The Sweet Passion of One-ness!*

seahorseTranscendent experiences happen. Someone can feel an experience of one-ness, bliss, or insight that is so powerful. It can shake the very foundation of a person’s understanding of themselves and life. This is not necessarily news.

As the work of Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad has shown, a problem occurs when a person prioritizes transcendence above other states. They might become checked-out from life on the planet, or someone might give up personal agency and/or wealth to a guru or spiritual group that promises more of a direct or constant connection to the “special” experience. A person can be vulnerable after a spiritual opening such as this (and sometimes vulnerable to delusions of grandeur and consider becoming a guru).

I feel that my experiences of bliss, connection and insight are too many to count, really. I think there are bits of it in every day!

However there was also an extreme experience I remember happening after a yoga class. I was saying goodbye to the teacher, looking into his eyes, and I had perception of palpable love that came down from above and held me in place, frozen for some time, like a Star Trek tractor beam of love. It was all around me, including the air and walls. It was overwhelming my senses, this experience of love like sensual molasses: it was thick and strong and all encompassing. I couldn’t even flesh out all the details with my mind, the love just kept going, expanding like a nuclear blast of love and magnetic intensity that kept going…

And I came back to the experience of my body, never to be the same again because I had experienced something more than I had known before. Words are not adequate.

After years of trying to understand (or at times to deny) this extremely transcendent experience, through spiritual reading, teachers, observing my experience in the world, and working to see the world as well as I can, I have formed some ideas about how to navigate transcendence even though the experience itself can be unasked for (in my case), totally disorienting, and overpowering in the moment and aftermath!

I think it’s not correct to use this knowledge to escape the suffering of the world. I know that this is the promise of spiritual traditions, and that it is a human impulse to move away from pain and towards pleasure. But I also think that any escape is temporary, and meanwhile the violence among people in the world and towards the environment of the world appears to be escalating. We haven’t found peace.

The transcendent experience I described earlier forms a foundation of belief for me. I have had an experience that I really cannot deny (even if there are moments and habits that are contradictory). I know there is love that is felt that goes beyond what I learned from others. I rationalize it as a vision of potential, a kind of faith.

I call on this knowledge to be fuel for trust in the goodness of this world, even as it is not fully expressed in time as we commonly think of it.

My “job” (I believe) is to use my agency/power/privilege to help healing in this world. We, as humans, can do so much better! Part of healing in our bodies in our communities on this planet is painful. It is important to discover when we are doing helpful work versus harmful actions in daily life.

The vision of healing includes building a structure of helpful actions to set us up for a house of love (including loving relationships) for the future. Right now the house is not loving—we are not there. Even if and when there is love present, the human work is to fortify love and build more to let healing expand beyond our own homes, close family, and communities. But we can know what it feels like to be there through the insight of a spiritual breakthrough. So feelings of spiritual bliss exist to help us believe in our potential for creating in this world and to believe in love and healing, even when we see pain, suffering, and oppression in lived experience.

Keep going. We can make things better.

* The title for this piece is a remembered phrase from a Mary Oliver poem!

When “All One” Becomes Oppressive.

Photo credit: MARS

Photo credit: MARS

Of course I get the warm and fuzzy good intensions and vibes that can surround a sentiment of “all are one” in a yoga class. The widely accepted interpretation goes something like, “under the appearance of difference we are all connected and somehow essentially similar with the same human needs for food, shelter and affection.” Feel that expanded consciousness of connection! Good stuff!

Realize how people are reduced to basic survival instincts when “all are one” is taken literally: now it’s not so good. So much of what I value about being alive is not included. I love art and expression, and have made no secret about my passion for queer theory and expressions. My art will be different from your art. My gender and expressions of gender may be different from yours. You can’t possibly understand me without getting to know me.

“All are one” becomes flawed when it becomes a concept that attempts to homogenize difference.

“We are all one.” ≠ “We are all the same.”

But just under the surface of thinking this can be what happens. I imagine the functioning of the problem to be something like, “I feel/believe I am one with this other person who is a virtual stranger to me so I will expect that they will like what I do/feel safe when I do/want what I want.” Without realizing it someone can fall into some harmful assumptions about other people.

I am always super-honored when I am published on YogaDork, and my recent piece Questioning Queer Yoga is no exception. (I hope you’ll go over there and read it!)

