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The challenge of course is balance - to somehow let our dark emerge to be transformed in the fire of wisdom but not lose ourselves in the process. Suppression won’t help. But letting our inner bile contaminate everything around us doesn’t help either. Silence, carved out space for retreat and healing, finding some ways to really just be with yourself will all help. Of course they are all hard things to do this time of year.
All the more reason to be conscientious about them.
If we don’t point to where our practices come from - or think we have any responsibility to the community - we’re negligent. Tias used to say if a teacher can’t talk about his lineage, the teaching is suspect. Which is not to say authority or credibility comes from a lineage or a guru, per se.
But our credibility and our authority don’t come independently, either.
at this point I recognize that everything can fall apart and I will still be okay. There is an underlying sense that I can handle the hard things in life. I trust that I can both take on and survive adversity. I have access to a deep pulse that drums steady even as everything around me- or inside me - feels unstable, unsafe, or just flat out wrong. I have this sense precisely because I have gone through transformation over and over again in these practices. Having gone through it, I trust it.
simply opening wounds is not a healing of them. Big feelings, old and generational questions, deep systemic turmoil and personal responsibility are never going to be an easy things to sit with. There will always be resistance to change. There will be resistance when we speak our truth. And there will be resistance to systemic change. I mean this, socially. I mean this, personally. People get mean and triggers are triggered. Bullies will bully, hard. Discomfort looms. When we're uncomfortable we're conservative, reactive, prone toward duck and cover moves into what feels familiar even if we know it won't solve things in the long run.
This new moon, May 15, is a tap tapping at the heart of the spiritual warrior.
Which isn't necessarily a comfortable thing.
Spiritual warriorship is almost always about sacrifice, honesty, revelation and upheaval. This new moon is going to have a lot of that.
Taurus the earthy sweet, Venus tinged and spring laden, is all about stability. Taurus wants to give good solid ground, if not a home, if not deep intimacy and shelter to what and who she loves.
Taurus wants to adopt all the stray kittens and shelter puppies, mother everybody who's hurting, have confessional soul talks curled up on the couch. If Aries called up individuality, ideals, gumption and the capacity to speak to power from a deep sense of righteousness, Taurus wants to pull those ideas out of the sky and put our feet on the ground. Taurus is drawn to the beautiful and luxurious and is related to all things concerning our resources and finances; appreciation, fertility, romance. Taurus is about earthly pleasures, learning life lessons as the thing we are put on this earth to do, sexuality, money, and relationship.
Getting real is always hard. But there are some unique aspects to this year and this particular turn of the wheel. They’ll stoke sacrificial fire to a blaze by challenging some of our most precious identities and longstanding behaviors, which might make the first aspect of this lunar cycle feel destabilizing and chaotic. The latter phase of this moon cycle will deepen and mellow.
Of course, some people will find these elements exciting. Elements are like that: some people thrive where others struggle.
And here's why any of this is important: looking to moon cycles and stars is not a prescriptive; it's rummaging around in spiritual truths. Spiritual truths can be interpreted to fit whatever argument or point of view you want, or diluted to the merely ornamental. But they can also provoke deeper insight. It's a direct invocation of free will. We all have different aspects of self and a multitude of different areas in life; spiritual truths will show up and play out differently for everyone. These are stories of soul and questions of personhood happening in the actual world.
For example, the black and white, ruthless and headfirst nature of Aires is going to be challenged by and challenge the pacific, why-can't-we-all-just-get-along Taurus in us.
Life works like that, oscillating and shifting. Now this, now that. Given our individual nature, conditions, and circumstances, the 'energies' of the universe will be felt in radically different ways.
Don't worry: by the full moon these riotous aspects will have worked themselves to a clarity. Taurus is about stability, after all. Even if that process requires some dismantling of the old, it's result is always about living truth.
Taurus is ruled by Venus, expressing the interior or feminine qualities of pleasure, comfort, serenity, love, relationship, gathering and holding dear that which makes us happy. She's all fertility, wealth, and growth.
Taurus is symbolized by the Bull, which has always been a symbol for banking, commerce, stock (literally) exchanges, wealth and luxury. It speaks on archetypal levels to the development of humanity to a pastoral, agricultural species who learned to cultivate and work with the fertility of the earth. The bull's horns have always been associated with the crescent moon. As a species, we work well with seasons and cycles. We see our inner, emotive, psychological aspects reflected in the moon, the sea, and the earth. Indeed the moon is exalted in Taurus: the draw toward the emotional and happiness is steady, stubborn, unyeilding, loyal, persistent as a bull. As an earth sign, Taurus has one of the heaviest psychological pulls. The soul wants to evolve, and she'll keep fighting or coming up with stubbed toes and bruised hearts until she does.
This is where some of our inner conflict is born: Taurus craves emotional well being and security at all costs, so she can be resistant to change. She feels vulnerable in turmoil or the experiential and tends to compensate with attempts to maintain consistency and domestic security. Taurus can cling to form and situation, exhibiting a pretty unique blend of stubbornness and compromise. Think of how a mother or lover will forgive all shortcomings in the beloved. Once an idea, relationship, or reality is embraced as her own, she'll never wanna let it (or him, or it) go. But she's willing and quite able to endure emotional hardship in order to sustain what she loves. Taurus has a temper, but it's slow and deep. So, too, are her grudges. She's just as slow to forgive as she is to get mad. Her peace loving nature gives strong powers of compromise which, however, can be a barrier to positive change if Taurus aspects are kept in their lower stages; Taurus may keep doing the same old things long past the time they are fruitful. She’ll fight to preserve situations that would be better served by calling done done. Taurus will dig her heels in, flip up her nose, binge on the pleasurable while avoiding harsher realities.
Taurus is her own worst enemy. Which means she's also her own knight in shining armor, if she ever gets around to realizing it.
EVOLUTION OF TAURUS
The steadfast nature and downright emotive strength of Taurus means incredible spiritual transformation can happen when we learn to embrace emotional change as a creative force and not fear being alone. That transformation tends to have a lot of the ascetic to it - it can burn, feel cruel, take away, feel like loss. Transformation here means learning some spiritual lessons, and maybe some love lessons. Once we learn to give up our clingy, merging, security at all costs behaviors, the inherent power and loyal nature of Taurus can lead to remarkable spiritual insights and strengths, given her natural disposition to devotion. Learning to let our kids become individuals and to love our partners as individuals, or merit our own worth regardless of relationship, is some of the grittiest work we’ll ever do.
There's a difference between gratification and truth, I mean. The Taurus in us needs to learn that truth. The quest for pleasure can stand in the way of deeper wisdom. To thine own self be true is a good reflection for Taurus in us; we have to parse what we want in the moment from what we - and those around us - really need.
URANUS AND MARS - A SUMMER OF LIFE LESSONS, SEVEN YEARS OF RECLAMATION
So Aires to Taurus is always going to be a reality check. It's a working over of airy ideals to the grit of reality. A tempering of the individual will to the collective whole. It's tricky. Commitment and letting go always go together. Always.
But here's why this year and this transit is going to be particularly disruptive: on the very same day as the New Moon, Uranus enters Taurus for the first time since 1942.
Uranus is the planet of upheaval, breakdowns, breakthroughs, and awakenings. She spins sideways. She is loud, extreme, and liberating through wreckage. She's creative through disruption. Situated in Taurus for the next seven years, she's going to upset to things like finance, wealth, banking, and how we deal with the riches of the earth.
This isn't a bad thing. Nor is it a surprise. The exploitative ways we have been doing things to the planet and to its peoples has been engineering its own combustion for decades. It's fair to say that the way we use planetary resources, what we consider currency, and how we do business is going to be different in seven years’ time. Alternative currencies are already circulating, small and local and co-operative makers are using things like Etsy, Patreon, and crowd sourcing in radical ways. Social media and the internet – Uranus’ symbolic tools if she were to have them - are radicalizing everything. Everything: news to how movies and books are made, education is shared, relationships are found. Individually, this seven year cycle is going to prompt shift in some prominent area of your life. It may not be finance, for you. It may be relational, or how you're using your own body, or how you define success.
On global level, Uranus in Taurus will change the ways in which we do business, think of currencies, and how we work with natural resources. We're going to be radically revisioning how we live on the planet for the next seven years. There's going to be conflict. The old guard is going to change. But how change happens is a very open question. For some, this is going to feel righteous, exhilarating, like opportunity. For others it's going to feel terrifying.
