This past weekend I took part in a revolutionary act. Around 30 people met in the desert outside of Palm Springs, Ca. to experiment with new ways of being in community as Ashtangi’s. We gathered around a felt need to process the turbulence that has arisen in the Ashtanga community these past years as we’ve struggled to understand ourselves, to look into the shadow of our community together, to find out what we will and won’t stand for and just what kind of a community we are. It seemed important to meet face to face, off of social media so that we could experience each other as humans. In this self-selecting group, several people talked about coming off of our individual islands to swim in friendly waters together. We sat in circle together. We shared in art, and ideas, and practice, and food, and loads of delicious chai. Throughout the weekend we shared grief, confusion, inspiration and fellowship.
These past years I’ve been working with Amāyu as well as my friends and colleagues here in the S. Florida yoga community, and part of why I wanted to go to this gathering in the desert was to see how other folks have been responding. It hasn’t always been clear how to move forward. Our community has been in crisis and so turning to each other and looking to our usual leaders for cues on how to respond has led to confusion and anger that has been stifling. My response has been to listen, reflect and seek guidance outside of our community and then to organize to create governance and training. I’ve been searching for solid ground I haven’t always known the right thing to do and I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve known that change is upon us and we need to respond in ways that are as profound as the revelations that shook the foundations of our community were devastating.
It felt important that there were no leaders this weekend. The event was hosted and facilitated, but we didn’t come to seek answers from charismatic leaders, we came to find community. We practiced together with our mats in a circle without the gaze of authority and without pressure to perform. Each person’s practice was their own. We could each choose to practice in a way that was meaningful for us individually, or not to join the session at all. It felt like an antidote to authoritarianism.
An Olive Branch was invited to mediate. From their website:
“We help spiritual communities proactively reduce the impact of destructive discord by providing training on ethics, policies, governance best practices, and conflict resolution.
We also stand ready to help spiritual communities as they react to the suffering, chaos, and breakdown that results from ethical misconduct. We provide processes for healing and restoring harmony.”
It’s very telling that an organization like this needs to exist. I asked them how much of their work was on the pro-active training side and they said it was unfortunately far less than their work mediating communities in crisis. They also went on to say that our weekend was a little out of their wheelhouse as they are used to working with organizations and we were simply a group of practitioners gathering at the margins of our community.
The weekend wasn’t perfect, nor was it meant to be. There was a notable lack of representation from Pattabhi Jois’s victims, which I was very aware of considering the event took place during the time-frame of the “Take a Seat for Justice Pledge.” I do understand that there was dialogue between organizers and victims prior to the event and efforts were made even if it didn’t come to fruition. It may just be that neither side was ready for that type of direct engagement, even with mediators. I don’t know.
If anything it felt like it could have gone deeper and addressed the specifics of abuse in our community more directly. Abuse and trauma are incredibly difficult to keep in focus. The pain of staying with the heaviness can make it desirable to let it recede back into the shadows just for a moment of respite. But the shadows are where abuse thrives.
I know that in the past I have turned to my practice for refuge and healing from trauma. Exploring it critically for cracks and seeing danger and harm where once I saw safe spaces feels like a loss. I think these past years have caused many of us to feel defensive over our practice community and it takes time to see that critically examining is just house keeping and it’s an act of love and devotion, like mending a broken but beloved home.
But this weekend was a hopeful beginning. Everyone there was so kind and tender with one another. None of us knew what to expect from this weekend. It was at times raw, but it always managed to maintain the advertised kinship. I encountered perspectives that were wildly different from my own. The dialectic helped me see new ways of understanding my own position.
This weekend felt important, not because anything was resolved or any momentous decisions were made but simply because it restored my faith and trust in community. I feel like there may be a way for me to share practice in community again post my resignation from the KPJAYI (or whatever it is called now). I wasn’t certain if that was possible before this weekend. Teaching without a community of peers to whom I am accountable has felt disorienting and unsettling these past few years. I’ve had great friends and colleagues with whom I could process. I’ve had tons of support from practitioners and friends I’ve shared yoga with over the years. I’ve got people with whom I can have difficult conversations and with whom I can be vulnerable. But I have been skeptical about my ability to organize in a community again. This weekend I got to see ways in which we may be able to organize without leaders, in equitable community based on shared agreements and practices where everyone present has an opportunity to have their voice heard and their contribution valued.