Why I Want a Shakti Liberation Front (Trigger Warning)

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I honestly don’t where to begin with this blog, but I’m brimful with outrage. Once again, I feel plunged into a maelstrom of radicalizing revelations and I’m somewhat off-balance as a result. This last month in particular has delivered one devastating reality check after another. Along with our collective, burgeoning awareness of the extent of institutionally sanctioned police violence (one of several operations of the institutionally sanctionedNew Jim Crow” policies of mass incarceration and oppression of people of color), I find my world is also rocked by a case currently under consideration by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

This case concerns an institutionally sanctioned collection of predatory rapes and abuses of children and teenagers at the Mangrove Mountain Satyananda Yoga Ashram in Australia, circa 70s-80s. The predators named so far are Swami Satyananda Saraswati (d. 2009), founder of what’s known as the International Yoga Fellowship and Bihar School of Yoga, and Swami Akhandananda (d. 1997 or 98), who was the head honcho of the Mangrove Mountain ashram. Both men used their status as spiritual leaders – supposedly infallable gurus – to sexually prey upon children as young as six. However most of the known victims were in girls in their teens. Many boys may have been raped as well, but this is typically less acknowledged and even more underreported. Other forms of physical abuse, violence, and neglect were also visited upon both male and female children of the ashram. There are eleven survivors testifying to the Australian Royal Commission, and it’s possible that more victims will emerge, as Satyananda apparently travelled widely. The testimonies are posted online, in their entirety.

Akhandananda was tried and convicted in 1989 and later died of alcoholism after serving less than two years in jail. In 1998, Satyananda left the organization he founded and lived “as a paramahansa sannyasin” (a high status title) according to the bio published in Kundalini Tantra (2003 edition), a book he originally wrote in 1984. This means Satyananda was protected by his organization for at least another ten years and by his special status until the end of his life. Did he stop raping little kids after Akhandananda was jailed? Did he understand his own crimes at that point, or was he just more careful to not get caught? I wonder if either man ever felt remorse. Or did they just use their own self-proclaimed guru-ness to justify it all? I unfortunately suspect the latter.

According to the testimonies, there were a lot of complicit females as well – slightly older women, some also of “swami” rank, who slept in the same room while youngsters were raped. And there are worse things to be found in the testimonies… A survivor known only as “APR” said, ““The ashram was the kind of place where, if you scream, noone comes.”

Matthew Remski, a therapist, author, and yoga practitioner, has called for a boycott of all Satyananda materials and methods until reparations and other conditions are met by the global organization. In his blog he summarizes and discusses the implications of the investigation into this case, which continues through much of January. I strongly recommend that you read it. Remski then makes a strong statement addressed to everyone in the yoga (and tantra) world.

Remski says, “… the lesson for other schools and lineages should finally be clear.

Your lineage doesn’t matter now. The history of your school doesn’t matter now. The name, purported attainments, cultural heritage and robes of your guru are no guarantee of integrity or safety. Even if you feel you stand confidently as part of a long line of ethical teachers, the well of faith in global yoga institutions has been irretrievably fouled, and the best way to prove your integrity as a practitioner is by showing what you do, exactly. You have to demonstrate the difference between communication and mystification. You have to demonstrate the difference between charisma and intimacy.”

Yes, and you have to demonstrate your commitment and ability to protect students and residents from abuse and predation.

This cases touches me in a weirdly direct way, as the tantra methods I have learned (and now am apprenticed to teach) include the lineage of Sunyata Saraswati, who studied in Satyananda’s organization at one point. (I don’t know how close the two men were, or if they even knew each other.) And two days before I heard this news about the ashram child sexual abuse case, I had actually taken that same Kundalini Tantra book off my shelf and was going to dip into it again, as I’m in the middle of reading or re-reading all the books I have on tantra. The book had been given to me years ago by a Kundalini Kriya Yoga teacher, a woman friend I love and respect. I even took the book to a copy center to have the book’s spine removed and replaced with a spiral binding, so I could open it and have it stay flat!