But it's just change. It doesn't have to be feared. There's a wisdom to conscientiously watching and witnessing as these things conflict, fall apart, and break wide open. There’s a willed ignorance to believing it’s all going to settle down and go back to the way it’s always been.
As if that weren't enough, on May 16 Mars and Uranus will come into a unique relationship in the sky. That is, their energies will clash. As I said, Uranus is going to be in this cycle for the coming 7 years. Mars is going to pass through some charged places all summer long, making this a summer of love lessons, ultimate truths, and deep paradigm shifts.
Whenever Mars shows up, anger, injustice, the ways in which we humans tend to throw each other or parts of ourselves away, all the raging and explosive ways in which we haven't yet learned to work with anger or deal with suffering are going to flare up like holy fire. Or a bad rash. Mars is going to be around all summer long - so it's quite possible this will be a season of facing and healing some very old wounds. It will be heartfelt, personal, and societal.
Again, this isn't a bad thing. Nor is it a up out of nowhere thing. These are deep questions and imbalances that have been underground and repressed for generations. They're just coming to a hot and heavy boil, now.
The unsettling goes on: this New Moon happens in conjunction with the fixed star Algol. Algol is sometimes called the demon star, related to the blinking and still seeing eye of Medusa's severed head. She’s an archetype of raging against injustice.
Medusa was a priestess. She was raped by Poseidon and then blamed for her own rape, sold out by her guardian and sister and then decapitated. It's a horrible story. It holds patriarchy's violence up to the light. She tells the story of what happens when the oppressed are blamed, shamed, or silenced for their own suffering. That kind of rage is so powerful it’ll will turn hot blooded things to cold stone and incite terror in the powers that be. There's a truth to Medusa's rage, a deep surge of power in the long suppressed, it's hard but it has the ring of truth to it. There is a wildness to gazing from our wounds to oppressive structures. We see the truth of this is in the painful dialogue surrounding the #metoo movement, let alone the aching wounds of feminism and racism being both sold out and turned against one other at one and the same time. This is what happens when the values and language of the oppressed is stolen, denied, and used against them. This what happens when the rage of oppression is forced back into the victim's throat.
Of course none of this is new. None of these issues are new issues. But their time is here. Old wounds are some of the most painful to look at, the hardest to heal. We're in a cycle of speaking directly to power. Such a thing asks for deep vulnerability personally - you can't speak to power, otherwise - and it will tear former power structures to the ground.
All this to say that there is a lot happening. There are personal and social questions at play and they are not light ones. There are real changes happening that may feel threatening. There's a naked voltage to this moment in time and it should all be held with a lot of compassionate awareness.
There are going to be glitches and discomforts if these things are to be reckoned with, and they have to be reckoned with. There may be risings of your own medusa story and further revelations on the world stage.
We're directly involved in the questions of what it means to heal and find justice, how to fight and what we fight for, what we choose to protect and where we're going to place our values as a human community. These questions and fall outs are happening on the highest levels of society. But they're going to keep showing up in smaller, more intimate structures, including things like the yoga world and our personal lives.
The good news - and there is good news - is that the moon is absolutely exalted in Taurus. That means moon's qualities - psychology, emotion, feelings, movement, connection and relationship and interconnectivity - are strong now. If you're feeling rattled, if things feel unstable, recognize it's not you. It’s not you and it's not insane. We're in truth. These things have been waiting for answers, and we are the answers.
KRITTIKA - WHERE FIRE FALLS DOWN ON EARTH
According to Vedic astrology, this new moon opens in the lunar 'mansion' of Krittika before passing onto Rohini at 10 degrees of Taurus. Krittika is harsh, sharp, cruel feeling whereas Rohini is one of the most beloved and sweet places for the moon to go. I'm saying: things might feel a little prickly but they're headed toward a better place.
Krittika is the Pleiades in the sky. It's related to Agni, the god of fire. The word Krittika means 'knife' or blade or razor, and it has all the connotations of cutting away to reveal truth and excising the past. The blade is sharp enough to pierce ego's delusions, which might mean you see the bulk and weight of stories of baggage you’re still lugging around. People who are born during Krittika are often said to be cruelly blunt: they'll tell you what they see and be exacting. But the honesty of Krittika isn't personal or even antagonistic. It's criticism coming from truth and purity. While this cut may feel negative, it's only because we don't necessarily want to know the truth. Be gentle, feel the ground, you can handle it. And if and when we realize we can handle it, we end up in a place that actually feels a whole lot better.
The Pleiades are literally a conglomerate of hot, young stars. Krittika is related to Mars and his symbology of fire. It's the hinge where Aires becomes Taurus, where fire and gumption and passion meld with the connection, serenity, warmth, and beauty of Taurus. Krittika is analogous to the Vedic fire pit, where you burn offerings in an external display of offering your inner impurities to the fire of consciousness.
The god is Agni, fire eater and feet burner, god of transformation. When we offer something into the fire, Agni eats it and turns it to smoke. This smoke than drifts up to heaven. Agni is the god who takes our intentions up to heaven, internally. When we make internal sacrifices, it is the inner fire that rises up. Even if you turn fire upside down, the flame still rises. Fire - and the fire of consciousness - always rises. Always. This is why meditation is the interior practice of Vedic fire ceremony: we burn our karma in the fire pit of truth, and higher truth is the result.
THINGS CAN GET BETTER:
All of this shifting, deeply moving, hard to handle energy is good. This is good. It's like when you go to a therapist and then feel gutted, but end with real personal change. Or like when you admit alcoholism and start recovery. Or have a really hard ugly cry with a girlfriend or partner - it feels so ugly but when it's through you have incredible new levels of sincerity and bonding, you'll get hugs and comfort and you have permission to eat ice cream. While these themes are going to be hot and tender in the first stages of this lunar cycle, the full moon and next lunar mansion are all about stabilizing, soothing, finding balm. Ultimately, we're headed toward emotional connectivity and making really strong bonds, finding new depths. As the full moon approaches we'll be unearthing some serious emotional material and deep feelings. The kind that have a tinge of the sacred to them. We're verging in the turmoil toward a resolution of love and a swell of support. There will be brushes with the higher meaning and experience of love, identity, and relationship as some of these sharp conflicts and deep vulnerabilities play themselves out.
It's possible to emotionally metabolize and find the joy in these bigger changes and challenges. We're in the unanswered question of whether we can go on spiritual quest together, do deep work that is encased and enveloped in love, accept the kinds of things that give us depth. It's gonna feel real.
Depending on who you are and where you are, you'll probably feel these themes in different ways or different areas of life entirely unique to who you are. For some, this will be about career but for others it will show up in physical or health concerns. For still others it may have to do with spirituality or family. It might be about bottom lines but it could just as easily speak to soul. There's always invitation here to see where these speak to you and to craft your ceremonies to the personally relevant.
Wealth: focus on the collaborative, the innovative, the creative and generative. Keep the possessive in check. Give to a charity or support a local artist or cause that speaks to your heart. Host potlucks rather than throwing dinner parties. Look at where you may need to liberate yourself financially or deal with your own assets, gifts, and resources differently. Get a living plant, a green thing that grows, and put it where you work or somewhere else associated with your money. Pay off an old debt if you want to taste free. Feel the shifting awareness around global resources, planetary health, oil and water; there are thousands of ways to get involved or show support or make a change. Again, notice how directly even a small contribution changes you.
Wild: get outside, go barefoot, look for opportunities to be in the forests, by the water, in the deep parts of nature that shock you stupid. Lay on the grass and look at the sky. Lay on your belly and watch the dirt creatures. Frequent farmers markets and make it a summer of local decadence.
Interiority: set aside some time for the deeply beautiful, artistic, and aesthetic this month. Buy or pull out a book of poetry or devotional reading and give it some real time; set it near your morning coffee or tea or bedside table or bathroom. Take yourself on a date to a museum or a park or just a pretty coffee shop on your own. Meditate on or in nature a few times in upcoming weeks. Ritually take a 30 minutes or an hour to appreciate your own physical beauty: be naked, indulge your skin, wear lingerie or your feel good clothes for no reason other than that it feels good; sleep on your best sheets and eat really soulful treats. The gluttonous kind. The decadent ones.
Fire: The first element in the light of consciousness, fire burns away physical impurities and is said in vedic ceremonies (yagyas) to be a bridge to the spiritual. It might be a good time to offer some burnt offerings. Do some soul journaling and offer the pages to the fire, sit by a campfire and just gaze, consider what it is you're ready to sacrifice.
