Justin Trudeau has our attention on the CBC
For the children’s question period.
Our boys lean in to hear what he’ll say.
I’m tense, waiting for the pauses and wavers.
I know that ministers and fathers can lie.
The seven year-old notes Justin is handsome.
The almost-four year-old is watchful on my lap.
My partner stands behind our chair.
A brother and sister in Montreal ask:
“What will happen to us if our parents get sick?”
I can feel my partner breathe with me,
But we keep our focus on the boys.
At bedtime she will rock the younger one as he cries
And repeats the question.
It takes more time for parents to comfort children
Than they have to comfort each other.
Justin presents a navy cardigan and meticulous grooming,
Neatly framed on the colonial steps.
I bet he’s pulling on old drama teacher tricks:
Pretend the camera lens is the face of his youngest.
Pretend the teleprompter scrolls a Christmas story.
Forget the actor’s terror of an empty theatre:
Pretend the children are all there.
He starts every answer in good form: with a sigh,
A smile, and “I know many of you are frightened.”
Then he finds the talking-point groove:
Canada, taking care, Canada, safe, Canada,
Brave nurses, Canada, working together, health,
Good place, good country, Canada.
The country’s name can become a mantra
For how its settlers want to see themselves.
If you let the sound be ancient again,
You can hear the word that meant “village”
In a time before boats and planes brought
Smallpox, economic plans, and cardigans.
A while back, the seven year-old asked me
“Is Justin Trudeau a good man?”
By instinct, my reply was more about myself:
“Like all of us, he’s trying to be a good person.”
(That feeling when teaching the benefit of the doubt
Perpetuates a spell about white intentions.)
The young interviewer, online from his bedroom,
Says they received 4000 questions.
The selections show that children ask
What many adults ask, stripped of number-crunching.
A snowsuited boy in Iqaluit asks
Whether the virus can survive the cold.
A six year-old girl in Toronto asks
How homeless people are supposed to stay at home.
There is no question from a First Nations child about how
To wash your hands without clean water.
I know the parent politics of cutting a deal
Between what I know, what I am ashamed of,
And what I can say to project a safe world.
I know the pivot between dread
And the reframe that mixes hope with fiction.
Does acting the part of the good parent scale up?
The Minister of Children also has to comfort oil barons.
He has to pretend he knows what millennials need,
Promise that we can do anything when we grow up,
That everything we want is sustainable,
That everything will turn out alright.
He shares tobacco with chiefs and then betrays them.
He has to smile as he zooms with sociopaths.
He has to count the money that pays for the stagecraft
That prompts a boy to ask: “Is he a good man?”
Instead of “Does he do good things?”
Justin is a month younger than me.
He and I might share night sweats,
Palpitations, a certain emptiness about who we are.
He and I might have bonded
In a high school drama class in the late 1980s,
When climate collapse and trickster stories
Were fantasies to star in
Rather than medicine to surrender to
When we manage to tell our children: “We don’t know.”
Lake Ontario has gone still, reflecting the city.
The beach is hushed with the open secret.
Young children and dogs see the shapes of the letters
Of the signs telling us to keep our distance.
Looking south, if the day was clearer,
I might see the shadow outline of New York State,
And hallucinate the wheeze of ventilators
In the swirl of open air that is the border.
My partner plays balance beam on bleached driftwood
With our seven year-old.
She mirrors his overflowing age,
And shows him how we come from each other.
Our four year-old commands his nana
To stand six feet back;
He holds up a stop-sign hand and grins
As if the world were a traffic game.
But she can’t help herself from reaching for him.
The generations want to collapse into each other.
Some of us will never understand
How this is suddenly dangerous.
My own grandmothers no longer have bodies.
Eyes closed, I can fall into their talced arms.
They breathe out soft, clipped stories
Of the war, rationing, polio, standing on the road
To sell sandwiches to truck drivers.
Hanging out laundry in the attic.
Of a baby born premature and kept warm
In a cooling bread oven,
And making Sunday dinners for twelve on a single dollar.
As a child I saw their eyes gleam and took it for devotion,
But missed the spark of holding me to account:
“How will you make good on all of this?”
I missed the winces of pain as they shifted
From hip to hip in the twilight armchairs.
Neither had a place to name their feelings,
Nor, perhaps, anyone to hear them.
I’m ashamed for the time I spent mistaking
Silence and class dignity for avoidance.
What were all those books for? The wandering?
Why am I only learning to garden now?
Why did anyone give us credit cards?
Why did I always find something to do
To keep me hovering above this moment of water?
How did it happen that I was distracted so often
From the most fragile, vanishing things?
Why did I pry these minutes apart from each other
As if my life resided between them,
Gazing at imaginary problems,
As if these grains weren’t the continuity I sought?
None of the scriptures or poems prepared me,
Or maybe all of them did.
Like the one where the son asks the father
“Tell me about the innermost self.”
And the father says to the son,
“Like the salt mingled in ocean water,
You are that, you are that.”
Today the son would ask
“Tell me what the virus is.”
Because religion left me nothing but kind guesses,
I would say: “It’s not quite alive, but it can die.
It doesn’t know chest pain, or the feeling of drowning.
It thrives when it is within us.
It makes us aware of each other.”
I had a friend who died in his car
After swallowing a little white pill.
He was a Buddhist who helped and didn’t help people
In relation to how much he marvelled and suffered.
He taught me the phrase, “trouble and joy.”
He’s sitting with me here, closer than six feet,
We talk about impermanence, which he no longer has to test.
I murmur “I can’t believe you’re missing this”,
Meaning children, a partner, the virus.
I hope he ate that pill like those monks
Who pretend to eat the last plum on earth.
He was obsessed with the resonance between
The suffering self and the suffering world, and
I still can’t tell whether this is perceptive or grandiose.
White men can be both as we fantasize
About helping more than we help.
But sitting here now, body and ghost,
Perhaps we waste less time.
The seven year-old comes in for a hug.
He’s too big for my lap. I’ll be getting smaller.
My wife continues balancing practice, for her own joy.
The light changes. It doesn’t matter how.
I’m grateful I didn’t bring my phone.
Sitting back on the kitchen counter,
It fills up with exponentials:
infection rates, grief, financial ruin, platitudes.
If I had brought it, I may have thrown it,
To skip on the glassy water like a mute black stone.
At about ten days into social distancing — and improvised homeschooling — this tweet sailed across my feed:
I laughed, but it hurt.
We have an almost-4 year old and a 7 year-old at home. Last night the provincial government sealed up the parks and beaches. The boys haven’t been within six feet of their grandparents for weeks. Yesterday, everyone over 70 was asked to self-isolate.
Parents are on their own these days. It’s one thing to not have access to child-care. It’s totally another to not be allowed to have any, or to get any from extended family. Every family, in every configuration, is on its own island of togetherness and aloneness.
It’s challenging, and we’re meeting it — to the point of it being a transformative experience in some ways. Relational peace and resilience is an incredible privilege. And I know we’re a thousand times luckier than so many. Anyone who is parenting solo now, or exposed to substance abuse or domestic violence — my heart just dies. When the vulnerable are isolated, the veneer of nuclear family safety and its independence cracks.
Back to the tweet: I’ve never, to my recollection, said anything so intrusive and insensitive as what wittyidiot reports to any of my non-parent friends.
But I sure have felt it.
And when I recognized myself feeling it, and I realized it felt off, I took a look at where that feeling was coming from.
On my generous and gregarious side, there is, without a doubt, some inexpressible joy that parenting has filled me up with, to the point that my prior life feels unrecognizable and haunted. And I wish I could just share that with everyone. But on my narcissistic side, there’s a part of me that wants non-parents to validate my choices with their bodies. I want them to share my stress — as if they didn’t have their own. If I were to speak wittyidiot’s quote aloud, I would be speaking from that voice.
wittyidiot’s burn is on point. Whoever said that to him, intentionally or not, was inflating a selfish and defensive need to the point of trumping basic manners towards the many reasons, chosen or not chosen, for not being a parent.
The tweet also points out that the sentiment of “the greatest joy” is, when spoken aloud, disingenuous. When the shit hits the fan, it goes silent. Shouldn’t being a parent be “the greatest joy in life”, for better or worse? Yes, it should. Unless what the parent is really saying, in a passive aggressive way, is: “When are you going to take on the same stress that I have?”
The inflated parent is forgetting, of course, the stress of loneliness, or of building a chosen family, of miscarriage, or moral and political conviction, or simply other work in the world.
They’re also failing to anticipate just how much worse the stress of parenting can get, to the point of that unforgivable thought: that they wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
For me, the last time this issue popped out of the collective unconscious and into the memosphere was from the other side, when that “Lady No-Kids” cartoon by Will McPhail made the hetero-normie rounds:
I laughed then, too, but it didn’t feel clean.
I especially didn’t feel comfortable that the target was a non-parenting woman, contrasted with the mature mother pushing the stroller and herding the 4 year-old. It deepened the misogynistic double-bind of “You’re either frivolous, or responsible for everything.”
Happily, it looks like McPhail evened out the scales with a follow-up:
Gender aside: McPhail illuminates the bald fact that through lack of experience or imagination, the non-parent can be blind to their privileges of time and relative autonomy. And if they flaunt this, knowingly or not, or make assumptions about what their friends who are parents can and can’t do, it can be frustrating.
Or worse: for some it might provoke a grief — shameful because it’s not easily admitted — for a former life, or for choices that could have been. There are now 15K in the “I Regret Having Children” Facebook group.
The first time I clued into this tension was when the priest who was the principal of the Catholic school where my mom worked asked the staff to take on a bunch of extra tasks as though they would be giving up happy hour. I remember my dad grumbling, “Father So-and-So needs to wash some diapers.” I was young, but I understood that this wasn’t just about the work itself. Dad was talking about the kind of work: we don’t float above anything when we’re up to our elbows in crap. We don’t sit in cathedrals in contemplation. We don’t do yoga vacays.
But McPhail’s exaggeration leaves a sour taste. The heteronormies are buttoned-up. Lady and Lord No-Kids are obviously silly.
The problem with the caricature — maybe part of its purpose, in fact —is that it conceals the more stark challenges to parenting as an existential identity.
I have anti-natalist friends who say outright that it’s immoral to have children, given the imminent timeline of ecological collapse. It’s hard to argue with them. I have feminist friends who say that we just don’t have enough justice to allow for parenting partnerships — especially if they are hetero — that are structurally equal. It’s hard to argue with them. I have anti-capitalist friends who pinpoint the heteronormative family as the heart of consumerism, masquerading as love. I have climate collapse friends who say: “There’s no problem in the world that can be solved by bringing more people into it.” I know birth-striking millennials, melancholic but resolute.
All of these folks have good points. None of them are following geese around while not wearing pants. If you were to feed them wittyidiot’s line, “When are you going to have children?”, they would hear: “When are you going to conform to your gender identity? When are you going to accept your fate? When are you going to just admit you’re a producer and a consumer, just like everyone else? When are you going to get down in the shit with us?”
But there’s a lot of ways to wash diapers, and everyone has a fate. Many of these same non-parents are masters of the “chosen family” structure, which binds together those thrown out of the nuclear shelter, or those who had to flee. It’s not all extra yoga and non-fiction. They’re the ones who often have more time to volunteer, reach out by phone, share their baking, or take on an extra therapy client, pro-bono. One anti-natalist I know is spearheading vegan food distribution for the homeless in Santa Barbara. He’s committed to never having children, but he works as hard as I do, or harder feeding people he’s not bio-responsible for.
Here’s something else I’ve noticed: many of the most influential eco-prophets of our time — the “doomers” who can say what others are afraid of saying about tipping points and mass extinction events, for example, and how close they are — are non-parents. Do they have less to lose in speaking the truth? Conversely, many of the most prominent boosters of green capitalism or Green New Deals, or the belief that there are political or technological fixes for collapse — are parents. I think there’s a connection between the biological hope of parenting and maintaining a politics of progress, even when the cold hard math is all wrong.
So far the lockdowns are shining a blinding spotlight on certain differences between parenting and non-parenting life. But what if we looked for something else?
In previous lives I’ve lived on several sides of this divide, albeit in my white, male and hetero way. I’ve been single (obviously), and I’ve step-parented for seventeen years, and now I’m partnered with two young boys.
As a stepfather I was devoted and committed. But I was also resigned to always being on the bio-responsible periphery of more central relationships. The buck never stopped with me. There were years in there where I didn’t think I would be a parent in what I conceived of at the time as a more meaningful way. I’m not saying that step-parents can’t have or feel exactly what bio-parents do — if that can even be generalized — but I didn’t, not quite. Part of that may have been my own emotional avoidance, but a lot of it was circumstance
It did however give me a powerful experience of simultaneous inclusion in and exclusion from the most privileged unit in our culture: the nuclear. This, along with other life circumstances — like being recruited into two cults in which family life was present but ambivalent to the point of being devalued — meant that I also socialized on both sides of that divide.
Back then, I had friends with children and friends without. Childless friends who were happy that way, and those who weren’t. Friends who had taken vows of celibacy that suited their introversion. Friends indoctrinated into celibacy who were quietly raging. Friends who grieved miscarriages and not finding the right co-parent. Friends who felt the clock run out. Friends who knew that having a lot of sex partners wasn’t conducive to parenting, and they weren’t about to change. Friends with children who talked about it, too loudly and defensively, in the way that wittyidiot skewers in his tweet. And also friends with children who were overwhelmed, depressed, terrified that they were passing on their trauma to their kids.
Later, when the stars aligned and I did become part of the nuclear club, I was rudely awakened to the fact that I might not continue to have that same connection with friends without children. The first volley was fired by a good friend at the time. When I told him my partner was pregnant, he ghosted me.
It really hurt. But it made sense. We never got to talk about it at the time, but my guess is that he was betting I wasn’t going to be as available to him, and so he cut his losses.
He was right. No more two-hour lunches, spontaneous cafe chinwags, or hanging out after events. He’d probably seen it happen with other friends: that tunnel-vision-descent into worry and expectation and rearranged values in service to the imaginary baby, but on a functional level can feel pretty narcissistic to the person who can’t share it.
And what a paradox. Expectant-parent worry puts you in a place where you really don’t want to be disconnected from anybody important to you, and yet it is exactly this narrowing vision that can drive key people away as if you had a virus.
At the same time, I felt myself being recruited into a new club. Men who were already fathers smiled at me with a mixture of fatigue, recognition, pride, and schadenfreude: “You won’t regret it,” but also “You won’t know what hit you,” and “See you on the other side.”
And the weird thing about that club? Its impersonality. For me, it feels more symbolic than embodied. I’ve noticed that the men seem to nod at each other more than converse. We share that peculiar nuclear alienation: we belong to families that are largely hidden from each other, but we also share an abstract social power.
Much of the abstraction is a function of time. The demands of the nuclear arrangements that we have — artifacts of patriarchy and capitalism — simply don’t allow for the same levels of sharing time between equals that often characterizes non-parenting or pre-parenting life. Add to that the fact that parenting seems to shunt many families into social funnels determined less by shared interests than biological circumstance. In the meeting places — playgrounds, schoolyards, gyms, instead of parks and cafes — there’s less talk about life in general than about life with children.
And this must make us very narrow-minded at times to our non-parent friends. We don’t have time. Or we don’t share the same timeline. It might also make some of us angry, in that wittyidiot passive-aggressive way.
My gut says there’s some intrapersonal confusion as well: when the parent is trying to communicate with the non-parent, they might feel they are looking back into a life they remember. It’s not true. They’re looking at someone else. Some whose path, with a slight shift in perspective, can be an object of admiration, simply because it is so different.
I don’t have any big “Can’t we all just get along” ideas. The exchanges that wittyidiot lampoons and McPhail exaggerates should obviously just stop, or be kept private.
But there are a few public behaviour things I think we can agree on, especially on social media. That is if you care enough about this particular tension to help build a culture in which parents and non-parents empathize with each other. And especially if your social feeds contain a mixture of parents and non-parents.
IMHO, parents should really own that it’s tempting to use their children to self-object all over Facebook. To use them to show how busy or stressed or fun or woke they are. Or to hide behind. Beyond the massive consent issues involved in using your kids this way — something that non-parents may be more attuned to and put off by than we know — there’s a difference between recording and performing what happens in one’s life. The more one does the latter, the more abstract parenting becomes for everyone. Our relationships need less symbolism, not more. And if you’re a heteronormie, you may be contributing to conventional narratives that continue to bury other experiences.
If you know non-parents who are lonely, maybe text them? Explain your time is limited, but that you’re thinking of them?
And non-parents: pandemic lockdown might not be the best time to post pics of yourself in bubble baths or meandering diary entries about how bored you are. If you know parents who are struggling — reach out to them, maybe? You could read a book to a friend’s kid over Zoom. It sounds small, but it’s extraordinary what even a half-hour of relief can give.
Maybe it’s also for you. Imagine that book you read to that kid over zoom contributes to their ability to concentrate and focus, and that they take that skill and develop it to the point where they’re able to intubate you smoothly when you need ventilation during whatever pandemic hits us in 20 years.
As for me, I’ll continue owning my feelings and softening my judgements. I don’t know what life I would be living if I wasn’t parenting with my partner. But I trust there are men out there who are living non-parenting lives with integrity, supporting the world in amazing ways I cannot.
And maybe one or two out there will see that I’m trying to work on unknotting a primal jealousy of parenting: to fantasize that someone will take care of you unconditionally when you become a baby again. I’ll admit it: I regularly visualize my deathbed, and imagine my sons on either side, holding my hands. The stories starting to pour in from Italy and Spain of parents dying alone fill me with longing and terror.
But something tells me a fantasy that rides on a notion of the care to which parenting entitles me won’t soothe longing, nor overcome terror. I want to fantasize about fostering a future of care for everyone.
A starter list, mainly for me. Feel free to add your own questions in the comments.
Did I let you learn about the pandemic at your own pace?
Did I tell you enough, so that you didn’t feel I was keeping secrets?
Did I tell you too much?
Did it ever feel like I was asking you to take care of me, or to soothe my worry?
I know I was scrambling to find money during that whole time. How did it feel when I couldn’t pay you enough attention?
Did it make sense to you at the time to ask you to do that homework-type stuff? Was it weird for your dad to be a teacher too?
Do you remember doing aerobics-dance-party-wrestling with mom in the living room when it rained?