In the comments section the validity of queer yoga classes are questioned. My interpretation of what was written there includes a questioning of the right of queer yoga to exist. Queer yoga is already happening in many places in many cities, so reality might be truth enough. But the logic of the comment I am thinking of seemed to question a need for a class like this. Just because one individual feels their needs are met in a yoga does not mean that every other individual will also get their needs met.

And when people assume that everyone is the same, or they assume that they know what everyone needs, and they are in a position of power—like a yoga teacher—these assumptions can harm students. We need queer yoga right now because there is not sufficient awareness of respecting difference, agency and self-determination of yoga class participants.

Authoritarianism in Yoga.

untitled31of89Hello. In my recent post Why Queer Yoga? I raised the question, “Can we have yoga without the authoritarian class environment?” There was a response on Facebook that expressed curiosity about what I might mean by using the word “authoritarian”. Here I plan to offer a few thoughts on that.

An authoritarian class environment is a situation where a teacher/guide/guru is seen as someone who has the power or right to make decisions for students/class participants at some expense to their personal freedom. A teacher (and people close to the teacher in some cases) is regarded as someone who has a greater status than students. The class contains a hierarchy. Sometimes it is personal power that is wielded, and there are times when the power is a replication or amplification of oppressive aspects of our daily life in the current cultural climate, including sexism, racism, and ableism.

Sometimes people can feel like their yoga teacher is their “guru”. When this happens a person might give away too much power, and trust too much, too soon. It can feel wonderful to think one is special and that a magical teacher figure has chosen you, but beware. People in a human body (I know that might seem redundant, but sometimes an awe-struck yoga participant can think that their teacher is god-like) tend to have human distortions in their personalities, and even teachers with good intentions can create harm in an over-trusting student.

This happens a lot to different degrees in relationships. Anytime someone claims to know what’s right for you, remember that they have not lived as you. The only person who is an expert in being you is you. Any time someone claims to know what’s right for you this is something that should be examined for potential manipulation, or simply disregarded.

An experienced yoga teacher may be able to help you with your body, and they might be able to offer technique that can free the mind and even ease suffering. But we need to be able to discern how a teacher can help, and where they might be overstepping appropriate boundaries. Basically when it comes to choices about life expression, this is a sacred choice and holy territory for individuals to claim for their selves.

When someone leading a yoga class claims to have the power of someone else (their guru) to offer class participants, this is usually a way to get control and harness enthusiasm of students. Some might argue that this is an effective way to circumvent students’ natural defense against doing something different with their bodies, and feel that you can get more work done more quickly when students decide to “trust the word of the guru” even if it comes from someone’s mouth who is not the “guru”.

The yoga teacher or guide who is in the class with you is the person who is there. Again this sentence might seem redundant, but it exists as a point of confusion at times. Teachers are sometimes trusted as the word of a famous yoga teacher (possibly a “guru”) if they have spent some time studying with them.

Another situation that is authoritarian, more in the category of systemic oppression than a personal dynamic, is anytime yoga facilitators (teachers) refer to “men” and “women” to describe difference in practice or postures. It can be seen as a perpetuation of the deeply entrenched systemic categorization that supports sexism, the condition where “men” are seen as different enough to merit a higher status than “women”. It also causes violence to identities that don’t align with the assumptions about who gets privilege and who should submit to power that go with forcing people into two separate groups.

Also, shaming students for not being able to do certain physical feats in yoga is an expression of ableism. It appears to say that students who are stronger or more flexible are better (a higher status) than those whose bodies are weaker or stiffer.

And racism might show up in how yoga guides speak to class participants, or who they pay attention to in class, and what assumptions they make about “everybody.”

As people who choose to engage in yoga classes, either as facilitators/guides or as class participants, we can do well to educate ourselves about the dynamics that play out in class. It is a common teaching that we encounter situations within our selves on our yoga mats that tend to show up in our lives, too. This post is about seeing power dynamics, whether it is personal or systemic, as showing up in the yoga room that also play out in life beyond class.

Queer Community Yoga’s First Class.

hipstre81of89Teaching my first queer yoga class was something awesome for me. The class was attended by queer community including yoga teachers, friends, and members of the house where we held our class.