Sit with it. Take your heart, your butt, and your feelings to the meditation cushion. Let it all happen there. Take up the space you occupy; no more and no less. This is daunting as so many of us have been conditioned to not take up space, to disappear, to keep everybody happy. And at the same time your feelings and cravings and opinions are not everybody else's problem, or even a mere glimpse of reality. Take up the space you occupy, no more and no less. Wild growth and appreciation follow.
USE YOUR SCENTS
Rose is the essential oil for Taurus, with her love of luxury and earthly delights. It's a pricey one, and valuation is one of the key lessons of Taurus. The earthy, resilient nature of Taurus is reflected in the fact that roses are intensely hardy, adaptable, and tenacious, often passing through generations of human keepers and thriving in soil that other plants would only suffer in.
3 parts rose
1 part patchouli - spiritulizes the merely fleshy or material, including sexuality, toward the sacred rather than the profane or the clingy. Make it about soul rather than ego.
2 parts vanilla encourages a sense of fulfillment and safety.
I've spent the last few weeks prepping a workshop for my friends at Sacred Space on the New Moon. I've spent weeks prepping a whole lot of different projects, looking sideways at old projects as suddenly they seem a little threadbare, just not quite right anymore. I've been feeling a little jostled, deeply unsettled. Old assumptions are being shook loose in uncomfortable ways and there's shit rattling around inside me. There is a lot of internal pressure. It isn't comfortable. Things, but mostly unimportant things, have been accelerating. Important things feel far away and neglected. I strongly recognized an old coping skill - the saying yes too quick, the over scheduling and overworking, the burying myself in under-compensated work because somehow work is where I find my self esteem. Rather than, say, really doing my own work or letting the closer to me relationships fuel my I'm-okay-and-I-am-worthy, fire. That coping skill seems to be infiltrating my days like an infestation. It's everywhere. I smack it in one place and then it starts laughing right behind my shoulder.
And then the great blizzard of middle April, a kind of grande finale to a pitiless winter that has basically sucked the marrow out of every one I know.
All the noise stopped. All the things were suddenly cancelled. My husband went out for an afternoon with his friends and they got stranded, safe but stranded, so the dog and I sat by the window and watched the snow drop, the wind blow, the street go empty. I stepped out into yard around midnight. The snow reached my knees. Where it had banked it reached midthigh. The snow and the sky reflected one another; it was bright as day. Bright as day but soft and wierd. Bluey. Like walking on the moon.
I was suddenly in a landscape that was solitary, with a stretch of days in a row that were hollow and bare.
I picked up my pen. I only managed to write one sentence. It's a good sentence. A hard wrought one. Some sentences take twenty years or so to get themselves on paper.
New Moons are generally mild, introspective, a time to welcome the new. But this one, this one has something like emergency to it. I melted the frost on the window with my palm. There is little in my kitchen but bread and apples. But all of this seems okay. It is alright. Spring is going to come, eventually. And when it does I will be ready for it. I've been making myself ready for it for so long. A few days of cloistered space and raging weather might be exactly what I most need to let the last inner rattling unhook itself from my lungs.
Rather than let all my prep work fall to nothing (which hey, would be okay. Generally that's what happens to prep work), I'm going to try to rephrase some of it here in a way you can use on your own. Take it and run.
Little prelude -
Aries: the spiritual warrior, the pioneer, the daredevil, the survivor
moon and sun power, combined. Add mercury finally pulling out of retrograde and going direct. As if that's not enough, Uranus, said to be a goddess of chaos making in the name of all things holy, mistress of truly not giving a fuck, Uranus is in conjunction with the new moon in Aries for the last time in the next 80 years. You basically have a pissed off tiger being set loose from a cage. Or, maybe, a blizzard descending on your aching for spring spirit. It's untamable, unequal distribution of forces, a mad shake down of what isn't stable enough to support truth and a siren cry for honesty as the only thing that will come out the other side. Go forth or go home.
the Influence of Aries is youthful boldness, the beginning stage of evolutionary growth. It is hot with life. It wants to rush headfirst into things regardless of difficulty, obstacles, or consequences. It tends to not quite understand, consequences. Until afterward. Headiness is arian, both in terms of stubbornness and intelligence. There is a fierce independent streak and this leads to innovation, bravery, and a general tendency toward self-taught wisdom.
Arian challenges: maintaining consistancy, impatience. If unchecked, impatience and self will boil over into anger and an aggressive tone to thoughts, words, and behaviors. Aries has a high emotional vulnerability, despite the bold. Mars, Aries' ruling planet and symbol of our strength, our courage to defend ourselves and our principals, the righteousness of rage and the energy that comes from truth, is debilitated by the moon. When Aries can turn innate brightness and intelligence, his courage and boldness to greater ends than the merely brash, higher purposes unfold. Learning the rewards of sacrifice and the power of discipline are key.
the lessons Aries teaches: creative intelligence and the soul's longing for self-awareness are being developed under Aries in the here. and. now. Exclamation point. The restless, wandering, alone in the hills tendency comes from not feeling emotionally at peace. Transforming that innate dis-ease through discipline, commitment, sacrifice, and compromise results in the development of self trust, authenticity, and right action. Aries is all about the difficulty and beauty of learning the truth of overcoming ego to fully express the soul.
Aries is the first sign of the zodiac. Youths know the deepest truths instinctively and passionately, without qualification. They know right and wrong, yes and no in a self referential, unfiltered way. They know it in a way olds tend to forget, given all of their baggage. Think of how children speak profundity. Think of how without bias they love. Think, too, of how impetuous and stubborn a toddler can be with his leap before looking desires. Think of how we all, regardless of who we are, sometimes tap into this nobility in the name of children. We'll do things for children - have the strength to do things - that we would not do for ourselves. There is no debate. There's no question. Three is unfathomable love. There is not a single moment's hesitation.
The challenge here is how to express the power, the rage, the love and the righteousness without giving over to the merely selfish. It's a question of finding your voice. But finding the true power of your voice is different than 'me! me! me!' all the time, isn't it?
Questions for reflection:
- What is something deeply firey, elementary true, primal and passionate for you?
- In what ways are you naive around this truth?
- How could commitment, discipline, and sacrifice bring the truth out of the infantile and into the fully realized? Get specific: commitment doesn't work well as abstraction. What are three practices you can apply on a daily or semi-regular basis, in a consistent way? What is something you can positively commit to in 15 minute time slots or once a week rituals?
- What has to be sacrificed? What does the idea of sacrifice feel like? How has reactivity around sacrifice or avoidance of sacrifice worked out, so far?
- Who could help? And why in god's name are you trying to do it on your own? Just like the idea of sacrifice, the idea of relationship tends to trigger things. What issues of self-esteem, control, of letting yourself be seen or not being center hit your gut most squarely?
- What is possible if you make a commitment and keep to it for six months? A year, or ten? Tell me that isn't revolutionary.
Use your scents -
aromatherapy works incredibly well on our emotional/mental layers because its a mainline to the limbic structures of your brain and nervous system. Aries is a sign of daring and adventure, but on more essential and primal layers it's a sign of survival. The recklessness and boldness comes from an emotional vulnerability and inner discomfort. The working through of this is a balancing of out-in-the-world action with inner reality: freedom.
Rosemary is ruled by the sun in Aries. It is pungent and purifying, but it's also a soother. It's good for when we've been pushed past or limits (or have pushed past our own limits. Ahem.)
Here are two combos you can use. Use these combos in a diffuser, or put them with a carrier oil or moisturizer.
In the world blend:
- 2 parts rosemary
- 1 part cedar stability, patience, integrity
- 1 park frankincense the consoler. Astringent, bitter, sweet. The bible says that Adam was given frankincense as a consolation for losing Eden. Debatable whether it worked, but the need for grief is part of Aries' teaching.
- maybe a hint of lime: cooling, fresh, bright.
In the heart blend:
- 1 part rosemary
- 2 drops juniper for wisdom
- 2 drops pine to help recognize that which endures in the heart from those we have loved
- 1 drop rose lends toward forgiveness of oneself and others.
Build an altar
If you already have an altar, refresh it in the next few days. Revisit and revise. New moons are always time for this, but Aries, being the first sign of the zodiac, invokes a particular urgency to revision. Things that you thought you wanted might not mean anything now.
What was sacred changes.