Remember when the Croatian bakery had to close and my mom gave us that bread recipe and we started baking bread?
Remember when she needed more yeast and my dad drove my mom across the city to get some from me, and we met them at the curb but you weren’t allowed to hug them?
Did it bother you that I looked at my phone while we played chess?
We had a lot of new rules during that time. Did I explain them well enough? Did they make you feel more or less secure?
I remember walking with you and your brother in the ravine, and other kids were running around less supervised, and coming too close. Were you embarrassed when I scolded them?
But do you remember when the ravine was empty, and we walked there hand in hand in the dusk?
Do you remember me losing my temper? Did I come to you to repair?
Do you remember being angry at me? Did you ever feel shy about telling me about it?
How did it feel to have to keep that distance from Nana and Papa when we met at the park?
I remember saying “No, we can’t do that,” a lot, and it made me feel awful. Do you remember me saying: “But we can do this other thing?”
What did you imagine was happening for other kids around the world? Did it make you start thinking about justice?
Did you feel like your mom and I were working happily together? Did you feel our love?
Did you see me thank her enough for all the things she does?
When you heard the news over the radio, what was most interesting to you? Frightening? Inspiring?
Did it make you want to be a doctor, a nurse?
What did you learn about being bored?
Were you worried about your little brother?
Do you remember when your mom gave him his first haircut in the kitchen — with kitchen scissors because that’s all we had — because we couldn’t take him to Denise, who came to our house for your first haircut?
What made you most scared? What helped soothe you most?
What did you learn about reassuring children, without lying to them?
Did I ever say anything that, remembering it now, you feel: “That didn’t help me prepare for this”?
Did I live or buy things or relate to our neighbours in a way that now makes you feel, “That didn’t really model the skills I need now”?
How did this influence your thinking about the climate?
Did this make you want to have your own children more, or less, or about the same?
Most Yoga Teachers are Not Online Producers. They Have a Deeper Gift, and Now Is the Time to Trust It.
Actually, some yoga teachers are online producers. They have highly developed business models and an easy familiarity with outrageously expensive and complex technology. They have seamless integration between video production and distribution through nerdy tools like “affiliate networks” that allow them to “blitzscale”. Their in-person events and conferences are really advertising gigs for their online products. They pull off a near-mystical blend of personae: equal parts tech-bro, boss-babe, and yogalebrity.
Does this sound like you? Nah, I didn’t think so.
Next questions: Does it sound like a landscape you want to compete in? Do you want to take up space there? Is there another option when you’re forced online?
This blog is an expansion on some thoughts I first discussed and developed privately with Theodora Wildcroft about ten days ago, and then publicly with Jivana Heyman in a webversation we did yesterday that I’ll embed below. I’ll also say that this is a very new idea but that I feel it’s worth initiating broader conversation about sooner rather than later, given how quickly things have changed. I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts, feedback, and objections.
About twelve days ago my Facebook feed filled up with dozens of independent teachers and studio owners teaching yoga classes from their living rooms with anywhere from 2 to 8 viewers and lonely little Venmo links in the comments. I had a number of itchy, conflicting feelings:
This makes sense.
The dedication is moving.
Everyone wants to serve and connect, and survive.
I’m worried this isn’t sustainable.
I wonder if these folks are aware of what they’re competing against.
I’m afraid it won’t work out well to try to occupy space with Omstars or Yogaglo or Alo Moves.
So here’s what Theo said to me (I paraphrase):
Streaming yoga classes have been available on the cheap since 2009. The world already has more demonstration videos than anyone can even use. Most of them are free or cost a pittance. We’ve got to figure out why people have still been coming to studios and classes at all, and offer that.
(2009 was the year Yogaglo was founded. And the platforms have only gotten slicker, and more competitive.)
So I sat down to think of the reasons that people have chosen to attend studios despite online instruction becoming ubiquitous and virtually free.
Here’s an incomplete list:
- They enjoy the scheduled trip out of the home or on the way to work dedicated to self-care.
- They enjoy the body-buzz of the room: they’re inspired by others moving beside and around them.
- They want hands-on help from the instructor.
- They enjoy the togetherness, and sometimes find common cause beyond the mat.
- They want direct communication with, feedback from, and attunement with the instructor.
Let’s call these the IRL values. What’s not on this list is the visual demonstration/ performance of postures. The streaming formats have that locked up.
Physical distancing means that among the IRL values listed, #1-4 are off the table, perhaps indefinitely.
Let me pause here, and articulate two caveats about what follows.
- There are IRL yoga businesses that have developed online content over the past decade that is not fairly characterized by the tech-bro / boss-babe / yogalebrity stereotype above. I know several studios that have produced excellent online work that has served to support rather than overshadow or replace their IRL values. They may be better set up to shift into virtual studio mode at the present moment, but I fear the economy will be cruel to them as well, especially if they expect the virtual to subsidize the shuttered real.
- IRL value #4 is off the table as far as the mainstream yoga economy goes. But I also know that there are communities of marginalized practitioners for whom gathering together is a survival need, and this need will likely outlast what is to come. For these populations, #4 is better stated as “They require togetherness“.
Okay, moving on:
If the UK’s Imperial College is correct about distancing likely needing to last for 18 months in most parts of the world, and if poor old Dr. Fauci is correct that COVID-19 will have cyclical surges until a vaccine is found, most of the brick-and-mortar spaces that provide IRL values may well be finished. I’ve owned two studios, organized festivals, and taught in YTT programmes for more than a decade. I know dozens of studio owners, and can think of only one who might have the resources — which come from outside the yoga industry — to ride out this stoppage.
Thus: I believe it’s naïve to think about this condition as temporary, and about the online space as a “holding tank” for a brick-and-mortar business that will just pick up where it left off.
Let’s say that those of use who have survived are all free and clear and vaccinated in 18 months. How long will it take for the public to resume feeling comfortable in embodiment spaces? How long will it take for former yoga consumers to have the same level of disposable income? And will they spend it on class passes? Will they spend it on cardio training to rehabilitate damaged lungs? Will they use it build up their community gardens or learn new survival skills? Will the yoga consumer of 2021 need more yoga classes, or have we given them enough since the 1980s? Let’s remember that we’re not just talking about an 18-month stoppage: we’re talking about 18 months of people getting super-interested in other things, by necessity.
If I’m right about the impacts of an 18-month stoppage, we may be looking at a near-total collapse in the private-sector industry — or at a paradigm shift away from its basic group-class model. Which brings me back to the list:
To my eye, the IRL values that can be sustainably approximated in online / streaming / webinar formats are expressed in #5. Communication, feedback, and attunement are NOT on offer from existing streaming services — and certainly not from celebrities. (Levels of attunement are likely inversely proportional to the celebrity of the teacher.)
But #5 is exactly what independent teachers and studio owners seeking to maintain connection with their long-term students and communities can actually provide. For a while it may seem as though a certain portion of your business is willing to play Simon Says on Zoom along with you, but stripped of the IRL values that Zoom in the long term cannot provide, I can’t see how this will last.
It certainly won’t last if independent teachers and studios post rates comparable to their pre-pandemic drop-in standard. I’ve seen folks ask for $10-15 for each class, which I feel in my bones isn’t going to fly long-term — again, given the dirt-cheap rates of the yoga video mills, plus the fact that the majority of the clientele are also seeing their income in free-fall.
Most of the major yoga media platforms have free trial periods. New or existing students could even skip the countless YouTube classes and be on commercial-free platforms for months, at no cost. And check out these screencaps from Googling “online yoga” just this morning:
QED: the tolerance for paying for online classes is already low. In a tanked economy, it will sink lower.
Don’t get me wrong — I think the impulse to ask for $10-15 is on point, because the premise is that the teacher is offering IRL values. But for that to be true, the focus has to be on #5.
So: what does #5 look like, in practical terms, for the non tech-bro, non boss-babe, non yogalebrity teacher now having anxiety rise as they try to learn Zoom?
I think it looks like a brief, conversation-based private lesson. Equal parts check-in, instruction, and homework assignment. The vibe is encouraging and empathetic. The limits are clear: it’s instructional, but it’s not therapy. The timing and finances are set by mutual agreement, just like any other private appointment.
The scope of practice issue here is crucial. I’ve spent a good amount of the past five years analyzing and theorizing and consulting on the issue of the yoga teacher’s scope of practice. My basic argument has been that the absence of a SOP in the profession is closely tied with rates of charismatic overreach, as well as physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse. As I’ve done that work, people have often said: “But the vast majority of yoga teachers are kind and ethical people,” and my response has been “Okay, I’m not talking about that, but I agree with you, and also think we can improve things further.” But in this situation I feel it’s appropriate to be sensitive to the costs of gatekeeping, lean into the general-goodness theory, and have faith that on the whole, yoga teachers with whom this blog resonates will understand clearly how not to cross over into unqualified territory.
As I see it, here are two key advantages of the online private lesson:
- The timing is flexible. I’ve seen a lot of colleagues try to guess about when they should be running their new virtual classes. It seems to be an impossible calculus, because so many people are now at home with their children, and those schedules aren’t going to settle down for months. It’s a lot easier to block off a specific half-hour in a week than to pencil in a virtual class that you can bail on at any time.
- The finances can be individually negotiated. People are falling apart financially, but it’s unevenly distributed. I don’t believe that we can establish a stable market value for an online class at this point. However: the individual student who knows their daily and weekly needs and resources can definitely make a decision about how much a 30-minute meeting is worth vs. what they can afford. It might be $5, it might be $50. I’m betting that by the time we get to 6 months, most of us will accept the fact that beggars can’t be choosers. In a broader sense: negotiating the value of each exchange is a step, however small, towards anti-capitalism.
With regard to time vs. money: a participant in my webservation with Jivana asked, astutely:
“How many teachers have the time to give 20 individual classes right now rather than one class on Zoom for all 20??”
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I believe the time/money calculus will become clearer as people monitor their income from those Zoom classes over the next month. My prediction is that the numbers will inevitably decline, because a) the Zoom format will feel flatter and less communicative over time (visual media retention requires increasing visual complexity) and b) the money won’t be competitive. Also: it will be far harder for the virtual studio to attract new students. The question is: why not act upon the clear IRL value #5 sooner, while you have existing connections, rather than later, as they start to fray?
There’s a broader theme here, and some supportive history.
The rush to digitalize the brick-and-mortar studio is bringing up a lot of anxiety. I think it’s important to tune into that. Because beneath the tech issues and financial terrors, I’m betting that something else is coming into focus:
Yoga has always been degraded by visual media, and we can feel this in our bodies. I believe this tunes us in to something we’ve known all along: that the entire modern movement has constellated around a paradox:
Yoga is an internal, personal practice. Look! Here are some pictures and demonstrations of other people doing it for you to imitate.
Is cultural appropriation a problem? Yes. Commercialization? Yes. But at a more primal, embodied, cross-cultural level, the modern yoga movement — for a century now — has nurtured a schizoid split between presence and performance.
The most obvious example of this is reported on by BKS Iyengar himself — perhaps the most-photographed yoga person of the pre-Instagram era. The hundreds of plates in Light on Yoga were photographed in such a compressed period of time that he had to be hospitalized for weeks after. What that means is that the best-selling yoga photo-manual in the world, which is chock-full of claims of medical benefits, is actually the visual record of a man entering a health crisis. He’s literally sickened by his performance of wellness. He both established an artform and set the tone for its most unsettling outcomes.
There’s something fundamentally off about this very old problem. And the rush to go online may only rub salt in this wound.
It’s no-one’s fault. It is a collision of culture, technology, and globalization. But right now, in the space of a few weeks, our world has become very small and intimate. As we wash our hands, things become very tactile. We cannot be globalized in the same way. The age of spiritual junkets to Pune and Mysore might be over for good. We can’t afford to use technology uncritically, and this means we might be able to re-invest in a culture that values presence over performance.
We can let the tech bros, boss babes, and yogalebrities keep their share of the performance market. If we do, we might connect with something older in yoga history.
So far as we know, yoga instruction in the premodern period featured no group classes, no visual aids, no physical adjustments, and no physical demonstrations. As Jim Mallinson told me about learning hatha yoga from his late guru Balyogi Sri Ram Balak Das: the instruction was all oral. Jim was told, in conversation, about a series of postures, and encouraged to practice on his own. There was no need for “alignment”. There were no mirrors, no selfies. No need to make sure it looked right. There was only simple instruction, encouragement, and faith.
Now that’s a process that can easily migrate to Zoom, with no special equipment — or persona — required.
P.S.: Here’s my online plug. The last session of 6 Critical Problems in Modern Yoga and How to Work With Them runs this afternoon. The topic today is: “How and why to practice in the shadow of climate crisis, or during COVID-19 chaos…plus. a Bhagavad Gita thought experiment”. You can join at any time. If you need tuition relief, we can work that out by email.
New series starts May 1. “Cult Dynamics in Yoga and Buddhism: Recognition, Recovery, Resilience“. Also negotiable tuition.
[Traduction en français via deepl.com]
Dans le dernier épisode du monde du yoga #MeToo, des militants s’insurgent contre l’institution spirituelle qui les a laissés tomber.
Matthew Remski – Mercredi 11 mars 2020
Image: Tessa Modi
En janvier, j’ai rapporté que l’un des empires de yoga les plus célèbres au monde avait été ébranlé par un seul post sur Facebook. Julie Salter, 63 ans, avait mis à plat la marque de yoga Sivananda en écrivant que son saint fondateur, Swami Vishnudevananda, l’avait abusée sexuellement et physiquement pendant les 11 années qu’elle avait passées comme assistante personnelle non rémunérée, avant sa mort en 1993. L’organisation a réagi en lançant une enquête indépendante, et des centres individuels débattent de l’opportunité de retirer le portrait du gourou de ses autels dans le monde entier. Mais ils ont également publié des réaffirmations de sa sagesse sur les médias sociaux et vont de l’avant avec un projet visant à publier davantage de ses sermons archivés.
Mais les alliés de Salter qui s’identifient encore au yoga Sivananda ont adressé une réprimande surprenante à leurs anciens dirigeants. Ils ont rejeté les termes et la portée de l’enquêteur nommé par Sivananda et ont lancé leur propre enquête financée par la communauté, appelée “Projet SATYA”. (“Satya” est un terme sanskrit pour “vérité” ; l’acronyme signifie Sivananda Accountability Truth-Seeking Yogic Action). L’effort de bricolage est comme les catholiques de Boston qui embauchent leurs propres détectives pour enquêter sur les abus dans leur archidiocèse. À ce jour, SATYA affirme avoir reçu 19 plaintes et avoir mené à bien sept entretiens officiels. Pour les dissidents de Sivananda (“Shee-vuh-nan-da”) – comme pour les activistes qui ont suivi le procès de Harvey Weinstein – le témoignage de Salter sur son célèbre agresseur n’est pas une histoire de crimes passés. Il met en lumière un réseau vivant de complicité et de dissimulation qui a ouvert la voie à un dirigeant actuel de l’organisation Sivananda, Thamatam Reddy, 53 ans, pour imiter la corruption du fondateur.
L’histoire de Salter est devenue emblématique d’un déluge de crises d’abus institutionnels dans le monde non réglementé du yoga, où des patriarches charismatiques ont régulièrement assumé un contrôle spirituel sur le corps et le travail de leurs fidèles, grâce à des modes cultuels classiques de tromperie et de manipulation. Il est également devenu une étude de cas pour savoir si le mouvement #MeToo peut mobiliser les communautés contre les institutions qui, selon elles, n’ont pas réussi à les protéger.
La Yoga Alliance – le plus grand organisme d’accréditation à but non lucratif en dehors de l’Inde – s’est battue pendant des décennies pour résoudre les scandales industriels. Alors qu’une autre série de révélations d’abus atteignait son apogée en janvier 2018, Shannon Roche, alors directeur des opérations, a fait des aveux collectifs dans un message vidéo diffusé à plus de 100 000 membres, dont Reddy.
“Il y a un modèle profondément troublant d’inconduite sexuelle au sein de notre communauté”, a déclaré Roche, “un modèle qui touche presque toutes les traditions du yoga moderne. Chaque être humain mérite de pratiquer le yoga sans être victime d’abus, de harcèlement et de manipulation. En l’honneur de ceux qui ont pris la parole, et en l’honneur de ceux qui ont été trop blessés pour parler, nous devons commencer quelque part, et nous devons commencer maintenant”.
“Presque toutes les traditions” n’est pas une exagération. À ce jour, trois des écoles de yoga mondiales inspirées par la mission de Swami Sivananda dans les années 1930 (l’une d’entre elles étant le yoga Sivananda) sont maintenant connues ou supposées avoir été dirigées par des prédateurs sexuels. Seize femmes ont décrit Pattabhi Jois, le défunt fondateur du Ashtanga yoga, les agressant ou les violant numériquement sous le couvert d'”ajustements”. Le monde international Iyengar lutte pour dépouiller un enseignant de haut niveau, Manouso Manos, de son capital social tenace, après qu’une enquête interne ait révélé une histoire d’agression de plusieurs décennies. Bikram Choudhury, fondateur du yoga chaud, a été accusé de viol et d’agression sexuelle par plusieurs femmes. En janvier, Pamela Dyson, ancienne secrétaire de feu Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, connu sous le nom de “Yogi Bhajan” et fondateur du Kundalini yoga, a publié ses mémoires. Il s’ouvre sur sa description d’une hémorragie presque complète dans un avion, assise à côté de Khalsa, causée par l’avortement qu’elle avait subi quelques mois auparavant en Inde. Khalsa était le père. Elle se réveille dans un hôpital londonien en se demandant si elle doit prendre le risque de parler de l’avortement au personnel, sachant que cela exposerait Khalsa comme une fraude. Il se retourne vers elle et lui dit de prier.
Pour le premier reportage de GEN, j’ai interviewé Salter et deux autres femmes sur leur expérience avec le supposé célibataire Vishnudevananda – né Kuttan Nair – qui a été salué pendant des décennies comme l’une des lumières du boom mondial du yoga. Pamela Kyssa a décrit Nair en train de la violer, et Lucille Campbell a décrit Nair en train de l’abuser sexuellement, en étant témoin d’un cas d’abus sexuel contre une autre, et en entendant d’autres étudiants parler de leurs expériences d’abus. Parmi les autres personnes interrogées figurent deux femmes qui ont accusé Reddy, l’un des principaux protégés de Nair, de harcèlement et d’abus sexuels lors d’incidents remontant à 2011. Selon une déclaration par courriel du porte-parole de Sivananda Yoga, Jonathan Goldbloom, Reddy a “nié avec véhémence” ces histoires. Depuis la publication, deux autres femmes ont apporté des témoignages d’abus sexuels de la part de Reddy.