Now, in my copy, the page with Satyandanda’s bio and picture has “rapist and child abuser” scrawled over it. I couldn’t leave it untouched. It didn’t feel honest to simply rip the page from the book and pretend I could just relate to it like any of my other books. As for the other bios and pictures of other Bihar swamis – I wonder which of them knew? One woman is shown – a woman who “travelled ceaselessly with her guru.” And I wonder, was she one of the women who procured the younger girls, who slept or was present when rapes occurred?

I doubt I’ll be using the book now, even if there are some stainless methods and valuable spiritual techniques inside it.

So ugly. So ugly. And I feel for the survivors, who were subjected at such an early age to a kind of double rape – both of body and of spiritual trust.

So why do I want what I’m calling a “Shakti Liberation Front?”

Because rape, sexual abuse, and sexual shame are effective ways to enact violence and exert control over people – either individually or collectively. If you want to conquer a people and take their country and resources, first you gotta shame ‘em! (Missionaries have always been agents of colonial and imperial powers.) If you want to create a climate of fear and violently mess with the core authenticity of any person, and have the effects last for years or even a lifetime, rape is sure to work. If you want people to obey your authority and follow your cult’s rules, ditto.

Because I believe that a personal sense of sexual authenticity and sovereignty can be a shield against acts of tyranny. I believe that the conscious invocation of kundalini energy can serve as an inner fuel for acts of resistance.

Because I’m tired of knowing that human beings – of whatever gender – are being drained of their shakti kundalini forces by energy-sucking predators who are institutionally sanctioned and protected. And because I know that the human beings who encounter these predators are too often reviled, silenced, cast out – or worse! – when they try to get help and speak their truth.

Because I want progressive political analysis and action to remain an active part of my spirituality (and vice versa) and because I want to find others who are not afraid to critique and dialogue about all kinds of privilege and injustice. Because I’d like to be in cahoots with people who are determined to create profound and lasting change. Because solidarity can be a force for healing.

Because I’m sick of misogyny and sexism. I’m fed up with finding it everywhere I go.

I want a Shakti Liberation Front because I want to be with others who are willing to draw upon their own spiritual energy and agency to resist and transform all forms of violence and injustice, including those forms of institutional violence perpetuated by police, grand juries, priests, prison guards, politicians, corporations, bankers, and even gurus in yoga schools.

I want a Shakti Liberation Front to promote truly compassionate action on behalf of all sentient beings.

So who’s with me?

Dearth of Representation – Images of Black Lovers in Sexology

Geoffrey & Carmen Holder, March 3, 1955 by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964). Public Domain.

Geoffrey & Carmen Holder, March 3, 1955 by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964). Public Domain.

As a sexologist who teaches, and who in course of teaching creates slideshow presentations and other materials, I’ve been frustrated by the overwhelming pervasiveness of white images and the lack of good quality, sex-positive images of black people and other people of color. Due to financial constraints, and because I have a finicky aesthetic, I search Wikimedia Commons for public domain and creative commons images in the categories of fine or erotic arts. In these categories (and even in the “human couples” category), beautiful and evocative images of loving black couples, such as the fine photograph  by Carl Van Vechten (above), are difficult to find. You can find loving black couples on public health posters however, and I understand the reasons for this. However, I wish that these images weren’t “always” so entwined with the context of disease prevention, know what I mean? Or maybe you don’t. I’m having a hard time expressing the nuances here. The image below is positive, sweet, caring, very attractive – all the things it should be in a public health message for safer sex – but I guess I wish we saw these same types of images more often in other mass media contexts, including ads for all kinds of products. As an educator, I want more portrayals of positive, intimate black relationships, of all genders and persuasions, to choose from. As a citizen, ditto.

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I am delighted to find this series of photographs, below. The kissing couple below adorns a tram door. I think the this art piece is wonderful.

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#1 Kissing couple on the doors of a tram in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Immanuel Giel, May 2009. Public domain.

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#2 Kissing couple on the doors of a tram in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Immanuel Giel, May 2009. Public domain.

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#3 Kissing couple on the doors of a tram in Bremen, Germany. Photo by Immanuel Giel, May 2009. Public domain.

