Rebirthing into a new community: A call to action for leaders and teachers

We are in a great rebirthing. We are still experiencing COVID19, actively educating ourselves, taking our place in anti-racism movements, and watching the foundation of everything we knew fall apart to be molded into something new. In March the global Kundalini Yoga community had an extra challenge to hold since the most recent allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of power came to light officially followed by over 70 pages of an investigation report which was released last week. I’ve stayed relatively quiet for various reasons. After 5 months of intense self reflection here is what I have to say….

For the last 3 years I dedicated much of myself to practicing and teaching kundalini rebirthing workshops on a monthly basis. In July I finished teaching the last of the 31 kriyas of the series. I can’t help but see the similarities between energetically rebirthing and the events of 2020.

At any time during a rebirthing there is a war of polarities, one contraction of labor followed by a rest only to continue again. My teacher, Guru Dharam, often referred to this cosmic play as the Twilight Zone. We are finally being reborn, but the afterbirth (ie: our representing organizations) must also be reborn. Each year we have been growing and pushing the safe walls of the womb that held us all together for so long.

I can only imagine the experience of liberation and also the intense grief that comes with birth. I am not physically a mother, only to myself and few furry animals. I have witnessed the intense grief and joy in a woman grieving and healing her womb after she becomes a mother. Something that grew tenderly inside the womb-like cocoon must now be on it’s own journey. That’s why some communities have rituals for the mother after the birth which allows the birthing process to be complete and the womb to be energetically closed to heal.

As a spiritual community we have been growing and becoming new for some time and now its time to close the chapter of the old way of how our organizations are run, including taking the presumed father figurehead, Yogi Bhajan, off the pedestal. Just as the mom and baby grow together in many ways during pregnancy, those imprints are made within the womb, early on, before we are even consciously aware of it. Now those subconscious imprints of our community are being revealed even though many people knew in the shadows the subconscious garbage was lingering and growing. The dumpster is now overflowing and clearing.

Where do you stand? It’s not enough to be neutral. It’s not enough to continue to be bright eyed and bypass the utter emotions people are feeling- the loss, the pain, the denial, the misplaced loyalty. It’s not enough to cut off our hair and throw off the turban, because some have let one very flawed person define who we are. We need to take a stand on this matter yet hold the many other polarities of the group consciousness at the same time.

We must ask ‘WHY?’ on a repeated basis. Why we do what we do, how we do it, and why it is valuable to our personal experience.

Why was this allowed to go on for so long? Why do I fear this is only the beginning of what is to be revealed?

What Yogi Bhajan did was unjustifiable. Just one report of rape is too many. Twenty four allegations of sexual battery/abuse, 30 allegations of sexual harrassment, and 30 reports of unethical behavior cannot be tolerated. It cannot be tolerated even if those who deny the reports say that the sexual acts were consensual.

At the same time we can’t negate all the moments and people that brought us into being into this moment in time, even the unpleasant ones. Like Mr. Rogers says (played by Tom Hanks), “Take a moment to reflect on all the people in your life who loved you into being”.

I remember so clearly the last time I heard the voice of Yogi Bhajan echo through my consciousness. Guru Gobindh Singh was holding me energetically through it all as I conversed through the ethers with this very flawed human, like we all are.  His actions are unjustifiable. The rage and grief spans not just this lifetime but many lifetimes as I am taken back to conscious and unsconscious reckonings of hypocrisy masked in conditional love. He praised the great Adi Shakti (Divine Feminine) while disrespecting Her at the same time. The collective trauma has deeply reignited the personal trauma which we have all been processing in our own way. I have not heard Yogi Bhajan’s voice since March, ever since he told me “It’s up to you now.”

Good intentions and power are not the best of friends. Adyashanti stated in a interview with Gabor Mate that just because someone has great spiritual maturity and wisdom it doesn’t mean that they have emotional maturity. We saw this polarity all too often in Yogi Bhajan’s actions and projections either in person, through video lectures or through other teachers. I have witnessed the discrepancy in many beginner and senior teachers. I see this polarity in myself and know that I am still growing.

