Where to turn when you are flattened
My own #metoo stories have luckily been benign, compared to what women everywhere have been bravely sharing. And for me personally, they have not occurred within my spiritual community. But, as I’ve learned over the past several months, it seems as if there’s nowhere that #metoo hasn’t infiltrated. Spirituality, which in theory ‘should’ be evolved past these pervasive power dynamics and the behavior that accompanies them, is actually no different. I’ve learned that the hard way. No place is sacred anymore.
When the place where we used to turn for solace, inspiration, and connection to the bigger Self turns out to be just another place where men mistreat women, women are ashamed/scared to say anything, and the rest are too afraid (of losing the status quo, of damaging their careers, of damaging the reputations of people they love deeply) to speak up, where do we turn? Which end is up?
Here’s what I did.
I waited for weeks for ‘truth’ to emerge from all the rumors and allegations. For ‘facts’. For 'resolution'. It never happened. I don’t even know what those words mean anymore.
I had countless phone conversations with people in my community, desperately trying to make sense of a situation that was, blow after blow, turning my life upside down.
I felt paralyzed; it wasn’t my story to tell, and I didn’t know specifics, but what could I do in the meantime to avoid explicitly or implicitly enabling the power structure?
I got angry. I got sad. I got sanctimonious. I summoned up the best of my meditation ninja life skills and fell flat on my face, again and again. I got disappointed. I got hopeful. I got angry again. I got sad again. I got empty inside. I gave up.
I watched a lot of TV shows on my computer, in a very short amount of time. All of ‘This Is Us’, ‘The Path’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Girls’ (season 4, 5, and 6 twice), ‘Enlightened’ and ‘Big Little Lies’. I recommend most of them.
I stopped socializing. I stopped writing. I cut my meditation practice down to the bare minimum. I reverted to bad eating habits. For a short while, I even felt depressed, something I hadn’t felt in years. I cancelled classes.
I kept it all inside. I wondered, how can I dedicate my life to teaching a practice that, after 6 years, allows me to feel this way again? Who can I talk to about this, without spilling my secret that I’m dead inside? What if this practice isn’t all I thought it was, and sell it as? What happens if I show signs of weakness? Of my own humanity? How do I move past this when I am questioning the very belief system that I always count on during tough times?
Then, I started to talk about it. My family. Some friends. Some students. I asked for professional help, from some healers that I know have worked wonders with people I trust. I pondered seeing a therapist again, for the first time in years. A weight started lifting. As it turns out, no one, other than myself, was expecting me to be perfect. No one, other than myself, saw anything less powerful about what I teach. Just the act of asking for help started to liberate me.
I listened. To my student with irritable bowel syndrome, whose symptoms disappeared on day 2 of the course and haven’t returned. To my student with rheumatoid arthritis, who told me that after 2 weeks, she no longer was physically aware of every step she took each day. To my student with multiple sclerosis, whose constant electric shock-like spasms stop while she meditates. To my student who was on 7 different psychiatric medications, and is now down to 2. None of them question the universality of the benefits of meditation.
I listened to myself and remembered my own journey. The complete transformation that began when I learned to meditate. The ‘out of this world’ moments that this skeptical, type-A doctor actually got to experience.
I’ve finally started to gather myself off the (literal and figurative) floor and make some sense of it all. Here’s what I’ve come away with:
There’s nothing that can completely ‘fix’ us. We all need multiple tools for growth and self-development. The type of meditation I teach (and practice) happens to be exquisitely powerful and easy to do, and it exponentially adds to the efficacy of other self-improvement modalities. But it is not and should not be touted as the only answer to life’s problems.
No one ‘did’ anything ‘to’ me. Nothing should have the power over us to level us so completely. If it does, it’s helpful to ask why. Why did the actions of a few people, hundreds or thousands of miles away, cause me to spend months of my life in total horror and shame? What part of me can be stronger, so that I maintain equanimity in the face of upheaval? Have emotions, and feel them deeply? Yes. Work like hell to process and fight through them? Yes. Take action? If that feels like the right thing to do, absolutely. But ultimately, I’m responsible for my reactions to the events of my life, and I have some work to do!
Look inside for answers. Flawed humans can do, and teach, beautiful things. Things we can all use, and learn from. We don’t need to discard those truths, the same way we shouldn’t allow those flawed humans to remain blameless. What is the ‘truth’? What can we ‘believe’? No one gets to tell us that. We don’t need to follow something blindly, without internal validation of that teaching. When we know it in the core of our being, the truth stands on its own.
I’m eternally grateful for the #metoo movement for bringing up a lot of ugly stuff for us to confront. It is, and I am, a work in progress. And it is my joy and privilege to teach people tools to engender their own progress. Power dynamics go way beyond sexual harassment and assault. They influence money, beliefs, politics, fear, autonomy and control over day-to-day decisions. Speak up. Our actions matter. Our money matters. Our personal rhetoric matters. We can’t let fear keep us from doing what we feel is right.