Surrender and Self-agency

When I arrived in India last month I noticed a feeling of surrender. It was unanticipated feeling because I was nervous before leaving the States, but as soon as I got to Delhi and found Hari Om, my driver for the next 3 days, I settled into my back body. 

It wasn’t an intentional surrendering, it just happened. I felt slower (even in the fast paced city of New Delhi) and open to whatever came my way. My first 3 days were a whirlwind tourist adventure of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and then off to a yoga and meditation immersion with a teacher whose books I love but never studied with personally.

When I arrived to campus it was different than the first 3 days. I heard birds instead of car horns, I saw bluer sky instead of hazy smog, and I felt space around me instead of crowds. 

I tried to move with my back body throughout the time on retreat, which felt slower, more intentional, had more peripheral vision and less goals to achieve. This came easily on my daily walks to gaze at birds, cows, nilgais, goats and monkeys, when I drank my morning chai before and after meditation, walking to and from the guesthouse saying hello to the spotted owls, and eating dinner watching those same owls hunt. Nature was an important spiritual teacher for me during this retreat.

Human beings were more challenging, and I had some intense front body moments.

Yoga has a long history of sexual abuse, and the lineage I was studying with is not immune. To be honest none of the lineages I have studied with are immune from sexual abuse. Yet, I was taken aback to see the picture of Swami Rama, a teacher accused of sexual abuse, hanging in the temple and 4 hours of his videos on the schedule. He was not the teacher I went to study with, and he died over 20 years ago. Questions started to flood in. Why were we watching these videos? Why is his picture in the shrine? Why aren’t we learning from the living teacher instead of this man’s videos? Then my questions turned to the institution. How did this organization navigate this trauma? What happened to the women? What did justice look like? What did forgiveness look like? How did and do they reconcile what this teacher offered the community with the traumas he also caused? My front body took over for a couple days while I wondered, pondered, created stories and hoped this organization may have created or used a model for restorative justice.

I asked 2 of the teachers about addressing Swami Rama’s abuse of power, and I got a clear message this is not something talked about. Silencing is one of the tools of abuse, and it seemed fully in tact. 

I decided to approach another senior faculty member about how the organization navigated and continue to navigate these traumas. In our brief conversation she told me I needed to look at a bigger reality and asked me if I felt better. I said no, and I wanted to continue our conversation. This never happened. 

Although none of the answers I received were satisfying, they did help me get clear. This was not a community that felt safe or open to me, and this was not a teacher I wanted to invest my energy into.

When I got clear I could surrender again. I utilized my time to focus on my personal meditation practice, connect with the land, the animals, and my new dear friend who happened to be my roommate. I contemplated leaving but chose to stay to practice sitting in my clarity as well as the complexity. 

The ability to surrender into the clarity and complexity felt like a new gift. I find that when complexity arises I want to find a definitive answer that clears up the complexity, instead of allowing the complexity to become clear. I had moments of clarity and complexity that I could hold with spaciousness even when parts of me and parts of the experience felt at odds with each other.

A week after I returned from India I listened to a webinar with Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Jasmine Syedullah and Lama Rod Owens on #metoo and radical dharma. I felt myself settle back into my back body with teachers who can hold complexity, refrain from using spiritual language to bypass power dynamics and violence, see the humanity of both survivor and perpetrator, ask hard questions and be asked hard questions with hearts wide open. 

Reverend angel talked about self-agency and surrender and asked us how we know the difference. I felt surrender when I arrived in India, and when something did not feel right my self-agency poked me in the stomach like a dagger. My self-agency would not and could not rest until I said something, and when I was unsatisfied with the responses I was able to surrender again. I was able to surrender into what I wanted to bring with me from this experience and what I wanted to leave behind, which felt new. I tend to be all in or all out and being able to accept and hold the complexity without pushing any of it away felt like an opportunity for spiritual growth. 

My intention moving forward is to use my back body to support holding clarity and complexity, surrender and self-agency, love and fierceness.