I was surprisingly nervous when you consider that I’ve been teaching for 10 years—I am a seasoned teacher, to be sure. Also when you consider that I wanted to do this. Donated funds are going toward the purchase of props to support future classes, so it wasn’t financial excitement pressuring me. I chose to do this on my usual day off from teaching yoga. So it would almost seem like I was doing this just for fun, and that there would be no reason to be nervous, but I was more nervous than I’ve been in a while.

It took me out of my safe yoga teacher box. I was bringing dream into reality. This was a first step in co-creating the yoga community that might sustain me and others that resonate with queer community yoga.

Class started informally. We all seemed happy to be there. The space was super-cheerful. Sun was streaming in through open windows, and a warm breeze greeted our skin.

I introduced people who hadn’t met yet. I met someone that I hadn’t met before!

The scene was set. Water in the kitchen. Bathroom over there. I brought grapes because, well, grapes are awesome! To the side, we also had a donation box and paper & pen for anonymous feedback, if someone wanted to share that way.

I started class with some gentle movements and breathing to help us all perceive our bodies! Then we sat to do a check-in. We said our name, preferred pronoun, how we were feeling, and if there was something specific someone would like to have happen in class.

We did partner poses as a part of our practice. This worked really well for our group. It was also an opportunity for me to talk about listening to each other and voicing boundary needs. It’s also a good way for people to connect in class, by helping each other with their yoga.

I tried to be attentive to the physical needs of people in the class. It was fairly easy because people were similarly able. And at the same time there was also variance in athleticism and expectations that can make teaching any yoga class challenging. I really felt that my goal was to take care of our bodies, and to do what I could to cultivate an atmosphere of self-care that might open space for experiencing ourselves in an honoring way.

I ended savasana, resting pose, by reading an excerpt from How Poetry Saved My Life by Amber Dawn:

In the room you’ve made together, there is an east-facing window. Through this window you’ve watched the moon disappear and return a hundred times before you understood the message. There is artistry to self-perpetuation—the moon’s had a lot of practice. You, however, are still a tenderfoot when it comes to beginning again. Now you stand in this world as someone who is completely loved. From this point of view, who knows what poetry is yet to come?

After class there was time for talking and a relaxed pace for going forward. So there was community building, grape snacking, donating, and feedback happening then.

Yes to success! I hope that this is merely a start to something that will grow!

Why Queer Yoga?

untitled65of89I’m sitting to write why I want to teach a specifically queer yoga class (which I am doing tomorrow for the first time *yay!*). I’ve been asked the question, and answered okay verbally. I also want to try to splash a few words on the surface here, too, about why I want to teach a queer yoga class. Why not just teach yoga (I’ve been teaching yoga for 10 years)? Why does it have to be queer yoga?

Yoga has lined up in a big way with mainstream media, and has been translated through this information vehicle as something to enhance thin, white, mostly female-assigned bodies projecting a feminine image of yoga, and when the model is assigned as male, it’s usually a more masculinized presentation of yoga-supported health. It is a reflection of an externally-sourced idea of who we are.

Queerness in my viewpoint has something to do with discovering identity apart from who we’ve been told we are. The way I see it, the issue of sexuality is not connected in a direct way to a self-identified queer identity. It doesn’t mean a person is necessarily “gay”, “poly”, “trans”, “promiscuous”, or even “sexual”. “Queer” means a person is self-determining (from knowledge coming from within self through trial and error and success in experiences), and the only way to get to know someone is to get to know them personally, without the assumptions that often can present themselves based on how a person looks or expresses themselves.

Yoga has the potential to be a space to explore the atmosphere of your self, including sensations and impressions, without assumptions about what kind of body you have, or are supposed to have. Hopefully in yoga we can be free to be ourselves and make choices about how we want to participate, or not.

Sadly, in my opinion, many yoga classes uphold the mainstream perception of yoga as a way to be a hotter female, with a tight butt, constant smile, flat abs, shapely legs, and scant upper-arm fat. This is not a safe or comfortable environment for many people. Sometimes it is just numbing. Sometimes we know we feel good afterwards (depending on the class), so those of us who are into yoga forgive or ignore some of those controlling directives about how we are “supposed to be” presenting in class, or acting in life beyond class.

Can we have yoga without the authoritarian class environment? Can we have yoga without the sexism and racism? This is at least part of what queering yoga means to me. Is there room to express and discover our selves in yoga with our movements, as a group and as individuals on mats? Is it okay to place a boundary on whether you’d like to be touched in a yoga pose for a posture adjustment, or whether you’d prefer to be left to your own solutions for this one?

