Time for Me.

  This is me today. A person I had scheduled for a private yoga lesson did not show up. They possibly forgot to tell me about a trip or something. It is very unusual.

I found myself thinking that I can use this time for me. And then I was criticizing myself for putting myself last. As if whenever there’s a crack in my schedule, that’s when there’s time for me. It really is an ongoing struggle to take care of myself well, partially because it’s not always easy to see myself. I find it much easier to hold the needs of others in my minds eye.

I’ve just moved again. It’s definitely unsettling to move. I must find myself here, in this time of my life and take care of this person I am. Me. A human worthy of care, not an object waiting to be found. Here. I am here. Ready for myself, and to be responsible to my needs as I continue to discover them.

Winter Solstice: A Time To Think

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Me & Kitty friend relaxing and cozy for Winter Solstice.

How to begin again. I start by getting excited. This is the first post in root wisdom for over a year. In the meantime I moved a couple times. I felt it was necessary to just shove myself forward. Things were stirred up. I don’t think things are resolved or perfect now, but I feel myself to be in a place to speak again. I hope I will not ever try to speak from a place that pretends to know for others. I do have expertise, practice, experience, patience, technique, thoughtfulness. I am someone seen as a “white woman” teaching yoga and writing. No news there.

Yet it is relevant. And complicated.  And entwined in a history of colonialism and oppression. “White.” I think about “whiteness,” and wonder what it means to be a teacher of yoga, discovered and developed in India by people who are not “white.” India is a country with class, race (darker-skinned people having less privilege than lighter-skinned people) and gender-based oppression. The United States is a country with class, race and gender-based oppression also, yet it would be incorrect to assume that this same-sounding comparison between countries is enough. There are important ways in which the history of these two places is different. What we call North America was colonized by people wielding power who decided to call themselves “white” (the term “white” as a classification for people was invented in the colonies—defined by slavery—that were to become the United States) as slavery was being utilized to transform the land and economy. Native Americans were moved and many killed to make way for the white colonizers. I believe that this history forms the beginnings of the culture and economy we have in the United States today, and it informs individual lives in ways that popular culture is only beginning to discover.

India was colonized by the British Empire for some time, but sovereignty was returned to people in India. The United States is a colonization process that held on, while in India colonization by British people did not keep hold. I understand that within these statements there is such complexity and specificity and difference that I am still not including.

But it might be enough background to consider that it is worthwhile to think about white peoples entitlement to yoga today. Wondering: Is the colonial mindset—that colonizers can dominate and own whatever they find—a vestigial element in the way white people regard yoga?

I feel it is not obviously okay to assume that I have full rights to expertise and ownership of this subject. The situation merits thoughtful consideration. By me. By a “white woman yoga teacher.” By whoever else engages in the subject, profession, philosophy, practice, lifestyle, business. I will say that. I think people in commercial yoga culture need to think about it. Not to establish guilt, because I’ve learned that guilt can be paralyzing or over-emotional and therefore not helpful.

I want to see and help yoga (colonized yoga?) to grow and embrace cultural complexity, and view this thinking as ideally processing towards cultural healing, growth and understanding (of white commercial culture and how it interacts with or “owns” everything is sees as useful or of value) for white people. I’m saying that specifically because I think awareness of power, inherited privilege, assumptions within white communities is imperative, super-important.

I am a yoga teacher. I have taught yoga since 2003. My livelihood is based in a yoga teaching business. I do not ask these questions lightly. What I learned in yoga has saved my life. I would be a different person if yoga, and the people I met through yoga, had not been accessible to me, and hate to think who I might have been otherwise—possibly not alive still.

I think it’s possible to examine this closely and to have something better come out of it—something more human, in the best sense of the word. And in the meantime, as this questioning is continuing, I will be teaching what I’ve learned & what has helped me and others I’ve observed over my years of teaching what I’ve known as “yoga.”

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!