I also like this photograph of an elderly couple laughing. There’s joy here.

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Oklahoma Sharecroppers, 1914. Found in a box of photographs and submitted to Wikimedia Commons by “Father of Don O’Brien.” Creative Commons.

And below is a quiet, peaceful interlude in the lives of two people (and their pet). But the photo was taken for an Environmental Protection Agency report and discusses the growing disparity between black and white income levels in Chicago.

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Black couple and their dog in their apartment in South Side of Chicago. Photograph by John H. White (1945- ). Taken June, 1973. Copyright. Photo archived by EPA, given to Wikimedia by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The photo below is also poignant, loving, cherishing.

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Photo by Pacien, April 2005. Creative Commons.

Though portrayals of black lovers are rare (aside from shots of celebrity couples), it’s even harder to find a good anatomical drawing or image that is not white. Sure, a few people have posted genital photographs on Wikimedia Commons, but they are mostly unsuitable for sex education materials. I’m automatically suspicious, for example, of any shaved images on posted on Wikimedia, even though shaving is a common practice.

Of course, if I put on my erotologist hat, I can say all kinds of things about various images and forms of representation – but at the moment, I’m writing strictly about the difficulty of finding good, free, respectful sex, body, and relationship images that convey sexual, gender, cultural, ethnic, etc. diversity (without being fetishized or exoticized). I will also note that at IASHS, where I currently serve as Dean of Students, we have an enormous amount of erotic books, films, and artwork. But, due to a donation of a massive collection of gleaming sculpture, there’s currently a heavy emphasis on the female form in our common areas. And even so, we don’t seem to display much that isn’t white and hetero- (and cis-) centric. I’m on the lookout for a wider variety of images for my own office, as this lack of visual diversity troubles me.

More to come on related topics.

WOCSHN – Women of Color Sexual Health Network

Today I simply want to present the link to this excellent article/essay by the Women of Color Sexual Health Network which challenges human sexuality professionals to (1) recognize their complicity with myriad manifestations of structural, systemic, (and yes, even personal) racism and to (2) actually do something about this.

I’d like the above article to speak first, before I offer a response. Also, here is the link to the WOCSHN Statement of Solidarity.

Tomorrow (or maybe the day after), I will write about how I want to take action and address the challenges in the article.

Proud to Announce my Certification as an Apprentice Ipsalu Tantra Teacher

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September and the first week of October has been a crazy, CRAZY time for me! At the beginning of September, I taught a nine-day sexological hypnosis intensive for my IASHS students. Then, with only a day’s break, I flew to Hollywood, Florida for a seven-day Ipsalu Tantra Teacher Training (Mod.1) course. After arriving home at the end of September, I had to quickly pull together a two-day SAR (Sexual Attitude Restructuring) class on short notice (as a substitute teacher) and then spent 12 hours creating a 4-hour lecture which I gave at IASHS a couple of days later. No wonder I’m tired!

However, the tantra teacher training experience was glorious: full of the most incredible people, all learning together in an old, reputedly haunted, mansion during thunderstorms and lightening flashes. We laughed, cried, summoned and circulated sexual energy, practiced our ASATE programs, demonstrated them to our classmates, and generally engaged with each other non-stop from about 7 AM to 10 or 11 PM each day. We ate fantastic vegetarian food every day, and stretched, and danced. It was like being at a really exhausting spa…

Much of our training consisted of learning how to teach variations of the Ipsalu ASATE sequence: Activate the body, Still the Mind, Arouse Sexual Energy, Transmute (sexual energy), and Enjoy!

Our teachers were Pat Sheehan and Nayano. Saying they were “wonderful” just doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about them. I feel very good about Ipsalu Tantra International as an organization as well – ethical, honest, dedicated. All praise to Bodhi Avinasha, the founder, and the many wonderful people who teach and support this organization.

I look forward to bringing Ipsalu Tantra to my clients (those who are interested, of course!). As an Apprentice Teacher I can hold day-long programs based on the Ipsalu ASATE sequence, hold satsangs for Level One initiates, guide people through the first three chapters of the practicum, and begin assisting at Level One workshops. I look forward to deepening my own practice as I offer Ipsalu to others.