If you don't have an altar, make some kitchen magic. A little bowl tucked on the windowsill will do. Or hold space at the front of your yoga mat for something objectively special.
- again, Rosemary. Sage would also be a good one.
- symbols, objects, or images of lessons learned or bridges burned. Go ahead and invoke what hard lessons you've had and honor the people and dreams you've lost, but still carry. You still carry them. They still carry you.
- symbols, objects, or images of actions, adventures, experiences, leadership. What summits do you want to reach? This is the pioneering, cliff hugging, leap taking Ram we're talking about.
Take a long hot bath or shower in a ritual way. Ritually cleanse.
Fresh and shiny, spend some time with your altar, your journal, your art. Or have a heart to heart with a friend. Consider:
- turning point. Recent weeks and months have been conflicted and confusing and bumbling, but going through such things provokes if not outright radicalizes growth. We have better understanding, now. We have a greater awareness of our actions and their effects. We can see the need for forgiveness and mindfulness more clearly and call ourselves on our bullshit. And, we can see past the superficial or the bombardment out there in the world to what's underlying, necessary, essential. Don't go backward.
- Leadership, authenticity, taking the leap. Where are you typically a follower when you could be leading? Where do you need to break free from the crowd or old influences? How do you really find and trust your voice, your wisdom, your right to survival?
- advocacy. The truth is, it isn't about you. Look how there has been a steady push to go backwards: backwards on civil rights, racial justice, democratic ideals. The push for social change has been hinted at and repressed for hundreds of years without ever really coming to fruition. The repression is strong, now. But everywhere repressive, backwards forces press down, there is uprising and resistance. This is the time, seriously, to lay the seeds of deep evolutionary and social change. Those roots need to be stronger, go deeper, and spread to more places. Emergent strategy, to the full.
- write a list, some intentions or wishes, or a prayer.
- Then light a candle. Light the same candle, repeating your list or prayer, every day or night or week until the full moon (April 29). As the moon waxes, so does your attention. Lay those samskaras, deep. Do a thing once and it's interesting. Make it a ritual and it takes on a power of it's own. Some people say you shouldn't blow the candle out; you'll destroy the spark. Instead, snuff the candle.
Off the mat suggestions
- Challenge, push, adventure with your body. Play. Find things you've never done before. Use your movement practice to emphasize the pushing edges there, expands your boundaries elsewhere truth.
- Go on an adventure
- Take a chance. I'm not saying be high-risk. I'm saying you don't know if you don't try.
Fatigue is cumulative. Weariness grows. Think of the way a steady, slow drip of water will erode a mountain or a wall over time. Or the way you can handle one bad day, one set back, but after a series of setbacks your response is going to change. Eventually, you yourself change. There will be a proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. One thing more and you might just crack down the middle.
We are, for all our modern gadgetry, primitive beings. We have bodies that are prehistoric and digestive tracts that precede the agricultural revolution. We have minds that are older than the industrial revolution, and we're simply not intended to be able to process a constant barrage of information, stimulation, environmental strain.
Ama is the sludge, the build up, the slowly or not so slowly developing layer of grime that weakens our immunity, dulls our enthusiasm, and clouds our vitality. It's a toxic wet blanket thrown over our cell's ability to communicate, and without clear communication between our 70 odd trillion cells, things go a little haywire. We'll get sick more often and sickness will linger, longer. We'll be prone to allergies, including food sensitivities. Our hormones will back fire and our inflammatory response will alternately spit and roar, roar and spittle.
- the consequence of inadequately digested food or experience
- toxins which build up in the body and prevent our connecting with or ability to discern the body's underlying intelligence
- blockages - weather in our arteries, our joints, our our ability to experience love and happiness
- improperly digested food - any substance not utilizable by the body as food
- excess of the bi-products of metabolism (uric acid, components of bile, free radicals)
- the physical substance of maldigestion which blocks the body's subtle and not-subtle channels
As spring comes in, we're aware of changes in the environment around us. The skies get lighter, and higher. The earth thaws. Something deep in plants begins to move like a white milky pap toward the surface and then breaks through. Animals are born, the rains come, the heaviness of winter becomes the green wild pulse of spring.
These are profound shifts. They are a regeneration process. And the thing is, something similar is going on in your own physiology at this time. But we tend to be so disconnected from seasons and nature that we don't recognize the signs, wouldn't know what to do with them if we did, we live more by our newsfeed and our work demands than our body's inner wisdom.
The ancient vaidyas encouraged people to go through seasonal shifts with a purification process known as panchakarma. Every April, I go through this process myself and guide others through it online. It starts April 1 and is four weeks of ritually cleaning out your gunk. I mean the emotional, and the physical, and the old, and the relatively new. For $100, you'll get
- a PDF guidebook with a week by week plan to prepare your body to deeply release, to go through the release, and then to rejuvenate.
- daily reflections as a part of that guide
- a weekly 'how to' video, as well as supplementary videos that are all optional (how to make ghee and kitchari, a few asana videos, etc)
- this year I'm including a series of how-to-meditate videos that will give you a technique for effortless meditation, different than watching the breath or mindfulness. Meditation is purification.
Stress and strain and less than optimal digestion are part of the world we live in. But there are things we can do to recover, rejuvenate, regenerate. You can feel spring, as a thing that is happening inside of you.
Last night I got a text from a friend. The Yoga Center of Minneapolis closed it's doors last night. No one knew it was going to happen except the few key players involved. I know how bad this can hurt. I know how many people are affected. This morning the word has spread and more and more people are expressing sadness, hurt, and confusion.
There is grief there. Grief is a complicated thing, both a process and not a process at all. It lasts. And it changes.
From a humble place, I want to make myself available to anyone who needs to talk. From a more humble place still, I will open my intensives/teacher training this summer to anyone who can no longer complete their work with The Yoga Center.
It doesn't fix everything, but it is something. It may not be the right fit for you. But we can have a conversation and figure it out. "Training" and "yoga teacher" and "Yoga Alliance" are all confusing topics right now. We'll address every one of them.
It’s mid January. The dawns are so deep they break to ink blue. Stars are sharp. To say nothing whatsoever of the cold.
Only that it’s a hard kind of season. It’s a difficult time of year.
Now that 97% of the human population has trashed, dismissed, or diminished their New Year’s Resolutions, I want to talk about them.
To be fair, I’m not a person who makes resolutions. I never have been. In the first 29 years of my life, before-the-yoga, I fully identified as a fuck up. I wouldn’t to commit to a damned thing. I wouldn’t commit because I knew I’d fail.
I no longer think of myself as such a damaged piece of work. But I still don’t make resolutions. My reasoning is different, though; I don’t make resolutions now because I know that changes happen – beautiful, devastating changes – in spite of me. Change is an experience of grace.
Sankalpa – the Sanskrit word for intention – means the law that arises from the heart. It means the rule you follow above all other rules. And here’s where I think we misunderstand: intention doesn’t come from the goal setting and thinking part of us; it rises up out of the flesh like a baby. Or a disease. To try to think or plan or strategize our way into the new year is to misunderstand both human beings and change. The heart is going to do what the heart needs to do.
Being human is what traditional yoga studied. In depth. From multiple angles. Down through the layers and into the shadows. Movement studies. Mind studies. One of the key things the sages came to understand is the inborn capacity for human beings to overcome, to heal, and to grow. Lay the ground, plant the seeds, cultivate the space, and the human spirit soars. Change is what human beings, do.
But laying the ground is decidedly different than a bucket list. It’s related to healing, not goal setting.
There is a tremendous cultural pull, born in the holidays and proved in the longest nights of the year, that resurrects and reflects who we’ve been in our lives. The pull underscores aging. It’s laced with familial roles – how sweet and sustaining they are, as well as how fraught with contradiction. It’s sourced in finances, commercialism, and gender roles while being boxed by cultural traditions. It trades in shame, hits our weak spots, and plays on self-esteem. To top it all off, end of the year rituals are reminiscent of religious rites; even if we’re not religious, we want to be spiritual. We’re drawn to things that smell like candles in the dark, salvation, and promises. The resurrecting and reflecting pull is so strong we start vowing. We want a clean break. Never again, we say. Or this year I promise. From this point forth and so on. Sometimes it appears more mild: it’s true I’d be happier if I finally lost this weight, maybe. Or, now that I’m middle aged, I really should start exercising. I don’t know that these are actually mild. They’re rather passive aggressive.
Resolution and change are not the same thing. They aren’t even related to each other.
