Not your problem.

If you are white, cis, het, able-bodied, male, born in this country, and someone who isn’t one or more of the above has a recurring problem with people shouting them down, talking over them, deliberately sabotaging their interactions or their work, or generally treating them like shit… And your response is “I don’t know how you always find those people,” or “You should just act like me,” because they simply must be doing something wrong, because you never get treated like that…. You need to wake the fuck up.

Yes, it is possible that you’ve found the Right Way To Interact With People (TM), and that’s why the vast majority of your interactions go smoothly. However, I urge you to consider the possibility that what is actually happening is that you are not experiencing a problem in the first place.

The reason you’re not exposed to transphobia is not that you’ve found a solution for it; you’re simply not a target for it, because you’re not  trans. In the exact same way, you’ve not found a solution for racism, homophobia, ableism, sexism, nativism, etc. You are not experiencing those difficulties because they are not your difficulties, not because you are better at handling them.

“But being trans is, like, a super fringe state that makes you an extra special target for abuse!” Yes. And being fem is a state that affects about half the world’s population, and still makes you a fucking target. So does having the wrong skin colour, or hair type. So does falling in love with the wrong people. So does sounding or looking like you’re not from here. So does being different enough in body or mind that you cannot function like most people do. Just because some of those traits are ubiquitous, it doesn’t mean that they don’t make you a target.

Some people are very mean to people different from them. Most of us know this. What many of us seem to fail to realise, though, is that some sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and nativism pollute most social waters – and, yes, that includes the waters you swim in. Maybe you don’t see those bigotries because they don’t apply to you, so the resulting misbehaviour happens away from your gaze. Maybe you’ve internalised them and just think of them as “normal.” Of course parents will complain if gay people kiss in front of their children. Of course one should speak slowly and loudly to someone who looks vaguely foreign, or uses a wheelchair. Of course black people have more interactions with the police. Of course at that university half of precariously employed instructors are women, but only 1/4 of tenured instructors are women; they hire the best-qualified applicants, and those just happen to be overwhelmingly male. Those aren’t signs of privilege actually being a thing; they’re just the way the world is.

“But Rory Miller said that y’all just need to be assertive…” Yes, no, maybe. Rory organised different levels of force in a progression, and stated that in order to protect yourself against people at one level, you gotta either match or exceed their force. But he also said, repeatedly, that members of marginalised groups face challenges that the majority may struggle to comprehend. He also said that avoidance is the best form of self-defence. He also said that getting stomped hurts, and that going home safe is important. And you know what can almost guarantee a stomping? If you act “uppity” in front of someone who considers them an inferior – and, yes, that includes being assertive at them.

Anyway, you know what? Rory could be wrong. He could be missing something. He could be limited in his understanding of the human condition, because his experience as a gay, trans, black , foreign, disabled woman is pretty fucking limited. The only way in which Rory can learn about different lives is by listening to the people who live them. And while you continue to superimpose your experience on other people’s, to insist that if everyone behaved like you then their life would run just as smoothly, that’s what you’re utterly failing to do.

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Once more, with feeling.

Stolen from Jon Mills, head coach blackdogstrength.com and director Vancouver Strength Collective.

 

So, in the spirit of writing more, here’s probably the most valuable coaching and life tool that I have ever experienced. One sentence:

“Your feelings are valid.”

All human action solves a problem, all human emotion is meant to further our survival in some way. If a person feels a certain way, there is a really good reason they feel that way, and validating that is the most important first step to unpacking it.

Valid doesn’t mean correct. Often our feelings are rooted in something that we may have misinterpreted, misread, or lack full data on. The conclusion is based on what the person currently holds to be true (even if they don’t realise that they hold that truth), and acknowledging that is the first step in understanding them. Equally, “correct” is not always important to survival.

Valid doesn’t mean right. Emotions lack morals. Actions are where morality matters. A persons feelings can be completely valid based on how they perceive the world, but their actions based on those feelings may be morally wrong. Equally, the morally wrong aspect may be falsely representing their feelings to get a response. The feeling itself is neither good nor bad in an abstract sense. It just is.

Valid doesn’t mean requiring action. Feelings are not just problems to solve. They are data points that provide us with direction. Recognizing that feelings are not absolute markers doesn’t mean they become less valid. Equally, dealing with emotions often means engaging with them rather than trying to fix them.

What valid means is simple. Your deepest feelings have validity because of how they impact you, and no one should be training you to ignore that. No one has a right to take that away from your or tell you you are wrong.

Starting from a place of assuming everyone’s feelings are valid ways of surviving the world puts you in the unique position to help understand why they feel that way and help folks, and yourself, break out of destructive cycles where an emotion becomes the absolute unchanging truth in itself.