Lydia Coquet, 46 ans, décrit Reddy qui l’a abusée sexuellement en 2000 dans l’ashram du sud de l’Inde où il dirigeait une formation d’enseignant. Dans une interview, Coquet a déclaré que Reddy flattait ses postures de yoga et son corps, disant que son teint olive et ses cheveux foncés lui donnaient l’air d’une “belle Indienne”. Mais pendant qu’elle s’occupait de sa fille dans le cadre de ses tâches non rémunérées à l’ashram, il lui ordonnait de se rendre dans sa chambre la nuit. Elle se souvient d’avoir été embrassée et touchée. “Nous n’avons pas eu de rapports sexuels, mais nous étions assez proches”, dit-elle en se rappelant de nombreux cas. Coquet était confuse quant à l’éthique de cette pratique, quant à la règle selon laquelle les étudiants et le personnel devaient être célibataires à l’ashram, et quant au portrait du gourou de Nair, Swami Sivananda, accroché au-dessus du lit de Reddy. C’était encore plus confus, dit-elle, car Reddy était en position de leader, et son personnel indien louait tous sa vertu. Elle ne savait pas que Reddy était encore marié. Coquet avait peur qu’il la renvoie de son poste si elle n’obéissait pas. Elle est revenue nuit après nuit, comme il l’avait demandé. Cela réduisait son sommeil à quelques heures par nuit, ce qui rendait ses tâches quotidiennes difficiles. Elle avait peur de parler à quelqu’un de ce qui se passait.
“Je me suis évanouie ou quelque chose comme ça pendant le cours d’asanas”, dit-elle, se rappelant sa fatigue larmoyante pendant qu’elle pratiquait le yoga sous la direction de Reddy. “Je me suis levée du sol et il est venu à moi… ‘Tu es juste trop faible, trop émotive'”, se souvient-elle. Après cela, dit Coquet, Reddy l’a ignorée. Par courriel, Goldbloom a écrit que l’organisation n’avait pas encore entendu cette allégation. “Nous encourageons la plaignante à porter cette affaire à l’attention de Mme Plamondon”, écrit-il, en nommant l’enquêteur indépendant nommé par Sivananda yoga.
Un deuxième témoignage contre Reddy provient d’une femme qui était mineure au moment des incidents. Certains détails de son expérience ont été publiés pour la première fois dans Le Devoir de Montréal le 26 février, sous le pseudonyme de “Nadine”, que j’utiliserai également ici, car elle souhaite protéger sa vie privée et celle de sa famille. Nadine décrit Reddy qui l’a agressée et harcelée sexuellement dans les années 1990, alors qu’elle avait entre 12 et 17 ans. Lors d’entretiens menés en janvier et février, Nadine et ses parents m’ont dit que deux membres actuels du conseil d’administration de Sivananda avaient été informés de l’histoire de l’agression il y a près de 20 ans. L’un d’entre eux, Mark Ashley, faisait encore partie du conseil d’administration de Sivananda lorsque Reddy a été promu au conseil en 2016 et il y siège toujours aujourd’hui. Il n’a pas répondu à une demande directe de commentaires par e-mail, ni à une demande faite au conseil d’administration.
Reddy est actuellement en Inde, où Sivananda entretient plusieurs ashrams. Après que j’ai demandé à Reddy et au conseil d’administration de commenter les histoires de Coquet et Nadine, le conseil a publié une déclaration sur Facebook indiquant que Reddy faisait l’objet d’une enquête interne. Une déclaration ultérieure a indiqué qu’il avait été relevé de ses fonctions de direction et d’enseignement. Une déclaration de Goldbloom a confirmé que Reddy faisait l’objet d’une enquête, et a ajouté qu'”il est inapproprié pour la direction de l’ISYVC [International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres] de faire des commentaires alors que ce processus est en cours”.
Selon une journaliste de We the Women, un organe d’information féministe d’Asie du Sud, Reddy a brusquement annulé un événement public prévu pour le 16 février au Centre Sivananda de Delhi. La journaliste avait prévu de lui demander de commenter devant la caméra les témoignages publiés dans GEN, ainsi que ses propres recherches. Un membre du personnel de la réception a confirmé l’annulation et a déclaré que Reddy était en route pour Chennai. Reddy n’a pas répondu à cinq demandes de commentaires.
Au sein de Sivananda, Reddy est connu comme un bourreau de travail pour l’héritage de Nair et un canalisateur charismatique de sa volonté posthume. Il est considéré comme une bénédiction d’étudier avec lui ou de participer aux programmes de formation lucratifs qu’il dirige. Sur le circuit des ashrams de Sivananda, Reddy porte le nom spirituel de “Prahlāda” – un prince de la mythologie indienne qui survit aux nombreuses tentatives de suicide de son père maniaque et qui grandit pour devenir le souverain vertueux et populaire du royaume.
La partie prince correspond : Les anciens membres décrivent Reddy comme une personne éternellement jeune et énergique, mais aussi, tour à tour, accessible et distante, enjouée et impérieuse. Mais il n’est pas la figure de proue iconique qu’était son mentor Nair. Pour le monde extérieur, il est une ardoise vierge. Son inscription sur le registre international de la Yoga Alliance est vide et, contrairement à presque tous les professionnels du yoga de son statut et de son influence, il n’a aucune présence dans les médias sociaux. Il a tenu une maison à Toronto et a enseigné le yoga au centre Sivananda de Toronto pendant des décennies, et pourtant il est pratiquement inconnu dans le milieu du yoga de la ville. Alors que Nair a passé sa carrière à faire passer son message messianique et à renforcer son image publique par des événements de célébrités et des cascades publicitaires, Reddy a réussi à se tenir derrière les rideaux et à tirer les leviers. Un initié, qui n’a pas souhaité être nommé, l’a qualifié de “brillant administrateur… l’un des meilleurs que j’ai rencontrés dans ma carrière”.
Les nouveaux récits d’abus, ajoutés à ceux qui ont été signalés précédemment, indiquent que Nair a laissé à Reddy et à ses collègues plus qu’une simple licence pour imprimer de l’argent pour le yoga. Nair a également laissé, semble-t-il, la possibilité d’une prédation normalisée, d’une dissimulation et d’une hypocrisie spirituelle. Des entretiens suggèrent que deux membres du conseil d’administration ont pu être au courant du témoignage de Nadine contre Reddy au début des années 2000, et ne l’ont pas expulsé de l’organisation. Une autre interview suggère qu’en 2006, Reddy a à son tour couvert l’un de ces mêmes membres du conseil d’administration lorsqu’il a été accusé d’agression sexuelle. Si l’on additionne tout cela, les abus dans le yoga Sivananda semblent systémiques, intergénérationnels et organisés. Ils ont déchiré le tissu de la communauté ayant contribué à construire sa vision utopique, et ont laissé certains adeptes de longue date dans l’ignorance.
Lara Marjerrison est une étudiante Sivananda depuis près de deux décennies. Les ashrams, explique-t-elle, lui ont toujours servi de refuge contre les abus qu’elle a subis et de refuge pour son jeune fils. “Ma toute première réaction a été de ne rien ressentir”, m’a dit Marjerrison au téléphone depuis Toronto lorsqu’on lui a demandé comment elle se sentait en entendant les rapports sur Reddy. “C’est ce que j’ai fait quand j’étais enfant et que j’étais en danger – c’est-à-dire ne rien ressentir, ne rien dire – parce que les conséquences de dire quelque chose étaient si terrifiantes à l’époque”.
Marjerrison a commencé à amener son fils au siège mondial de Sivananda à Val Morin, au nord-ouest de Montréal, à l’âge de huit ans. Elle est l’un des nombreux membres de la communauté à qui j’ai parlé et qui ressentent le choc se transformer en rage. Lorsqu’on lui a demandé ce qu’elle ressentait pour Reddy, elle s’est adressée directement à lui. “Tu m’as trahie”, a-t-elle dit. “Tu as menti. Tu as causé du tort à des personnes innocentes. Comment ai-je pu te faire confiance ? Je t’ai fait confiance avec mon enfant. Je croyais que cet endroit était le plus sûr au monde. Il était à l’abri de toutes ces choses dont j’ai passé ma vie à essayer de m’éloigner.”
Cherchant à panser les plaies, les dirigeants de Sivananda ont lancé leur enquête indépendante le 21 janvier, en engageant Marianne Plamondon du cabinet d’avocats Langlois à Montréal. Son mandat initial était d’enquêter sur les comptes de Salter, Kyssa et Campbell. Par courriel, Marianne Plamondon a déclaré qu’elle ne pouvait pas commenter l’enquête. Le 11 février, Salter et Kyssa ont reçu un courriel de Plamondon déclarant que “le premier objectif de ce processus est de rechercher la vérité, de déterminer si Swami Vishnudevananda a commis les actes allégués”. Le courriel présumait que les femmes voudraient la rencontrer. Par courrier électronique, Salter, Kyssa et Campbell ont toutes déclaré qu’elles refuseraient de rencontrer Plamondon. Mais elles continuent à se parler entre elles et avec d’anciens membres de Sivananda.
Elles parleront aussi, disent-elles, au projet SATYA. Au cours de ses trois premières semaines, la campagne GoFundMe pour le soutenir a permis de récolter près de 11 000 dollars sur les 20 000 dollars prévus, et de nombreux dons ont été faits à la manière de Bernie Sander, par tranches de 25 dollars ou moins. La copie de la collecte de fonds affirme que les cadres de Sivananda étaient conscients des abus pendant des années et n’ont pas agi et que le champ d’application de Plamondon n’aborde pas les questions de “complicité potentielle” des membres de l’exécutif. Par courriel, Mme Salter a fait part de son espoir que le projet “contribue à une plus grande clarté, à la vérité – et à la guérison pour tous – dans un contenant vraiment sûr”.
Après que Julie Salter ait publié son témoignage en décembre 2019, elle a demandé l’aide d’anciens amis et de personnes de confiance. L’un d’eux était Danny Kastner, qui, en tant qu’avocat de première année, a représenté sa demande d’indemnisation après qu’elle ait quitté le groupe dans la pauvreté et la mauvaise santé. Kastner a assuré Salter de son soutien pour l’avenir. Lorsque je l’ai contacté plus tard pour vérifier les détails de son travail juridique pour Salter, il m’a dit qu’il avait grandi dans le yoga Sivananda, qu’il s’était éloigné du groupe lorsqu’il était jeune adulte, et a suggéré que l’histoire de Salter n’était que la partie émergée d’un iceberg.
Après notre échange, Kastner a appelé Nadine, une de ses meilleures amies des étés qu’il a passés dans le camp pour enfants du groupe à Val Morin, à 60 miles au nord-ouest de Montréal. Il avait été témoin de son histoire depuis qu’ils étaient adolescents, un quart de siècle auparavant. Il lui a parlé de mon enquête et lui a donné mes coordonnées. L’une des premières choses que Nadine a dites lorsque je lui ai parlé au téléphone à la mi-janvier a été qu’elle était choquée d’apprendre que Reddy abusait d’autres personnes, sans parler de ce qui s’est passé récemment. Elle avait toujours pensé qu’elle était la seule, et que c’était de l’histoire ancienne.
Aujourd’hui âgée de 39 ans, Nadine avait huit ans en juillet 1989, l’été où ses parents l’ont amenée pour la première fois au camp pour enfants. Maman et papa s’intéressaient au végétarisme, au yoga et à la méditation, et cela semblait être une escapade familiale saine. En tant qu’instituteurs, ils étaient recrutés pour s’occuper des enfants et superviser les activités. Les enfants du camp étaient une bande internationale – d’Israël, de Russie, de Hongrie – et leur camaraderie naturelle semblait refléter le message universaliste du yoga de Nair. Ils dormaient à environ 12 sous une tente, séparés par sexe et groupés par âge. Ils faisaient du canoë et se promenaient dans les forêts. Mais ils suivaient également un horaire discipliné qui reflétait le programme adulte de séances quotidiennes de yoga et de méditation. Nadine se souvient que le premier juillet et les cinq qui ont suivi ont été les moments forts de son année, chaque année.
Nadine raconte que lorsqu’elle a eu 12 ans, le simple plaisir du Kid’s Camp a commencé à être éclipsé par des rencontres de plus en plus confuses avec Reddy, un membre éminent du personnel de 26 ans à l’époque. Au mois d’août, sa famille restait à l’ashram pour terminer ses tâches. Nadine, l’une des seules enfants à rester, a été affectée au bureau de Reddy.
“Je ne me souviens pas comment cela a commencé”, dit Nadine. Elle a décrit qu’à un moment donné, il est devenu courant pour Reddy de demander à la masser, et elle s’y pliait. “Je me souviens que cela semblait normal. Ça ne semblait pas bizarre.” Nadine a expliqué qu’il y avait une culture du toucher et du massage innocent chez les adolescents et pré-adolescents de l’ashram. Pendant un certain temps, dit-elle, le comportement de Reddy semblait s’inscrire dans ce spectre. Mais elle se souvient aussi d’un sentiment de malaise quand ils étaient seuls et de l’étrange sensation qu’il lui touchait les fesses. “J’avais l’impression que j’étais censée l’accepter”, dit Nadine. “Mais je n’aimais pas ça.”
Nadine se souvient également que les conversations inappropriées à son âge sont devenues monnaie courante. Reddy faisait l’éloge de son corps, disait Nadine, et lui racontait les choses qu’il avait faites avec d’autres femmes. Il la complimentait pour son travail acharné, la comparant favorablement à d’autres filles, qu’il rabaissait. Tout cela était très inconfortable, a dit Nadine. “Mais j’ai aussi ressenti un sentiment d’importance. J’ai eu l’impression que s’il partageait tout avec moi, c’est que je devais être très mature”, a-t-elle poursuivi. À l’époque, Nadine a déclaré que Reddy était “extrêmement populaire”. Il est très charismatique. Alors tous les enfants – ils voulaient être proches de lui”.
Nadine a déclaré que l’audace de Reddy s’est accrue avec le temps. Il a intensifié les insinuations. Il l’a emmenée faire des courses dans la voiture et a grossièrement comparé son corps à celui d’autres filles. Pendant qu’elle travaillait – à nettoyer ou à peindre le temple – il passait devant elle et lui touchait les seins avec désinvolture. Bizarrement, il a également commencé à la dégrader verbalement, en disant des choses qui la rendaient confuse, laide et honteuse de son corps. “C’est ridicule qu’à 15 ans, je n’aie pas compris que ce qu’il faisait était si horrible”, a déclaré Nadine.
Un jour, alors qu’elle était chez lui, Nadine a dit que Reddy l’avait allongée pour qu’il puisse la masser, et qu’il avait ensuite défait son soutien-gorge. La femme de Reddy – dont Nadine était proche – est rentrée à l’improviste, et il s’est levé d’un bond de sa posture assise sur Nadine, et a disparu dans la salle de bain. “J’ai vraiment eu peur”, dit Nadine, se rappelant que c’est à ce moment que tout est devenu clair. “J’avais l’impression de faire quelque chose de mal. Comme si j’avais été complice de choses qui n’allaient pas”. La femme de Reddy n’a pas répondu à une demande de commentaires par courriel.
L’été suivant, Nadine raconte qu’après avoir vu Reddy s’intéresser à une fille plus jeune, elle a raconté son histoire à ses amis. Danny Kastner était parmi eux. Quelques temps plus tard, Nadine dit que Mark Ashley, un administrateur de Sivananda, lui a téléphoné pour discuter de ce qu’il avait entendu. Sa fille faisait partie du groupe de Nadine. Ashley a dit à Nadine qu’elle devait parler à l’avocat de Sivananda. “J’étais en colère contre lui”, m’a dit Nadine. “Je me souviens qu’il m’a dit que j’étais très en colère et que je ne devrais pas l’être. Pourquoi étais-je si en colère ?”
“C’était horrible. Je me souviens de ne pas me sentir en sécurité, de ne pas me sentir bien”, a déclaré Nadine. “Je me souviens lui avoir dit que Prahlad ne devrait pas être là.”
La dernière fois que Reddy a agressé Nadine, c’était quand elle avait 17 ans. Lors d’une visite à Toronto pendant quelques semaines cet été-là, Reddy et sa femme ont invité Nadine à rester avec eux dans leurs quartiers au centre Sivananda. Pendant son séjour, Nadine a aidé à s’occuper de leur jeune fille. Son comportement envers elle n’avait pas changé, dit-elle. Il essayait de lui peloter les seins pendant qu’elle travaillait à l’ordinateur, mais elle devenait de plus en plus critique. Un jour, elle s’est réveillée d’une sieste avec lui couché directement sur elle. “Cela a sonné le glas”, a-t-elle dit. Elle s’est levée et a appelé Kastner pour lui demander de venir la chercher.
Kastner se souvient d’être venu chercher Nadine ce jour-là. “J’étais furieuse de ce qui lui était arrivé”, a écrit Kastner dans un e-mail. “Je suis seulement devenu plus furieux au fil des ans en voyant le refus de l’organisation de prendre ses responsabilités.”
Des années ont passé. Nadine est devenue mère. La propre mère de Nadine continuait à faire du bénévolat pour Sivananda de temps en temps. A la demande de Reddy, elle se rendit dans l’un des ashrams en Inde pour aider à la formation. Mais à son retour, Nadine ne pouvait plus garder le silence.
“Prahlad avait brisé notre confiance”, a déclaré la mère de Nadine dans une interview, se rappelant ses sentiments lorsque Nadine lui a raconté l’histoire pour la première fois. “Je ne pouvais pas croire qu’il avait continué à abuser de ma fille chaque été.” Elle a pris grand soin de ne pas faire honte à Nadine. “Je lui ai toujours dit qu’elle n’était pas responsable de ce qui s’est passé”, a-t-elle déclaré. “Je me suis sentie très mal. Pour elle et pour nous.”
