My grandmother and I never really saw eye to eye. It was like we were from two different worlds existing in the same time. Hers was strict and rigid with clearly defined roles and mine was free flowing and fun. She often expressed her disapproval for the whimsical way I went through the world, making it up as I went along.
But one of the last things that she ever said to me was: “I’m proud of you. And I envy your freedom.” She was referring to my riding freight trains across the country, relying on the kindness of strangers, and seeing new places everyday. She went on to explain, the only time she really got to travel on her own was as a nurse during world war 2. It wasn’t exactly a light hearted trip.
After the war she was married. She raised 8 children, often alone, while her husband who was a dentist traveled and taught. He retired at 55. But she continued to work, keeping their giant house immaculately clean, doing all their laundry, cooking three amazing meals a day all from scratch and hosting large family gatherings.
Oddly enough, when she passed away, I felt closer to her than I ever had before. I felt her presence immediately and I felt like she could finally truly see me for who I am. As the judgements of this world fell away, she was able to recognize that I am a good mother despite the fact that I’m not married to my daughter’s father. And that the work I do is important even if it’s unconventional.
I was also able to see her more clearly. I realized that we’re not actually so different. We both had a deep desire to help people and make the world better. I am not a healer out of no where, but rather, I follow in her footsteps. We come from a long line of strong women who were willing to wear whatever hats would enable them to serve, whether as nurses, teachers or in the church.
In Reiki, theres the concept of generational healing. It’s the idea that the work that we do on ourselves in this moment not only effects the future for the better, but it also heals the suffering and sacrifices of the past. When I first learned about this, it seemed really vague and abstract. But this month, I’m feeling it deep down in my bones.
All the stories that came up around the #me too hashtag felt like a giant purge of our collective societal demons. Women speaking of and releasing the traumas their grandmothers had buried deep inside themselves. It’s the month of scorpio, where as my Kabbalah teacher says, “all our thought forms come back to us and we get to decide if we’ll keep them, or choose something different.”
It’s also Halloween, the time of year when the veils between realms get thin and fall away. I am usually only aware of my grandmother’s energy when I am suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to do something really traditional and out character, like get married or wear a conservative high neck “blouse.”
But lately I can feel her urging me to speak up and out more about the cycles of violence and silence surrounding women’s struggles. She begs me to break it down, to high light all the nuances. She dares me to be the person I claim to be, the person she wanted to be, someone my daughter can be proud of. We’ve come so far and yet theres so much more work to do.
Simply telling our stories is just the beginning. We must trace the underlying assumptions that enable this violence to occur back to their source and weed them out once and for all. We must slay the fear demons of the patriarchy that have kept us silent one by one. We do this by weaving the magic of our words to cut through the double speak of this world (freedom, equality, justice for all) to illustrate and illuminate the issue on all of it’s subtle and not so subtle layers and levels.
For these reasons, in honor of my great-grandmothers and my daughters’ daughters, I’m sharing a letter that I’ve written to a white male colleague. I sent it over a week ago and have received no acknowledgment. What a privilege it is, to be able to opt out of these conversations when it gets difficult. I’m sharing it here in hope that someone will be able to receive it and find it useful.
Originally I was going to keep it anonymous because I am compassionate and I feel bad about making other people uncomfortable. But it was pointed out to me, that protecting anonymity here just reinforces a PATRIARCHIAL power structure. Sometimes we need to be uncomfortable to get motivated to change.
**** This time around, in re-sharing, I’ve taken out the name because last year the man in question threatened to sue me for “libel.” I still don’t think I did anything wrong in sharing my point of view, although the studio made my taking the post down a stipulation of entering into mediation. The man in question then resigned from the studio to avoid having that mediated conversation. When I pressed the owners to continue these conversations around power, privilege and silencing they told me that if I made this “private” conflict “public” my employment would be terminated. In the end, I was forced out of the studio and this man that thinks #me too is just women complaining and that rape culture is never going to change, was invited back to hold space for the many women who have experienced sexual trauma and come to yoga to process it through their bodies.
Being sorry “if you upset me,” isn’t actually taking any responsibility for what you were saying or responding to why I find it problematic.
