Sexual Assault is Everyone’s Issue

Tears are streaming down my face reading the letter of the victim of Brock Turner’s sexual assault. As a rape victim, this sentencing and complete lack of justice hits hard. It’s a reminder of why I, and why countless women I know who have been raped don’t tell anyone. More than anything I’ve been through in my entire life, the most dehumanizing, excruciating and world destroying thing I’ve experienced is rape. The first time I was raped was before I knew what the word even meant. It was violent and I walked away feeling shamed and terrified. I couldn’t find words to describe what had happened to me, so I found things that would help me stop feeling the bleakness of what my existence had become. Unfortunately, those things were intoxicating, and set into motion a cycle that I was incorrectly told set me up to be raped. I think this is one of the main issues I hear with the rhetoric about rape culture. I drank. Sometimes I blacked out. Sometimes I browned out, coming in and out of a blackout. More times than I can remember, I would wake up with someone inside of me that I was absolutely certain I hadn’t given consent to. If I fought or talked about it, I was told that alcohol was the problem and that by getting drunk I was asking for it. Even recently, I’ve spoken with good people who, I believe, understand what rape is and who consider themselves feminist, but think that alcohol intoxication is somehow an acceptable scapegoat for sexual assault.

It is not.

As the victim of the Stanford tragedy eloquently spoke about in her letter to her assaulter, alcohol and sexual assault are completely separate issues. One is not an excuse, justification, or reason for the other. In fact, they shouldn’t even enter the same sentence. If someone is drunk or highly intoxicated, they are unable to give consent. And if you aren’t given consent, and still insert yourself into another person, that my friend, is rape. End of story.

When I’ve told people my experiences with rape and sexual assault, they often ask if I would react differently if I knew then what I knew today. In other words, would I call the cops and file charges. This woman’s story is the reason I feel ambivalent to say yes. I call it a tragedy that in the United States of America, there is a documented sexual assault on an adult every 107 seconds. 90% of these adults are women. Knowing that one out of every six women in the US has been a rape victim or attempted rape victim in her lifetime makes my skin crawl, and yet that’s the picture of the American life. On top of that, out of every 1,000 rapes that are reported, 994 perpetrators will walk away without charges. (https://rainn.org) And these numbers just take into account the women who report their rapists.

When I hear stories like this one, about an innocent victim who was brutally assaulted behind a dumpster, where there is no confusion about what happened, where there are other witnesses of the rape to explain the situation, where there is absolutely no doubt that a crime was committed, and yet the little piece of shit perpetrator gets off, my answer is no. I wouldn’t have done it differently. I don’t believe there is any justice to be had in a justice system that lets rapists free. What I hear from that judge is that women’s bodies don’t matter. That violent men are free to do whatever they want without recourse, and that ultimately, women are to blame for violence committed against them.

This situation is dire and yet it’s just the tip of the iceberg. FIFTY women accused Bill Cosby of rape and he’s not in prison. The fact that our court system assumes women are lying when they share what is likely the most painful and difficult experience of their life is an example of a systemic issue. When there is ample evidence of rape and a lawyer can change the story to make it sound like it’s the victim’s fault, this is an example of a systemic issue. When on a daily basis, women’s lives are being completely torn apart in the United States of America, and NOTHING is being done about it, this is an example of a systemic issue.

I wish I had an overnight solution, but sadly I don’t. I do however, have fire. I have anger, and anguish, and my heart breaks for the women that have to experience daily the confusion, loss, and gut wrenching pain of being a victim of sexual assault. I know that even if there isn’t hope in the justice system, there is hope in our words. I’ve been able to reach hundreds of women with similar experiences to mine because I’ve been willing to tell my story.

If nothing else, I invite you to talk about rape. Talk about it with your kids, with your friends, with your family. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but as long as it stays taboo and hidden, we can’t see it face on. And if we can’t see it face on, nothing will change. The rape culture paradigm needs to shift, and we need to be the ones to step up and shift it because clearly the justice system isn’t going to.

Petition to remove judge in this case: https://www.change.org/p/california-state-house-recall-judge-aaron-persky/h/alternate?recruiter=17086852&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_term=des-lg-no_src-reason_msg&recruit_variation=alternate&fb_ref=Default

 

Victim’s letter: https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.opYZp7RAwG#.sczapNYORJ

 

Violence against women- it’s a men’s issue: https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue?language=en

 

Rainn stats: https://rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system

 

 

Your Invitation to Love.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

In my opinion, Valentine’s Day is ridiculous. It’s an excuse to buy more shit if you have a partner, and to feel like shit if you don’t.

That being said, I had a really powerful experience yesterday that made me feel grateful for this day that has been set aside for Love. Maybe not romantic love/lust/obsession or whatever, but instead, for the appreciation of human connection and the ability for humans to surpass any challenge with softening, love and understanding.

I talked at length yesterday with one of my favorite people about his experience studying Africana history. He is black, and talked about his previous anger at white people, and then about the growing compassion and empathy he has acquired as he’s learned more about what happened in the past, and more about himself. To me, this transformation is beyond beautiful.

I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the years to be less of an angry asshole, but frankly, when I think about slavery, Nazi Germany, the genocide in Rwanda, the rape of our environment, or our current situation with ISIS, a visceral anger and despair bubbles up in me that is foreign to my daily experience. Sitting down with my friend however, opened me up in a way I have been unable to access by myself.

The idea that love is actually enough is something that most people blow off as ideal thinking. I understand the reaction to just say it’s bullshit, and that in fact we as a people need much more than love to survive and thrive- both in relationships and politics. But then I experience these moments where the power of love completely transforms situations, people, and outcomes.

Maybe love is enough, but we have just built up so many walls within ourselves that it is incredibly difficult to access it. Maybe the real work is to get present enough in our own body to see where our habitual patterns kick us out of love and into pride. And maybe the key is quieting our mind enough to let it open to the possibility that the bullshit we tell ourselves is nothing compared to the power of love.

My wish for you this Valentine’s Day is for a true experience of the innate connection we all share. For a softening of pride. For an opening of mind and heart. And I offer you the invitation of love into your life. Love for yourself, and love for all others.

billmurray

How To Be The Best Yoga Teacher

I’ve spent thousands of hours taking and teaching yoga classes over the years. I’ve had teachers that I connect with on a heart and soul level, and some whose classes I take only because of scheduling convenience. I have practiced with teachers who I believe are some of the best in the world, and with others who seem to actually dislike teaching. 

There are many things that set good teachers apart from the truly incredible. Not the least of which are; experience in both practice and teaching, deep understanding of anatomy and alignment, creativity, and the understanding and integration of yogic philosophy within the asana. Having a well educated teacher who isn’t afraid to show up in her (or his) own skin is invaluable.

All that being said, in my experience, what makes the very best yoga teachers is love. 

Love for themselves and of course love for the practice, but most importantly, love for every single student that shows up to class. Cultivating and sharing the energy of unconditional love for our students is what makes yoga feel like magic.

We have a unique opportunity as yoga teachers to share love without judgement or expectation. The teachers in my life that have made the most impact are the ones that loved me. Even if they knew nothing of my life, they tuned into me, in the present moment, and loved me through all the bullshit I bring to my mat. 

So if you want to be one of the best yoga teachers around, leave your ego at the door, open your heart, and love your students. Love them with the intensity you seek at your loneliest moments, and you may just change their lives. 

 

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Lessons I’ve Learned From My Mother

I don’t know shit about the afterlife, or the beforelife for that matter, but I think about it often. Several traditions and religions believe that we get to somehow pick our parents before we come onto the earth. I don’t know if that is true. Maybe I just won the lottery.

I seriously have the most amazing mom. She has been a constant support, has always given an outpouring of love. She has taught us lessons, never by yelling, but by communication and compassion.

I remember a time in my darkest period where I had stolen quite a bit of money and possessions from my parents and had wreaked all kinds of havoc in their, and my own life. I returned to their house after a short period of sobriety and was crying to my mom about how I was the worst person and was unforgivable, blah blah blah. She held me in her arms, stroked my hair, and said, “It’s all just ‘stuff’ Kyr. Stuff doesn’t matter.” She emphasized to me that what matters is love and our safety. Because of moments like this, and the lessons she has taught me throughout my life, I have been able to grow into a woman who values people, service, and love over material wealth and “getting ahead”.

Here are a few little nuggets of wisdom my mother has taught me.

1. Say “thank you” for everything. Over thank. The world can use more gratitude so find it everywhere.

2. Look for the good in people. Everyone has bad shit about them that is easy to focus on. Actively choose not to focus on it. Instead spend exorbitant amounts of time looking for the positive. 

3. Pause. Take a moment before reacting, especially in conflict. 

4. When feeling attacked, try to hear the other person’s words rather than identifying with the feelings they bring up. This one is a toughy.

5. Listen. Really really listen. When someone else is talking and thoughts about what they are saying overpower the words they are using, pause and let your mind get quiet. Tune completely into what the other person is saying. Listening is one of the biggest gifts you can give another person. 

6. You’re never too old or stuck to completely change your life. 

7. Art is in everything if you open your eyes. 

8. So is God. 

9. It’s ok to follow your passion, even if everyone else thinks it is ridiculous. Your heart and soul can be your guide, not the voices of your doubt.

10. Being kind to all the people you encounter will make you happier, and will almost surely change someone else’s life. Kindness is contagious, and is needed in this world. Individually, you have the power to make a difference in the lives of everyone around you. Be kind.

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Travel, Love and, God. (Not to be confused with Eat. Pray. Love)

I took a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. It was one of those impulse trips. I’m known to hop on board with any opportunity to travel. This time however, the opportunity included a man I had briefly deluded myself into thinking I was in love with. So it was a double win. 

The trip was perfect. Another good friend of mine was out there already so we met up with him and went all over the country. Traveling and falling in love are two of the times it is easiest to be completely and utterly present. I remember every moment of each day. That kind of presence slips away from us in the mundane. 

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Anyway, we all went our separate ways, since our flights left from different countries, at different times. I was taking a bus to the airport and was under the impression that I would transfer from one bus to another at the same station. I got off the first bus after a breathtaking drive through the rainforest and looked for my transfer. To say my spanish is bad is an understatement, and although I’m usually pretty comfortable being in new places by myself, I started to panic after frantically looking for my bus around the entire station, three times. Granted, it was a pretty tiny station.

An older man with a soft gaze who spoke only spanish approached me and I can only assume asked if I needed help, probably due to my deer-in-headlights appearance. Trying to explain my dilemma to him in broken spanish, I showed him my ticket. Pleading in my eyes. 

He took my hand, and together we walked. We walked through what was at one time cobblestone streets. Through alleyways, fields, and I’m pretty sure a few back yards. We walked. And walked. And walked. I could hear my mom’s voice in the very back of my mind, cautioning me against going who knows where with a strange man in a country in which I don’t speak the language but something deeper in me told me I was safe. If I hadn’t been so open and connected throughout the trip, I’m not sure I would’ve heard that voice of conscience. 

It’s funny how time always feels slower when you’re going somewhere for the first time. My watch showed 20 minutes, but it seemed like we had walked for hours.

When we arrived at the bus station, he walked me to my stop, took both my hands in his, looked into my eyes as if he could see my soul, and said, “Thank you”. 

This man who had spent his valuable time walking a stranger across the town for no reason other than the kindness in his heart thanked ME. 

We hugged. I cried. (I’m a crier) And every time I thanked him, he shook his head, and thanked me again. 

Travel is beautiful. It opens the heart and mind in ways nothing else can. The trip was amazing and I have plenty of beautiful memories I’ve taken with me, but the experience with that man changed my life. I’m reminded in moments that I’m rushing or when I feel like what I am doing is SOOOOO important, to slow down and look for the people I can help.

If twenty minutes, 4 years ago, with a stranger has stuck with me as this much of a gift, what can I do for the people in my daily life? What can I do to help spread love and joy? Who can I make time for today? These are the questions that should always be on my mind. When they are, not only am I happier, but the world around me is a little better off. 

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Yoga Sutra 1.24

1.24 The Self is the universal soul. It is unaffected by afflictions and untouched by actions, although it abides in the individual person.

What an incredibly beautiful concept. We tend to live in a somewhat absent-minded existence, a level of consciousness that is influenced by emotional pain and fear. It’s both challenging and freeing to recognize that below that, a layer deeper, we have a universal non-reactive soul. That our Self is related to, and in, all other selves. That tapping into that space opens the door to the beauty of life. When we see the presence that rests behind the fear and pain, we can become at peace. That space exists in each individual person.

Today I’ll practice glimpsing at the universal soul. When I find myself seeing beauty, or taking a deep breath, I’ll revel in the simple, yet deep beauty of the present.

Yoga Sutra 1.23

1.23 However, one may attract profound grace through wholehearted detachment, and immersion in the self.

The word detachment tends to arouse mixed feelings in most people. When Patanjali speaks of detachment, he’s not referring to shutting or stuffing down emotion. Nor is he referring to emotionless indifference. Rather, the reference is to not clinging, or holding onto anything. As the cliché goes, the only constant is change, and this sutra fully embodies that. Detachment, and immersion in the Self, are two sides of the same coin. In order to take action on one, we must be taking action on the other. We fully immerse ourselves in our true Self, and attachment falls away.

Today I will practice non-clinging when things aren’t going my way, or I’m feeling my ego try to take control. I’ll practice looking in. I’ll recognize the issue as ego clinging, and relax into the space of recognition.

Yoga Sutra 1.22

1.22 There is also a differentiation in progress between those who are keen, average, or merely fickle in their practice.

As it is with any practice, our progress is contingent on the effort we put in. My own practice ebbs and flows. Sometimes I’m practicing daily and sitting with patience and tolerance for myself. Other times, I sit down to meditate and it’s excruciating to be in my own head, and I get up. The work is to sit down regardless, get out my mat when I would prefer to be sleeping. Breathe into the present moment when I would rather be daydreaming. Embrace the uncomfortable regularly, and it becomes natural.

Today I will practice. I won’t think about tomorrow’s practice, or whether I need to do this for the rest of my life. I will look only at today, and I will practice asana, and meditation. My daily mantra will be, “baby steps”.