Contact your inner masculine and sing with your whole soul. Let go of the titillation of the tales of the childhood fairy tale of the prince and the princess.
Let your real truth rip from the confines of your soul: not, man, not woman, but eternal being and unique and never-to-be-seen again expression of consciousness. Take this Hindustani tradition to its next level incarnation. Let’s have a song about a love between equals who use their whole vocal range to express the full extent of their embodied humanity and embodied sexuality.
Bring back the Bandit Queen, says I. And get her to shake up these Bollywood sing and dance routines with some badass woman banditry.
I was so happy the other day when I saw my first female bus conductor. Here the buses are very old fashioned, there are conductors who walk around and sell paper tickets to each person when they are seated. When I saw this woman I wanted to stand up and dance a jig around her and shout for joy. Thank f*cking God. I wanted to give her a medal.
May there be many more women bus conductors, train drivers, pilots, engineers, and hell, especially spiritual gurus. Here in India that is a big business, and the more that women can be rocking the Sadhana podiums and the yoga shalas with their brand of empowered female spirituality, the more hope for all of India to grow and develop in equality and respect for women. Someone like Amma is a great example of this.
May the women of India and the women of the world rise and embody their power and their truth. May we sing in our deepest range and scream and yell our deepest truth with no thought of ‘what they might think’ because we are here to express.
Expression is power
Through our expression we access our power and through our power we empower others and together we rise. As women are empowered, men are also uplifted and can more easily step outside of their own conditioning and the limitations imposed on them by this imbalanced society.
And if we are deeply hurt through intimacy, through being rejected in love, let us also work through that together and learn and understand the lessons, so that we do not have to grow a shell of bullet-proof armour around our hearts that stunts or growth and stops the possibility of any new love and communion with another.
Let’s make love, not war.