Dans une interview, le père de Nadine m’a dit qu’après avoir entendu son histoire, il a conduit de Montréal à Val Morin pour s’adresser aux dirigeants. J’ai réalisé qu’il était malade”, a-t-il dit, se souvenant de sa confrontation avec Reddy, “parce qu’il avait dit “Oui, c’est arrivé il y a longtemps”. Nous étions tous les deux jeunes”.
Nadine se souvient avoir reçu une lettre d’excuses manuscrite de Reddy. Quand la lettre est arrivée, toute la famille l’a lue. Nadine se souvient que Reddy a suggéré que les abus “étaient réciproques, comme si nous étions jeunes et que nous avions fait des choses stupides que nous regrettons”. Je me souviens que cela m’a bouleversée et que j’ai eu l’impression d’en être complice et que c’était quelque chose dont il fallait avoir honte”. Dégoûtée, elle a jeté la lettre.
Lors du même voyage au cours duquel il a affronté Reddy, le père de Nadine dit avoir également parlé avec Maurizio Finocchi, connu à l’époque au sein de l’organisation sous le nom de Swami Mahadevananda. Finocchi était le supérieur de Reddy et était largement reconnu comme l’héritier spirituel de Nair. Il avait un siège au conseil d’administration à l’époque. Le père de Nadine se souvient que Finocchi écoutait avec gentillesse et inquiétude, et qu’il avait indiqué que l’organisation allait se pencher sur la question. Il a quitté Finocchi avec l’espoir que quelque chose serait fait, mais il n’y a pas eu de suivi.
Un récent post sur Facebook de l’ancien assistant de Finocchi suggère que si Finocchi a négligé de tenir Reddy pour responsable, Reddy a plus tard retourné la faveur. Le 14 février, Wendy Freeman a posté qu’en 2006, Finocchi s’était exposé à elle alors qu’elle lui servait le petit déjeuner dans ses quartiers à Val Morin. “Quand je me suis approchée de son lit avec le plateau de nourriture, il m’a tenu le bras et a retourné le drap”, a-t-elle écrit dans le post. “Il était nu jusqu’à la taille, se masturbant. Il a éjaculé sur mon bras.” Lorsqu’elle a rapporté l’incident à Reddy, elle a dit qu’il “m’a demandé de me taire, m’informant que le conseil d’administration de l’ISYVC était au courant d’un “problème” en cours avec Finocchi, qu’ils “traitaient” apparemment d’une certaine manière”.
J’ai interviewé Freeman, qui était connue sous le nom de “Veena” lorsqu’elle était dans l’organisation. “J’ai failli vomir”, a-t-elle dit en se souvenant de l’agression. “Je me suis éloignée, j’ai posé le plateau sur le lit, je suis allée dans sa salle de bain. Je n’oublierai jamais : il est entré dans la salle de bain pour se nettoyer, et nous nous sommes tenus côte à côte devant le lavabo, en nous regardant dans le miroir. C’est l’un des points bas de ma vie”.
Par courriel, le porte-parole de Sivananda, Jonathan Goldbloom, a fait la lumière sur la façon dont les membres du conseil d’administration ont traité avec Finocchi et sur le temps que cela a pris. “Lanny Alexander a été nommée par l’EBM en mai 2013”, a écrit Goldbloom, “pour examiner les allégations concernant Swami Mahadevananda, alors membre du conseil d’administration. Suite à la réception du rapport de Lanny, Swami Mahadevananda a démissionné de l’organisation en juin 2013”. Alexander a été identifiée dans mon précédent article sur GEN comme une avocat new-yorkaise et une étudiante de Sivananda qui a fait du travail juridique pour l’organisation. Elle n’a pas répondu à une demande de commentaires sur cette histoire.
Dans l’édition de l’été 2013 de Yoga Life, le magazine interne de l’organisation, une notice des rédacteurs indique que Finocchi prend sa retraite “afin de passer à une vie contemplative en isolement en Inde”. L’avis disait que le conseil d’administration le remerciait pour son “service dévoué et inspirant”.
Par courrier électronique, Goldbloom s’est montré provocateur. “Malgré les préjugés véhiculés par tout ce que vous avez écrit jusqu’à présent sur l’organisation, la politique de harcèlement sexuel et psychologique de l’organisation fonctionne et personne n’est au-dessus : Les allégations ont fait l’objet d’une enquête et les conséquences ont été conformes à la politique, qui a été appliquée à cet important membre de l’EBM comme elle l’aurait été à n’importe qui d’autre dans l’organisation”, a-t-il écrit. (L’acronyme de Goldbloom fait référence à l’exécutif de Sivananda).
Mais les courriels que j’ai obtenus montrent qu’une plainte similaire d’attentat à la pudeur et de masturbation publique a été déposée contre Finocchi en 2001, 12 ans avant sa démission, et envoyée à un administrateur de l’ashram Sivananda à Trivandrum, dans le sud de l’Inde. Et dans un courriel de 2006, Finocchi, qui dirigeait alors les opérations de Sivananda en Inde, a apparemment découragé la publication d’une nouvelle politique de harcèlement sexuel générée au sein de l’organisation. “Swamiiji ne pense pas que cette politique doit être affichée”, a écrit sa secrétaire. “Nous pouvons l’utiliser dans des situations difficiles, mais nous n’avons pas besoin d’aller vers cette pensée de type commercial. J’ai tenté à plusieurs reprises de joindre Finocchi, aujourd’hui âgé de 81 ans, par courrier électronique et par téléphone, mais sans succès.
Presque tous les grands groupes de yoga, aujourd’hui empêtrés dans des crises d’abus, proposent des formations dans des écoles accréditées par la Yoga Alliance. Reddy est membre de la Yoga Alliance, et Sivananda yoga a accrédité 89 programmes de formation distincts par l’intermédiaire de l’association à but non lucratif. Les listes de Yoga Alliance pour ces écoles ne mentionnent pas les noms des membres du corps enseignant. Cela signifie que, jusqu’à la date où le directeur l’a mis sur la touche le mois dernier, un membre du public aurait pu demander à suivre une formation sans savoir que Reddy la dirigerait.
Dans une interview, Shannon Roche, PDG de Yoga Alliance, a déclaré que ce manque d’information serait bientôt comblé. Elle a également déclaré que des allégations publiques et corroborées concernant un membre de la Yoga Alliance pourraient déclencher une enquête, même si les survivants n’étaient pas membres de la Yoga Alliance. Cela dépendrait toutefois des souhaits du survivant. “Je ne veux pas faire de mal à quelqu’un en essayant de faire quelque chose de bien”, a déclaré Mme Roche. Elle a ajouté qu’en vertu des directives publiées fin février, il pourrait être possible de sanctionner une école entière si sa direction est compromise.
Jusqu’à présent, l’histoire de Sivananda éclaire ce que la psychologue Jennifer Freyd appelle la “trahison institutionnelle”, dans laquelle les effets de la violence interpersonnelle peuvent être aggravés par l’organisation qui la rend possible.
La question qui reste posée est celle de l’octroi de licences par le gouvernement. Yoga Alliance peut expulser les membres qui enfreignent son code de conduite. Mais dans ce secteur non réglementé, personne ne peut empêcher un professeur sanctionné de monter sa boutique de yoga avec ou sans l’approbation de l’Alliance. L’association à but non lucratif dirigée par les États-Unis défend depuis longtemps la cause de la méfiance de ses membres à l’égard du gouvernement. “Je ne crois pas que le gouvernement ait un rôle à jouer dans les pratiques spirituelles”, a déclaré Mme Roche, résumant la position ferme de son organisation en faveur de la séparation de l’Église et de l’État.
Lorsqu’on lui demande si le fait de ne pas être protégée contre un agresseur connu pourrait perturber la pratique spirituelle plus que la réglementation ne pourrait jamais le faire, Roche adopte une ligne de conduite prudente. “Ce dont nous avons besoin”, dit-elle, en citant l’éducation et l’autonomisation des communautés, “c’est d’une boîte à outils complète avec la bonne combinaison d’outils”.
Jusqu’à présent, l’histoire de Sivananda éclaire ce que la psychologue Jennifer Freyd appelle la “trahison institutionnelle”, dans laquelle les effets des abus interpersonnels peuvent être aggravés par l’organisation qui les rend possibles et compliqués davantage lorsque l’organisation elle-même tente d’enquêter ou d’atténuer les dommages. Le problème de la trahison institutionnelle, a déclaré Jennifer Freyd à la radio publique du Connecticut dans une interview sur les abus systémiques envers les enfants dans l’Église catholique, “n’est pas seulement que les institutions individuelles ne parviennent pas à prévenir les abus, mais quand elles réagissent mal, cela s’accompagne d’une souffrance physique et mentale accrue pour les survivants”.
Freyd fait également des recherches sur les caractéristiques de ce qu’elle appelle le “courage institutionnel”. Elle recommande aux organisations qui souhaitent sincèrement se réformer de se conformer d’abord aux lois pénales et aux codes des droits civils. Les dirigeants devraient “chérir” les dénonciateurs, mener des enquêtes anonymes, s’informer et informer leur personnel sur la violence et les traumatismes, et témoigner de toutes les révélations avec sensibilité.
Jusqu’à présent, l’activisme en ligne en faveur de Salter et des autres femmes suggère que si Sivananda yoga, l’organisation, n’est pas à la hauteur du défi lancé par Freyd, Sivananda yoga en tant que communauté pourrait l’être.
Les alliés de Salter et la liste croissante de femmes qui se sont manifestées se sont connectés par le biais d’un groupe Facebook dissident comptant 2 000 membres et toujours en croissance. (Par comparaison, le yoga Sivananda touche 300 000 personnes par an par le biais de 11 ashrams situés dans huit pays différents, 31 centres dans 18 pays et 40 centres affiliés dans 26 pays”, selon un courriel envoyé par le porte-parole de Sivananda. Le siège de Sivananda à Val Morin recense 8 millions de dollars d’actifs pour 2017). Les dissidents exigent que les membres du conseil d’administration démissionnent et que les responsables du programme cessent de vénérer Nair. Ils font pression sur les célébrités du yoga pour qu’elles boycottent les centres de retraite de Sivananda et reconnaissent les abus. Ils forment des équipes en ligne pour afficher des avertissements de sécurité sur Tripadvisor et d’autres sites d’information pour les consommateurs, et se penchent sur les déclarations d’impôts de Sivananda, à la recherche d’irrégularités.
La réponse la plus sophistiquée des dissidents a cependant été le projet SATYA, formé en réponse aux soupçons que le mandat de Plamondon pourrait ne pas enquêter complètement sur la vérité, pourrait retraumatiser les participants, ou les deux. Ils ont fait appel à l’avocate à la retraite Carol Merchasin pour diriger l’opération. Merchasin devient rapidement connue pour son travail dans l’industrie de la spiritualité, principalement le Buddhist Project Sunshine, un rapport mené par des survivants sur des générations d’abus au sein de l’organisation bouddhiste internationale Shambhala. Cet effort a fait imploser la fière institution d’autrefois et a conduit à la démission de la célébrité spirituelle Pema Chödrön de la direction du groupe.
Par courrier électronique, Kastner a sympathisé avec la campagne de SATYA, qui prévoit de publier ses conclusions en août. Le cabinet torontois de Kastner est souvent engagé pour des enquêtes sur le lieu de travail, mais il n’est actuellement engagé dans aucune affaire ni partie concernant cette histoire. Il a expliqué comment de telles enquêtes peuvent être entachées de motivations mal alignées. “Lorsqu’une organisation refuse pendant des décennies de prendre au sérieux les allégations d’abus, la confiance de la communauté est brisée”, a-t-il estimé. “Il ne devrait donc pas être surprenant que les plaignants d’abus refusent de participer à une enquête contrôlée et payée par l’organisation”.
Mais Kastner a également exprimé son inquiétude quant au fait que des survivants de Sivananda aient choisi de parler à SATYA plutôt qu’à Plamondon, l’enquêtrice nommée par Sivananda. Si les accusateurs de Reddy ne s’assoient pas avec Plamondon, Kastner s’est inquiété : “L’organisation a le droit de dire Nous avons enquêté, aucune preuve n’a été trouvée – puisque personne ne s’est manifesté – et donc aucune action n’est requise.” Lorsqu’on lui a demandé s’il parlerait lui-même à Plamondon pour corroborer l’histoire de Nadine, il a répondu qu’il le ferait “absolument”.
En réponse aux demandes des dissidents, les centres Sivananda de Paris, Orléans et Munich ont tous décroché les grands portraits dévotionnels de Nair. Quelques intervenants de longue date des ashrams Sivananda ont annoncé l’annulation de leurs programmes en solidarité avec les survivants d’abus. Anneke Lucas, la première femme à publier son expérience directe de l’agression sexuelle d’étudiants par le fondateur de l’Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois, doit faire une présentation à l’ashram des Bahamas en juillet. Lucas, la fondatrice du groupe de soutien de yoga #MeToo sur Facebook, conditionne son contrat à l’utilisation de son temps d’enseignement à l’ashram pour aborder directement les abus et leurs implications en tant que survivante de traumatismes et avocate. Pendant ce temps, les administrateurs des ressources en ligne de Sivananda semblent avoir mis en place un pare-feu contre les critiques, bloquant les commentaires et interdisant les utilisateurs qui publient l’article de GEN ou qui posent simplement des questions. Le 29 février, des adeptes du yoga Sivananda ont créé un groupe Facebook pro-Reddy et Nair.
La déclaration officielle du porte-parole de Sivananda, M. Goldbloom, a toutefois concédé le stress causé par les allégations et a cherché à réaffirmer les valeurs de l’organisation, “qui consistent à promouvoir la santé, le bien-être, la guérison à tous les niveaux, la paix, la joie et la réalisation spirituelle”, a-t-il écrit. “Nous avons l’intention de continuer à offrir des formations et des symposiums sur la sensibilisation aux traumatismes, la santé et la guérison, la paix et la spiritualité, et de promouvoir ces valeurs par le biais de nos programmes, de nos publications et de tous les autres canaux”.
Au-delà des escarmouches, l’activisme semble aider de nombreux anciens membres à révolutionner leur compréhension de la communauté spirituelle et de l’intégrité. Les dissidents revendiquent le centre moral de leur ancienne église et remettent en question l’allergie de l’industrie du yoga au sens large à une réglementation et une responsabilité plus strictes. Au fur et à mesure de son développement, l’histoire s’inscrit également dans une expérience plus large visant à déterminer si le mouvement #MeToo peut aller au-delà de la dénonciation des auteurs d’abus et exiger des institutions qui les ont aidés qu’elles rendent justice.
“Pouvoir en parler nous a permis de faire quelque chose comme un énorme débriefing collectif”, a déclaré Jens Augspurger, l’un des modérateurs du groupe dissident. Augspurger est un chercheur doctoral en études du yoga. “C’est comme si nous sortions de cette performance bizarre. Tout au long de la pièce, vous n’aviez pas le droit d’en parler. Vous deviez vous taire. Vous étiez le public, mais vous en faisiez aussi partie d’une certaine manière. Et maintenant, nous sortons enfin, et nous pouvons parler aux personnes qui se sont assises à gauche et à droite de nous. Et maintenant nous réalisons : “Ok, il y a des trucs bizarres qui se passent.”
La mère de Nadine a maintenu sa relation avec Sivananda, continuant à suivre des programmes et à enseigner occasionnellement. Pour elle, c’est en partie un acte de vigilance morale. Elle voit encore Reddy de temps en temps. “C’est un rappel”, m’a-t-elle dit, en décrivant son attitude à son égard. “Chaque fois que vous me verrez, vous vous souviendrez que je suis la mère de Nadine et de ce que vous avez fait.”
“Je ne sais pas si une quelconque punition les fera réfléchir à ces choses”, m’a dit le père de Nadine lorsqu’on lui a demandé ce qu’il pensait de tout cela rétrospectivement. “Je pense que tout le monde était très naïf. Je l’étais certainement parce que je n’ai jamais pensé que cela serait possible”.
“J’ai vraiment dû faire beaucoup de travail sur moi-même”, a déclaré Nadine, lorsqu’on lui a demandé quel impact son histoire avait eu sur elle. Elle est fière d’avoir fait quelque chose de sa vie, après une adolescence rebelle et d’être une mère célibataire. Son premier diplôme était en service social, où elle a appris à intervenir en faveur des victimes d’agressions sexuelles et à comprendre les blessures que cela fait.
“Dans mes études, je me suis reconnue et cela m’a aidée à normaliser ce que je ressentais”, m’a-t-elle dit.
L’amitié de Kastner a également été un roc pour elle, a déclaré Nadine. Quand, par désillusion, il a tourné le dos au yoga Sivananda, où lui aussi avait grandi, “il m’a rappelé la gravité de ce qui m’était arrivé”, a-t-elle dit. “Il me défendait dans ses principes.”
Lorsqu’on lui a demandé quel serait son résultat idéal en prenant la parole, Nadine a été franche à propos de Reddy. “Qu’il arrête d’abuser des femmes”, a-t-elle dit au téléphone. “Grâce au post et aux commentaires de Julie, j’ai découvert qu’il avait agressé d’autres femmes. Je pense que c’est un devoir et une obligation envers les autres femmes”.
Nadine a également réfléchi aux raisons pour lesquelles elle n’a pas porté plainte à l’époque. Elle voulait protéger la femme et l’enfant de Reddy, a-t-elle dit. L’envoyer en prison leur aurait brisé le cœur. Elle avait pensé que son appel téléphonique avec Ashley aurait arrêté Reddy, ou que quelque chose serait venu de la confrontation de son père avec Reddy et Finocchi à Val Morin.
Lara Marjerrison ne sait pas comment elle ou la communauté vont finalement traiter la nouvelle. “C’était toujours l’endroit où je savais que je pouvais retourner”, m’a-t-elle dit, se souvenant de la Sivananda qu’elle avait connue. “Je savais que les gens qui étaient là étaient magnifiques. Je savais que l’environnement naturel était serein.”
Elle aimait que son fils soit intrépide dans les prairies de Val Morin. Elle se rappelle combien il aimait Reddy. “Il courait partout et jouait avec d’autres enfants et il est revenu vers moi. J’étais allongée sous un pommier. Et il m’a dit : “Maman, cet endroit est incroyable. Je peux courir librement. Je peux être libre.”
