Cameron Shayne Is So Totally His Body. And Bodies Are Political.
Though the first descriptor in Cameron Shayne’s biography is “philosopher”, this clearly isn’t his true calling. No. What the founder of Budokon is really good at is shockingly gracious physical movement. Lithe and buoyant, he is a marvel of controlled relaxation, and relaxed, floating tensions. I’ve seen few things as riveting as this, which I’m presenting up front here because it discloses the embodied Cameron Shayne that all of his students and associates knew prior to his recent disembodied foray into Ayn Rand Yoga™ apologetics. The rest of us have missed out so far, and it’s just not fair – to him or us:
I’m ashamed to say that it still confuses me that someone with this sensitivity to breath, space, gravity, proprioception, and the subtlest internal conversations between the soft and the hard can orchestrate such a massive socio-political train wreck in about 2000 words. My heart clings to this stubborn idealism – substantiated by the literature of hatha yoga, by the way – that there must be some resonance between a person’s embodied creativity and their intersubjective empathy. Well fuck me, Cameron (woah there — that’s just an idiom) – you’ve proven me wrong, again.
The facts are clear. A week ago Shayne publishes a quasi socio-political manifesto that argues against shared ethical standards for sexual contact between yoga teachers and their students, because “policy made for the marginal few further weakens the capable, by encouraging less critical thinking. This in turn robs people of the opportunity to establish their own code of ethics, rather than obeying social law and/or policy.” His tortured prose is basically saying that when strong people agree to protect weak people, they give up the right to make up the rules to their advantage as they go. O — and that this is a bad thing.
He cloaks this Social Darwinism argument in just-so personal stories in which all of the casual sex he’s had with students is a victimless celebration of the we’re-all-in-it-together journey. He claims that surrendering to authority is both unavoidable but also in itself an act of power. Then he infantilizes people (women especially) who are enthralled by authority, and then claims that everyone is capable of equal consent, and then that vulnerable women will be preyed on by somebody, so why go out of our way to prevent it? He claims no authority for himself, and further claims that the very idea of authority (and by extension, power) is an illusion – and then he signs his article with a Blue Steel pic and a three-inch bio. (His website bio is more fully-engorged.)
Shayne paints all shared ethical standards as “dogmatic”, and repressive of our naturally-arising need to learn something about, oh I don’t know, anything but power. He betrays a breathtaking ignorance of the basic structural and gendered oppressions of our culture. This isn’t his fault, of course, because as he confesses in one comment: “Possibly my blind spot is that I simply don’t relate to being to weak, vulnerable or unaware…”. Isn’t it fun watching someone make a virtue of a complete empathy fail?
In another comment-thread he makes the straw-man argument that “rules do not instill ethical behavior”, when everyone knows that rules are meant to protect the vulnerable, and we consent to them through a complex economy of freedom and the common good. In yet another comment stream he compares sharing sex to sharing food, “just another thing that we do together”, as he says in his post — as if dinner, like sex, holds the danger of rape. He offers no clues as to how his spiritually-memed radical libertarianism could be functional outside of a heavily-armed polygamist commune, or how he can possibly serve those students of his – women predominantly, but also some men – who will now feel unsafe in the shadow of his antisocial politics. He offers exactly nothing but the intimation that we’re all equal and equally confused, and that it’s all no big deal.
In the shitstorm that’s followed the post, Shayne has bobbed and weaved and faked and feinted away from attackers in a way that I imagine makes his martial arts teachers barf a little in their mouths. While his post attracted a flood of predictable ad hominem attacks upon his behaviour, projections into his internal life, and irrelevant go-rounds about the meanings of sex, it also elicited cogent analyses of the politics he’s presented. Of the many examples, Sean Feit stands out:
As a fellow white(ish) male heterosexual (mostly) yoga teacher… I want to push back vigorously against your position in this post. In an abstract ethical world everything you’re saying makes logical sense, but I don’t live in that world. I live in a world where power imbalance, sexism, privilege, and patriarchy in all its forms are all alive and well. The responsibilities for ethical action when in a position of authority are not “antiquated ideology”, but mature responses to the very current reality of social inequity and endemic abuse of power.
