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.”

Steubenville Rape & Recurrent Dreams of Violated Space.

There is a big effort in recent articles to see potential positive effects in our culture because of revelations about teenage males allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage female at the end of last summer in Steubenville, OH. I read these articles with hope. I like to think that something good can come from anything. Maybe we can all have an awareness and change rape culture.

And I want to say that the sexual assault was not helpful or positive. It was ruthlessly harmful. A teen female went to party, probably anticipating a fun time with friends. She should have had the freedom to make her own choices with friends supporting her, and respecting her. It’s what I think.

Instead, according to at least one account she was drugged with a “date rape” intoxicant, probably passed to her by a “friend.” Her unconscious body was apparently carried from party to party and repeatedly sexually assaulted by more than one person and urinated on according to media sources including the New York Times.

There was nothing helpful or positive about this heinous evening of events. There is nothing good about sexual assault of a teen female being reportedly witnessed at more than one party, as well as worldwide through twitter and instagram.

I wonder how she is doing, and I hope that she can get the support that she needs. I would like to hear about her experience from her and offer support. I would like to hear from other female and male witnesses and offer support to try to help heal all who were harmed by this event. Every person who is now more afraid because of this story needs supportive friends, and possibly councilors or other trusted help. This includes those of us affected by learning and following this story.

This story is horrible. I’m sorry that people have had to experience this. It hurts us when someone is violated. It hurts.

The story has particularly affected me probably because I grew up from the ages of 7 to part of 17 in a small town in eastern Ohio about 25 miles north of Steubenville. I resisted watching the video of the teen male joking about the assault for at least a day, but finally watched it.

When I heard the accent of the speaker in the video, it brought some part of me rushing back. I knew boys who spoke like that. The jovial presentation of despicable words is an education. It reminds me and brings home the idea that people involved in horrible things don’t believe themselves to be horrible. He appears to think he is fine, but what he is enjoying saying is so beyond sick. I believe he needs help, he appears to be a very dangerous person who does not recognize that he has been involved in or at least seen something wrong: a crime that happened over several hours and hurt people. It hurt the teen female who was sexually assaulted. It hurt witnesses by seeing someone assaulted like that, perhaps cultivating fears that they could be next. It hurt family members and friends. And countless others learning of these events who are perhaps triggered into the pain of their own experiences of violence, or who fear for themselves or their friends and children.

This story affected me: I woke up last Saturday morning remembering a dream that I’ve had countless times.


My apartment had been trespassed. A door that I had locked was somehow opened without any evidence of violence. Someone had come in, not to steal things—I’m not sure why they were there. But they were in my house. They came in, perhaps to have a good time. Sometimes in this dream there is evidence of drinking: empty bottles. Or sometimes pizza boxes… There have been occurrences of the dream when I am there and can spy on the people in my house, not too closely, but I can hear parts of what is happening or see shadows or outlines. But usually I am in a place that is now empty with an open or unlocked door.

Remembering the dream with the Steubenville story still fresh in my mind forged a connection in my awareness. I was seeing something new about myself and my own fears bustling beneath the surface of a mental constitution that likes to remind me that “I’m okay.”

In other words, I was completely stirred up by the recent unfolding of released materials and protests around a Steubenville, Ohio gang rape. It seemed to jog something free. I made a connection. Could this dream be related to sexual violence? It definitely seems related to feeling insecure in my house, and even my body!

I believe myself to be triggered by this story, and particularly by the video of an 18 year old male joking about the violent events of the evening with buddies including a reference to the (still unconscious) victim nearby. It is truly sickening.

And so I am somewhat disgusted that I have been personally helped by knowing this story. The fact that it brought so much up for me (and I was ready to see what came) leaves me feeling humble. How do I accept this gift?

I saw myself as a teenage girl, and remembered a lot.

What I saw was that rather than learning about being a sexual person, or how to be a sexual person, or be sexual, what I was actually learning was how to be raped. It sounds harsh, but that’s what I think. The story I was learning wasn’t about me. It was about what men wanted to do to me, and threatened to do to me. If I liked him, I wouldn’t fight back.

The default notion that a female wants sex unless she fights back sufficiently (whatever amount that is), apparently allows people to think it’s okay to assault drunk/drugged people—people who can’t fight back. How sick is that?