Interrogée sur le projet SATYA, Marjerrison a indiqué son soutien. “Je crois que ce qu’ils font en vaut la peine”, a-t-elle écrit, en attendant de récupérer son fils à l’école. “Si ce n’est pas la communauté – qui d’autre ?”
Here’s a slightly edited and updated collection of some recent Facebook posts on the “But Kundalini Yoga Works!” meme that’s floating around in the wake of the KY/3HO abuse crisis, prompted by the publication of Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan, by Pamela Dyson.
My aim is to address a recognizable tension: the cognitive dissonance of trying to process the fact of Bhajan as an abuser against the deeply felt experience that his techniques were healing, or even life-saving. In the cult literature, these seemingly irreconcilable facts are described as, in some cases, deeply intertwined.
Maybe Kundalini Yoga Techniques Are a Form of Social Control
“A group or movement exhibiting great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it), designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.”
— West, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1986). “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers.” Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 119-120.
Maybe Kundalini Yoga Works through Trauma Responses
The second phase of a trauma response is dissociation: “detachment from an unbearable situation.” As previously described, in this state, both physiological states of hyperarousal and dissociation are activated: internal energy-consuming resources are simultaneously on full alert at the same time as the person is dissociating to try to shut down and conserve these resources. Imagine the toll on the body that this two-fold unresolvable process must take. Eventually, dissociation – freezing and giving up the failed effort to escape – comes to dominate. Along with giving up the struggle to fight against the group and the fear it has generated, the dissociated follower comes to accept the group as the safe haven and thus forms a trauma bond. This moment of submission, of giving up the struggle, can be experienced as a moment of great relief, and even happiness, or a spiritual awakening.
Maybe Kundalini Yoga Works Because It Carries the Domination Affect of Yogi Bhajan | a note on Gurmukh’s Abuse Crisis Statement
This thought began to form in response to reading Dyson’s book and some testimonies on the Premka page about how Bhajan dominated everyone’s lives through a grandiose ideology that required constant material attention: a thousand different tasks, rituals, protocols, attitudes, gestures.
“Dominated” is the key word here. “Dominated” in the sense that no one else had time or space to have their own life, their own reality, their own feelings. One of the hardest parts of Dyson’s book for me to read was where she quotes Bhajan repeatedly saying things like: “You must be like me,” followed by pages on pages of Dyson discovering that her own identity had been suppressed, supplanted, negated, and that she had to find it again.
Domination was the root of the religion. Daniel Shaw details the granular level of how this might work in his masterful work Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. His erudite psychoanalytic appraisal of the Bhajan-like figure — in his case Gurumayi of SYDA — shows a person who is terrified of anyone around them asserting their own agency, for then the world and and others in it would no longer be theirs to control. It would feel like a mortal threat.
Dominate in order to control, and do it completely, passionately, sleeplessly — or else you will die. I’m familiar with these themes from studying cult leaders.
But the possibility that they are baked into the very content and method of Kundalini yoga itself was made much more clear by Gurmukh’s post yesterday. Many have noted this quote in particular:
“Between the flu and the allegations, from the center of my being I choose Joy. This is sincerely all that I can do. I stand for Joy. My platform is Joy. Joy is the opposite of fear. Fear breeds more fear. Joy breeds more Joy. In my choice I choose to teach Kundalini Yoga throughout the world, God willing, until my last breath.”
Look past the white saviourism of the journey, the conflation of a virus for institutional abuse, the bypassing. The hidden-in-plain-sight message here is domination, albeit disguised in an emotive language of emotion that is coded maternal, receptive, and surrendering.
Come what may, this faithful practitioner will exert their will to Joy over all reality. No other emotion or perspective has the right to exist. With Joy she will cancel Bhajan’s critics. No one else — and obviously not survivors — will be referenced. Everything emanates from the centre of their being… and what emanates is Kundalini yoga (as taught by Yogi Bhajan), and she will colonize the world with it. This virus-infested, allegation-ridden world, teeming with orphans who will be Joyful when they are visited by the bearer of Joy.
So when I see people talk about how much Kundalini did for them — especially in totalistic terms: “It transformed my life” — I wonder about how much domination is wrapped up in that: domination of intuition, of one’s past, of trauma, of appropriately negative responses, of questions and doubts, of reasonable desires to wear jeans or drink wine. I wonder how much success in practice is generated by dominating the unwanted or disowned parts of oneself. And on the professional level: how much domination does it take to suppress bad news, to enforce cognitive dissonance, to make sure one’s buzz doesn’t dim and one’s brand isn’t tarnished, to be able to stare questions down from the mountaintop.
I don’t doubt that it helped many people. Pressure and encouragement can do that for a while. The question would be when and how helpfulness crosses that threshold into domination.
However Kundalini Yoga Works, It is Aided by “Bounded Choice” | Looking at Snatam Kaur’s Crisis Statement
Janja Lalich is a cult researcher whose work has been very important to my own healing. One of her most illuminating concepts is “bounded choice”, and it helps to explain just how difficult it is for a high-demand group or cult member to see their way clear of the insular ideology that has functioned to narrow their world.
Briefly put: “bounded choice” is the condition of having been trained to believe that everything that happens in the group, or that the leader does, or that is taught or produced by the group, is for some ultimate good. This means that everything becomes grist for the salvation mill. If the practitioner falls ill because of dietary restrictions, they’re being taught to detach from the body. If they are left impoverished, they are being taught about the maya of worldly wealth. If they are forbidden to marry, they are being taught the virtue of renunciation. If they are forced to have an abortion, they are being taught to give up on the wheel of life.
Bounded choice allows the leader and the group to continually move the goalposts so that the member is never able to convincingly say: “This is wrong. This doesn’t work.” It also does the crucial work of never allowing the group to be challenged by any external information.
The interpersonal examples above are fairly easy to spot when you get the hang of the idea. What harder is the subtler aspect of bounded choice, which is what is at play in Snatam Kaur’s invocation that all KY members should recommit themselves to chanting the mantras as they try to make sense of revelations of abuse in their group.
In Kaur’s view, the mantras are held up as all-good, all-saving, primordial, and sacred. It’s unthinkable that they were ever used to deceive, to baffle, to love-bomb, to dissociate, to hijack critical thinking in favour of bursts of serotonin. It’s inconceivable that they’ve ever been used to enforce a premature repair or forgiveness following abuse. And yet the cult research is filled with examples of techniques of hypnotic trance, contact high, pleasure/pain disruption, and nervous overwhelm that function to break down resistance and increase compliance.
Kaur’s statement can also be considered through Jennifer Freyd’s lens of institutional betrayal. One part of her theory says that when abuse victims are asked to appeal to the institution that enabled the abuse for relief, or to its content or methods, retraumatization can occur. A basic lesson is: don’t expect healing from the institution that traumatized you.
Here are some thought experiments that might help show that for some group members Kaur may be offering yet more bounded choice, even if she believes she’s offering relief. These are examples of bounded choice compounded by institutional betrayal. They also express a conflict of interest: the group continuing to promote itself as the solution to the problem it contains.
1. A man has just disclosed that a Catholic priest abused him when he was a child. The news shocks the parish. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone — including the man — bond and heal by going to church and reciting the rosary.
2. A woman has just disclosed that Harvey Weinstein raped her. The news shocks Hollywood. A well-meaning member suggests that community gather for a ceremonial showing of Shakespeare in Love.
3. A woman has just disclosed that Ashtanga yoga founder Pattabhi Jois regularly sexually assaulted her while in class. The news shocks the community. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone bond and heal by practicing the Primary Series.
4. A woman has just disclosed that Bikram Choudhury raped her. The news shocks the community. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone bond and heal by continuing to practice Choudhury’s 26 postures in 104 degree heat
5. A man has just disclosed a lifetime of institutional abuse within the Shambhala Buddhist community. The news is shocking. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone bond and heal by reaffirming their dedication to the Tantric kingdom of Shambhala.
Senior Students of Yogi Bhajan Give a Master Class on Abuse Minimization and Deflection, and Carrying On
Abuse crisis statements from senior teachers in yoga groups provide a rich vein of data for research. By laying bare the mechanisms by which a high-demand group and its beneficiaries protect themselves under stress, they also reveal the foundational tools upon which the group’s relationships are built.
These statements, delivered as sombre reaffirmations of faith, strip everything down to the bone and show what’s really operational: what got the group going, what kept it alive, what will persist —and perhaps glow brighter — through fire and famine. In times of uncertainty and stress, judges fall back on the law, lawmakers fall back on constitutional documents, and doctors fall back on basics like sanitation and hydration. High-demand group leaders have little to fall back on but habit, myth, and pious affect.
I’ve written about the formal rules of these statements here. I’ve also analyzed specific statements from Susan Piver and Judith Simmer-Brown of Shambhala International, and most recently from Reggie Ray of the now-defunct Dharma Ocean organization.
This one comes from Satya Kaur and Shiv Charan Singh of the Karam Kriya School in Portugal. They are responding to the publication of Pamela Dyson’s memoir, in which she describes 3HO founder Yogi Bhajan abusing her. They also hint that they are responding to ongoing revelations make in the Facebook group dedicated to her book.
Like anyone I can google Singh’s bio, but I don’t know anything about these teachers personally: their backgrounds, how they teach, how they’re regarded by their students. I’m also relatively uneducated in the byzantine details of the global “Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan” network, which consists of several intersecting institutions and multinational businesses — some of which, like Akal Security — are overwhelmingly wealthy and powerful. So I’ll limit my annotations of the transcript below to the structural elements that are clear to me as outside observer and high-demand group researcher. I’ll ask some questions that are often invisible to the indoctrinated.
The original video was posted to YouTube on February 28, 2020. I’m archiving it here for preservation, because these statements often deleted as the crisis deepens, and they come to be seen as additional evidence of institutional abuse.
What are the directors of the Karam Kriya School. I’m Satya Kaur and Shiv Charan Singh. The Karam Kriya School is one of the main teacher training schools in the world, training, Kundalini teachers at level one and two.
The opening positions the speakers as qualified representatives of the culture. However, it also identifies them as beneficiaries of the culture’s branding and teaching content. Everything that follows can therefore be considered through the framework of what they have to lose socially and financially in the current abuse crisis. This will not be mentioned.
So for this reason, a lot of people look up to us as to what we have to say. What is our opinion, what is our stance in relation to what’s going on in the Kundalini yoga world.
Note how the language shifts here. After claiming centrality as informants, they now have a separate “stance in relation to” the culture. They are both inside and outside.
And as many of you are watching this are aware of, there’s been some recent allegations as to what Yogi Bhajan did and how he conducted himself towards certain people when he was alive. Talking about some 40 30, 20 years ago.
“Allegations” is a dogwhistle term for “claims to be doubted or tested in court.” But what they are really referring to is Pamela Dyson’s comprehensive first-person account of sixteen years of Yogi Bhajan sexually, psychologically, and financially abusing her. Note that the content is not only detailed, but is immediately diminished by vague dating.
It’s not the first time there’s allegations of been made. They’ve just, everything has come up to the surface again.
Wait. What? This would be a good moment to explain what happened the last time(s). The speaker here is framing reports of institutional abuse as if it were periodic or cyclical bad weather, instead of the systematic suppression of voices and obscuration of patterns.
Because of the publication of a book of one of his early students called Premka Kaur. So we both had the good fortune of Yogi Bhajan when he was alive and learning directly with him. As far as I’m concerned, none of these allegations, or what’s coming out and the reactions that masses of people are having doesn’t change in any way the way I see Yogi Bhajan as a great teacher and master and my relationship with the teachings that he generously and profusely shared, which have impacted my life and impacted so many people’s lives in the world. So for that I’m eternally grateful.
This is as succinct and shameless an I-Got-Mineism statement as we’re likely to ever see. The speaker’s affirmation of “good fortune” instantly frames testimony against him as ungrateful or ignorant. The conflation of testimony with reactions to it put both into the category of chatter. “Reactions” itself is a dogwhistle dharmasplaining term: yoga practitioners are not supposed to be reactive. The sombre somatics of the speakers model a “non-reactive” affect for the viewer.
From the beginning for myself. And also for you it was clear that the focus was on the teaching on the practice and not necessarily on, Yogi Bhajan. He’s the master, he was the postman, as I’ve said, or the channel.
A major theme initiates here: Bhajan the man was not really important. What he carried was. His body, personality, identity — all unimportant.
What this theme begins to do is to erase the bodies, personalities, and identities of those who testify he abused them. Because if Bhajan’s body, personality, identity and actions are not important in relation to his holy teachings, neither are their impacts. Survivors describe the teachings being used to obscure his actions, but it’s the actions themselves, flowing from his body, personality, and identity that abused people.
And I look over the years and see how people have very much idealized or glorified Yogi Bhajan as representing, you know, their higher sense of self, the highest self or that you know, their aspiration of, of a great being projected that onto him. For me that was never really necessary and never the case.
The speaker here elevates himself above all survivors, dissidents, and complainants, by explaining that he really got it. He wasn’t fooled by idolatry. Notice the infantilization here: students were naive to project greatness onto Bhajan.
However, lower down, Shiv will reassert that the yoga he teaches must continue to be branded as “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.” This is one of many dual messages in the statement: It’s not about Bhajan, but it’s all about Bhajan. Further: it’s not about Bhajan when we’re talking about abuse, but it’s all about Bhajan when we’re talking about the “technology”.
Anyway for myself he pointed to the Guru Granth Sahib really as as the guru. And so that was always my primary reference to the technology. And he was always a great, uh, gave so much insight to understand the teachings of the guru and the ancient teachings of yoga that came from thousands of years and he gave his, his, um, the spectrum on that. So the, the people are crying about it’s time to end the personality cult. Some people maybe have that issue.
The claim that Bhajan is not important is now substantiated with the claim that the Guru Granth Sahib is the real focal point of Kundalini Practice. My limited understanding is that the Guru Granth Sahib is the master-compendium of Sikh teachings that also records the lineage tree of Gurus going back to the 15th century. The book is accorded a kind of śruti status, going beyond narrative and argumentation to embody the living tradition itself.
I don’t personally know how to evaluate Shiv’s claim; what’s important to know is that the putative connection between Kundalini Yoga and traditional Sikhism is vigorously contested by some Punjabi Sikhs, and increasingly by 3HO dissidents.
The speaker presents the Guru Granth Sahib as not only the real reference point for Bhajan’s content, but also the source for the “technology” of the practice. “Technology” is a distancing word, like “software”, seemingly separate or separable from the systems that run it — in this case, the social system that runs Kundalini techniques.
The speaker’s quiet affect conceals punishing patronization. “Some people maybe have that issue,” he says, referring to the “cult of personality” that is the real problem — not the fact that Bhajan was a real leader with lasting impacts on people’s lives.
I think there’s a, there’s a difference between those people who are very close to him on a very regular basis in the United States and Canada and Mexico perhaps. And those of us who are in Europe who are, who have the opportunity to sit and learn with him maybe once or twice a year. So we were much more independent of what was going on in his daily life. And we had our own way of relating to the teachings much more directly rather than via Yogi Bhajan as a teacher personality or filter.
This is not uncommon as a distancing technique during an abuse crisis: to claim that one was always on the periphery, that they maintained good boundaries, and therefore always had a healthy perspective that they have presumably taught from ever since. This has been notable in abuse crises I’ve studied and published on in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Shambhala, and Rigpa communities. The overall effect is to foreclose discussion of systemic abuses involving enablement, bystanding, intergenerational abuse, moral injury and secondary trauma, and to paint the abuse of a leader as a bad apple that can be plucked out of the bushel.
Notice the casual, Euro-pompous slagging of Americans.
I recognize that for those people who have come forward, especially recently, such as Premka and others since her, uh, and who have disclosed their experiences of private time with Yogi Bhajan and they disclosed the hurt and the sense that of the exploitation that they were subject to, then I acknowledge.
Very mixed language here. “Private time with Yogi Bhajan” sounds at first like a special privilege that the victims misunderstood. What is actually being described by Dyson and Katherine Felt is abuse perpetrated because the victim is isolated. “Hurt” is also euphemistic, and the passive of construction of “that they were subject to” is also noteworthy.
This is a healing process and that’s to be treated with respect and as to be, um, honor the courage to come out and say things as they were as they are. I acknowledge that as that’s a good thing that these things have come out, that there’s no secrets, there’s no taboos. There’s no, silencing of women’s voices. I think this is very important. And, um, and if with it comes like a breakdown of an illusion and if there’s a shattering of projections that were you know, throwing to onto Yogi Bhajan that he was, he was beyond this, it was beyond that. If this kind of illusions are broken and if the raw reality comes through, I think this is a fantastic, uh, fantastic times, fantastic opportunity to, um, come closer to the reality to see things more clearly. And to grow up.
Instead of contemplating and absorbing the reality of criminal actions perpetrated by her guru, the speaker proposes that the principle of disclosure (as opposed to the content) is potentially a new spiritual gift. That Dyson and others are not silent anymore is good for the group, not because the group now knows that the founder was an abuser, but because now the group can engage a deeper level of illusion-smashing. Satya is coming close to arguing that the abuse crisis is a good thing — not for the survivors, but for the group itself, because it will presumably allow those members who expected there not to be abuse in a spiritual group to “grow up”. The abuse crisis, in other words, doesn’t reveal criminality and fraud, but how true adults will respond to criminality and fraud.
And also to not turn those projections onto any other teacher, male or female, you know that teacher is just the teacher, messenger and the teachings are beyond that. And the other questions that people are inquiring about, like the Golden Chain for example, you know, is it still, is it still a valid, yeah. And suddenly our understanding is that the Golden Chain…
…is the Golden Chain, is the Golden Chain.
Big pause here. What is the “Golden Chain”? Unlike the Guru Granth Sahib, the Golden Chain is a fictitious legitimization reference. It’s the epithet that Bhajan and the group has used to claim that his teaching content has passed through the ancient system of experiential testing that is Indian wisdom culture. All we need to know about this is that it’s a bullshit idea, deconstructed by the polite but razor-like scholarship of ex-member Philip Deslippe in his groundbreaking 2012 article, “From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga.”
