The yoga moment is when you walk out of the hot studio and the person wearing sweaty, ragged pants, waking from her heavy nap, swigging amber fuel from a bottle accosts you with the smell of decay.
Even when the clouds pass across the moon is still full.
Rallies for the Soul of Happy Valley
Last night in State College — where I grew up — there were 2 opposing rallies: the rally of the faithful around Joe Paterno’s house, and the rally of those who demand a reckoning outside President Graham Spanier’s office in Old Main.
Online there is a similar split. On the one hand, thousands of people — including many of my high school friends — have changed their Facebook pictures to the Penn State Nittany Lion and cry out for a return to “Penn State Pride.” Just as vocal and planning a “blue out” at this Saturday’s Nebraska game, are the people — including many former athletes — who are shocked and confused, but insist that the leaders who perpetuated sexual abuse by covering it up and coddling the abuser be stripped of their power.
Let’s be clear: for over a decade people in the highest reaches of power at Penn State had eye witness accounts of sexual abuse of young boys in the football locker room and did nothing. Worse, they acted in ways that served to cover up the violation of young boys and allow the perpetrator access to other potential victims, while maintaining his status and privilege as part of the Penn State football “family.”
I came of age sexually in this culture of denial. The first time, in the days before the yards got pools and were separated by fences, I walked across the street with my favorite Barbie doll. She had a shiny blue dress and pom-poms. He jumps out from behind the rose bushes, grabs me and pins me down. His friend presses his body into mine and rubs me until my skin is raw. And then he cursed me, “If you ever tell anyone, I will kill you.” My Penn State cheerleader Barbie did not come home that afternoon.
Scenes like this — the abuse of power to coerce sex, boys acting as a team to hold one person down while others fondle — happened early and often to many of us, boys and girls alike. Much later, when I learned that sex did not have to be a ritual of numbness and torture, scars were written on my body in ways that intellect can uncover and patience mostly heal, but not always.
I want to thank the 9 boys brave enough to bring the abuse to light, even when doing so threatens the town’s most treasured myths, our most beloved heroes. In the dark alleys and basements of Happy Valley — and many other places — there are other boys and girls who were awakened young and painfully to this system.
We have in front of us an opportunity to change the rules — and change the culture — so this type of abuse does not happen again. Judging from the online videos and chat last night, the jury of the people is still out in State College. Will Penn State decide in favor of the violators, deniers and enablers, or clean house and live up to the small town values we claim to espouse?
Carol Barash attended State College High School, and she loves football. She is the founder and CEO of Story To College (storytocollege.com).
Much of what we are taught in school flows back to oppositions, a variety of things that line up as either this, or that; do this, but not that; if you believe in this, you must not believe in its opposite; etc etc
What I have always loved about poetry (and human interaction) is so much of language and life can’t be reduced to a simple either-or. A poem has as many meanings as readers; each person who stops to capture the blooming tree (on paper, through a lens, in their heart) sees something different and unique. Even our photographs of these things are completely different, one from the other.
BOTH:AND thinking is the capacity to honor both sides of an argument at once. Even after you’ve chosen your own position, or acted on it, you honor other people’s positions; you remain open to what you can learn from them.
I often think this is something President Obama tries to do, from the principled center, but people don’t get it, or they can’t hang onto it for more than an instant. Many Americans, of every political stripe, want the President to act more swiftly, more decisively, more like them. But he’s not that kind of leader. President Obama is more thoughtful (in the sense of thinking things through), less prone to act quickly, especially when the stakes are large, the situation multi-faceted and new.
We need more leaders like Obama, who are open to multiple voices, even when – especially when – they disagree with his own.
What is community anyway? From the Latin root, “communitas,” the things we have in common, “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”
What exactly does a “common cultural and historical heritage” look like? There are other words you can pull out, and the idea starts to unravel. But the idea is there, the vision of things we can and want to share…
This is my community: South Orange, NJ. I’m outside Starbucks on a sleepy Sunday morning, waiting for one of my kids. I’m watching people get off the train from NYC. A light white man, perhaps 40, his suit jacket rumpled, smells like alcohol. An older woman with cappuccino skin and straight hair has a bright blue hat and leather bible. They walk East up South Orange Avenue towards Seton Hall. I buy warm bread at Cait + Abby’s. I tear off a chunk of multi-grain and dunk it in my grande latte.
What does your community look like?
April 2010 it was 20 yoga classes in 30 days at my beloved “NJ ashram,” Garden State Yoga in Bloomfield, NJ. The classes were packed – sometimes as many as 60 people in a studio that comfortably holds about 30. The last night there were 65 of us there for our 20th class. GSY is, BTW, a great community – diverse, joyful, always new challenges and new people to meet and connect with.
Then in June another beautiful shared challenge. @BinduWile’s #21:5:800. I didn’t know Bindu, except through Twitter, but she assembled a group of us who for 21 days made a shared commitment to 5 days of yoga out of every 7 (this could be as simple as 20 minutes of shavasana daily) and 800 words of writing.
800 words is an important threshold, long enough to get past your predictable preamble, and whatever you choose to write about, go someplace new. Some days Bindu gave us prompts; other days she left us alone. The day she prompted us to write about our fear – and wrote about her own fear – I unearthed enough stuff for several months’ of writing it all out in stories and blogs. To understand my fear is to accept it and not be stopped by it… that was quite a gift from a group of strangers I knew only through Twitter and our shared intention…
I’m fascinated with Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s idea of flow, from his book of the same name. Csikszentmihaly describes how to live your life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events. Here’s how I found out about FLOW…
Last June I was part of @BinduWiles’s #21:5:800 yoga + writing community. To get in 5 yoga classes a week for three weeks, I amped up my visits to Garden State Yoga, my hot ashram of peace and diversity in good old Bloomfield, NJ. I get there 10 minutes early for the 10am class, so I can have a place in the front row; sweat barely mopped up from the 8:30 class, the place is already packed. I squeeze in next to a skinny young woman with soft, mocha colored skin, and start to pray to the reclining Buddha at the front of the room. Well not really pray; I don’t actually believe in prayer, but sometimes I pretend I do, and the ritual act grounds me, ever so slightly, in the present.
I open up my eyes and bring my hands to my sides, and the young woman says, “You look so happy. What is it?”
I laugh, “What do you do?”
“I’m a circus performer. I build kids’ confidence by teaching them how to perform like they’re in a circus. But seriously what do you do?”
“Related, oddly, to your circus. I teach storytelling to high school students. I’m teaching up up Lehman College in the Bronx, and I haven’t taught in years, and I have this outrageous ‘this is how it should be’ feeling. I’m flat out exhausted, but in the best possible way. It was one of those weeks when things just unfolded.”
“You should look up the idea of Flow. There’s this Polish guy who’s written about what you’re experiencing. Give me your card after class, and I’ll send you the link.” And sure enough she did. And so it flows…