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All of Us or None (AOUON) Political Poster Collection and the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement

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In observance of the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, I am also celebrating the massive AOUON political poster collection created by the late Michael Rossman, FSM pioneer. I drew the above poster because I thought the collection deserved a poster of its own. I made two multiples of the original on a giant poster copy machine, and gave one to Michael Rossman for the collection. (I kept one copy and the original artwork.) The poster was returned to me after he died, and before the AOUON collection was donated to the Oakland Museum of California. (Sadly, a great deal of punk posters I’d collected and donated to AOUON were lost to me at that point. I have no idea if they were kept or discarded.)

Before Rossman’s death, I’d been photographing some of the erotic and sexual freedom examples in his collection of about 20,000 or so progressive political posters. I was attempting to learn from and organize them as a visual chronicle of the sexual revolution. Many rock posters were included in this category. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete that sexological investigation.

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I had written a column about this in Carnal Nation, back in 2010. Unfortunately, Carnal Nation is no longer online and so I can’t share a link with you, just the graphic that headed the column.

Other scholars have done brilliant work with the posters, including Michael’s friend and colleague, Lincoln Cushing. The Oakland Museum of California displayed a small percentage of the posters a few years ago, next to the 1968 exhibit. It was great to see the posters, and know that Michael’s lifework and passion were well tended. The world would be a poorer place without enthusiastic collectors and preservationists with a passion for social justice.

Update: When I first wrote this blog I had hoped to present a preliminary slide show of these posters, called “Eros in Action,” at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS), as part of the Fall 2014 Basic Lecture Series (BLS) and as a postscript to my much longer presentation, “Sexologist in the House.” However, I ran into time constraints and could not do it. Am hoping to give a more complete lecture on this topic at an IASHS BLS in the coming year. 

Journalist gets his “brain fried” with erotic hypnosis and lives to write the tale.

 

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Jeremy Glass seems to be a pleasant fellow and he’s a journalist besides. A few months ago he contacted me about having an erotic hypnosis session so he could write about it for a well-known website for fashionable twenty-somethings. The well-known website didn’t publish it, but he just rewrote the article for another site and now you can find it here.

Now, I didn’t actually do what I’d call an erotic hypnosis session with him. I don’t know him that well (in fact, I didn’t know him at all), so I provided what I’d call a sexual confidence building session, the kind I’d actually do for clients. And I’m amused by his account of his experience in his article. He says he was “brain fried” but I think what actually happened was a gentle buzz. But “brain fried” certainly makes a nice headline, and it also reminds me of eggs, which is unfortunate, as I’ve been on a liquid diet the last few days and I’m so very hungry…

But I digress.

However, I would like to make a teensy correction to his article. Actually, sometimes people CAN “jizz on command” in hypnosis (as Glass says) but I don’t think it’s something you can usually get to happen right away with a stranger. Ditto with non-jizzing orgasms. I sure wasn’t going to try it with someone I didn’t know, over Skype, for a lark – not even with a journalist. Just not my thing, if you know what I mean.

Now eggs, I could get into those! Even with someone I didn’t know.

But I digress. (With butter. Yum…)

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Other than that, I’m happy to have the publicity.

So then I guess I should mention that in October I’ll be doing two more Erotic Hypnosis workshops in Berkeley. Please join me. They are reasonably priced. And fun.

And in November I’ll be on the “Think Kink” program of the Society of Janus, talking about my survey of erotic hypnotists. The SOJ event will be held November 12 at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St, SF (btw 9 &10th St).

And did I mention eggs? Yeah, I guess I did…

(Fried egg by BozzyandJin, 2013, Creative Commons. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Egg256.png)

Dr. Ted McIlvenna’s Statement to CA Senate Appropriations Committee

Check out Dr. Ted McIlvenna’s statement to the CA Senate Appropriations Committee here on Facebook (the IASHS page).

 

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Then please assist us by signing our petition to amend SB 1247. IASHS is not the only small school jeopardized by the language in this bill. Thank you!