“For the students of Yogi Bhajan,” Deslippe writes,
the history of Sant Hazara Singh [Bhajan’s putative guru, for which there is scant material evidence] is more than a matter of simple genealogy or lineage. Yogi Bhajan taught that that in Kundalini Yoga the link that stretched back to antiquity from student to teacher formed the ‘GoldenChain’. Every time Kundalini Yoga is practiced, whether privately or in a public class, the mantra ‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo’ is intoned three times to ‘tune in’ to this Golden Chain and to be guided and protected by it (Khalsa 1996, 14). Sant Hazara Singh is the only tangible person offered who precedes Yogi Bhajan in the lineage of Kundalini Yoga. The idea of the Golden Chain also helps to bolster the accepted belief in 3HO that Kundalini Yoga was an ancient practice that was forced into secrecy for centuries until Yogi Bhajan taught it openly in the West. The secrecy explains why nothing predating Yogi Bhajan seems to mention the specific details of Kundalini Yoga’s practice in the same context, while the Golden Chain of masters and their students explains how such a practice could be passed down and remain intact until the late 1960s.
But when the Golden Chain of Kundalini Yoga is investigated rather than invoked, it unravels. Within the first 2 years of 3HO is a hidden and vigorously revised history that stands in stark contrast to the accepted understanding of what Yogi Bhajan’s KundaliniYoga is and where it originated. A 3-month trip that Yogi Bhajan took to India with 84 of his students in December 1970 can be seen as the dramatic, demarcating pivot that ended the initial understanding of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga and birthed its current, popularly understood mythology. Instead of a single unaltered lineage, there lies a progression of forgotten and abandoned teachers, figures invented and introduced, and a process of narration and mythologizing born out of cultural context, temporal events, and pragmatic necessity.
It’s notable that not only do the speakers use circular logic to invoke (rather than investigate, as Deslippe says) the Golden Chain, they also speak the sentence together like some ouroboros of indoctrination. Circular logic is reinforced by somatic mirroring.
So that goes on and everybody can tune into it. The mantras of [mantras]. This gives us always a link to that lineage. And you might feel that link through your local teacher. You might have felt through Yogi Bhajan, you might continue to or not, but the Golden Chain continues to exist. The consciousness of Guru Ram Das prevails in this age that we live in and, and anybody can tap into that. And so the mantras are still completely valid, relevant. And the Golden Chain is a very real phenomenon if one chooses to connect with it and our commitment.
On faith alone, the Golden Chain is asserted to be real, and again linked into traditional Sikhism. But the speaker goes farther here and makes the reality of the Golden Chain contingent upon the students belief, which is compared to the teacher’s commitment. The subtext is that loss of belief will be responsible for the destruction of something thought to grant salvation. The choice to disbelieve is flagged as dangerous.
This goes further. One might say:. I don’t want to mention Yogi Bhajan in my classes. Of course you can teach a whole Kundalini class, just the kriyas and the meditation and never mention his name. But if you’re asked, you know, you’re not gonna hide and lie and pretend otherwise. That is the source of the teachings as we have them. And also, not wanting to quote Yogi Bhajan: It’s Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. Now we recognize that he may from a variety of different means gathered together his own synthesis. But kundalini yoga is thousands of years old. There’s lots of references to show that the concept of Kundalini has been, uh, known in traditional cultures throughout the world also thousands of years.
Here’s perhaps the crux of the speaker’s branding challenge. Having spent considerable energy attempting to separate the man from the teachings, the speaker must now reassemble the teachings with the brand, which happens to contain the man’s name, while also emptying that name out of its human reference. You can almost here the “TM” being attached to the name. This allows the speaker to both further separate from the relationship and stake ownership over the (now presumably neutral) content.
So clearly what Yogi Bhajan has also done here, by putting his name to it, is taking his own responsibility for the fact that he was told, “Don’t teach this or you’ll be dead in a year.” But he taught it and he survived that. So he took all his risks, put it together in the best way he felt was to serve the, the, uh, the age, the change of the age we live in. And the Western society that was, as he spoke about: all these hippies going to India, coming back with suitcases of trinkets, but no real spirituality in the inside. The fact that he came to make teachers not to collect students, made them stand out quite clearly amongst many other great yogis, swamis, gurus as it came from India at that time. So he chose a very remarkable path and took a lot of risks. And In a way he even crucified himself before all this current crucifixion is now going on by just stepping forward and saying, I’m going to do it. I’m going to make teachers, I’m not looking for the students and I’m going to teach at the risk of my own life, and this needs to get out there and it needs to get out there now.
Even though Bhajan has been said to be irrelevant to the content, he is now re-invoked for emotional impact. This alternation between detachment and attachment, between neutrality and investment, equanimity and devotion, is a big red flag for both cognitive dissonance and aiding in the inculcation of disorganized attachment, wherein the group member is never quite sure what they are being offered, because the goalposts continually move.
And in case you missed it, the speaker compares Dyson and her supporters to the Sanhedrin and Pilate who together crucified Jesus.
And one of his very early lectures he described why he chose to teach Kundalini yoga and not Hatha Yoga. He’s made many references. If you read the library of teachings that he acknowledges some kriyas, he put them together in his morning meditation that came to him or what he had to teach that day and so on. So he put his name to it and that was his crucifixion from the very beginning. So it is Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. If anybody wants to go and do others kind of Kundalini Yoga they can do it. Put their name to it, put some other name to it, that’s their choice. But this teaching that we have received and the we pass on, continues to be on that, uh, that with that reference to it
Note that the library of teachings is currently being scrubbed of passages like this one, recently erased by admins, but captured and quoted throughout Kundalini dissident circles:
“Rape is always invited, it never happens, a person who is raped is always providing subconsciously the environments and the arrangements. If you do not provide the circumstances and arrangements it is impossible. ” — Yogi Bhajan April 26, 1978 Espanola, NM
The library will disintegrate publicly, even as it’s surely been downloaded for future scholarship. It will be hard for teachers like Shiv and Satya to refer to it in the future with any credibility.
If there’s anything that should be concerned, if there’s anyone that should be concerned with these allegations is really Bibiji his beloved wife who I greatly respect and love. Um, these disclosures might affect her and be hurtful for her. Her life has already been very hard as it was.
Note: Bibiji is still a leading figure in the movement. I don’t know anything about her, except that she is being used here as a symbolic figurehead, the embodiment of the organization.
So I don’t think it’s so much everyone’s concern what did happen didn’t happen. It’s 16 years ago for God’s sake what is there to change now? What matters, what you change about yourself. And how you conduct yourself. That’s what really matters. There will continue to be abuses. There will continue to be a desperate women who put themselves in very vulnerable positions, who will be taken advantage of. This will continue to happen. The new age feminist movement is coming in hard, thank God, but it takes generations. So, but each step forward, each step that we dare to be more ourselves is a great step.
I’ve highlighted the obvious rape-culture affirmation. What’s extremely manipulative about it is that it is immediately followed by a pseudo-feminist shout-out, as though feminism was Satya’s central concern.
Very interesting, people saying: Okay, so now we realize that Yogi Bhajan was just a man. But I think that might be interesting to separate Harbhajan Singh. He was the man, and when they took on Yogi Bhajan. Actually that is where he’s saying, “I stand under to understand the teaching and to pass that teaching on. So Yogi Bhajan was the teacher, but there was a man there and the man did what the man did.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to sever Yogi Bhajan from his teachings, students are now asked to sever “Yogi Bhajan” as a persona from his birth identity. Now there are three entities over which culpability can be dispersed. Who committed clerical sexual misconduct against Dyson? If it was Harbhajan Singh, we shouldn’t be surprised. If it was Yogi Bhajan, well that was a hollow idol. And — it couldn’t have been the teachings themselves, of course.
So I think these are little details like that. Just a little way of thinking that turns everything around.
This is a huge tell. Consciously or not, the speaker is admitting that thought manipulation is required to weather the abuse crisis.
And a lot of people are saying a lot of things on the internet and it really shows not so much about actually what really happened. And it doesn’t necessarily even show a healthy way forward. It’s just showing that people have agendas and they’ve been waiting for this kind of door to open and suddenly they all want to throw up all kinds of stuff, whether it’s trying to fight and defend his name, whether it’s trying to, to say I knew it, I knew it and therefore this and that and the next thing, it’s all actually says more about the people who are speaking out than it necessarily says about actually what has happened. And when saying that, not with any, uh, position ourselves to deny what has happened. We do know that, um, an independent inquiry has been started and of course we fully support that and also very welcoming the statements that have been made by a KYTAB, KRI, 3HO and Sikh Dharma International.
Survivors and group members are to be doubted in that less-than-real-place called the internet, while the group should be supported in investigating itself. Remember back the top, where he says that the “allegations” have been recurrent through 3HO history. Why would the organization investigate itself now?
That, uh, we are committed to uphold the code of ethics to continue training teachers to the highest standard possible. And our challenge is to take it all forward, as Yogi Bhajan said himself: be 10 times greater. So that commitment is ongoing and it’s a very important commitment as Satya said, because shadows are within all of us. Naive students are everywhere, tendency of projection on putting teachers on pedestals, all those kinds of things goes on and it’s not going to stop overnight just with these allegations.
Again: abuse testimonies are minimized to allegations, and then conflated with the naïveté of students. With abuse and the response to it conflated, the speaker determines that neither can be resolved.
So continuing to push forward with the code of ethics to uphold the highest standards as best we can and keep, keep passing that on to others. Please talk to your communities, talk to your national associations any opportunity to join conversation. Feel free to do so. We’ve been having a meeting with a lot of trainers and mentees this weekend and we’ve gone through a lot of what we might call frequently asked questions that, um, trainers or teachers might feel might be coming from their classes. And we’re putting that together and we’re discussing and sharing what is a honest and healthy response to some of these questions. And we’ll be sending that document out. It’ll be a public document in the next few weeks. Sat Nam. Thank you very much.
The speaker concludes with another dubious statement, conveyed through jargon designed to instil emotional allegiance. The mantra “sat nam” is typically translated as “Truth is my essence.”
In October of last year, twelve long-time students at Dharma Village / Dharma Ocean (I’ll call them the “DO12”) published an open letter disclosing “longstanding patterns of emotional and spiritual abuse within Dharma Ocean, the Buddhist community led by Reggie Ray.”
The DO12 said they’d been inspired by two previous efforts: the 2017 letter published by eight former students of the late Sogyal Lakar, founder of Rigpa International, and the 2019 letter published by six former attendants to Mipham Mukpo, the now-exiled (but slated for reinstatement) leader of Shambhala International.
In contrast to the Rigpa and Shambhala dissidents, the DO12 do not accuse their former leader of criminal acts — with the possible exception of lying to the Crestone CO, non-profit that granted Dharma Ocean land for a retreat centre. Instead, Ray’s critics focus on a long list of fully legal but blatantly abusive tactics that form the classic modus operandi of cults. They cite psychological grooming, love bombing, the punishment of questions, public shaming, verbal abuse, triangulation, unrestrained charismatic leadership, gaslighting, and “a pervasive culture of fear and paranoia.”
Whereas the Rigpa and Shambhala letters flag assaults on group members, the DO12 articulated and impugned the general ways in which Buddhist cults assault the values they pretend to promote.
Here’s the full letter:An Open Letter on Abuse in Dharma Ocean
The day after the letter was released, the Dharma Ocean board responded by announcing Ray had recused himself from administrative and teaching responsibilities. The response acknowledged and thanked the DO12, but also rejected a number of their assertions — particularly the DO12 description of Ray and DO being impervious to feedback.
At the end of November, newly appointed board members announced that Dharma Ocean would be folding, and that Ray remained sequestered in contemplative retreat. Two letters from Ray himself in February (here and here) have confirmed the dissolution, in terms similar to those he deployed in the half-apology, half-justification video I’ll analyze below. Spoiler: Ray narrativizes the destruction of the group as poetic, intimate proof of the Buddhist theory of impermanence, a sign of successful spiritual transmission, and an appropriate ending for a worthwhile community.
It’s been a swift collapse, compared with other embattled Buddhist groups. By contrast, Shambhala hobbles onward from one quarter to the next, selling off assets and dialling up fundraising, and Rigpa moves forward in the same basic form, seemingly relieved to be decapitated. The collapse-speed makes sense, given Dharma Ocean’s small size and fatal reliance on a single charismatic leader with no clear inheritors.
From another point of view, it may be that DO12’s focus upon Ray as a controller of group dynamics — as opposed to the perpetrator of specific crimes — has dealt the decisive blow. They’ve indicted the core feature of the global convert Buddhist constellation: the grandiose, narcissistic teacher who cloaks his power in sermons on humility and empathy.
But the lack of detail also means that Ray has also been able to defend himself in very general, philosophical — even contemplative — terms. In a video response to DO12 filmed from retreat in Hawaii, Ray makes no mention of the open letter. The title is: “Reggie on His Responsibilities and Failures as a Spiritual Teacher”. It follows the basic structure of a dharma teaching: Ray slowly, methodically — hypnotically — lays out his grand themes over 54 minutes. Ray points in the direction of apology, but the gesture is swallowed up in a kabuki of teaching mudras. There are scattered notes of accountability (no plans) but they are buried in chords of metaphysical droning.
What grand themes? Well, the title could have been: “I Practiced Buddhism So Hard I Just Couldn’t Help Hurting People. But It’s All Okay.”
The video was deleted soon after it was posted. I’m reposting it here, with the transcript below, because I believe it should be preserved as an remarkable encounter with several features of charismatic leadership and how it can not only survive the demand for transparency but fold the discourse of transparency back into teacherly branding.
Side note: my impression is that turning abuse into Buddhist teaching content is a fundamental Trungpa legacy. Consider this love-letter from credibly-accused-of-multiple-assaults Shambhala leader Mipham Mukpo — Trungpa’s son — announcing his return to teaching.
Also: Ray’s video also serves as a sophisticated example of what an apology is not.
Ray opens with the declaration that he’s speaking from within a “deep, powerful, spiritual tradition.” In other words, he’s not speaking in the midst of an abuse crisis of his own making.
He goes on to frame the crisis as resulting from his own spiritual power. He claims that the power and force he derived from good understanding and practice attracted people to him. He was understandably burdened by the accumulating force of his own practice, he laments, and then victimized because he became too powerful. This all supports an effort to position himself as a newly-minted expert on “spiritual codependency.”
Throughout, Ray uses language that is on one hand abstract and distancing, yet also claims personal expertise: “So I’m not trying to make any cases here against myself particularly, but I am trying to put on the table what I’m seeing and then we’ll see where the chips fall.”
The distancing keywords also connect him with his master, Chogyam Trungpa. One keyword is “situation”, which Ray uses to both point to and deflect from the accusations made against him. The word implies a shared and equal status with his students and customers and recalls the disastrous post-“Vajra Regent” period in Shambhala history, which group members came to call “The Current Situation.”
At one point, he even cites the Vajra Regent’s (the late Thomas Rich) description of him in the 1970s as a “transparent snowflake”, using this to gesture at a natural innocence that was then corrupted by the aforementioned spiritual codependency. It’s an extremely odd moment: at best tone-deaf, at worst gaslighting. Is he really relying on a quip by Rich, a serial sexual abuser, to frame his own youthful innocence? Are we to believe this? Is this yet another example of the Trungpa legacy needing to assert that insanity and lucidity are proximal, and that insight and abuse are a matter of perspective?
Besides abstracting language, Ray also consistently employs boundary-blurring affects, most notable in an effortless slide between singular and plural first-person pronouns, and between speaking to a third-person audience, and using the power of second person address. “When you were in trouble,” he says at one point, gazing into his webcam like a father over a child’s bed, “I was able to show you a different way.” Granted: the video is made for his initiated devotees. But the ease with which he engages pronoun-merging is clearly well-practiced. How are devotees meant to distinguish their internal selves from his? Oh wait — isn’t that precisely the target of the Tantric paradigm?
Ray seems to take responsibility for his treatment of students at some points, describing himself as emotionally immature or “in denial and defensive”. He also shows a familiarity with counter-transference that might suggest he’s working on it. But then he also frames his actions through the lens of traumatic response. His cruelty or anger at his students, he explains, comes from being “triggered” or “activated”. By whom? Folks like DO12?
Ray indirectly refers to the DO12’s descriptions of emotional abuse as a lack of “consistency”: “You know, one day, I completely embodied the teachings [what a claim!] and the next day, you know, I’m irritated, I’m activated, whatever it may be. And you know, so on day one the students feel loved, received, accepted, and on day two they feel like I don’t like them.”
Ray might be describing what I’ve argued is a known feature of Trungpa’s heritage, and a common pattern in high-demand groups: the fostering of disorganized attachment, whereby trauma bonds are formed by group members who are continually confused about whether they are being cared for or abused.
But strangely, in the latter of his two recent letters, we see backtracking on this position relating to the ethics of “inconsistency”:
Complaining because your teacher is sometimes encouraging and other times quite cutting misses the point. Falling into an ill-temper because you cannot pin your teacher down, that your teacher can’t be pinned down—well, you can do that, but it is somewhat pointless. You came to me not to be your friend, in the ordinary sense, but to be your spiritual teacher. And it was on that basis and on that basis alone that I accepted you and agreed we could work together.
Also key in the video are flips between active and passive responsibility, to the point where all actors are equally victimized:
But when that kind of ambition replaces the relationship with the students who are helping you, that is really, really damaging and really it’s terrible, shameful. And that happened to me, has happened to me really throughout, you know, our time together.
The video culminates with a dream followed by an anecdote. Both are invested with divinatory meaning.
The night before recording the video, Rays says, he had a dream that Dharma Ocean members were flying on a beautiful plane together, but that it was going down. He’s careful to note that he is a passenger — not the pilot. He’s not in control, you see. He is puzzled that no safety announcements are made, except that they would be landing on the St. Lawrence River. When they skimmed onto the surface, no one was scared or injured. They came to a stop and found themselves, separate but together, in the bracing but somehow baptismal water.
Later in the video, the dream is summarized. The dream has digested and depersonalized the abuse accusations, and becomes Ray’s next or perhaps ultimate dharma teaching:
“So we’re all in this rushing stream,” he says,
which was life. We’ve been thrown out of the plane, the plane crashes, plane’s gone. Forget it. Let’s just walk away. We can’t walk away we’ve been thrown out and we’re all our own, but we all know how to swim and we’re actually doing fine. And we can move ahead with an a tremendous amount of trust, in ourselves and in what we know.
The anecdote that follows seems to be an attempt at clarity and tenderness, but it’s also terrifying. Ray describes having had to set kill traps for mice in his house — in contravention of Buddhist ethics. He watches a mouse take the bait. The trap springs, breaking its back.