The one is sourced by ego, master of phrasing self-hate as self-improvement and avoidance as self care. Resolution implies a problem needing to be fixed. But the problem here is the self. We so often make problems of ourselves. We try to change ourselves to fit in or get enough likes, without realizing that’s an endless hunger. We may stoke our ego enough for today, but tomorrow we’ll have to do the same thing. And the next day. And the next. The needing will never end. There is no ‘goal’; there’s only a hamster wheel. Or one of the minor circles of hell. Resolutions feed either our ego or our insecurities.
Our ego and our insecurities turn out to be inseparable.
The other, change, is sourced elsewhere. By god, maybe. The really real. By the ordinariness of biological, historical, genetic and teeming life. And let’s face it: ordinary life, in the power of the galaxy, the wonder of a seed, the outright miracle of human birth and the delicacy of minerals in the soil, is wonderous. I could go on and on. The ordinary life of snowflakes and sixty five million refugees, salt in the blood, the wild bones of children and the fact of guns in America; I mean racial wounds, feminine persistence, immigrant dreams and native wisdom. I mean hope and sadness, hope and guts, hope and the medicinal poetry of ancestors.
There is so much more to life than our ideas about ourselves.
We need rituals, after so much talk of resolutions. Rituals dabble in the taboo and make it sacred. Ritual approaches the ordinary with a sense of humility and revelation.
Ritual leans in; change and healing follow. Then, and only then, do items on lists start to check themselves off. They fall off surprisingly and without effort, a kind of domino effect. What was vague becomes clear. What was ignorance becomes wisdom. Like photography, resolution has to do with clarity. Resolution is a side effect of healing, not the means.
As I write this I’m watching the sun rise, flamingo pink and throat red. Everything but the light is freeze blue, hard white. The juxtaposition is sharp. By the time the light reaches a diagonal, it will be molten gold, a lava on window panes, hot honey on houses. A siren wails and an ambulance rushes to the hospital. I’m working on my own love, my own marriage. One of Martin Luther King’s books lays spread-eagled next to the coffee cup.
I can’t ignore reality. Nor can I deny beauty. Nor can I handle even one of the greater questions of our time. In the face of all that, I need something to hold me.
I need something to hold me because I am not strong.
Ritual makes an offering of the self rather than an imposition of the will. Rituals invoke our heart with all its vulnerabilities. Vulnerability has power. Ritual notices the beauty of deep winter even as it shivers in the face of it. Rites acknowledge need, accept uncertainty, appreciate human effort and sing earthy wisdom. Ritual sacralizes the taboo, the profane, the frustrating, the quotidian; and what else could we do with such things?
What else could we possibly do?
Ritual is the mysterious work of hope and healing. Their mutuality. Their human and ordinary realness.
But healing looks so very different than a yearly pep talk or ultimatum. Change often takes years to unfold. Decades. Generations. Sometimes this is so hard. It is so tiring. How can we take on such tremendous problems without losing hope?
Like many of the deeper questions, this one has two apparently contradictory answers. It’s paradox.
On the one hand, we only have the courage and capacity to do such things when we remember that they are bigger than us. They are generational, historical, and communal. We have to do our part. It’s important that we realize we are part of a movement. It’s possible to see with the eyes of the not yet born. Our work has been handed down directly from the ancestors. Then the difficulty of the present doesn’t matter. Our frustration isn’t the whole of the story. When we do this, we are uniquely able to notice the beauty of things without their beauty being tarnished by the shitty context in which they happen.
And on the other hand, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to learn the lessons implicit in our own lives. When we do this, when we explore personal healing, we find a beauty and a grace quality to life that we’d never suspected before. We find parts of ourselves we never knew existed. Parts of our self we couldn’t get rid of become our standing ground. If we don’t leverage our own life lessons, we re-iterate them.
If we don’t have both levels of healing we suffer. If we only think about ourselves, we eventually become self destructive. We’ll roil in diet mentality. We’ll self-improve ourselves to death. We’ll never have enough qualifications, or degrees, or respect.
But if we only ever look at the big issues, we lose ourselves. We’ll get depressed. We’ll burn out. Everything will be heavy. No one will want to be around us because we’re self righteous and annoying. And we’ll develop conflict and resentment because we can’t claim the problems of the world as our own personal destiny. They don’t belong to us. They aren’t ours.
Ritual is the only thing I know that draws these polarities together. A yogic truth, if it is one, suffuses through all the layers of reality. It has to be true at the subtle level, as well as the most scientific. It has to be both a universal truth, which can anchor us; and it has to be an intimate - almost embarrassing- personal experience, which floats us.
Ritual lays the spirit on the altar, using whatever altar it can find. Dust motes in a column of sunlight, say. Or clumps of black grasses, shrouded in snow. Ritual is seeing breath crystallized in bluey light and ego decrystallized into something not yet finished, nowhere near done. To watch the ego decrystallize is hard, and such a relief.
Ritual redeems us like a coupon.
Love, it says, is possible. Even though we doubt. Doubt, it says, is workable, because we still love.
Ritual heals us. Which is what we’ve needed year after year. It’s what we all, need. It’s time for us as a society to focus on healing. There’s no task of greater importance and no undertaking that could be more profound.
Now is the time for us to finally heal the painful legacy of racism, the lineage of patriarchy, the division between the wealthy and the poor. Now is the time to seriously take on the task of healing the environment. It’s time for us to heal a broken educational system. It’s time to heal an antiquated disease care model that poses as a health care system. We have to address the ill health and depression that affects fifty percent of the world’s population. We have to address the cost and the suffering laid on families and see the stress that comes of not getting essential things right.
I suppose what I’m suggesting amounts to a revolution. I mean social justice. I mean public wealth. I mean human rights and acknowledging the staggering beauty and urgent role of science before our policies do irreparable harm.
The gyst of such a revolution would be individuals healing themselves and the people they come in contact with. It will spread until our halls of power are brown and feminine. Our governors won’t descend from fraternities but rise from immigrant families and we’ll support them. This revolution will enrich our economy and restore wounded dignity and we’ll celebrate it. We can promote a revolution based on healing instead of the band-aid of suppressing. We can call shame culture and bullying culture out as being the same culture. This healing will look for wholeness in our fragmented society and this shift will benefit everyone, every last one, in society.
Like any revolution this won’t come from government. It will come from individuals. It will come from us.
The need is clear. The way is clear. Your soul longs for it and the world is so ready for it.
I’m not asking for utopia. I’m speaking directly to the way things are. Things don’t have to be this way.
There is an emptiness to mid January. It stands in all the doorways. It’s rubbed people’s cheeks to raw. We’re depleted but expected to go on. Lean in to ritual as both balm and sugar. It’s a fire and it’s a song. It’s important, and it’s something we already know how to do. Sankalpa is like that. It’s proof that we already and always have cared. We fill emptiness with love.
Post holiday crash and burn is upon us. We're all a little tired, a little short tempered, a little deflated. The cultural pull of the holiday season is strong, and we tend to lose ourselves a little bit. For weeks. To then jump into January is either a slap in the face or a groan of loathing.
Good news: there are things you can do. There are little things you can do to feel not so crappy, physically. Not so blitzed, calendar wise. And not so emotionally icky.
Icky. A lot of us are just feeling pretty icky.
So I made three little workshops. Have at em. Grab a pen.
2 and 3 are on patreon.com/karinlynncarlson
The news is relentless. There is a sick taste in my mouth. I oscillate between avoiding news and bingeing on it. I oscillate between desperate, trembling activity and absolute apathy. I forget myself: I teach I protest I aunt I wive I write. And the self interrupts, selfish: I whine I dither I am needy lonely ugly and afraid. I want comfort. I want answers. I want change. And I want it all to just fucking calm down. I want some sweetness in my life, the celebrations, time with the folk I love, time to do something other than crisis management and grief. I dearly want to sit and watch as the sugar maple changes her clothes, gussies up, stuns, and lets go.
It doesn't stop. The news is relentless. Now this. Now that. Heartbreak. Anger. Fear.
There are days I desperately need my practice, and it feels desperate; starving, needy, heady, grabby, longing. Then there are days practice seems utterly irrelevant, selfish, not good enough, unimportant, a waste of time. On those days, everything in my body recoils from sitting. Nothing in me wants to move. Awareness is just too goddamned uncomfortable. Nothing can tear me away from the twitter feed, the images, the debate, the body counts. Or: nothing seems so urgent as uninterrupted time with my niece, far from news, away from danger.