That’s where change happens, and it frees you to judge a persons actions or lack thereof without playing a blame/justification game on their behalf. Accepting that there is a reason that a person may feel that way also allows you to firmly pin down the morality of their actions for what they are by understanding the why and seeing that it was their choice to act that impacted others.

Start from a place of validity, and work from there. It’s a real game changer.

Side note: This assumes a person is relaying their emotions in good faith and not in order to manipulate you. The emotions in that case, if truly how the person feels, are still valid, the action of using them to manipulate a person is where the ethical issue comes up.

Secondary side note: If you are actively working on your own behavior, starting from a place of “your feelings are valid” is a great foil to prevent you unconsciously gaslighting folks.

 

(My note: It’s rather fascinating how so many of the theories downplaying the validity of feelings, or actively classing them as something one should try to eradicate in order to arrive to valid conclusions, was generated by men who were socialised to have the emotional granularity of potatoes. It is doubly fascinating how so many of such theories are still held as valid, even though they have been discredited by modern neuroscience. Looks like the strictly rational folk aren’t all that rational, after all…)

Heuristic

When I was a wee child, my mom taught me that when nettles are in flower, they don’t sting. There isn’t a grain of truth in that statement, but I believed in it for a while because it worked. You see, there is actually a whole class of plants called dead-nettles which have leaves that look a bit like nettle leaves, but lack the nettle’s ability to sting. They have much more showy flowers than “real” nettles. Therefore, if you see a plant that looks like a nettle to the untrained eye but has a large, obvious flower, you can touch it safely and it won’t sting you. My mom’s statement is bullshit, pure and simple, but it works, kinda. You can use it reliably in a specific context and for a specific purpose (i.e., deciding whether it’s safe to touch “flowering nettles”). For any other intents and purposes (e,.g., which plants to pick to make nettle soup), it fails abysmally, because it is predicated on a falsehood.

The same is true of a lot of other models and theories we embrace because they work, kinda. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has got holes you could drive a truck through. The triune brain theory has been debunked so comprehensively that it’s a miracle it’s still around. Still, ComCon, which is predicated on Maslow and the triune brain, works; but it works as a specific tool, to do a specific thing.

ComCon is a heuristic technique, and a damn good one. The same is true of a ton of other tools designed to help us get along with people, like NVC. They work, in the appropriate settings, but you can’t use them to produce neuroscientifically valid models for people’s decision-making. On the other hand, you also can’t use neuroscientifically valid models to calm people down enough to put down the kitchen knife, or stop dismembering an organisation’s budget. In the moment, we  need the appropriate heuristic technique to bring about the desired resolution. We just can’t turn around and decide that our favourite heuristic techniques are scientifically valid, however well they work in their context, and use them out of context. That’s not what they’re designed to do, so they will fail us – if you can call it a failure.

There’s a place for science and a place for heuristics. For me, that’s OK. However, it’s so often impossible to have this kind of conversation without people bringing out the pitchforks (how dare I piss on the thing that saved their life?!?!), or chucking out the baby with the bathwater (if it’s not scientifically valid, it ain’t worth shit, even though it plainly works).

Heuristic techniques are useful. Science is useful. They are useful in different ways. What’s the problem?

My friend Han Koehle just wrote this. It is relevant, helpful, and backed by scientific research, so y’all might wanna check it out.

 

“I’m reading a lot of posts about women who are experiencing substantial secondary trauma or retraumatization related to what’s on the news right now, and I know that trauma is present in many nonbinary folks and men who have experienced sexual violence and related structural violence as well. Even indirect trauma can bring on intrusive thoughts, chronic fatigue, concentration issues, second-guessing about your own experiences, emotional exhaustion, physical illness, and a range of invasive, unpleasant emotions. While collective trauma research is in its early stages, there’s been considerable research on people who experience vicarious trauma in counseling settings, and many people who are experiencing a lot of distress right now are experiencing reactivation of their existing trauma. Among trauma counselors, sexual trauma is more likely to cause secondary trauma than any other form of trauma (1).

There will be a lot of reminders urging you toward self care during this time, and some of them will come from me. I’m going to be super honest. A study of therapists doing trauma counseling found that there is no correlation between time spent on self care and trauma symptoms (1). As much as I wish it did, taking care of yourself will not make you less traumatized or less wounded. I think you should do it anyway. Because you deserve to be treated with care when you are wounded. You deserve to be treated gently, even if it does not make the pain go away. You remain a locus of value and worth even when you feel like everything is falling apart, and you should always be treated accordingly.

