The Trouble with Trigger-Happy Gun Critics: An Op-Ed on Vox’s San Bernardino shooting article

The first time I met my abuser he told me the story of how he almost choked his ex-girlfriend to death.

Instead of feeling alarm I felt moved by his honesty. I saw beacons of potential instead of burning red flags. I trusted that because he made a mistake and disclosed it to me, I was safe.

Two years later, after continuous coercive control and psychological abuse, I saw the smoke and left the relationship. He threatened to stalk me at my house, harassed me with e-mails, and even pressed a false “attempt to commit fraud” charge against me (it was dismissed).

What I didn’t know then was that I was in the most danger of my abuser when I decided to leave him. According to statistics, an abused woman is 70x more likely to be murdered by her partner when she leaves him.

The Vox article “San Bernardino, California, elementary school shooting: what we know so far” describes a murder-suicide of a schoolteacher by her estranged husband as a “school shooting.” They emphasize the need for firmer gun control laws and cite the stream of school shootings occurring in the last few years. The article writes,

“The shooting is a devastating tragedy. But also the kind of event that Americans have become increasingly familiar with over the past several years. And as the country deals with a level of gun violence unmatched by other developed nations, the question has often turned to what restrictions on firearms could help reduce how many shootings happen year after year.”
School shootings are tragic. But an equally devastating tragedy is a misrepresentation of facts surrounding a silent epidemic where 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime and 1 in 3 female murder victims will die at the hands of their abusers. Painting this episode of domestic violence as another example of a senseless school shooting is reckless. Skewing the context to make another call for stricter gun laws is manipulation. Instead of grieving “another school shooting,” it is time we grieve for the quiet loss of another dead wife.

School shootings are a problem in this country.

Gun violence is a controversy that continues to be debated.

But one of the biggest epidemics in this country is shrouded by trigger-happy gun critics who skew facts to champion their cause. San Bernardino is not just one more senseless, sick citizen shooting up a school with access to generous gun laws.

San Bernardino is an example of what domestic violence looks like in our country: deadly and distorted.

Prayer for Difficult Times

I’m learning softness is a discipline in its own right- though more subjective and internally-oriented than the fierce idealism of right action- it is equally vital to the process of realizing my potential.

 

Imposing more standards and expectations doesn’t compel my will to action, to be swept up in the winds of idealism; it guts any semblance of assurance I have left and leaves my reservoirs of worthiness to bleed out beneath the knife of ‘not enough.’ It is so humbling to watch my mental faculties scramble to relieve themselves of sitting still with this experience. Limitations rally instincts and scoff at patience. Already I am planning loftier goals, enticing projects to incite me to launch into a new cause, more glamourous ambitions.

Why is the solution to “I cannot” always “I must?”

Why is the cure for the pain always the pain?

The delusion is circumvention-the freedom, staying where ego bids I leave, forgiving what is limited, base, and secondary; I am not who I would like to be and this fissure is the cradle where my Maker does his work.

 

God:

Hold my pain for me.

Help me find beauty and worthiness here; help me let go of deeming or rejecting; help me unfold your graces in the impasse of my expectations and where I stand.
Help me find the soft edges of what feels burdensome and unrelenting-help me to pause in what prompts my aversion, help me to let go of doing in what calls out to me for patience.
Let me know your forgiveness: for what requires staying, for what agitates me to run, for what doesn’t budge under my best efforts.
For you I lay down my lashing and surrender to seconds I swore were too long for you to find me. Anything that breaks me is yours: each crack, your foothold, every agitation, your steward; let me know your strength in my restoration, my strength in your beholding me as a rightful daughter and heir to the heavens I renounced in my insistence I do not deserve, I do not deserve, I do not deserve.

Self-abasement is a ruse. Brokenness, a translucent shroud. What breaks me is destined to bring me back to love. Only love is real, this mattering, the only truth: I am yours.

Amen.

On seeking, practice, & Manju Jois

I am a seeker never satisfied with answers. I have a mind programmed to probe, question, and analyze. My least favorite word is “no” and I despise simple answers to complex questions. Yet the greatest growth I have experienced as a human being and the greatest healing I have received as a yoga practitioner is in the forgoing of the territory of the intellect and stepping into the domain of experience.

A month ago I attended an intensive with the foremost authority of the lineage from which I began my studies, Manju Jois. Manju is the son of Guruji, the deceased “father” of ashtanga yoga, a very ancient system of yoga. I had not seen Manju in two years and was eager for my roots to re-grasp the soil from which my practice began.

Manju’s teaching style is very straightforward, hands-on, clear, and simple, with a touch of playful humor. His genius is not in the details, but in the world of experience. He has over sixty-five years of experience teaching, more than anyone else living today, and being in his presence effortlessly invites trust and surrender into the hearts of his students.

I am always tickled by other practitioners’ questions for Manju:

“Manju, how many Surya A’s and B’s?”

“How far away are the feet in Trikonasana?”

“What is Mula Bandha?”

Manju tells us that in no traditional yoga texts do they discuss physical minutiae so often emphasized by Western yoga teachers, but only the philosophy and sacred geometry of the asana.