People need to be educated, and educate themselves about consent (resource: Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway). Teens need to know where to learn about healthy sexuality. I recommend Scarleteen as a great web resource about sex for teens.

I feel like I’m educating my inner teenager about healthy, consensual sexuality now. I am currently working to create safety for myself to explore sexual pleasure that I can actively participate in, rather than it being something that just happens to me “because men can’t help it.”

And to make the world a better place I want to see people learn more as soon as possible so we do not continue to perpetuate abuse in our own sex lives.

I wish great healing for all of us.

Creating a Consensual Culture.

A consensual culture includes people who are giving permission for things to move in a particular direction. I live in a country where many people can vote, so that would seem to nod in the direction of a consent-based culture. Consent requires a level of active participation from all parties in a situation.

A compliant culture includes people who are inclined to agree with others (without knowing self, perhaps) and obey rules, or try to meet standards. Compliance is relatively one-sided. The person or entity with power and agency sets the rules or standards, and every one else complies.

I think there are a lot of people who are compliant with their life energy, rather than consensual. There are what appear to be good reasons for this. You will please others if you do what they want (This might be a myth, or only work to a limited degree, but it’s out there!). I lived in this kind of life energy for a long time! I was so eager to please. I thought that being accepted would save me from suffering because that would mean that I was loved! Another reason to comply is that it might seem to legitimize existence because you can see yourself reflected in the system that others are also seeing themselves against. Also, a kind of success will likely appear more accessible if you go by the rules.

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Consent is coming up as an important part of sexuality (recently evidenced by FORCE: upsetting rape culture sneaking ‘consent panties’ into stores), and I think that it might be hard for us to be truly consensual when so many of us are more used to complying with standards and norms which allow us to think less and get a sense that we are doing okay as long as we can convince ourselves or others that we fit a norm.

As far as I can see, consent means everything in sexuality. It’s the difference between actively engaging in a situation, and ignoring ones self and becoming an object by default (or a victim). I didn’t understand anything outside compliance for a long time because I only saw value in pleasing the other person. I don’t think I saw how getting my needs met might improve a situation. I did have partners at times who would attempt to please me or meet my needs (or manipulate me), but I don’t think I was able to be fully present to even appreciate that. Or if I did, it was in an infantile way. I say that because I think a part of maturity should be to have a sense of what you want (even though it might change), and not to always look to the other person to lead the way. I think someone could say, “maybe you’re just submissive,” (read normative femininity concept here) but I don’t think that’s it. I was just trying to be normal, or do what I was “supposed to do.” I was ignorant. I didn’t know how to trust my expression, and was overly sensitive to what the other person was saying and doing. What they were doing was always able to crush me, or my expression. I wasn’t holding my own in the bedroom.

Creating a consensual culture means that we have to wake up to our own sense of agency, and learn to really express ourselves: nobody else can do this for us. I’m now wondering if the lack of consent in bedrooms could be related to a lack of consent in much of the rest of our lives. We tend to be ready to go along with a good advertisement if it convinces us that what is being sold will make us more highly regarded in our communities, or sexier…

Some might say that we need to teach children to be consensual people to help make the world and future a better place for people, and a safer and more respectful place for everybody.

My mind was blown wide open by a recent talk by Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen, at Early to Bed in Chicago. The talk was on developmental sexuality for humans, and if you ever have a chance to attend a talk with Heather I recommend doing it! One intellectual tidbit I took from the talk was the importance of teaching children consent by giving them opportunities to consent even from a young age! An example is asking a young child if you may pick them up/hug or kiss them. And the child is allowed to choose. If this is the first time a child has been given that kind of choice then they might say “no” just to try that option! They might want to hug you later!

It made sense to me that teenagers might have difficulty wrapping their minds around the concept of consent if they have never known it in their lives before. Children often have to go to school/church/treat parents in a certain way/obey… They need opportunities to experience the benefits of living consensually, to help them understand why it’s important.

The same is true for adults. Adults might have trouble getting the concept of consent if they’ve gotten along (what seems to be) okay up to now without really dealing with it.

Consider living consensually. Consent is respectful and self-esteem supporting. Consent is against abuse of self or others. If someone is consenting they know what they want and are saying it even if what they want might change later. A consenting situation includes listening to what someone else wants and needs, and respecting that, too.