In recent days I've wanted the solace of my teacher. But he died a few months ago. I could go back to his published words or his voice in a podcast. But I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to his voice yet. It doesn't feel good. I can't. So there is silence.
I wanted the release of a practice and a community so I went to a class. But I kid you not the teacher said 'feel the burn, it's goooood' and 'yoga bliss' and I wanted, a little bit, to sit bolt upright and stare at her in outrage. I quietly left. I wept in the bathroom. It was an ugly, heaving, snotty cry. Etheric music and wispy incense drifted around my head but I cried and I cried.
In the early stages of my practice, the first few years, it was all about that burning. It felt, good. I practiced, obsessively. Every single day there was some new thing learned. Every time I practiced was a revelation. It was like learning a new language, an immersion. I immersed. The words of this language were freedom, liberation, an end to suffering. It rang bells inside me. It lit fires. It seemed true.
It isn't like that these days. The world has shifted. Those very words - freedom, liberation, an end to suffering - ring discordant.
There are times this feels like the yoga isn't working any longer, or maybe it was always a hoax. The very definition of spiritual by-pass and self-indulgence, delusion, empty promises. I've heard a lot of people say very similar things: It spoke to me, but then in the light of things, what it said wasn't true.
Another teacher of mine says: these practices have never been more important. People need a yoga practice now, more than ever.
As a teacher, I've been banging drums for years. Look at the world. Look at the world. Look. But recently I've been torn. Part of me needs to emphasize yoga as social justice. Another realizes my teaching needs to sooth. It is my job to provide the necessary intervention of care. This latter feels more urgent: come here, rest. Pause. Re-source. We need to take care of ourselves, each other, our loved ones and our students.
And, we need to change the the world. Children are watching. People are dying. The maple tree rattles in the early morning dark.
Yoga isn't enough. It isn't an answer to atrocity any more than prayer is. Neither are an appropriate response. Prayer is not an answer to a broken democracy cracking in racial violence and underlying fear. Prayer is not an appropriate response to flood, storm, thousands of displaced and hungry and needing help lives. Prayer is not an appropriate response to domestic terrorism. And releasing our own tension, feeling our feelings, gleaning insight is not enough. Children are watching. People are dying. Do I repeat myself? Or am I making my point?
This isn't anywhere near, over. More people are going to die. Because hospitals don't have power and there isn't food or clean water. Because police brutality and gun violence. Because we haven't really answered the questions of race and sex and gender or democracy, of civil rights, of justice.
Which is not the same as saying either yoga or prayer - or whatever mental health and spiritual tools you've got - is irrelevant. They are, relevant. They are relevant as tools. They are tools for our own sanity. They help us quell anxiety, reactivity, splitting away from our body and our feelings. They resource our autonomy, our responsibility, our inborn capacity to choose and a renewed determination to choose well. These practices light fire, tend fire, inspire hope. These practices empower the self, little as she is in the great scheme of things.
Little as she is in the great scheme of things, her empowerment is vital.
I swear, the maple this time of year seems less a tree and more a poem. I can feel the red drawing up, in my arms.
This is where paradox, the nature of two things being true at one and the same time, comes to a head: I know of nothing, other than my prayerful practice of yoga, that both empowers the pray-er and acknowledges the reality of suffering.
I call this, hope. It isn't what we'd expected and it is not, most definitely not, the way we want it to be. Hope is surrender, and commitment. Not one or the other: both.
In the beginning, yoga was all about me. It had to be.
It isn't about me anymore. It can't be.
My students have asked, in the last year, over and over and over again: what, now? How do we not burn out? How can we possibly keep feeling into pain, and suffering, and injustice, when it just keeps coming? The question is on point. How do we find the energy to take up a problem that is bigger than us? How do we not lose heart in the face of such toxic realities, the unanswered questions, the big things like racism and immigration and climate change?
I've said: I have to remember these things are bigger than I am. If I can believe that history will judge these moments, then it doesn't matter so much that I am tired. If I realize that future generations might take up these very issues with more grace and possibility than we do, that my frailty is irrelevant. That these questions are old, they are ancient, they are chronic like pain, simply doesn't matter if I realize there is some small thing I can do. It doesn't solve the world's pain. But I sleep better. I recover, sanity. If I believe in beauty, and justice, and the preciousness of children, than my fear isn't terribly important.
Sometimes, I have to step back and let others bang the drums. Sometimes, I listen for my teacher's voice, even when it isn't there. Sometimes, I speak and realize I sound like him; this gives me goosebumps. Sometimes you are crabby tired and overwrought but then a child asks for a snack; of course you make it. Sometimes, you'll hate yoga but then some one asks for help; you'll say yes. No one of these things is the answer, and no one of these things is not part of the answer.
It's okay to be angry, to grieve, to burn out if you realize it isn't about you and you're not alone. The relative smallness of actions becomes tolerable.
Pray as hard as you can, as often as you need, with whatever tools you've got.
Pray, so that you can get back to work. The news is relentless, and that's okay; that means it isn't over. Yoga is social justice. Come, and rest. It does something like red does to maple trees. But it happens inside your own chest.
Driving home yesterday, I was passed on the highway by an enormous white pickup truck. It was raining. The sky was mottled: now fuzzy, now slick. Hitched to the truck's tail were both an American and a Confederate flag. The truck was covered in Trump propaganda: 'the silent majority has spoken', 'God Bless Trump', and 'Trump 2020'. He splattered my small car in a wash of kicked up rain. I felt my whole body recoil. This was Sunday morning. On Friday night, a Neo-Nazi rally had gathered in Charlottesville Virginia. With three dead and torches burning around a black church, it spilled over into Saturday. By Sunday, the president of the United States had finally been pressed for a statement. He prevaricated. Far from Charlottesville and alone in the rain, I wondered when this guy had gotten his truck done up. Was it post election? Was it more recent than that? Was he out joyriding and fear mongering precisely because of the events in Virginia? Where was he going?
And where had he come from?
This is part of the fear, isn't it? The knowing there is danger in our midst? We've known racism is endemic and systemic (different things, synergistic to each other); but for it to be so bold as to gather in public and shout Nazi slogans, for it to be endorsed by the silence of the White House, is terrible. It's terrifying. As in: terrorism. And yet, the seconds keep ticking by, unaffected and unnoticed as drops of rain. Days, pass.
As soon as the protest or rally or whatever the hell it was was deemed illegal in Charlottesville, it was effectively shut down. This took less than 20 minutes. However, I don't know that it was effectively 'shut down' so much as the Nazis disappeared. No one knows where they went. Through the veins of undercurrent, fringe internet chat rooms, and outlier fraternal gatherings, these people are organized.
Meanwhile they are neither so fringe nor outier as our sense of decency wants to believe. They are not quiet about their intentions. And however and whoever they are as 'organized' is perhaps less concerning - since they are really ego maniacal idiots who could be identified and held accountable - than are their counterparts outside and inside.
Outside: individuals who are alone are emboldened to act; the erroneous rhetoric of white supremacy and 'reverse racism' start to bleed all over the media, family gatherings, school playgrounds; events in Charlottesville are both horrifying as an incident and indicative of a swelling, global, atmospheric shift. The environment has changed. It tilted. Distortion seems to warp pubic spaces. It is toxic. It only takes one person, in a split second, to cause enormous and irreparable harm. We live in an environment in which guns, slurs, and violence are everyday threats. We are waiting for the unspeakable to happen. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the people at the rally are supported by the 52% of white women who voted for Trump seven months ago, anyone who is swayed by the rhetoric of 'shaking things up', everyone who is willing to tolerate sexual assault, bullyism, and vitrolic rascism in exchange for a mythic 'great America'.
And above: the people who act on these dangerous premises are backed by the executive branch of government. Yes, by Donald Trump. He's the front man. He's provocative. But the ideology and power for this state of affairs lies in the hands, the heads and the history of the people behind him. To say that white supremacy and violence are not endorsed by the president of the United States is to deny that office's entire platform. This is exactly what Trump asked for - and promised - throughout his campaign. This is explicitly the polemics espoused by Steve Bannon before, during, and after the election. Social recusal of the White House comes both from the blurring of reality that is the linchpin of totalitaritanism and abusive relating - we're dealing with the absurd here- and an earnesty of heart that does not want to believe racism could exist in such a sacred space, in the heart of government, where it matters most. Not at this point in history.
History is suddenly so present.