“Yoga is a flow,” he reminds us when another practitioners asks about correcting hyper-extended elbows in Prasarita Padottanasana. “We don’t want to disrupt their flow. It is natural problem.” And without blinking an eye, he moves on to the next practitioner working on an adjustment with another student.

His words are both reminder and invitation: to not get lost in the details, to surrender to the greater cosmic current of divine knowledge by simply showing up, unrolling the mat, and making a beginning. Through steady, patient practice I provide the groundwork for these unseen forces to infiltrate my heart and my life. For me, yoga is not acquiring, attaining, or accomplishing. As Manju says: “ ‘Yug’ means unite, and yoga is to unite within.”

Yoga is the practice of uniting within, of shedding layers of who I think I am and what I think I know to effect a contact with the eternal self and coax her out of subtlety and into full expression. It is my intention to continue to practice with full measures, learn with an open mind, and cultivate reverence in my heart for the teachers that inspire such a process.

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Will you look back?

 

I want to set humanity ablaze with how much spirit is possible for one vessel called the body to contain.

The process of awakening that the system called Ashtanga Yoga facilitates is a system that purifies this vessel; and today, as I re-commit to consistent, daily practice, I am coming to terms with just how dis-engaged and in bondage to self I truly was.

Over the last year, practice became a chore. It weighed on me. I felt only a dull, heavy pain where there once was clarity and joy. I grieved the loss of the only friend who could hold me in my darkest moments and hated myself for losing her grasp as I slipped into the void.

Dread consumed me. The thought of beginning my day at 6 a.m. in Samastihi for the rest of my life overwhelmed me. My practice was a torturous flat line that my thoughts could not bounce back from. Somewhere along the way I fell asleep in despair.

The great paradox that is the human experience is precisely this: Awakening is possible only in our deepest hours of slumber. Inspiration is being churned over in the subconscious mind even when we feel like we are trudging through mud in our conscious state. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is an acknowledgement of a life-current already flowing inside me. This is the grace that I effect a contact with as I begin my morning at the top of my mat. And as I lift my arms above me, ekam, inhale, and fold forward, dve, exhale, I am acknowledging this grace and inviting it to express itself through me. I offer my body as a temple for grace and lift her up on an altar that is the heart consumed with devotion. I merge into Source.

My discontentment with my practice was really my discontentment with a life designed perfectly by my Maker’s hand.

And I don’t want to be discontent any longer. I don’t want to be afraid of the power burning inside me. I don’t want to sleep through the dawn. I don’t want to whisper into an iron cage; I want to fan the edges of an open flame. Or as Pablo Neruda writes,

¨I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,

insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,

going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,

taking in and thinking, eating every day…”

I want to burrow into the Self and untangle her roots from my grasping. I want to seduce her edges to grow deeper and deeper until they touch the un-tilled soil that is the earthy breath not yet dreamt by God.

I want to hold the world’s eye even when it is afraid to look back; I want to coax it into trusting my gaze with the seduction of a spirit rooted in humanity.

I want to carve a looking-glass into my chest and invite the world to stare in.

Do you see past the rugged scars of a girl burning up in her own fire?

Do you not see the crying tides howling out ¨you cannot, you cannot, you cannot¨ part for the one who walks to meet her Maker?

Do you see the girl who built ladders upon the shoulders of lowly men, men who considered dreams of heights to be more terrifying than the monotonous nightmare that is mediocrity?

Do you see her upturned gaze?

Do you see the downtrodden tramp who refused tragedy as her master and accepted greatness as her equal?

Do you see the girl who lifted her humanity up as an offering to her Creator and begged Him to mold it as He saw fit?

Can you see into the gaze that holds these secrets? Will you look back?

The Edge

¨I want to stand as close as I can to the edge without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.¨ -Kurt Vonnegut

Beyond the domain of who we think we are there is an edge; and here, we see the full glory of the self shed of all her trappings.

My edge has not been a vantage point from which I gazed into the depths of raw, limitless potential inside of me, but a jumping-off point from which I lept to escape the pressure of tapping into it. I escaped, taking refuge in seclusion. I allowed my spirit to rot in idle stagnation and championed it as contemplation; I toted the identity of a rishi finding God in a cave when I was really a recluse willing my spirit to die. I sacrificed the risks of joyous leaps of faith to calculated efforts yielding safe results.

Or as Christian author C.S. Lewis writes, I chose Hell:

¨There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell (The Problem of Pain, 121).¨

The last few months I have locked my heart into this casket and cast my desires away.

I lived in isolation because I didn’t trust anyone else to tend to my wounds. I clung to resentment and fear because it was safer than choosing to let go, trust, and have a new experience. I forwent opportunities to expand my knowledge and develop my skills because the outcome was unidentifiable.

 Bondage was predictable; freedom required risk.

Recently I have been catapulted out of my cocoon and forced to fly. The illusion of security has been smashed and I am inviting the creative principle inside me to awaken.

Questions like,

            ¨Who am I if I don’t look good on paper?”

