Yogic response to sexual violation
Just a few months back we saw the explosive ‘Me-too’ movement that came out in the open to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the workspace all over the world. There were millions of victims, both men and women who came out revealing shocking incidents of sexual misconduct. The hashtag and the sudden reaction would have slowly died down, but just a few weeks back I heard a horrific incident of sexual harassment that took place in a friend’s family. My instantaneous reaction was anger, a streak of violence to hurt the perpetrator but as I stepped back, I was swamped with why’s, how’s and what is wrong with people? I posed the same questions to Yogi Coach Raghu Ananthanarayanan and he helped me look at these incidents from the Yogic framework.
Gayatri Iyer: As a curious as one can be, I want to understand a bit more about the psyche of such perpetrators and what makes them commit such acts?
Raghu Ananthanarayanan: As per statistics 50-70% of such cases are committed by people known to you like friends, relatives, and trusted people like teachers or priests. We must understand the human being’s biological and psychological systems are interlinked, for e.g. when we are born we are dependent on our parents for everything, then as we learn to walk we start exploring both from the physical mobility and the mind also, once we hit puberty there are more biological and psychological changes etc. In almost every person growth process the inner being and its development does not sit perfectly with the outer context and this causes deep hurt. For e.g. certain mothers are unable to breast-feed their child (for a variety of reasons, mostly beyond their intention) and this interference in the natural process causes trauma to the child. All these types of scars are stored in the unconscious. Of course, at every stage there are multiple hurts which if unresolved cumulatively accumulate in the next stage of growth and keeps coming back in the form of a compensatory behavior which is inappropriate. Due to the social conditioning one is told that certain types of behavior is ‘not ok’ and so the person starts managing it. This management only leads to suppression and oppression of these unexamined and unresolved parts making it more vicious each time it comes up. The defense mechanisms only strengthen the inner conflicts that then manifests in weird animalistic tendencies.
GI: But if the person is aware of the societal repercussions of such a behavior then where do these crimes take place?
RA: Yes, social context warranties that my behavior is controlled. That is why most of these violations happen in secret or anonymous spaces because here the defense mechanisms are not re-enforced by the external context. These secret spaces are haven for people who are in power like family friends, teachers, priests etc. who can let out their suppressed behavior without fear, almost like logging their acts in a secret diary.
GI: But we all have animalistic and vicious tendencies, no one is perfect right?
RA: Yes, we all have our disowned seeds sown in us. The difference lies in the decision we make to work with them and resolve them rather than suppress them. Unfortunately, our social context does not allow a safe, non-judgmental and compassionate space for sharing and re-appraisal. It rather shames you for these tendencies. The shame leads to people keeping these patterns a secret and even victims cannot share their experiences. In asymmetric power equations where one person is more vulnerable than the other and does not have the sensitivity to pause and observe the rising tendencies, obviously one cannot stop it. The Yoga Sutra clearly says that one needs to be sensitive and aware at a sukshma level to transform these seeds. If the seed has already become a full blown tree then it cannot be transformed. That is why the yama/niyama’s of Yoga are so important to follow.
GI: How does one start to look at these parts?
RA: To start with there is a need of a community context that would allow a person to look at these inner psycho-dramas from a space of shantam, safety and compassion. Typical lab or immersions are possible starting points for you to begin a sadhana. Yoga cannot be practiced in mere isolation of the self, one needs to look at these inner processes in a social context as well. While one shares and plays out their vulnerabilities in a lab space, the self-reflective process should not be a mere catharsis but also generate insights into ones psyche. The space is held closely and compassionately by the participants and facilitator to help you navigate through these dark spaces.
GI: As a society, where have we gone wrong to continuously allow such incidents?