These are some of the questions and ideas I will be going into Queer Community Yoga with tomorrow, prepared by 10 years of experience as a yoga teacher with all the requisite training, and also by healing I’ve experienced in intentionally queer spaces, including friendships, art events, parties, writing salons, rituals, presentations and trainings.

Aging in a Queer Utopia.

My age has always been a lie. The first time I remember it coming up, I was 7 years old and was being introduced to people at my father’s country club. I was wearing little girl clothes, and a woman in the group asked me if I was 15. I was tall, and still am. I also had experienced more change and moving around than many others my age, especially in the small town in Ohio where my father is from. I was considered “mature for my age.”

I think I really was older than “7”.

Chronologically I was 7: I had been on the earth for 7 revolutions around the sun. I was born on a certain date in a certain year, and so there is a mathematical logic that equals 7 at that time.

But I had also rationalized and normalized interactions with a mother struggling with her reality, and had figured out being okay with her gone from my life. I had lived in 3 different states with 3 different families (all a part of my extended family). The number was 4 families if you say that the family of my mother and father was different from the family of my father and stepmother. They were different.

So I was “older” than 7 in experience and handling skills when people read me that way, and even when they didn’t.

And these days I am often seen as younger than my “age” to many people I know. I also wonder—similar to the example from my childhood—if in some way I am actually “younger” than the number of times the earth has traveled around the sun with me on it, or possibly “younger” in comparison with what that is usually seen to mean in our culture.

Have the losses I’ve experienced, the radical letting go that I’ve done, or circumstances totally beyond my control actually lightened me in some way to receive life in a way that we usually associate with youth?

Part of the launch point for my current reality had something to do with turning 40.
40

Around this time, I finally took the pressure off of myself about what kind of life I thought I was supposed to live based on what I had been taught and started to explore available options in my life that appealed to me.

I went to my first queer performance because a coworker friend was involved.

I started to go to more because the images and words populated my mind and also spawned exciting and titillating new thoughts.

I was welcomed into these intentional queer spaces. I made new friends. And went to more kinds of events like readings and trainings on trans awareness and disability justice.

A new life opened up for me. It was a gift of my aging process and personal choices that I dropped old fears and questioned my self and my life anew! I have now met people with values, attitudes and worldviews who I feel like I have been waiting to meet for my whole life.

I have evolved with Chicago queer culture. It has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

And yet my age also seems to pose an issue in my new life. It is a crowd with many folks in their 20’s. I have been so afraid to destroy what I have enjoyed, and to face people’s possible ageism by saying that my age is 42.

How old am I?
How alive am I?
How creative am I?
How loving am I?
How curious am I?
How adventurous am I?
How well can I listen to and support others and my self?

What is important?

In my own work on queer time, I have shown that queer people do not follow the same logics of subcultural involvement as their heterosexual counterparts: they do not “outgrow” certain forms of cultural activity (like clubbing, punk, and so on.)…queer spaces tend to be multigenerational and do not subscribe to the notion of one generation always giving way to the next. Other theorists, such as Elizabeth Freeman, have elaborated more mobile notions of intergenerational exchange, arguing that the old does not always have to give way for the new, the new does not have to completely break with the old, and that these waves of influence need not be thought of always and only as parental.
~J. Jack Halberstam, ‘Gaga Feminism’

In queer culture there is a potential for continued engagement and creative expression. We are only limited by our imaginations.

Earlier this year a friend shared that they had lost 2 friends to suicide in the last year, and expressed an impression that some people in their 20’s can’t always see an interesting or fun future for themselves.

I remember feeling that there was a black hole in my imagination as I approached age 30. And in my 30’s I fell into it, and I also invented a new life for myself as a yoga teacher. Becoming helpful seemed a strategy for survival.

One reason I want to come out openly as someone over 40 years old is to share my enthusiasm and excitement about what I see in my self and my friends. In myself I see a hope for the future based on the activism and values of people in queer community, I also see a future for myself as an activist, artist, writer and yoga teacher. In my friends I see community leaders/organizers and amazing activists and artists.