The definition and evolution of a person and community cannot happen without deeply assessing our individual and collective shadow, no matter how much one is involved or not involved in the community. Terry Tempest Williams says, “Without a shadow there is no depth. Without a shadow there is no substance. If we have no shadow, it means we are invisible. As long as I have a shadow I am alive.” With these words I reflect that it isn’t enough to slide past the grief or be in a constant state of Chardi Kala (victory) but we must befriend the many versions of death in order to claim any victory for the whole community.

It’s not enough to accept when people say, “This thing happens a lot in spiritual communities”. It’s not enough to say, “the practice itself is more valuable than the teacher”. It’s not enough to judge a master’s actions, to separate the teacher from the teachings, and not look at my own shadow at the same time.

You say,

“I came into this game after the fact.”

“This doesn’t affect me as much like the others.”

“ I’m too new to the practice to have an opinion.”

“I’m too hurt to go on.”

“I deny it all.”

“I am taking the middle way.”

“I am staying loyal to Yogi Bhajan.”

“I am staying loyal to my current teacher.”

 

It’s not enough.

 

We all signed up for this, even if it was at different times. It’s not enough to make personal and collective excuses. It’s not enough to not demand testimonials from each individual board members who is on each governing board of our organizations to know where they personally stand. It’s not enough to give out general blanket statements of support for victims while sneaking behind the name of a corporation like 3HO, KRI or Sikh Dharma International. It’s not enough for staff members present during that time to not take personal accountability whether they were consciously aware of what was happening or not.

Elders in our spiritual community say that we are the new generation that will be 10x better and stronger. When will they step aside and let that happen? When will they officially state they are just placeholders for new leadership? When when they give dates of when that changing of the guards will happen? What does that process even look like? Why don’t we petition that change through our local communities? When will we include leadership that spans multiple racial, social, economic and gender identities? For there cannot be a new way forward without a new more inclusive leadership.

We need to be able to have a voice but also question what we will do once we express it? We need to continue to take purposeful action once the dust settles, we lick our wounds, nurture ourselves and soothe our hurt egos.

Taking myself off the pedestal was part of the process. Taking my teachers and mentors off their pedestals (that I put them on) from all aspects of my life was part of the process. I see too many other teachers putting themselves on pedestals and keeping themselves there. It creeps up like invisible phlegm which creates stagnation for the whole community. There’s not enough great teachers being supported to teach more, especially teachers of color. We need to see teachers keeping other teachers accountable. It’s a subtle energy that is very palpable to other teachers and students even if it can’t be described. As teachers we need to continue to grow, and it is challenging to do that when we are so close to our own egos. As teachers we need to keep each others’ ego in check in a compassionate way. The more we are in a position of leadership, the more students that show up to our classes then the more we need to do this. We have seen clearly that not doing so can lead to subversive and also gross actions leading to the polarity we are facing today.

What happens all in the name of finding one self? I wasn’t allowed that privilege to ‘find myself’ growing up and during these last 5 months I have had to question everything that I let define me, how much of it was who I let define me, how much of it I found on my own and how much of it was simply grace. But now I am closer to knowing who I am by going through this collective pain that was set in place by the Divine before we even knew, all so that we can rediscover and surrender to the cosmic play of the unknown. The unknown is certain.

We need to educate ourselves about how our white privilege affects our spiritual community, professional and personal lives. As a predominantly white collective we need to make those changes, have more conversations with people of color but also other white people. If even 50% of our classes, retreats and events are filled with white people then we aren’t doing enough to make kundalini yoga or other tools of awareness accessible to others. We need to actually go to people to share the technology of kundalini yoga instead of expecting them to come to us, especially to those who need it the most. We need to make it affordable. There needs to be transparency but transparency isn’t enough. What will I do with the transparency when the dust settles? What will you do?