If you are not experiencing traumatic stress right now and you see people in your community who are, explore ways to gently care for them. In previous cycles of public discussion on sexual violence, many men go into a bravado place of talking about how they’ll kill all the rapists. Men, you’re not going to kill all the rapists. Look for things you will actually do that will help, and do them. Community care is a major protective factor in traumatic stress (2,3), whereas self-care seems not to be. We are social creatures. We cannot heal from structural trauma alone. We can only heal together, and we can only prevent new trauma together. It is absolutely crucial for people who are in a position to offer support now–whether it’s emotional support, material help, or political support–to do so. A big part of traumatic stress is developing invasive beliefs that you are alone and people cannot be trusted to help when you need it. If you want to cut down on that trauma, be a helper when someone is falling apart. Take up some of the political labor to prevent cycles of violence and impunity to continue. Cook them a meal. Clean their house. Show them you have their back in a way that’s authentic and grounded in your real commitments to your community.

You most likely won’t see the other person being healed or protected by your help, even if you give really good help. Trauma takes time. People who are in it are in it for a while, even if you’re a really good helper. Be ready to not take it personally.

If you do not have the resources to be an active help for others, consider how you can bring gentleness into your everyday behaviors by extending a little more care and compassion, especially toward people who seem to be agitated or distressed. Maybe this is a good time to go on a fast from internet debates. Maybe this is a good moment to send some extra unrelated support to people in your life who might be having a hard time. Maybe you have another skill that you can use to support folks a little extra right now.

These moments of strain are on all of us to carry. Don’t let the most traumatized people do this work alone.”

1) http://triggered.edina.clockss.org/ServeContent?rft_id=info:doi/10.1093/brief-treatment/mhj001
2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23184348
3) https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/6FHdgj8AAEchP8sRsvrH/full

Wut no hugs?

To the many, many guys who routinely wail that feminism has ruined everything because “I’m scared to hug women now!”

  1. But you’re not scared to hug men, because you wouldn’t even contemplate that. Much as you protest that your hugs are “not about sex,” you’re only willing to give them to members of the gender you like to fuck. Hmm.
  2. So, you understand that socially awkward situations can be extremely uncomfortable. Hooray! Now, could you perhaps consider the possibility of extending that understanding to situations that don’t make you feel bad, but upset other people? Say, about how someone might feel when someone touches them without their permission and against their wishes?
  3. I’m going to let you in on a secret: women can talk. Not only that, but they can use that ability to express their wishes. I know it sounds totally far out, but it’s true. So, if you’re not sure whether it’s OK to hug someone, you could always use your words and ask them. A question like “is it OK to give you a hug?” may lead you to discover whether it is in fact OK for you to hug the person in question.

(Honestly, it’s point 3 that gets to me. What are they afraid of? That by asking they’re reinforcing the belief that women have a right to their bodily autonomy? That they’re going to be rejected? Would they honestly be happier pawing someone who’s going to hate it than keeping their hands to themselves?)

PSA: Equinox

Bonus blog, because today (or thereabouts) is the equinox, and, for some of us, the equinox means heading straight into the jaws of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

If you are a SAD plant, please remember to start on your winter routine before SAD kicks you in the crotch. Get your SAD lamp out of storage, take your supplements, review your meds, increase your exercise levels, do whatever the hell it takes to make you cope with the winter, if not enjoy it.

If you don’t think you’re a SAD plant, but your facebook memories remind you that on the same week in Oct/Nov for the last 8 years your appetite, mood, or sleep hygiene have gone to hell in a handbasket, please consider the possibility that you might in fact be a SAD plant. (For real and no shit, this is how I discovered the seasonality of my insomnia.)

If you know a SAD plant, please remember that mood disorders are actual diseases, not lifestyle choices. One can’t jolly oneself out of SAD anymore than one can jolly oneself out of diabetes. Yes, we can make lifestyle choices that help us manage the disease, but clean living and willpower will not in fact make the disease go away. Be kind. We’re hurting.

 

Bonus content: if your SAD includes insomnia or polyphasic sleep (e.g. “two sleeps”), here’s a list of stuff that mitigates my symptoms. This is not a comprehensive list of What Works, just a list of what I have tried (so expensive or locally illegal solutions were not tested) and seemed to work.