¨What can I rely on if the one thing I’ve been banking on for two years has escaped my grasp?¨

have left me raw, angry, and hurting. I was faced with a tough decision and I chose freedom and empowerment over security. I stopped participating in a movement that held me hostage to the center so I could look out over the edge.

And now, here I stand, howling out into the great void. Here I find my footing without a Plan B or a safety net. I feel but two things; the aching cry of a rebirth and the grief of tearing myself from the center.

Here I offer my wounds to their only rightful attendant, my Maker, as I try to stand by the edge without falling off.

Of the sacred and the selfish

¨I want to leave behind a legacy some day.”

This is what I thought yesterday on my walk. I wonder more and more about this as I get deeper into my practice. Constant refinement, constant diligence, an open mind yet a fixed, definite attitude pulling me like a magnet to my goal of complete and total mastery, not perfection, just the full knowledge of my enormous capabilities and limitations and my willingness to express and re-mold both of these if it means one step closer to my goal, to the moment where I can pause and feel the result of my efforts before I vigorously re-double them to take one more step. I am filled with a constant joy and yet a gnawing pull to give further, to try again, to work and learn and achieve harder, faster, more. I am reminded on a daily basis of what it feels like to be human. And not reduced to this physical state, but to fully accept it, and in this acceptance, transmute all that is insignificant, inadequate, insufficient in me into that which is made whole again, that which transcends the physical and enters the realm of the divine. To realize that the human consciousness is in the God-consciousness, that to think and create out of this God-mind requires only the admission of my mortality, this, I think, is worth the hours spent damning my deficiencies and hopelessly recognizing my failures, if it means through this relentless pain I may pass through the gateway to greatness. Greatness is not the perfect or the unattainable; it is the perfect giving of everything within me to know that, in a quiet moment possessed and felt and created only by me, that my heart has stirred, my mind has been ignited, my actions have produced for the sole fulfillment of my soul’s purpose and my soul’s entry into a sacred, selfish pleasure-world blurring the lines between my Creator and I.

God breaks our hearts to keep them open.

“We are not alone. We are privileged to carry in our blood and bone the wisdom of those who have gone before us. We carry their lives, even in the face of their deaths. In each of us there survive the lives of those who gave us life. In our children, and in our brain children, our own lives go forward. Faced with the loss of a human love, I turn to the divine love within me which can accept that loss, embrace that loss, and carry forward the beloved whom I feel to be beyond reach. God is in me and I am in God. All that ever was, still is. We are a divine energy, a divine life. In our dying, we live again. In our living, we die again. There is no loss which is not a gain carried forward. In my moments of greatest sorrow, I am touched by the joy of having loved. In my times of greatest loss, I am still loved. Love is not lost through loss. It is found more fully. I cherish the love my loss has helped me find.” -Julia  Cameron, The Blood of Life Flows Through Me p. 23

 

When I was seven years old, I was scolded in church for making fun of my aunt. My grandfather had just died, and as my family attended church services that week my aunt was visibly and audibly upset. My response was to laugh rather than comfort. I did not understand how someone could be so lost in their grief.

 

When I was eighteen years old, I visited my grandmother in a casket. I stared bleakly at the weeping and the mourning, the dramatic spectacle of individuals torn and alive in their grief, the reflections, payings-of-respect,  and comforting shoulders, and still stood very apart and un-feeling. There was no poking fun at, only a quiet numbness that muted any human need to reach or lash out. I still did not understand how someone could be lost in grief, and I hated myself for not feeling any.

 

I am twenty-one years old, and I have yet to encounter a death that has touched me deeply; a death that has made my heart ache and my skin feel too tight, a death that has made me feel empty, cold, or guarded.

 

The loss that I have encountered, however, is this “loss of a human love,” that Cameron describes. I have lost relationships, lost opportunities, lost dreams; lost my own love and appreciation for what was once a gift and joy in my life and I have had others lose their love and appreciation for me. I have lived through circumstances that forced me to confront hard, permanent facts, and the principal fact present in every single one of these circumstances is that I am completely powerless over everything in life.

 

When I experience a loss, I am forced to confront the most humbling reality of the human experience: my finiteness. In fully coming to grips with this finiteness, I come into contact with my extraordinary lack of power in not only dictating my life and the lives of people around me, but a lack of power so severe that it denies me the ability to both create life or take it away. The more I embrace this powerlessness is the more I embrace the power and the choices that I do have in my life today when I align my finite self with the infinite Creator, or the smaller part with the larger whole, or more plainly, me with God.

 

To live deeply means to experience both love and loss. There is a great bliss and terrible pain in choosing to “live deeply and suck all the marrow out of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…,” as Henry David Throeau writes in Walden. The more I choose to extend myself and love is also the more I choose to hurt, to encounter my lack of power, to touch the center of my sorrow and in this agonizing moment discover my humanness.

I once heard a speaker say, “God breaks our hearts to keep them open.” To overcome heartbreak means to feel this grief, transmute it, then celebrate it. There is a wild, vibrant ecstasy in birth and death, in triumph and failure, in beginning and end. Loss serves not to deplete us of our love, but to open ourselves to its resilience and strength.