And Carol Horton nails the me-bubble ethics of his post to larger trends of neo-liberal bullshit in American (and global) culture, and wonders, sadly, why we should be so shocked when the prevalent narcissisms of our political zeitgeist show up in subcultures like yoga:
Shayne believes that yoga teachers should not be subject to ethical or regulatory restraints that limit free sexual access to their students. (Presumably, this means adults capable of giving formal consent, although these criteria aren’t stressed.) To my reading, his argument (which is echoed in many of the comments) reflects a mixture of two larger streams of thought that are quite influential in U.S. culture: hyper-individualist radical libertarianism, on the one hand, and irrational New Age spirituality, on the other. This, in my view, is a toxic mix: capable of legitimating all sorts of power abuses, while at the same time advancing a twisted logic that “blames the victim” when they occur.
Yoga, like any other tradition, necessarily evolves in interaction with the larger society of which it’s a part. If it didn’t, it would quickly lose its relevance and meaning to most people. Therefore, we can expect that variations of the cultural divides that we experience in the larger society will continue to replicate themselves within the yoga community.
Well whaddya know: Shayne ignores these substantive critiques to focus on deflecting the personal attacks, as if it were more important to defend the marketing of his behaviour than the materiality of his politics. (Economically, it might be a smart move on his part.) In response after response to critics, he picks out whatever character accusations he can find, and deflects them with a canned You-have-no-idea-what-a-good-guy-I-am-and-namaste-to-you answer, as though he weren’t standing in the ring right now with a real challenger who couldn’t give 108 shits what kind of guy he is. He’s being called out on the philosophical ground to which he’s laid claim, but he seems not to see it. Either he’s too self-obsessed to see it, he’s not smart enough to understand it, or he’s willfully ignoring it. Whatever the reason, his constant flipping of attention to further claims about his behaviour is a transparent distraction. Regrettably, it seems to fool many people.
But the challenger is standing there, staring him down. She’s ripped and rippling, and she’s got real questions. Like:
- How do the politics you express create physical and emotional safety for women and men in a classroom situation?
- How especially would you create this safety after having publicly declared “You can’t imagine how many people I teach, on a daily basis, whose bodies read like a book turned open to chapter one: I suck in bed.”
- How would you respond to and serve those women and men who would feel physically, emotionally, and sexually threatened by your disregard for the prosocial ethics we have painstakingly evolved to address power imbalances?
As the days have passed I’ve been wondering: can Shayne really avoid the materiality of his political stance, the materiality of its impact, and the materiality of the substantive challenge to it? How does a person persist in the dissociation of intimate actions from social ethics? As I read each of his replies in the threads, it slowly becomes clear. The neo-Advaita/Law-of-Attraction metaphysics starts dripping like treacle off of every post to the bottom of my screen. Here’s a brief survey of his pseudo-profundity roulette:
We all see what we choose to see in each other.
I cannot make you see me any other way than you choose to see me.
Your perception of my treatment of women and students is what you want it to be.
The physical act of sex is what we mentally make it be.
(Please please make it stop.)
All space is as we see it. Nothing more, nothing less.
No person determines the ethics of another.
All experience is subjective. You wish to make some actions good, some bad. For each person this is theirs to decide… I am not the judge — only an observer.
And on and so before finally, this hyper-subjectivist-but-also-hard-dualist screamer –
I choose to be in the body while being aware that I’m not the body.
And here we have it. You’re not the body? Well now I have some questions! Does a mini non-body-Cameron get up every morning and choose to put on a big buff Cameron-body? Are there several to choose from? Maybe Sunday is tattoo-free day? Is he really choosing? Are any of us “choosing to be in the body?”
If I get a little antsy at times and think about throwing myself under a bus, but then I decide not to just yet, I suppose I could say I’m “choosing” for my body to stay alive. But being alive and embodied is the very condition for choosing to stay alive and embodied by not throwing myself under a bus. The body itself is the a priori condition by which any of us can choose to say anything about whether we’re choosing to be here or not. The “I” that describes the body comes after the body is already there, enmeshed in its conditions, which include its unconscious memory, its social politic and general ecology, and whether it is oppressed by structural predations or not.
This a priori body lies at the heart of privilege: Cameron Shayne’s body is white and male and ripped and abled before it opens its pie-hole with the luxury of being able to rationalize its behavior, invent narcissistic ethics, or declaim any metaphysics. The body comes before the “I”, and it’s not the other way around, unless you want to get hired as the marketing manager for the Chopra Centre and claim that consciousness comes first. (Or Con–scious–ness, as they say, very slowly and with round vowels.) There’s good money in it. But never mind my snark – let’s let Merleau-Ponty sing it a little: “In perception we do not think the object and we do not think ourselves thinking it, we are given over to the object and we merge into this body which is better informed than we are about the world.” (Phenomenology of Perception, 1945.)