The white pickup was not the only one I saw in my forty five minute drive down the interstate. There were three others. None so provocative as the first, but all of them disturbing. When the first passed me, I felt rage. I wanted to scream. I wanted to deface that truck. I wanted a baseball bat and a can of spray paint. I visualized getting close enough to spit, or at least flip the guy my middle finger. But I realized: I could, maybe, possibly, get away with that ( being a middle aged white woman. And the fair enough assumption that the driver is more swagger than action), but I might be hurt if I tried. It is my privilege - and a personal dose of fuck you bawdiness - that would allow me to even dare.
After the fourth truck I pulled off the freeway. The rain alternately stopped and began again. It began so subtly you wouldn't notice. It was not raining and then you'd realize it was, and had been. The long low sloping hills and fields and lakes were heavy with a green spiderweb of mist. I was lulled by the somnulant metronome of windsheild wipers.
But it kept going, this confusing ride home. All over the place, out in the countryside, people had decided to put out American flags. I would just start to daydream and think of other things when I'd come around a bend and there would be another flag, rising up out a barrel of geraniums or lilting over a mailbox.
I realized I had no idea what the flags meant.
The symbol has been used and misused and bandied about so egregiously that you can't know what people mean by them. Were these flags a stand in for a swastika? Or were they an image of resistance? It's terrifying to realize they mean both. The Johnson's are proclaiming one thing while their neighbors the Swanson's are endorsing the other. The empty mailboxes and soggy fields in between become just as mysterious.
Symbols are important. They are the definition of human meaning. By symbolism, fabric and metal and geometric shapes become more than they are in themselves. They are dense and alive, laden, portent with history. Symbols evoke god, justice, and identity. They refer to blood. Both the most senseless of pastimes - like sports or commercial branding - and the most bitter aspects of history can be tripped by a symbol, instantaneously. The response is visceral, organic. It's stronger than words and faster than logic. Start fucking around with symbolism and you're messing with the sacred and the profane. Use an image, and you touch people's hearts. I mean people's souls. This is precisely why oppression works: burn an effigy and you threaten millions of lives. You can make a joke or excuse a thing as colloquialism, but you directly invoke slavery, condone rape, whisper that you and a whole culture behind you would be okay with your death, deportation, or lynching.
Language is nothing but symbolism.
So long as a certain language is established, the vast majority of the population doesn't even have to participate: their silence is enough.
So long as we have a president who deals in silence and false equivalencies, using language intelligently is a profoundly political act.
Like so: Neo-Nazis are responsible for events in Charlottesville, including both terrorism and murder. The president of the United States is on their side. See? This is both true, and it is treason.
I stopped to visit my mother and father. I told them about the flags. My father shook his head. He said he wished there could be a reclamation of the flag. A movement to take up the ideals it once stood for. A strong and colorful affirmation of it's meaning for the future.
Reclamation and revision are part of symbology. There is a long, long history of reclaiming the curves of the body, and hair, and sex, The righteousness of anger and the food on our tables has had to be recovered. The voice has to be reclaimed. Social justice, by definition, reclaims space. Reclamation is a vital thread to feminism, black pride, and indigenous rights. Interestingly, revision often cuts past the objective to the vulnerable underside of the symbol: justice goes under the abstraction of geometry or slur directly to the flesh, to buried bones and politicized wombs. This is why it matters, why it hurts: symbols mark identity. This, again, is exactly why oppression is possible - by a magical process of abstraction, bodies are made invisible, history and civil liberties are denied, threats to children and communities are made clear. To un-abstract them is revolutionary. Social justice movements reclaim symbols precisely because symbols reveal the body's primacy. I mean the desperate urgency of one's right to exist.
I burned a flag at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen. I don't remember exactly when, other than junior high. I do recall that we had to first buy a flag, my buddy and I, at the local hardware store. Made of synthetics, it burned poorly. It melted and dripped, burning my hand. We did the thing covertly, with hot whispers and a sense of adolescent blasphemous thrill.
You might ask what the hell I was doing. I don't, and didn't, know. I am not, in telling the story, saying I did right or saying it was okay. I was hitting puberty. When I say that I mean more than hormonal fury and testing of boundaries; I was coming to realize that my body was female, and by it's female nature it was as much an object and a target as it ever was subjective. This wasn't hypothetical. Even if it were, it would have been harmful. I was also reading Howard Zinn for the first time. I was in love with both Walt Whitman and J.D. Salinger. I read something called American Holocaust, the cover of which I remember vividly though I couldn't tell you today who the author was. In that book, I learned the forests and lakes I loved were haunted and stolen. And I was hanging out with a kid named Matthew Brown, who was Indian, and this somehow made me realize that history wasn't ghosted so much as it was denied. Indians didn't disappear any more than I did.
The original act of resistance is knowing: reality is not the same as the dominant narrative; the dominant narrative itself is woven of lies.
I never burned another flag, but my resistance was early born and for decades turned in on itself. It was much later that I crawled out of the ugly roiling mess of self-hatred, self-effacement, complacency and alcoholism. It took me a very long time to say things like 'my body' without simpering. My body. Mine.
A few weeks ago I saw an Audre Lorde quote pop up on my social media feed. It's a popular one; a recurring meme in a world endlessly trying to find authenticity (sic). The quote reads: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." As I say, the quote is popular; but the final phrase is usually hacked off. It's rote to speak of self care only as self preservation. This is comforting, enough. And it's benal. That is, we bandy about this idea of self-care or equally ubiquitous ideals of love trumping hate, all being one, yadda yadda. But we are rarely brave enough to follow these things to their logical end. We so often espouse ideals without being able to embody them. Ultimate, absolute truths displace relative truth, current truth, this moment in time truth. It's one thing to say all are created equal; but walking down a street as a black person is not the same as walking the same street as a white male. Even if people do know who Audre Lorde is, they couldn't recite her. They couldn't say for sure whether she is alive or dead. I'm not suggesting we all need to bulk up on our poetry; I'm suggesting our understanding of ideals and philosophies and history, the greatest and most beautiful things, is too often superficial. I don't think we're doing it on purpose. After all, understanding takes work. As I say: honesty is threatening.
But what of this: "caring for myself is an act of political warfare"?
Being objectified is painful. I do mean physically, but I really mean psychologically. Being made into an object is a violation of one's innermost reality and the superficial and forceful imposition of some other 'reality'. Healing from such a deep psychological wound has to involve a realization, somewhere along the line, that the 'ism' and the pain were not personal, even though they took place on your body. You realize your problems are not yours - in cause or in consequence. They are a part and function of a social wrong. Therefore: to affirm yourself is political. To speak the truth is political.
In the wide narrative of racism in America and the narrower one of events in Charlottesville, this shows up: white people believe that calling things by their name is somehow a personal threat. Trump pretty much said so in his first- belated and reluctant- public statement: by blaming 'all sides' he simultaneously portrayed the resistance as threatening, and dismissed the legitimacy of resistance. To say nothing of excusing the racism. You hear the undercurrent, the shadow, in the wider dialogue of white supremacy: renouncing privilege feels like losing something. The removal of confederate memorials is 'erasing history'. Any conversation about race or gender is harking on old resentments. The left and the media are lying. Success is getting what you want, generally out of somebody else's pocket. This is the natural order of things. Strength is force. The mythos of white supremacy depends on a false narrative in which 'white male' is or at some time was a majority, and greatness is an outcome of dominance.
But America is and has always been indigenous, black, female. Brute strength has never been our greatness, but our shame.
Calls for letting symbols stand and moving on, or that we 'remember, never forget', are distortions of history rather than commemoration of it: 'moving on' suggests that white supremacy is a thing of the past; 'remembrance' is a distortion of when and why Confederate memorials were erected in the first place. Confederate memorials are the works of Jim Crow America, not honor of the dead. This is not 'like' historic preservation of Auschwitz. The intent of maintaining Auschwitz is to honor and revisit tremendous grief; to keep woke to the danger of acquiescence and silence; to elicit not pride but mourning. The intent of confederate memorials is not mourning, but pride. Threatening, inciting, pride.