Queering has to do with taking on one’s identity and stepping away from an inherited lineage of ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, privilege, money focus, misogyny, ageism, sex-shaming, fat-shaming, objectification, coercion, bullying (…) and consciously being a person—even creating a self through chosen actions and expressions—that better reflects values of the heart with caring awareness of other people in community emphasizing inclusion of people (of a different race, body type, or gender presentation for example) helping to expand the understanding of the person reaching out as well as to reverse the effects of the old ways of domination, control and repression.
~from ‘Self-Determining Queer Pelvis

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The above photo illustration is from a project of mine that explores human morphology and gender assignment in yoga. photo credit: Mars

And if I ever seem to be glittering like a jukebox from the early 1970’s (reference to Sandra Beasley), well… That’s when I was born!

Yoga Heals My Trauma, But Never Takes It Away, And That’s Good.

Just attempting to write on the topic of trauma is incredibly triggering—at least partially in a good way. The good part of this triggering is that it is bringing more aspects of myself to the fore for healing. Another good part is that my anxiety is real. I feel it. I know it. I trust it. It is mine. I can breathe, focus, attend to it with my breath, and know I am okay. I can practice yoga, and claim for myself once again, my body, mind, and heart from the grip of terror.

What came up for healing just then were memories from childhood when people who loved me tried to control what I understood of my truth for me. This experience happened more than once and was incredibly traumatic, and ultimately had the effect of profound self-doubt and confusion on top of an already painful situation. They must have thought (the people I’m referring to have died and are not available to ask) that since I was a small child when my mother was removed from my life for mental illness that they could paint a picture of that time that would make me feel good. What would be the harm in that? A small child can hardly know what’s happening, right? Wrong. What they said conflicted with my sense of the situation, and with what I had heard from other people who were around at the time. I needed them to be my allies, and so I listened. It was not an easy time for people who were a part of it. Lie to the child and they will think they are normal and grow up to lead a happy life, right? Well, maybe—but not without some serious healing work if they’re anything like me.

I now associate my trauma with that safe, healing space that I’ve learned to cultivate in my yoga practice and in community—no way could I do this alone! So when I began to focus to write about the process of healing trauma with yoga, some stuff came up, and good. I say this because I strongly believe that awareness is everything. If I have stuff coming up, I need to be there to witness and support the process as I can.

Most of the time yoga works gently, slowly and affirmingly to support awareness that provides a welcoming home for all memories and thoughts. There is a place in myself for everything in the foundation I build in yoga for my mind, emotions, body and spirit. There is enough room to process my pain, suffering and to hold my yearning, anger, jealousy, and lust.

It is essential to cultivate a psychological and physiological anchoring base in the body through an understanding and practice that can be learned in yoga. I found my body-based home in the study and exploration of pelvis. This practice also provides safe space for psychological and emotional aspects of healing.

OrangeP

Hara (self-energizing earth centre within the pelvic bowl) is the rock on which we build the temple of the body. Those who are centered in the chest have too much ego and those who are centered in the head have too much intellect. The chest and head must rest on and be stabilized in the center of gravity.
~Dona Holleman, ‘Centering Down’

Who defines trauma? Trauma exists as invisible wounds inside individuals. Each person defines what is trauma for their self. A yoga practitioner goes within to create the space for their own healing with the support of technique, experience with practice, and a trusted teacher (sometimes the teacher can be ones own body).

Who defines healing? This is also something a person can know for their self. When someone feels better, safer, more alive, and curious or motivated they may feel that they have had healing.

One common misconception about healing trauma that can be harmful is the idea that “healing” means that the effects of a situation are removed or taken away. To me “healing” means that something that used to block my vibrancy or joyful celebration of my life has shifted so that I can more fully love, accept and celebrate myself and trust my ongoing healing process.

I have survived difficulty. I have hurt people unwittingly as a result of my own wounding that other people can’t always see (and that I can’t always see). I can sit with, practice with, and live with the imperfections in my situation as I strive to see more, heal more and to love more people in my life!

So: no. I don’t strive to rid myself of trauma. It is false to do that. It would just serve to continue the repression and self-doubt that the situation with my well-meaning family members started (and that our culture encourages) that I described earlier in this piece. It would be like trying to erase part of my lived experience, or lying to myself about it. I see great dignity and value in welcoming my full self to my practice and life.

I am a rich resource of experience and healing that is continuous, loving, and caring.