The mouse, dying, gazes at him as if for help. He’s reminded of the students he has harmed.
You read that correctly: Ray literally casts the student as vermin he had no choice but to kill. He regrets it, so much.
Nonetheless, it’s all good, Ray asserts, in a conclusion that closes the door on DO12 with a mixture of self-erasure and self-divinization:
“I personally don’t think anything that’s happened is amiss,” Ray says.
This is how the teachings happen. And my mistakes, my blindness, it’s part of the world’s process. And me taking responsibility for it is also part of the world’s process. And you being freed from me, it’s part of the world’s process. It’s part of the lineage.
The video fades to light, as though Ray’s eccentricities have been forgiven, and his wisdom restored. But in his second letter to the Dharma Ocean list, Ray doubled back on his journey to responsibility in a pearl-clutching maneuvre worthy of the DARVO Olympics. He bemoaned “internet negativity” and western mindsets that cannot seem to understand meditation. He also seems to poke a veiled jab at the DO12, who he frames as attacking Buddhism, and not his behaviour:
“If even Vajrayana students of many years can turn so easily against the teachings and the training I am offering, and against me as their teacher, what then?” Ray asked.
To tell you the truth, my question is whether this lineage can even be taught in this cultural environment, given the widespread hostility to the teachings of non-ego? In our situation, my question is, must the authentic dharma now go silent, given the willingness of some unscrupulous people, not just to ignore these teachings, but to openly attack them and people like me who present them? And for many of us to be so vulnerable to those attacks?
What’s fascinating is that between Ray’s video contrition and his newsletter walk-back, Ray seems to demonstrate the same “emotional inconsistency” to which he is presumably confessing.
Alexandra Stein’s work shows how manufactured disorganized attachment in the high-demand group eventually will have every member both coming and going at the same time. It’s the unpredictability — “inconsistency”, to use Ray’s word — that puts the member in the position of the child who “experiences the unresolvable paradox of seeking to simultaneously flee from and approach the caregiver. This happens at a biological level, not thought out or conscious, but as evolved behavior to fear.”1)Stein, A. 2017. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Routledge. 2017. 33
Maybe, now that Dharma Ocean is no more, there will be less to fear, and nothing run to — besides pixels circulating through an obsolete email list.
Hello everybody. I am making this recording from where I’m in retreat in Hawaii and I’m looking out over the ocean and the sun is about to come up. So during, during this recording, I may have to adjust the light a little bit or pull down some shades.
When someone is harmed as we know, it’s really, it’s really a good thing if the person who has caused the harm, which in this case is me, can I acknowledge what’s happened? Okay. And that’s what I want to do in this recording. I want to talk about, at least from my point of view, what I see other ways in which I’ve harmed people in our sangha. And you might wonder, you know, what took me so long because the, the initial sort of public criticisms or sangha wide criticisms or Vajra-sangha criticisms began a year and a half ago in really great intensity. And you know, why did I take a year and a half to say anything? And of course I have said things and I’ve written letters and I think included things in talks, but truthfully, in terms of the big picture, as we always say in the teachings, you know, I had to, I had to think about things, I had to reflect on them and I had to make the criticisms my own.
I had to see really how things landed for me and how I felt. But anyway, here we are and I want to talk about a lot of things. And I think the best place to start is with this whole issue of what we might call spiritual codependency, which I think has been a big it’s kind of the underlying thing. And, and it’s, you know, everything that I’m saying, this is, you know, this is my perspective. This is my story. This is our situation. But of course it applies to other similar situations and when your teachers, or if you are teacher as it applies to you. But right now I’m just speaking for myself and how it’s been in my sangha.
So when you you know, when you’re part of a practicing tradition, you know, you know, deep, powerful spiritual tradition as we are, what happens is, and what happened with me is you develop a lot of power and you develop a lot of understanding. You’ve developed a lot of insight. Okay. And what happens is you you change as a person? Oh, when I was, at Naropa, I dunno if it was the first summer or second summer I participated in a talk and afterwards, you know, in a panel and afterwards the Regent was characterizing everybody’s energy and he said, I was a snowflake. Transparent, light, clear.
And over time through the practice you know, I became something other than a snowflake as you know — energetically — we’re not talking about anything more than that. So you practice and you know, you develop there’s a lot of power, a lot of force in the way you do things and people are attracted to that. You know, if your understanding is good and your practice is good, people are attracted. As I was to Rinpoche. And those people are, you know, to teachers and you want, you want to be part of it and you want to receive it. You want to bask in the energy, you want to receive the teachings. And it’s very beautiful. It’s wonderful.
And what happens is that in my case, you know, I brought you into a world. I showed you the world that I had been shown and that was you know, part of my experience and I made it part of your experience. And you know, when you were in trouble, I was able to show you a different way of looking at things so you maybe didn’t feel so bad about yourself and you you could see things in a larger way and have more faith and more trust. And then of course, the body work totally underscored that and totally helped you experience what I was talking about. So it began to become your own experience. So, so far so good. But what happened? What happens and what happened with me? If you as the teacher, don’t realize the amount of power that you have, you know, the amount of the potential force of your energy, which I have not realized, you can do a lot of damage. And if you as a teacher, and this is true of me, get hooked on interpreting other people’s experience, you can do a lot of damage. And that’s what happened with me.
So you know, the, the student is in a very vulnerable, very vulnerable position because they have come to you with open hearts with deep inspiration and people have come to me that way and okay, they want to be trained the way I was trained and they want to become like Trungpa Rinpoche, let’s put it that way. They want to become that person who embodies teachings fully and it’s very, it was very important for me, and in some ways I did it. In some ways I didn’t, and this is, you know, one of the big, I would say, failings on my side is my inconsistency. I think that’s been very, very hard for people, very inconsistent in the way I did things. You know, one day I completely embodied the teachings and the next day, you know, I’m irritated, I’m activated, whatever it may be.
And you know, so on day one the students feel loved, received, accepted, and on day two they feel like I don’t like them. Inconsistency, you know, in a, in a university teacher inconsistency, it’s like it’s a human thing and you, you have a strong container, you know, in the university system and classes and grades and everything. But in the spiritual world, you don’t have that and you as a spiritual teacher, you really, this is what I’ve learned. It was very harmful for me, how inconsistent I was emotionally um my state of mind in terms of I related to people and I think people were, I know people were harmed by this.
With Trungpa Rinpoche, he didn’t let me become too dependent. Yeah, I’ve told you this over and over. He, every time I came in and I tried to like just bask in his thing, he wouldn’t let me do it. I mean in the teaching’s fine, you know, when he was giving a talk, fine. But in the personal level, he, he never let me suck off him. He never let me depend on him. He never let me get him to interpret experience. He would affirm my experience, but he didn’t interpret it for me. And this has been a huge failing on my part that I consistently I was vulnerable to interpreting people’s experience when they came to me and said, well, what about this and what about that? And I was happy to, happy to do the thinking for them.
And I think that has helped people back. I think it’s very been very harmful for them. Now you can say why, why did you do that? I asked myself, you know, why did I do it? I think that I was very flattered that people were so turned on by my teaching. And that was a term Rinpoche used when I started teaching and say, well, you know, you can turn people on. He didn’t judge it. And I thought that was very interesting. He wasn’t saying it was good and it wasn’t saying it was bad. And I think it’s actually very neutral kind of quality. The question is what you as a teacher do with that. And in my case, I became flattered by it and I became dependent on people giving me positive feedback. And as we all know, it’s very, it feels good, you know, when someone comes to you and says, you know, thank you so much. That was so helpful. That’s very important, you know, that we have those kinds of exchanges. But I think for me, and I think, you know, for teachers, but for me, it’s almost like I became I became dependent on people coming and telling me that I’d saved their life. It kind of gave my life meaning, but not in the right way. It’s almost like it became kind of almost I don’t know what to say.
So in my case, solving myself esteem problems, by the relationship that I had with many of my students and you know, you as a teacher really can’t do that because once it becomes about you, then it’s not about them and the students realize it. And I think people, not everybody, and again, I’m not talking about the fact that I did this all the time, but even doing it inconsistently was very confusing for people and very harmful for many people. Another part of this dynamic for me is the I did not work on my core issues in the way that I should have. When you’re a teacher you know, let’s, let’s start at the beginning. So you’re a meditator. That’s fine. I was a meditator and it’s been really, honestly, that’s been the most that’s been my work my whole life.
Nothing else really. I did the academic thing just to kind of as a placeholder until I could do what I really wanted to. And of course, as you know, practice has been the basic reality of my work. That’s my work. And then I became a meditation instructor and that was okay. You know, I think, you know, qualified to do that. Yes, I could be a meditation instructor. But when you become a spiritual teacher, then that’s a whole different ballgame. And I did not realize it. I didn’t see it. And in my case, one of the things that happened is that I used being a spiritual teacher and the spiritual codependency I’m talking about as a substitute for working on core issues. And I somehow, you know, I, I’ve always known they were there and of course they can’t, they’ve come up in every relationship I’ve had, but I didn’t really address them at all. Until I met Caroline in my personal relationships. And even after I met Caroline, I didn’t address them with you.
So, you know, you need, there are three things you need in my, you know, three things that I have needed, in being a spiritual teacher, number one is the practice. Okay. Check number two is the understanding I’m going to have to put a cough drop, so I apologize. Okay. Check. But number three, and perhaps the most important thing is you need a certain level of emotional maturity, which I have not had. You need a certain level of relationship skills, which I have not had. And you need to be able to, when you’re with students, you need to be able to handle the situation in a way that is consistently beneficial to them. And I have not done that. And I think many people rightfully so, feel harmed.
So do you know, there are, I have an abrasive nature as you know, I have you know, my, my root klesha is anger and the enlightened aspect is a kind of wrathful cutting quality, but it has to be without ego. And in my case, it often has not been without ego. And that’s very, very harmful. No, we can debate about you know, which klesha is worse for a spiritual teacher and spiritual teachers or let’s say more damaging to the students. And you know, we’ve seen all kinds of damage done and we can go through the Buddha families. It’s interesting, you know, they’re teachers that represent all of them. Okay. But what Trungpa Rinpoche said, and I agree with this, I actually think anger is the most potentially damaging because it, it really, it causes a different kind of hurt than the other ones.
So it’s just my opinion. But I feel in my case you know, I’m not saying that the people have where anger is the real klesha. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be spiritual teachers. However, if that is the case, you have to work on it. You have to see it, you have to address it. You have to get feedback. You have to be very, very clear that this is one of your weak points. And I did not do many of those things. And I have been throughout my teaching career, I’ve I feel personally that I’ve had a lot of spiritual inflation. Spiritual inflation means that you confuse your self with the power of the teachings. You begin to think that because the teachings are so powerful that somehow that’s a comment on you, and if the teachings are pure and the teachings are affecting people in a good way, and the teachings are changing people’s lives, that’s about you.
And that you’re a good person and everything’s basically fine. That’s spiritual inflation. And what happens at that point is you actually lose your own journey. You know, my meditative journey has continued as you know, and my meditative teachings have continued to evolve. And if you’re a meditator or a meditation instructor, maybe you can get away with it. But when you become a spiritual teacher, you cannot, that’s not okay. And it’s damaging to the people around you. And in my case, I think because of that spiritual inflation, I didn’t take seriously my own failings. And because of my abrasive nature and my emotional, I’m just going to use the word year with my emotional immaturity and lack of development. I really didn’t see or understand the tender open, devoted souls [cries].
That come to me and I didn’t see the impact. Oh my unconstrained force in relating to them. It’s been too much about me and not enough about these people that I love. And this I think is another important thing for me to acknowledge. No, if I were just, you know, a terrible person, you know, if I were consistently abusive or consistently, you know, angry and hateful, I mean, it would be easy because nobody would have studied with me no matter what the teachings were. And I think what has been very painful for people and also very hurtful is it, I actually have two sides. And you know, as we know from internal family systems, which many of us have been studying lately, we actually have many different sides. But I have two, two main sides that had been I think especially hurtful to people when, when they’re both happening. One is I have a side that is incredibly tender and loving and wants the world for the people I love. And in even in my, Naropa days and certainly, you know, with all of us, when I met you, and I would say it’s true of everyone.
There has been you know, everyone that came, everyone that studied here, I have felt a tremendous almost almost a sense of the sacredness of your being. And I’ve felt huge amount of appreciation and love and wonder at you, and it’s very real and has been very much part of the whole situation. And often I told you so. And that, that’s tricky. It’s tricky because it sets up expectations and you know, I know Rinpoche felt that way about his students, but he didn’t really talk about it very much. You know, he kind of held, he held that, he expressed it, you know, in the way he related to us, but he didn’t talk about it. And I did. I think, I don’t think that was helpful. And the other thing that I’ve done now, we’re on this sort of loving side is I’ve made a lot of promises to people that I couldn’t keep, you know, if I had one student,
I could say to them, here’s my private email address. Call me any time I’m here. You know, I love you. You know, I appreciate you. You’re so amazing and it’s all genuine. And maybe you could even do that with 10 students, but you can’t do it the way I did it with the size of the sangha that we had. In other words, there was here. Really. You know, we come back to the emotional immaturity issue here. We have,just being clueless in terms of the impact of the things that I do and the things that I’ve said with you, just clueless, clueless, checked out.
And so, you know, maybe you walk away from that interview and think, you know, this is it, you know, I found my teacher, I found my teachings, this is what I want to do with my life. And but then there’s this other side of me,
That it’s triggered, gets activated, it can be harsh, can be critical, overly critical. And that’s very confusing and you don’t know what the hell you’re dealing with.
And I just think it’s, it just causes a tremendous amount of doubt, tremendous amount of confusion in some cases. You know, it really undermines you. I think people felt very undermined by that lack of consistency. And then, you know, all of a sudden you’re really in a crisis and you send me an email, I don’t respond ever. What does that feel like? It’s terrible. So I think, you know, my lack of we could call it emotional restraint on both sides being too positive and too negative. I mean, it’s fine to feel those things, you know, all of us feel those things. Maybe I sit down with a student and I think the student is the most wonderful person I ever met and I do feel that way actually. You’d be amazed how often I feel that way. For God sake. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t do it. Don’t put out that kind of, you know, magnetizing because you can’t follow through and when you don’t follow through, it’s going to be really harmful and cause confusion. But that’s what I’ve done many, many, many too many times.
In terms of you know, some of you have come and you have worked, you have come in and you said, how can I help? And open-hearted, tender hearted, trusting and willing to jump in. And some of you have ended up being very close. You’ve been on the staff, you been my assistants, you’ve been, you’ve help programs and that’s wonderful. The problem has come in the way that I have responded to that. Of course initially, you know, it’s a, it’s been a deeper connection and a deeper sense of us working together and helping others. But here’s the thing about me, you know, being in my role as a spiritual teacher, the most important thing, and I say this in my teachings, the most important thing is that every situation with a student, it’s about them. It’s not about you. It’s not about the work. It’s not about the end product. It’s not about the goal, it’s about them. And far, far, far too often in my case, I have failed to remember that. And in fact, I feel, I have in many cases, particularly with people who have been staff in Dharma Ocean and particularly people who’ve been close staff. And I’m thinking of one person who was an executive director in the past or present, I don’t know what the term was, where I, I failed miserably. Miserable, horrifying, terrible. And this is probably in terms of my individual students, I think that’s, this is probably the one that haunts me the most because I turned into, I didn’t turn into, I already was ambitious, you know. Okay, fine. You’re ambitious for the teachings, you know, you want the center to be beautiful, you want the teachings to be spread, that’s good. But when that kind of ambition replaces the relationship with the students who are helping you, that is really, really damaging and really it’s terrible, shameful. And that happened to me, has happened to me really throughout, you know, our time together and staff people know, you know, you talk to staff and they’ll tell you, you know, they get a call from me in the middle of the night about something that I don’t like, a mistake that I think has been made.
And if you have come to you know, Dharma Ocean, out of love, and that’s what you get back, how is that going to make you feel? And what does that do to your, even your trust in the teachings. You know, forget about the teacher, but what about the teachings? Here’s the thing. This has to be admitted and acknowledged by me. Because I want you to feel that the person who was done this harm does have some understanding of what he did and how he harmed you, how he hurt your feelings and how he harmed you and how he undermined you and caused a lot of problems for you. You know, there’s not, there’s no way I can not do the past, but at least I can do this. This is the very least I can do. So
Another sort of area, you know, here’s the thing, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna cover every way in which I’ve hurt people, obviously, because we’re talking about if we go back to Dharma Village, we’re talking about 25 years. That’s a long time. And there are a lot of things I’m not talking about. They’re probably a lot of things I don’t know. In spite of all the feedback, you know, there are probably things I don’t know that you know, so that’s, that’s a given. But I’m just trying to touch base on the main things. Another very important area is sloppy, sloppy, ignorant speech patterns on my part. Terrible. Really unbelievable. Now, you know, I’m talking emotionally here, these are not judgements, but I’m telling you how I feel. I feel the way I’d use speech is, you know, has been very, not always, you know, obviously, you know, there are two sides to it. There are two sides to me but often there’s the sane side. And then the insane side or the neurotic side. But often the way I’ve used speech has been, it’s been sloppy and it’s been hurtful. And I’ll just give you some examples. For example sometimes when people have challenged me in the interviews
And maybe, you know, maybe the challenge wasn’t clean, doesn’t matter, maybe they were attacking me personally. It doesn’t matter what’s happened — or maybe it was clean. But what’s happened and is, you know, in my opinion really under forgivable is that I’ve gotten triggered, I’ve gotten activated and I have responded with harshness. I responded with defensiveness and if you’re going to be a spiritual teacher, you can’t do that. Okay. And then we have the,uthe public sphere where it’s even worse, where people have gotten up and sometimes people get up and say something really, you know, very, very critical, very demeaning of me or Dharma Ocean or the teachings. It doesn’t matter. You know, you as a spiritual teacher, you can’t get triggered. You cannot get triggered. And if you do, which is typically my response, I mean, this is an area where I’m pretty consistent. You know, when that kind of thing happens in public, I respond in public and then the person ends up feeling undermined and shamed. Of course they do. How could they not?