Which brings me back to Cameron Shayne’s fab-ab body of beauty and hotness, and what his flesh might know beneath the propaganda of the abstract freedom he’s talking about. His body: which if I’d never read his posts I would want to hug and hold and snuggle up to, to just feel for a moment what that type of strength and floatiness might feel like. Hasn’t he learned, I ask myself, within the economy of his own flesh, the give and take of agonist and antagonist, the songs of tension resolving into agreement, the quivering interdependence of every blood cell and sinew? Hasn’t he learned that the body is not even alone within itself, not to mention independent of the earth and gravity, and that the ten trillion microbes crawling around in his flesh (and shared with the women in his classes) are helping him do each flicker of each vinyasa? If the insane amount of attention and practice that he’s applied to his craft has not completely dissolved his individualistic hubris, what exactly would?
Oh, that’s right – nothing. Because it sounds like he’s been trained from the outset to do the sickest embodied physical practice anyone can imagine while believing that he is something else, somewhere else – just watching perhaps. He’s not the body, understand? Look at that video! Do you see a body there? Well don’t be confused — it’s not Cameron! Look at his publicity photos! Can’t you see it? I mean — see through it? He’s not the body! Stop calling him a body! He’s the Self expressing itself, through, um, something that it’s not.
There’s not enough pot in the world to make this make sense. And it’s such a strange and unnecessary addition to the obvious fact that we are absolutely flesh, sitting as flesh in a fleshy world, and we can’t even close our eyes to imagine the carousels of Vedantaland without relying on the flesh, and we know this is true because if the flesh has a stroke it’s buh-bye to every fantasy. What’s additionally weird about Shayne is that the main part of the flesh is doing this beautiful fleshy thing while the mouth part of the flesh is saying that the flesh itself is unreal.
Anyways, I’m developing this theory that metaphysical fetishes – whether hard-dualist, monistic, or advaitist – are parasitical to the flesh, riding our autonomic constancy without an ounce of gratitude and vampirizing our endorphin rushes to hallucinate their sky-castles. The vast majority of parasites are benign mutualists, but the “I’m-not-my-body” parasite meme confers no benefit to its host, except in times of great trauma, in which it’s really nice that consciousness offers a big red eject button, complete with a spiritual-rationalization parachute.
Actually, the other and more cynical benefit the disembodiment parasite might confer is the feeling that I’m not really my body, so she’s not really her body either, which means that all that’s in the way of us having a good ole no-strings-attached kundalini boinkfest is her delusions of victimization, and my delusions of shame.
It’s easy, really. Convincing yourself you’re not a body very conveniently subtracts the body you actually are from the politics it is always already embedded within. And now we’re really not just talking about yoga ninjas and their vulnerable students anymore. We’re talking about the earth, the oceans, the salmon streams, the old-growth forests, the feedlot cattle, little girls in crumbling factories sewing yoga pants, and everything material we materially depend upon and exploit while pretending that we’re not making a mark, perhaps because our guilt is so heavy upon us we’d rather not be here at all.
I don’t need to travel the world taking stool samples to know that this parasite is everywhere. In Ayurveda if we have creepy-crawly parasites for reals we juice up bitter melon and stir hing into it and chug that shite down for two weeks and it usually clears things up as long as you stay away from sugar and dairy and meat and eat lots of raw pumpkin seeds and maybe take a little castor oil at night. But how do you flush out of the flesh a superimposed idea that claims the flesh isn’t real? That’s a tough one. You’d think a little yoga would do it. But maybe this parasite is so embedded in yoga language that it’s not enough. Maybe chanting Richard Dawkins’ name would help. Om namo bhagavate Richardawkyey namaha. Maybe it takes an accident. Or watching somebody get killed. Maybe hospice work. Or being a nurse. I don’t know.
I think it would take whatever it took to realize in wonder, fear, and trembling that you are surrounded by bodies upon whom you absolutely depend for not only your material life but for meaning itself. To realize you are really here, and so are they, and everything between you is real. To realize that every breath you take and every quality of your gaze upon them means something material to them, because they depend upon you as well, and you must hold that contract, which your bodies wrote together, with the most tender hands.