I care very deeply about these issues which is why I’m taking the time and energy to do this painstaking work of building understanding and solidarity between the women and men in my community.
This is the work that I do constantly with my partner, my daughters father, and my friends. I do it because I actually love men, and women, and people, and see their pain and potential.
It’s called emotional labor and it’s work that women have traditionally done and are expected to do, which is never paid and usually not even acknowledged, which is why it’s problematic in the context of the conversations we’ve been having.
I am very thoughtful about how I respond in situations and conversations like these because I know that they have the potential to shift people’s perspectives, to be a catalyst for change, or to make people defensive in which case they will dig in their heels and shut down.
This is why it takes me days to formulate my responses amidst all the other work that I’m doing as a yoga teacher and student, as a mother and a lover. I try to choose the right words to put my message into a form that you can and will be willing to receive, which is still problematic because I as a woman am still catering to your needs as a man.
I am conscious not to come across as overly emotional or angry because then my experience will be written of as PMS or femi-nazi bullshit.
But despite my best efforts to be in dialogue with you, you repeatedly belittled and dismissed my ideas and experience. You superimposed your interpretation and agenda over mine and acted as if it were absolute. This is how men devalue and silence women all the time.
You never even answered the original question which was: “what will you do to help change this part of our culture (referring to #me too, sexual assault and harassment of women)?”
Instead you chose to reiterate and emphasize the limitations that you perceive/project on the possibilities and potential for meaningful change to occur.
So I ask again, how is that useful or strategic? How does it serve your interests? How does it serve mine and that of all women?
I’m not suggesting that we “pretend” that everything is great and moving along in the right direction. But i am suggesting that we begin to have these difficult conversations. If you would like to be an ally, you can bring them into your predominately male spaces and begin to have them with other men.
I am also saying that we connect to the histories of resistance that go back way more than just three of four generations. And that we get into the mindset that a different world is possible.
Isn’t that what yoga is all about? Union: yoking our individual awareness to cosmic consciousness. Recognition that we are all in this together, that we are effecting one another, that we are actually creating our reality by what we choose to do and believe collectively.
In this context, your defeatist attitude that rape culture and toxic masculinity will never change has dire consequences. As a man who teachers yoga to rooms full of women everyday, it becomes dangerous, detrimental to our collective liberation.
The yoga practice is neutral on it’s own and we all infuse it with our own energy, intentions, biases and assumptions. So how do you use the practice and your teaching platform to empower people? Or, if you don’t like that language, how do you facilitate their illumination from within? How do you help them to recognize the agency they have to change their lives and the world around them? Do you think that’s important?
I definitely think it’s important, for both men and women. I am not denying the patriarchy’s detrimental effects on people that identify as men. But i also refuse to give it precedent because the desires, needs and judgments of that segment of the population have been given precedent for centuries and that why our culture and society is out of balance.
I think it was a really interesting strategy to spout off all this negative, discouraging shit very publicly, and then when women started to push back, you deleted your posts (which also deleted our posts) and then took your “apology” to the private sphere. Where, instead of taking any accountability, you made more justifications. This continues to play into traditional gender dynamics where the women are expected to keep things (like abuse and assault) quiet and private so the men aren’t exposed and their egos don’t hurt about it.
But I’m willing to play along for a little bit, if you’re actually willing to look at your shit. The original question remains, “What will you do (actions taken in your own life) to change this part of our culture?
No one can afford to sit back and pat themselves on the back for doing such a good job and being so aware. There is always more work to be done on deeper and deeper and more and more subtle layers and levels. This problem hasn’t been solved, it has just gone underground. So we must be more skillful and vigilant about weeding it out.
I don’t have the answers. I just know it begins with having these difficult conversations, in all of their inconvenience and discomfort, until everything has been exposed and the energy is free to shift, the world is able to change.
I would love to have continued dialogue about these topics.
In conclusion, theres just more work to be done and difficult conversations to have until we get it all figured out. If anyone has questions, please ask them. Or if you would like to share stories or strategies for doing this work, I would love to hear them. May we heal together and become stronger.