Later that evening, my husband and I went to a candlelight vigil at Bde Maka Ska lake. Most people around here call it Lake Calhoun. The place was purposely chosen as a local example of placemaking, unmasking the inherent racism of our landmarks and civic structures. Before it was Lake Calhoun, it was Bde Maka Ska. Bde Maka Ska is Dakota for White Earth Lake. In 1817, the United States Secretary of War John C. Calhoun sent the army to survey the area. He'd previously authorized the construction of Fort Snelling. The lake has gone by the name of Calhoun ever since. Reactions to calling the lake by it's name, per the local paper: this is pointless; it will always be Calhoun to me; so tired of this PC bullshit, where does it end; Minnesota is the land of common sense, if Lake Calhoun offends you, leave. No one will miss you; so very, very tired of the PC police and endless looking for things that might offend them or melt their snowflake; everyone will still call it Calhoun so cute but no cigar.
See: every single one of the comments feels burdened or imposed upon, threatened. Change is dismissed as nonsense, childishness. The problem with these reactions is not their ignorance of history, but their denial of the present. The White Earth Tribe still exists. The Dakota still exist. We are not talking about relics and archaeology; we are talking about children. The great failure of the American Dream is believing that history is over. The civil rights era ended.
It was still raining. People gathered under a mass of umbrellas. One woman carried an American flag. I was touched. It took a long time, and much work, but I have come to be deeply proud of being an American. I love the magnanimity and the hope of it's oldest ideals. I love the noisy, dynamic, vibrant reality of who and what the United States of America actually is. The flag hung limp in the rain. Two women next to us whispered the same questions I'd had earlier; why is it the sight of the flag is riddled with complicated emotional and physical reactions? What does the American flag, mean?
It seems to me this confusion is related to another: how do we engage with a problem that seems so intractable? How do we make sense in a world that seems so depressing?
There was a moment when sudden noise - loud noise, sudden - caused the speaker on the podium to stop and the whole of the crowd to turn. It was a moment of fear. There had been talk; white pickup trucks might show up. In that moment I thought: the violence isn't done, yet. I thought: this isn't over. But the noise was only a party bus, circling the lake. The speaker on the podium half grinned, and then he continued.
This isn't, over.
It may be- and this might be treason again, but I'm over that - that we need a new flag. Something that references not only colonies and states, but the Mexican and the Indigenous. We need something that acknowledges both slavery and Jim Crow. Something that celebrates immigrants. This rag would have traces of blood in it and threads of deep song. I think it would be woven of hair. This flag would ripple like a dancing body and it would sing in the wind. It would sing. It would sing not because the race issue went away but because the race issue endured. It will dance not because the civil rights era failed, or reconstruction did, or the ideals of America are and have always been hypocritical; this flag will fly because the ideals of America still have a chance of coming to life.
If the America of the future is not black, not native, not hijab wearing and spanish speaking, not female, than there is no hope. America will kill itself. We are lost. Humanity is lost.
At the vigil, we sang. People lit candles in the rain. Others carried LED lanterns. A tall, white man standing in front of me wept. I wept. The woman with the flag switched her grip. The flag leaned left, then right. I kept looking at her out of the corner of my eye. Lots of people talked to her. I took comfort in this. I thought of that stance, holding something aloft in the rain. I though of beacons, and beckoning. I thought of the Statue of Liberty and her relationship to abolition; she wears broken shackles. It seems that the great, the terrible sadness of this moment is not just sadness, it's also the only hope we've got. It's an indication that we care. Care, as Audre Lorde taught me, is not merely preservation.
We can only make sense of this sad and ugly world by understanding and believing that the race issue endures, and that is it's greatest and only hope. It is black communities that will bring us out of moral turpitude; it is Somali women and indigenous women who will ignite our government; it is children who will judge what we do as history.
Michael Stone died yesterday. He was one of my most important teachers. He was my friend. Death is so incomprehensible. It's unfathomable, and at the same time everything goes on like before. When someone we care for dies, our lives are broken and will never quite be the same. And, people are dying all the time.
I don't know anyone other than Michael who could make these things feel true and beautiful at one and the same time. He himself was so beautiful. As I numbed myself with internet feel-goods in the last few days I came across a documentary of a Syrian ballet dancer. When the war came, he said, we all lost someone. The terror went into our hearts. I thought of Michael. He talked of our crooked world as important, and as personal. He never lost the deep suffering of the world to the merely political, economic, or historical. They remained - or became - human. And we were rendered more humane. Michael insisted we believe in ourselves.
A friend sent me condolences on social media: "I'm sorry you lost a believed teacher", she said. Auto-correct is so Fruedian. I knew she meant beloved, but I liked the mistake. I believed Michael. I suppose that's what makes a teacher great. They don't trade in bullshit. They speak to those parts of ourselves that need to believe, that ache for it.
This morning's class was lovely, heartful. My voice cracked at the ending chant; others took up the chant for me. I thought: well, isn't that just the point. But it wasn't thought, it was felt, it was grateful and besmitten and so tired. I came home, slept, woke and couldn't do anything but steady, constant, pointless things. It was like cleaning but wasn't. It was like unearthing closets but was more a dishevelment of them. It was sort of like gardening, for a few hours, except I'm not a gardener and it was just an attack on weeds and vines and creeping into the yard trees. I stood up with dirt up to my elbows and sweat down my spine. It was baking, sweeping, dog bathing frenzy. It was in and out of the writing. It was like reading twelve books at once, a sentence from this, a phrase from that. I dug out old journals from retreats and trainings with Michael. I read through my own years. I dug though the texts he's guided me through, others he pointed me toward, the mass of sutra and Sanskrit that became my own work, largely because he encouraged it. I reframed, tore out, rephrased. I scattered them, threw them away, brushed off a few scant pieces that roughly hold together. I put them on the wall. Just now, I cried for the first time. It was short. It was rubbed away quick. And then I came back up here to this pacing. As my teacher leaves the world, I am mad with a need to write. Poems, psalms, explanations, apologies. Questions. Emotions. Salt and adrenaline. There is urgency.
A post shared by Karin L Carlson (@coalfury) on Jul 16, 2017 at 7:03pm PDT
I call him 'my teacher', but he wasn't mine. His family has a wholly different claim to his last hours and his body than I do. That privacy is sacred. I cannot imagine the pain and tenderness they feel. I can't do anything but offer them my love. Thousands of people across the world are gathering this evening. I am awed: one life can do so much. And I am sad: now that he is gone, there is so much that won't be done. So much needs to be done.
I haven't seen Michael in over a year. There were times he was teaching nearby but I always had other commitments. He does an annual retreat to France: I'd always wanted to go. But I put it off. I assumed I'd go some other time.
Last week in the techniques session I mentioned time as one of the four parts of learning. We're quite neurotic about it. We don't take time to say I love you. Or, we say it but don't feel what it is we're saying. We act as though there will be a better time to meet our neighbors or try in some way to make a difference in our community. We put off the important and beautiful things while our lives are mostly routine and spent in the earning of a living. We're busy. We're so tired. We whine about not having time but we don't take the time we have. People often ask me, as a teacher, how to find the courage and the energy to take on the really big problems. Why is it we know what it is we need, but can't do it? How do we possibly take on the problems of race, violence, and fanaticism without losing heart? How do we finally find the courage to do the great and beautiful things we really want to do?
I think we need to do more great and beautiful things. Life is so hard. It needs great beauty.
I think the only answer is the jnana or wisdom of time. When we really feel the passing nature of things and the uniqueness of people, we're moved. I don't mean intellectually; it isn't an idea. And I don't mean mere sentimentality, either. I mean we're rocked to our soul. An urgency is born. Clarity and courage come that we didn't know and couldn't have known otherwise. We don't have to be good enough or ready enough or prepared. We don't need answers. We realize there are many answers, and no one answer is perfect. We don't have to be anything at all because the urgency itself carries us and we are left changed. I think we misunderstand the nature of change. We spend so much time thinking we have to orchestrate it or fearing the pain of it, disbelieving it's actually possible. But it isn't something we do. Change is something we allow to happen to us, something we finally allow in. This isn't easy.
When I heard Michael was dying, I understood something for the first time. I've known dozens of very good teachers. Some opened doors for me along the way. Others helped me understand an aspect of teaching or the dynamics of backbends. But none became so intimately woven into my way of thinking and feeling that my life itself was changed. Michael had, and hearing that he was gone I knew my life would never be the same. I understood: some teachers speak to your heart. No other teachings last.
I met Dharma Mittra once. When I asked him about teaching, he said teach spirit. If you teach spirituality, people will come back. Even if you never see them again, they will come back.
But the holiest things are unspeakable. Michael taught me that.
I had a whole plan for this week's session, a meditation involving birds. But I think it's more important to be with this.