And then of course, our relationship is, you know, I mean, I can I can seek repair, which you know, that that is what I do. But that’s not good enough. Truthfully, you can’t do in the first place if you’re going to be a spiritual teacher. If you are going to be a spiritual teacher, you have to have some emotional maturity. Emotional steadiness is, you have to, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s one of those qualifications that is not, it’s not optional. And I, I have not had it. And as I said, you know, if you don’t have it and you work on it and it’s clear everybody knows you’re working on it and you get everybody to help you and working on it, then I think the whole situation can be okay. I think it can, it can move forward. But that was not, the case has not been the case with me. I’ve been, you know, largely in denial and defensive. And then we have in public, people get up and they say something completely innocent, you know, completely innocent and open and just, you know, questioning. But something in me, you know, it triggers something in me and same thing, defensive, undermining, reactive.
So I’m not trying to make any cases here against myself particularly, but I am trying to put on the table when I’m seeing and then we’ll see the chips fall and then, you know, on and on and on. I mean, we can talk about other, you know, speech patterns talking about students to other students. And I’m not talking about you know, talking within about their students and, you know, maybe something that student is going through that’s, that’s part of the job. I’m talking about gossiping me gossiping and you know, me promoting negativity. Now mind you, a lot of the things I’m talking about it’s not like that’s the main thing. Other things are the main thing, you know, more positive things. But the thing that the person in my position can’t, I mean, it doesn’t, I’m not going to say they can’t do it.
They can’t, you know, sort of fall off the wagon, so to speak, but they can’t if, if they behave in ways that go against right speech in the different ways that I’m talking about, it undermines everybody’s confidence in, in me. And in what I’m doing, what we’re doing together. And it harms the people who, who are on the receiving end of it. It really does. And you know, we do talk about how important repair and reconciliation is yes, it is important, but it doesn’t change what happened and it doesn’t change, you know, your realization that I’m like that, and then I do those things and that, you know, even if you’re just a witness, it undermines our relationship, your trust in me. And that’s it’s harmful. It’s harmful to the lineage and it’s harmful to the teachings.
So let me check. I have some notes here. This obviously wasn’t too carefully planned, but yeah, I guess I want to come back for I want to come back a little bit to the the spiritual codependency. And this, you know, interesting saying that in this kind of situation, the student, you know, the student becomes initially becomes dependent on the teacher. You know, which is happened. That’s how it works. You’re coming, you’re attracted. You want to be there and be part of it. And bathe in, you know, the student bears 50% of the responsibility and the teacher bears 100% of the responsibility. And I haven’t. What happens know when the teacher encourages spiritual codependency and the teacher doesn’t in the way that Trungpa Rinpoche did deliberately be, you know, be super aware of the tendency on both sides, you know, of the student’s tendency and that the teacher, you know, wanting to feed on it and solve their own self esteem problems.
When that awareness is not there, then you really hold the students back. And I do feel that that’s been a very particularly if you, as you have matured and practiced and come along. I have impeded the process of you making your own discoveries and of making, you know, admittedly for the student certainly true of me and everybody I knew working with Rinpoche, you know, we’re stumbling along, you know, trying to see, you know, what this means for us. We’re kind of fumbling along, crawling along in the darkness and that is the process. And you know, Rinpoche, amazing person. He, he saw it and he understood it and he knew that’s, that’s the best.
And I haven’t done that. I haven’t appreciated that. I haven’t, I just didn’t, hadn’t had the understanding, you know, I’ve been trying to get too much out of this in a personal way all the way along. And I think it’s held you back. I think it has it’s impeded your sense of discovering for yourself what these teachings are. Um you know, and even when you come in to see me, you sit down with me and you ask me a question, I’m too ready to give the answer. I’m too ready to be the person who knows what’s going on. You know, I’m too ready to take up all the space. And this is a , you know, it’s, it’s pretty horrifying for me to realize it. This is how it’s been. But this from my point of view, this is how it’s been. Those of you who have, kept away physically, you know, as I was saying in Tibet, you want to make sure that, there’s a mountain between you and your teacher, you’re in this Valley and your teachers in the other Valley and you need to keep it that way. I think that’s a plus. And, and also I think when you’re on the other side of the mountain, you do tend to be more self reliant and you do tend to, you know, to focus more on your practice because you have to, you don’t really have anything else. So that’s an interesting point.
Okay. So let’s see. Is there anything else I can come up with here that needs to be… I, I think, you know, I think this is probably enough. I mean, I could go on on, I were talking about 25 years of mistakes and 25 years of causing harm to students. I’m not saying all students, but many, many students, you know. So, you know, obviously I could keep going, but I did want to close by telling you the dream I had this morning before I woke up. I woke up at around five which I do in retreat. And I had I had the following dream: I was all of us were in a plane and it was a jet plane. It was a beautiful plane. And it wasn’t you know, it wasn’t a 747 . It was I dunno, maybe about the size of a 707, you know, there are a lot of people in the plane that was us in the plane this new shiny, beautiful, and then the plane was gonna crash. We’re notified the planes can crash right now and that, that is kind of what’s happened, I would say in the last you know three or four weeks, it’s, you know, the plane is going down. And so the plane, it goes down and it goes down. And then we see there’s a big river.
And for some reason it’s the Saint Lawrence river. I don’t know what that is. I never heard of it, but that was the name that was mentioned. And I looked out the window. And there were ripples in the water, but the water was pretty calm and I thought, Hmm, this might work. But they weren’t telling us anything and nobody was saying take the brace position, you know, I said, why aren’t these people telling us anything? And I was a passenger too by the way. I was not the pilot. So the plane is going down, I’m about two-thirds of the way back, you know, in the passenger section. Plane goes down and we, we hit the water and it’s actually pretty smooth landing and we’re going really fast. And so the plane is skimming along the water. And you know, frankly I thought it would slow down quicker than it did, but you know, it took a while to slow down and meantime, you know, you can see the banks, I need this side of the river. In a certain point the banks are like really close and I thought, Oh my God, you know, it’s going to rip off the wings. But somehow we got through it, but then at a certain point the plane is pretty slow, but then it flips over upside down and we’re all thrown out of the plane into the water. And the water is speeding along and we’re all in the water. And by the way, we’re all on our own, each one it was, I’m in the water, each one of you was in the water, the water is speeding along and it’s actually, it’s kind of wonderful, really. I mean, it was, it was beautiful and beautiful day speeding along and you know, the banks are rushing by and there was something, you know, slightly Mmm. It was kind of okay. It was fine. In fact, I looked around and I saw everybody’s fine and they were kind of just bobbing up and down the water. I waved and they waved. And then we were on dry land. Some of us were, I don’t know, you know, there was just as a small group of us that kind of got washed up in a certain place. And, h thought that was, it was a very, auspicious dream. I felt very much so. And, h
I think it was it was reflecting my feeling about giving this talk or my feeling and giving the talk. First of all, the Dharma Ocean that we knew is, is gone. I mean, I think we can all see that. And also I felt contemplating this talk that I felt like a sky diver, this jumping out of a plane and this a 10% chance the chute is going to open 10%, 90% chance the chute is not going to open. But here’s the thing it doesn’t matter because this had to be done and whether the chute opens to me up, doesn’t matter. The important point is that, you know what I see and you know what I understand and you know the tremendous sense of responsibility I feel for having heard so many people and not taking responsibility myself sooner. So that’s the most important thing. And then there was one other thing that came up.
And it’s the mouse. And some of you have heard me talk about the mouse. Caroline And I were sitting in the kitchen of the Crestone house and we were having mouse problems and end of the day we had to put out actually traps and kill mice because we couldn’t get rid of them any other way. And there was a trap under the sink. And we’re talking and all of a sudden a mouse scoots across and the trap and tries to take the cheese and the trap lands on his back, and the reason I’m mentioning this, and it actually came up for me when I thought about you and, mice usually don’t look at people. They just try to get away. But in this case, he looked at us, he turned around and looked at it the same. It was like, help me, help me. I’m so hurt. I’m so hurt, helped me. And his eyes were big and they look right at us. It looks like a small thing that wasn’t for either one of us. It’s not a small thing. And at the time we didn’t attribute any meaning to it.
But this is how I’m feeling about you. That’s something that I have done has really hurt you and I didn’t help you. I didn’t see it.
So talking about my mistakes wasn’t good enough. We have to look at the whole picture and have I been and what I haven’t done. What I have done and how it’s impacted you.
I personally don’t think anything that’s happened is amiss. This is how the teachings happen. And my mistakes, my blindness, it’s part of the world’s process. And me taking responsibility for it is also part of the world’s process. And you being freed from me, it’s part of the world’s process. It’s part of the lineage.
So we’re all in this rushing stream, which was life. We’ve been thrown out of the plane, the planes crash, planes gone. Forget it. Let’s just walk away. We can’t walk away we’ve been thrown out and we’re all our own, but we all know how to swim and we’re actually doing fine. And we can move ahead with a tremendous amount of trust, in ourselves and in what we know. And you know, the teacher that some of you may have thought you had is gone. The person is gone. The person who inspired you and loved you, and the person who hurt you, harmed you, made you feel bad about yourselves. Everything is washed away and it’s a new day. I don’t know what the future will bring.
So this is a bit of a postscript. I got a little bit rattled at the end of the recording you just listened to it because the leaf blowers started up outside. Oh. So I’m in a different room now. You can see and there were a couple of things actually I do want to say just as a sort of summary and just to be clear. Mmm. Well, obviously you know, many, many people are still devoted practitioners in this lineage. And there are many people who have not felt harmed. I just need to say that because I’ve gotten all kinds of emails obviously from everywhere. And even people I haven’t heard from in a long time. And they’re saying, you know, we’re here, we’re practicing and we love you. And, you know, we understand there’ve been a lot of problems, you know, and a lot of, things, you hadn’t seen you’re human, but it hasn’t gotten in our way.
So I want to acknowledge that obviously. And you know, for me, I do feel that I have not been qualified to be doing this job that I’ve been doing. And I was told at one point you’re actually not qualified, but there isn’t anybody else is gonna do what is needed now in Trungpa’s Rinpoche’s lineage. Actually Traleg Rinpoche told me that shortly after I moved across to Crestone said, you know, well, you didn’t get the training that we did, you know, in the Tibetan tradition. But you have to do it because you know, you were, you understand Trungpa Rinpoche’s vision and how important it is. You have to go ahead anyway. So I think there’s been sort of understanding all the way along and by some people that, you know, I’m, I’m very human and probably more human in the sense of having unresolved issues and you know, blind spots and everything. Then many people even in our sangha, but at the same time, of course, you know, it’s been a learning process for me really, I would say my whole life, you know, going back to my days with June Singer and when I was in my early twenties, the Jungian analysis I did for several years and, you know, dismantling the Western bias toward consciousness and activity and accomplishment, materialism is not a small thing. Dismantling the patriarchy in myself, which is, where people of the male gender are given advantages and opportunities that are denied to people of other genders. It’s not a small thing. Dismantling the misuse of power. It’s not a small thing. And this has been really the course of my whole life. And,I’m still working on it and I would say that the most of the hurt that has been felt, not all of it and most of it has been before I really sort of began to realize the lay of the land and, began to dig in deeper and deeper. So the work continues. Am I going to teach anymore? I don’t know. Am I going to lead programs? I don’t know. Am I going to be, continue my own practice? Definitely. Will I continue to be a meditation instructor. Definitely. Excuse me. And, we’ll go from there. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see what people want. Trungpa Rinpoche once said to me through someone else, if the students need the teachings, you can’t really slam your door and lock it, but I don’t know what it’s gonna look like. And as far as Dharma Ocean, I also want to say that,
As I said, I feel, and you know this is just my view, but I feel the Dharma Ocean that we have known, I do feel it’s crashed. And as you normally put a lot of stock in dreams, and I think the dream was pretty straightforward. It’s gone, at the same time. What will arise out of the of the collapse? We don’t know. And I think we have to be open to it. And also it’s my dream said we’re okay. Everybody’s okay, there may have been some people trapped in the plane or not. Okay. I don’t know. But, a lot of people are okay and we’re going to be okay. So I just wanted to provide that you know I, I don’t want the whole thing to be negative and kind of, we’re all going down. We’re all falling off a cliff into the abyss. It’s not like that. But I do think that what has needed to be destroyed has been destroyed. And now what needs, and now we need to care for whatever it needs our care. And that’s, you know, that’s the sadhana from the Mahamudra. Okay. So wishing everybody well from sometimes peaceful, sometimes a noisy and chaotic Hawaii, like our lives. And, I look forward to the unfolding situation and I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen.
|↑1||Stein, A. 2017. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Routledge. 2017. 33|
Dear Male Privilege-Check Diary: I’m Super Confused About How I’m Supposed to Feel About Shakira and JLo
I’m super confused about the responses to Shakira and JLo. I know enough to understand the generational and 2nd/3rd wave feminism tension between rooting out internalized misogyny and celebrating empowered gender performance. I get it that there’s no answer to this. How do you own or reclaim a body through objectification? How can the unique subject shine through the cosplay and choreography?
I’m also aware that as a progressive cishet man I’m not really supposed to have an opinion. Like: which feminism should I get behind? It all seems strange, because the argument is playing out in relation to the privilege I was born into. I haven’t seen any men express opinions about the half-time show, and this feels weird, as if the spectacle and its controversy are supposed to play out before the silent male gaze, as per usual.
You know what’s really gross? Whatever side I take, I can feel virtuous. I can win. If I stand with 2nd-wavers I can feel protective of women as an oppressed class. Awesome! If I stand with 3rd-wavers, I can celebrate the autonomy of women to reclaim stereotypes. Yay me! I can be any kind of feminist that suits me, or that the women I’m around want me to be. I can be a feminist chameleon, because my own body doesn’t hang in the balance.
The thing is that men can be publicly conservative/2nd wave or progressive/3rd wave on the issue, while privately, as a class, they remain the near-totally-dominant consumers of porn, and sex work. That consumption might feel transgressive to the conservative and celebratory to the progressive, but the commodity remains the same.
Which gets me out of the abstraction of politics and into the feelings around consumption and objectification. So here’s what I feel when I watch the show.
1) As a man who was exposed to porn as a boy, the spectacle hits all of that old neurology and lights it right the hell up, prompting an old fuzzy split between pleasure and nausea. I’m personally not into being biohacked anymore. I basically want to turn away when I can feel it start to happen, like someone literally flipping a switch in the back of my brain. Yet I feel guilty at turning away, because these amazing performers do not deserve my historical or projected shame. At the same time, the whole mirage through which they are doing what they do is just too proximal to imagery that for years troubled my capacity to see women as complete people.
2) I was really glad that my seven year-old son went to bed when the first half ended. He had never seen a football game. He was astounded, a little thrilled, and a little scared at the outright violence. We talked about brain injuries and what courage meant on that field, and why so many men from poor families end up playing at that level. So it was already enough for him to metabolize that end of the essentialized gender binary and its political economy; it’s not like he would have benefited from the “balance” of the stripper pole and the twerking. If he hadn’t gone to bed I would have sat very awkwardly beside him, wondering what exact models of equality and empowerment were being etched into his brain, and what he might come to expect of women — and himself — in time. It would have been way more awkward than when watching the football players smash and strut: at least I’m somewhat confident that I can help him navigate toxic masculinity.
3) I’m remembering being four and the teacher asking us to paint paintings of our parents. I produced a large, well-executed rendition of a woman dressed like a server at Hooters, carrying a huge martini glass. To this day my mother busts out laughing as she tells the story of the looks she got from the teachers at parent-teacher night while standing in front of it trying to feel proud about the brush-strokes. Needless to say, my mother never dressed like that and was never a drinker. Where the hell did that come from, so early? How was I programmed at five years old to stereotype my mother?
4) I feel embarrassed for the women I know who feel literally tortured by essentialized beauty standards. I fantasize about having a giant remote control that could turn the show off throughout the world.
5) It’s great that JLo can be 50 and command that space and move like that, but there’s also something tragic about it. How far can her 400M net worth push it? 60? 70? How will she be allowed to age or get sick? Will that shitgibbon A-Rod care for her when she does? What’s the unseen cost of that power? Nobody is truly in love with the cult of youth. That’s a stand-in for loving a person. A person is a passage of time.
6) I also feel sad that I can’t just enjoy the movement and skill and exuberance, because they really are incredible performers and life is very short. But I resent that I’m supposed to look at them, in fact I’m forced into looking through the hardwiring and chemistry of the addiction of gender construction, and by a lifetime of social programming that won’t get me an inch closer to knowing who those women are, or who I am for that matter.
7) I could have cried over the Puerto Rican flag, but it was over in a flash. And JLo’s daughter climbing out of that cage to sing. I could have talked about that with my son, if he’d been able to see it. My white son, who is unlikely to ever fear being caged.
8) I feel sad that I can’t lighten up, because lightening up is so necessary. But I wish that relief could be provided by people who seem truly liberated by performance, like any of the men-women on Drag Race.
9) So my vote for next half-time show is for JINKX MONSOON to be the lead, serving up joyful campy football-tights, helmet hair, 80s shoulder-pad realness, really showing it’s a SHOW, proving that gender is only liberating when it is fluid. I love Jinkx so much I’m going to talk with my therapist about it. I just want to be thrilled by people who perform life, not gender, who test my perception of myself and the world, people who weren’t trained from toddlerhood to conform and perform, people who don’t double down on the neurology that formed around stereotypes they’ll waste their middle age on maintaining, if they even have the money to do it.
10) Actually, strike all that because I’m not sure it’s exactly woke to want drag queens to replace women on stage. Sorry Jinkx! Okay, new idea: Please please PLEASE can we have the four Baroness Von Sketch women to do the next show, so they can punk the whole damn thing. I want to see Meredith MacNeill twist around that brass pole with sanitary wipes. I want to see the Red Wine Ladies get plastered at the 50 yard line and tackle the refs. I want them to make us laugh at all the anxious and tragic things we think we want, and that we think we want to be.
11) Who am I kidding? Jinkx and the Red Wine Ladies will never be hired by the NFL/Fox/Pepsi complex to do the show. We’re seeing what money wants us to see. We’re seeing who those guys want us to see, because their world is the world. Those guys who made it big with Roger Ailes. We’re seeing the perfect balance to the bloody scrimmage. We’re standing there on the sideline with A-Rod. He’s pumping his fist in the air, enjoying what his world can pay for. Do I want to like the world he likes? Do our children have a choice?
Here’s Jinkx Monsoon:
And here’s Meredith MacNeill: