Two weeks ago, I began the heavy, cathartic transition from traveling in southeast Asia to daily American life. I left a tropical island full of breathtaking cliffside beaches, coconuts, and sunshine and came home to children dying in school shootings, a long list of bills unpaid and responsibilities undone, and ultimately the rude awakening that I am still living here in the US - an oppressive, capitalist society that was mocked by nearly every foreigner I met abroad. Even the taxi driver who drove me to the airport on my last night in Thailand was cracking jokes about our current state of affairs. I tried to laugh, but the effort wasn't genuine. The heaviness of going back home began to sink in as I boarded my flight home to America, after six magical weeks of studying herbalism, practicing Zen meditation, volunteering at a refugee center, and writing my new book while relaxing on a beachside, umbrella-covered armchair.
The heaviness became even more dense after a few days of being home - it finally sunk in that I was assaulted two days before leaving Thailand. It had not even fully hit me until I undressed in front of my physician one week later to show her the physical injuries still left behind. While ultimately, I am simply grateful to be alive, the physical injuries are a ruthless reminder of the inevitable experience of being perceived as a woman (remember how many of us said #metoo?). The rude awakening of being back home in America became less of a dull roar and more of a silent, muffled scream. I came home to the realization that ultimately the effects of patriarchy and capitalism are on an epidemic, global scale, and that no amount of time spent on a beautiful, tropical island will erase this brutal reality from our minds and hearts. There is no escape but to overcome it entirely.
I have felt conflicted for days about who to tell or how to tell this story. The person I love has essentially gaslighted and ghosted me ever since I reached out to her directly for support. I have told a small handful of friends, but they are busy with their own lives despite how supportive they have tried to be. I have scrolled through my phone countless times wondering who to call. On a few occasions I have called old friends, listened to the phone ring, but then hung up when it went to voicemail. What do I even say on a voicemail these days?
Eventually, I let go of looking for support externally and looked deeply within myself. I have been practicing meditation every single morning (despite not feeling physically well enough to practice asana). I have been focusing on heart-opening meditations from the Purna Yoga tradition in addition to various journeying/energy clearing techniques that I learned from one of my first spiritual teachers. I have been eating a Vata-pacifying diet complete with plenty of kichari and ghee. I have been taking herbal rasayanas such as shatavari kalpa, adaptogens like tulsi rose tea, and various herbs for my physical injuries such as turmeric and guduchi.
Healing myself physically feels like the most pressing step forward right now. However, my work in the world does not stop there. The path of the bodhisattva is ultimately to live in service to all other sentient beings until we are entirely, collectively free from suffering. I know that healing this world doesn't end with me.
The bodhisattva tattoo on my back is nearly a decade old at this point. I studied Buddhism in college and have been reading modern Buddhist authors such as Thich Nhat Hahn, Pema Chodron, and others since high school. The philosophy of the bodhisattva resonated with me at an early age for a reason. These sentient beings represent a way of life that I have lived for much longer than I have even known about their existence in Buddhist philosophy: living on Earth for the sole purpose of liberating all of humanity from suffering. A being who is vastly discontent with everyday life, awake enough to see that there is no joy in the material world, yet continuously walks through life with innumerable arms representing all the sentient beings they will serve in their lifetime.
My experience volunteering at the refugee center on the Thailand/Myanmar border reconnected me to this philosophy that has felt so kindred to me for years. I spent two weeks giving ayurvedic massage/herbal bodywork treatments to women and children in need, teaching refugee women how to perform these treatments for each other and their children, and writing a business plan for a future wellness program at the refugee center. Simply being present for the other women and children who have experienced so many of my own struggles, as a single mother and domestic violence survivor, was deeply healing and awakening for me. It was a much-needed reminder that when I am living in service to others that my own problems often pale in comparison. It is when I am living in service to others that I am reminded how being so deeply in touch with my own suffering has allowed me to develop the compassion necessary to be fully present and awake for others as a healing arts practitioner. It is when I am living in service to others that I realize how deeply our global suffering (and ultimately, our global healing) is interconnected.
A separate, but parallel philosophy in yoga that mirrors the Buddhist path of the bodhisattva is known as the practice of karma yoga. It is the philosophy that practicing seva, or selfless service, to others is a form of spiritual prayer - and ultimately a path to liberation itself. This path requires us to act in service to others without any attachments to the fruits of our own actions. The Bhagavad Gita, one of India's most beloved texts on the subject of karma yoga, describes Krishna's plea to Arjuna:
"The meaning of karma is in the intention. The intention behind action is what matters. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. At the beginning of time I declared two paths for the pure heart: jnana yoga, the contemplative path of spiritual wisdom, and karma yoga, the active path of selfless service. The ignorant work for their own profit, Arjuna; the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves."
The bodhisattva is often described as the "warrior of compassion," which is an imperative component of the path of service. Often our own suffering leads us to indefinite anger, fear, and grief. While these emotions are appropriate and necessary for a period of time (especially after a traumatic event such as assault), eventually these emotions must be transformed into compassion - the deep understanding and acceptance that the suffering we feel is often deeply connected to the suffering of so many others in this world.
My inner work right now is to continue to develop this compassion arising from my own personal suffering. My work is to develop compassion for my attacker. My work is to develop compassion for the person I love who can't/won't be by my side right now. My work is to continue to reflect deeply on how to transform the anger, fear, and grief that I have felt these past two weeks into the compassion that is necessary for our world to change – a compassion that encompasses a deep understanding for both the causes of suffering and those fighting to survive it.
Every single manifestation of capitalism, patriarchy, and all other forms of oppression that we face require fierce, steady, relentless compassion. A fierce gaze into the depths of the suffering of every single person on this earth is necessary. It is not true compassion if anyone is left behind. We are in this fight together.
The time for "warriors of compassion" is right here, right now.
In honor of my renewed commitment to the path of the bodhisattva, the focus of Yoga Shamana is now shifting to make space for even more karma yoga in my own private practice. In my own mind and heart, there is no difference between service and the work that I do for a living. My focus right now is to simply clarify my intentions for how my professional life reflects my own personal values. It is due time for my healing arts practice and my path of karma yoga to become unified as one.
Effective as of March 1st (which falls on my birthday), all Yoga Shamana rates for private sessions are transitioning to a sliding-scale, donation basis. Plans are already in motion for various community-based programs in collaboration with The Yoga Service Movement to provide free and donation-based wellness classes, workshops, and private sessions. A powerful vision for aligning both my political and spiritual beliefs is finally manifesting into reality. My sincere intention is to live in service, as a warrior of compassion, from this day forward.
Every single day.
"It is thus: If I wish for happiness,
I should never seek to please myself,
So it is that if I wish to save myself
I must always be the guardian of others.
Therefore, free from all attachment,
I will give this body for the benefit of beings;
Thus, though many blemishes afflict it,
I shall take it as my necessary tool.
And now, as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To soothe the sufferings of those who live.
The pains and sorrows of all wanderers -
May they ripen wholly on myself.
And may the virtuous company of Bodhisattvas
Ever bring about the liberation of beings."
-"A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life," by the 8th century poet Santideva, translated by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.