It Might Be Useful for the Privileged to Tune into Shame and Disgust For a Moment
So on FB I endorsed the fantastic new podcast Yoga is Dead:
To follow up here, I want to track something a little more complicated (and messy/vulnerable), tied to a previous exploration of the aspirational self. I’ll take it step by step:
1.White/male fragility flows from deep insecurity.
2. That insecurity can’t be separated from the anxiety of entitlement, which the heart, somewhere, knows is unearned and based on nothing.
3. In the yoga world, part of the work demanded of the aspirational self is that it must mask the entitled self. It is meant to perform goodness, equanimity, and, for some, wokeness.
4. When it fails to do this work, we are ashamed.
5. It’s easier, however, to feel disgust: the externalization of shame.
6. We can relieve disgust in a masturbatory way, by ganging up on Instagram yoga people or goat yoga people, or beer yoga people. If we’re especially pious, we’ll drag people who focus on yoga as therapy or functional movement instead of spirituality. We can even express disgust through feminist or woketivist language.
7. It feels relieving to drag those whose aspirational selves are obviously failing to hide their entitled selves.
8. We’re saying: How dare they tip our hand, spill our secret?
9. What makes episode #1 of Yoga is Dead so jagged is that Tejal and Jesal blow right through the aspirational self. They zero in on the entitled self with their title: “White Women Killed Yoga.”
10. As they predicted, this title provoked a lot of reactivity. It ranged from defensiveness to schadenfreude.
11. The schadenfreude is disgust, thinly veiled. Under a thicker veil, it might contain self-loathing.
12. But the title is actually simple. An unpacked version might be: “You Can’t Do Yoga Without Confronting Entitlement, And Since Entitled People Run the Mainstream Industry, Yoga Isn’t Happening There.”
13. Tejal and Jesal make it clear that for them, there’s no aspirational self that can hide the privilege that generates it.
14. It makes total sense that they look right through it, as if it wasn’t even there. It hasn’t worked. It hasn’t fooled them.
15. In fact, the aspirational self has done worse than not-working. It has tried to substitute for work. It prevents the yoga of interrogating entitlement from getting off the ground. The yoga of interrogating entitlement is fierce, and the aspirational self will not tolerate it.
16. When Tejal’s trainer sits there and says Tejal is wrong about the relationship between hatha yoga and raja yoga, she’s speaking from the anxiety of the aspirational self: the self that wants to be knowledgeable, historically valid, authentic — all things that the entitled self knows, somewhere, it is not.
17. The stakes are high for the trainer. The personal intention is to not let the aspirational self crumble. But the public impact remarginalizes in a passive-aggressive way. This is how a psychological mess projects outward into material harm.
I’m not a white woman, but imagining the podcast title as “White Men Killed Yoga” does the trick. It allows me to feel into what the podcasters are catalyzing.
I feel the shame and guilt and I want to push these things away with all the reasons. I use disgust to pin those feelings on other white men I know. It’s gotta be them, not me.
But if I do what the actual yoga often instructs me to do (whether this is ancient or not) — to abide with the feelings until they soften or pass or depersonalize or integrate — something else emerges.
It emerges because I allow the defense of the aspirational self to let down a bit. I let it down because it’s too late. It can’t protect me. It was a misdirected effort, and suddenly exhausting to maintain.
And beneath the aspirational self I see it: the entitled self. Cue shame and guilt again.
Yet, if I pause again, it passes again.
Shame and guilt and disgust are probably unavoidable when feeling the crack of the aspirational and entitled selves.
But they can be doorways to transparency and transformation.
For that to happen requires intimacy with the feelings. A deer-in-the-headlights moment in which you can’t escape what you’re seeing, what you’re participating in.
Here’s a recent personal example — seemingly unrelated:
I was in a window seat in plane flying west to LAX. I looked down through the hazy turquoise and saw the bone-dry ripples of the Sierra Nevada. I could see the exhaust from the engine ripple its heat in a swath below. It was instantly clear that State will soon be covered in fire, and the plane blowing hot air into it.
The the attendant comes by and offers water in a disposable cup. She’s uniformed in a way that is meant to signify attractiveness and compliance. My aspirational self says no to the cup. And then it crumbles because I know it’s not enough.
I become aware of my entitled self watching the plane it is in scorch the earth, and in that instant I can no longer dissociate into the beauty of flying. I can no longer pretend that it is normal and good to be here.
And that’s not about me or my psychology or moral character. It’s about my continued participation.
Watching the heat spew down from my metal tube is shameful, guilty, disgusting.
But am I doing it? Yes, I’m participating.
But is this who I am? Is malignant consumption my nature, my character? It has brought me here, unconsciously. But no, I could imagine another way of being in the world.
So I wonder what it would take for these particular instances of shame/disgust to be more widely known as a doorway to a different kind of freedom.
A freedom from aspiration. A freedom to give away entitlement.
The churches need this next – provided they really don’t have channels. We must give it one last try in confidence – in case they are open to input after all.
On the one hand are the designer outlet churches. On the other hand are the fogeys who pretend their high-demand new movements are quite good really.
They don’t seem to want to be enriched by us, snotty-nosed, who have seen a thing or two and bear the shape, knocking them into a wholly new orbit yet harmonious with their previous one (this is where the true instead of supposed meaning of their theologies will show up the difference).
Dumbing down, time wasting, “moral equivalency” …
Oh, nearly forgot (so used to them). Flying below the radar in plain sight. Salami slicing of mischiefs under different auspices. Ambiguity about extent of authorisation or not (faint whiff of blackmail, often of the innocent), amounting to parasitism. The official constitution and glossy brochures deliberately contradict the obvious practice, in order to keep up the bamboozle factor.
It took me some time before I could dive down the Matthew Remski rabbit hole again. Having only taken one previous dive in March after a colleague, Carla Stangenberg in Brooklyn, sent me your piece on the industry’s push for yoga teachers in studios to embrace our inner yoga babe on the Covid Zoom Screen during which (or following another thread of yours?) I read about Iyengar’s hospitalization that resulted from the asana photography for Light on Yoga, I kind of had to question everything. A worldwide pandemic that turns everything ass-over-tea-kettle helped in that journey.
It takes some time for me to reintegrate with how I to teach after that kind of disillusionment (the Iyengar one I hadn’t heard and, at the time, naively only knew him as the fundamental alignment king). Your work helps me to get real about my attitudes and excuses and assumptions before I can teach well in any given moment (with the disillusionment swirling and mixing and potentially resulting in a confused teacher teaching: blecht). This is all so good.
My point: this post is spot on, and I am heading down the rabbit hole now. With Jesal Parikh and Tejal Patel, as well as Susanna Barkataki’s work, some angel Kyodo williams, and a whole load of reading on trauma, I love this new adventure. Thank you.
You write what is happening with the observer’s eye and perform the point you are trying to make in the writing through real life experience beyond the cushion. The beauty (or the irony?) – in highlighting what is wrong with Industrial Yoga (or here, fragility, privilege, unearned entitlement) – is that you come back to the fundamental yogic practice of staying with discomfort (tho not hanging naked over a smoking fire pit of chilis) and then showcase what has been – in your own practice – actually helpful and liberating for you.
And in that way, it is helpful to me.
Thank you, dear.