How will we create a collaborative community instead of allowing an even more fragmented community of teachers emerge. How do we keep the potency of kundalini yoga yet allow the expression of teachers to emerge from their own truth? There needs to be some kind of solid foundation of teachers teaching kundalini yoga instead of everyone doing what they want just because they are not comfortable with ‘x’ and ‘y’. What is the standard to keep our spiritual egos in check so that kundalini yoga doesn’t become the next trendy yoga diluted from it’s essence. If we want to to bring more creativity to kundalini yoga through our own self expression as teachers by infusing other lineages, ceremonies, and practices how do we ensure that it is physically and emotionally safe for our students even though we have the physical experience for ourselves? There is a reason why the set of postures in kriyas are ordered in a specific way. I do not know how or why beyond my limited and general knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga therapy training.

If consistent group work to grow as teachers doesn’t happen then the collective subtle and murky energies that are now being purged from years and years of overlooking will just come up again. It may seem subtle and not harmful at this point, but we need to do more as teachers and a community. More conversations and meeting among teachers need to happen, not just the general community or teacher trainers. We need to go to each others’ classes and give each other feedback (no matter how long we have been teaching) so we can be better and more inclusive in how and what we share. The brief smiles, small talk and the “Sat Nam’s” as we pass each other by between classes isn’t enough. Community decisions shouldn’t fall upon just a few people in the community. It’s not fair and it’s not right. It needs to be all of our responsibility. The reason that it doesn’t is because people come out of teacher training all starry-eyed wanting to make change and few actually do it. We as teachers need to inspire that potential by taking action ourselves (myself included).

How we teach and how we present ourselves as teachers will continue to change. If you don’t want to wear a head covering then don’t. Most students don’t anyway. At the same time there is a technology behind the head covering which is beneficial, especially to more sensitive students. But as teachers are we actively educating our students in that technology even if we feel uncomfortable because it happens to be associated with the Sikh religion? There is a need for professionalism if we are to be seen as yoga practitioners, if yoga will be the new medicine of the future, if we are to merge eastern and western traditions, especially during this time of change for us as a community.

How many of our students really know the difference between the Sikh religion and Dharma? How many people will try to take out anything relating to Sikhism because it simply relates to Yogi Bhajan? If the naad, the sound current we have been practicing is taken out of kundalini what is left? What happens when we mix that with different sound frequencies? The sound current is our rhythm infused in all of life, kundalini yoga is science in the form of rhythm. We do kundalini yoga to find our rhythm again.

The Naad is infused in the Sikh mantras. No need to accentuate the Sikh Dharma but also no need to condemn it because the mantras and lifestyle are just one small aspect associated with kundalini yoga, although two separate entities. I follow the Naad/Shabd Guru, not a institution. Religion is not inherently bad, just the intentions of the people who made it a ‘religion’. There is a balanced way to steer away from the dogmatic extreme but also acknowledge the yogic and Sikh way of life that has so many common ties and also compliments the yoga itself.

We have an opportunity to bring people back to the awareness of themselves through kundalini yoga. It works. I still don’t understand completely what was traditional kundalini yoga and how much of it was influenced by Yogi Bhajan. At the same time it doesn’t matter as much to me because it has changed my life completely for the better. It has helped me gain self confidence and self awareness. It has helped me be flexible in my body and mind. It has helped me release very old past emotional and physical trauma in my body. It has helped me manage my life long anxiety and depression. It has done all this and more for many others.

Set aside religion and yoga. As Guruka Singh of Sikhnet stated, we have an opportunity to live in service for another, this is Dharma. Religion can be within Dharma but Dharma is Dharma. This is a time of re-consolidation and reconsideration of how do we truly live for one another, to help others blossom into their own excellence just as much as we put effort into ourselves. How much kindness and compassion are in our actions and thoughts to ourselves and others? Let’s continue to take care of one another as this great game of life unfolds.

 

UPDATE:

On August 25th I reached out to the Toronto Kundalini Yoga community let them know about a petition that I am initiating to request personal accountability of KRI, 3HO, SDI, SSSC board members and
staff. Here is the updated and final version of the petition that is now posted on Change.Org as of August 31st. If it is in alignment with you, it would be an honor for you to sign the petition and share it with your friends, students and local/global teachers. I look forward to continuing on this journey with you as we do our part to create a healthier community.

Petition for Personal Accountability of KRI, 3HO, SDI, SSSC Board Members and Staff

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