RA: From a very young age whether schools or homes, we are not helping our children realize the importance of healthy relationships with ourselves, which includes these disowned parts like sexuality or aggression. Therefore this will show up in our relationship with others and of course with the other gender too. Touch is also a taboo in our society, the difference between a good and bad touch needs to be communicated sensitively but we all together ban touch. Most conversations about sex are hush hush and held in shame or guilt. When one looks at these aspects in a context of shame and guilt, one internalizes the shame and guilt. These scars run deep and get re-enforced through constant reprimand by parents, teachers etc. If we take the religious space, which is supposed to help, it ends up only repressing the self and making the process worse by adding another layer of fear to it. Anger and sexuality are both treated negatively and oppressed in a religious context. Strange enough the very ‘liberal’ and outspoken advertising and film community glorify these actions and behaviors for commercial gains. Where is the space for a Dharmic dialogue and influence? The tribes and villages in India are far more advanced to deal with the inner processes. In Dahanu, a village in Maharashtra, where I did some work many years back, I was amazed at the way the tribe deals with these issues: the Warli tribal women are sexually exploited all the time, it is taken for granted that no woman is spared by the so called “civilized and upper class” people, the plantation owners, and other elite. The community comes together during this crisis; the men talk to each other on how they dealt with the trauma (of their wife or daughter being sexually abused) as a father, husband etc., and the women do the same to help each other. The shame and guilt that comes from unresolved trauma is absolved. The cases of violation within the community is almost zero because every person grows up to foster healthy relationships and work with their inner processes rather than condemn it. Sadly, we are running away from the community way of living.
GI: But in many cases, there was consent and yet there are cries of assault. How does that work?
RA: See, it may happen that the guy got the signals all wrong; for e.g. he saw that the girl saying no to his advances as just teasing. Women are equally confused when it comes to drawing boundaries and defining a healthy relationship. Puberty is all about these changes and how they influence the way we relate to others. Adolescents need help to understand the new body language, boundary management and verbal cues. They look up to elders in the family or friend circle who are expected to behave in a responsible way but in families and in schools, discussion on sexuality is a taboo. Also as we know, the people who ought to be responsible do not always do so and take advantage of the asymmetric power equation.
GI: In so many cases the victim does not speak up, why?
RA: As I said, the victim also does not learn to guard his or her boundaries well and if I have learnt to disregard my feelings then I will never object or speak up against authority. E.g. children have a strong sense of dis-comfort towards certain people they meet, but as elders do we ever pay heed to that and look at it as a sign of trouble? We often say something like “be nice to uncle”. There is no space to examine these signs for the victim and perpetrator. If a victim speaks up there is a strange silencing of the voice because of societal reasons like future of his/her marriage. Each person in this web is merely escaping and not speaking out.
GI: If a person has been subjected to such kind of harassment and /or a person who has perpetrated such acts. What is the solution or healing?
RA: One usually seeks psychological counselling or say Yoga therapy both as a victim and a perpetrator. Though I am more concerned about the perpetrators who in most cases do not have a space to own up to their patterns and work with themselves carefully. Their life journey has obviously scarred them, and the big question remains how we can enable people struggling with their inner demons to work with it early enough, or on rehabilitating them back into the society without fear even after doing their time in jail etc.
GI: As a facilitator in labs and yogi coach, it must be quite heart wrenching to hear such stories. How do you hold yourself in such spaces?
RA: I must be honest with myself in such situations, work hard to look at myself and the inner processes even as I listen to people recount their trauma. As a facilitator the healing space is created when I can listen deeply from a quiet space that neither gets into a “savior of the victim” nor the “condemner of the perpetrator” space. That is why coaches need to work at least four times harder than the students! I need to keep my integrity and own to up to my struggles rather than be the hero or ‘know it all’. This is how insaniyat is included in the lab processes, if I share for the sake of it, the defense mechanisms take over and the integrity of the space is lost. In the end for all of us it all boils down to how do I work with myself with my duhkha patterns from a space of shantam and allow a higher intelligence to look at the whole drama so that I can learn how to lead a Dharmic life.
Mere punishment is not going to reform people, it is a collective effort to be sensitive to these issues and create a community to help deal with them rather than hiding them, thereby creating arresting the pattern that lead to these incidents
The article has been republished from here with permission.
Featured Image: IBNLive