  1. I ingest Vit D and omega 3 in industrial quantities from Sept 21 to Mar 21. Vit D on its own does not work for me.
  2. No caffeine after lunch.
  3. I try to walk the dogs during daylight hours, or to at least catch the sunrise/sunset. Walking them in the dark morning and night really fucks me up.
  4. I get up and go to bed at the same time every day. It’s the only aspect of my sleep I can control, after all, so I do.
  5. I sat down and worked out what time I have to fall asleep in order to get 8 hours sleep (optimistic, but there you go). Shockingly enough, if I go to bed less than 8 hours before my wake time, I can’t get 8 hours sleep. It took me a while to work that out. Total game changer.
  6. I go to bed 30 mins before said time (that’s the plan, anyway).
  7. I have a blue light filter on all screens 1 hr before bedtime (i.e. 1.5 hrs before sleep time).
  8. I take a decent ZMA supplement at bedtime (I get mine from MyProtein as cheap ZMA did not work for me).
  9. My bedroom is quiet as a tomb and as dark as I could make it. I also have a ridiculously thick quilt, even in the summer, because the weight relaxes me. Your mileage will vary, but if the place where you’re attempting to get your rest isn’t restful, you are probably gonna struggle.
  10. I go to bed with my tablet, which is generally considered a no-no. However, my tablet lets me read or listen to audiobooks without turning the light on, which helps me.
  11. I only read/listen to stuff I already know, so I don’t get caught up in it. My fave audiobooks for bedtime are the Acts of Caine quadrilogy, but I’m a sick individual. Some kind of guided meditation thing may be up more people’s sleeve. Or, like, Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie’s good. But Caine’s better.
  12. I have an ocean wave projector  on until I’m starting to nod off – which, with the projector, can now take me as little as 5 minutes. I thought it was the colours relaxing me, but I think the noise of the motor regulates my breathing.
  13. No writing in bed, i.e. all writing implements to be kept out of the bedroom. Yes, this has been a problem.
  14. If I wake up in the night, I do not turn the light on. I just turn the tablet on, and put on an audiobook with a 30 or 60 min timer on. That generally sends me back to sleep before the timer goes off. If that fails, I put the timer back on and try again. Reading is another option, but it doesn’t work half as well at sending me back to sleep.
  15. If I can’t fall asleep or I keep waking up, I stay in bed and remind myself that I am getting rest, even if I can’t get sleep. That’s been another game-changer, because screaming at myself to get the fuck to sleep is not in fact conducive to rest and relaxation.

Please note that I have to do all of this every day in order to just sleep, like wut normal people do. If I skip any of these steps, I can be fucked for days. If my sleep goes badly out of whack early in the season, it may not return to normal until spring, which is literally incapacitating. And my SAD is mild, compared of that of a lot of people. Seriously, be kind, and remember that other people’s needs may be very different from yours, but are just as real.

 

 

 

 

Growth/Comfort

“There is no growth in comfort.”

What it means:

Growth, learning, and change in general are often uncomfortable. Most people are wired to be resistant to change, particularly change with unpredictable outcomes. We have a tendency to prefer stability, because the devil we know hasn’t killed us yet. In order to facilitate their own changes, students will have to embrace a period of necessary discomfort as an inevitable part of the process.

What it doesn’t mean:

Students do not learn more, or learn better, when they are uncomfortable. There’s a metric fuckton of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that indicates the opposite: that students’ learning is facilitated by creating a space where their only concern is the task in front of them. If the discomfort is an intrinsic aspect of the task at hand, that is one thing; but to foster a generally uncomfortable environment for the sake of facilitating people’s learning flies in the face of established pedagogy.

More generally, people can be more resistant to change when under stress. They tend to fall back to the tried-and-tested, because it gives them a greater feeling of control on the situation. The opposite can happen under extreme stress, which can facilitate extreme and sudden shifts. That is particularly true if the perceived risk from maintaining the status quo is greater than the risk resulting from change. A person can be pushed by circumstances into doing something they didn’t consider themself capable of, and that new capability may stay with them forever. This kind of shock tactic is, however, essentially a form of trauma. If you’re gonna play that kind of game with your students, you better be damn good at it, and get their consent first.

What it really does not fucking mean, ever:

Teachers do not have the right to bypass their students’ consent, even if it’s “for their own good.” Doing so may not be illegal, but ought to be considered immoral. It can also be downright counterproductive when consent and boundaries are essential components of the subject matter, as in self-defence.

In conclusion:

Stop thinking you’re a superior teacher because you allow your students to be bullied, injured, and generally mistreated. It doesn’t work like that, it has never worked like that, and it will never work like that.

 

Pedagogy.

A wee while ago, someone informed me that I’d been writing softcore about Rory Miller. Now, I am spacey and I know it. I am perfectly capable of writing the same blog twice, or surprising myself with pizza because I’ve genuinely forgotten that I’d put it in the oven. Even so, I didn’t think I was capable of writing a whole book about a person without noticing. When I found out which book they were talking about, I was even more confused: the character in question is tall, emaciated, ginger, pan, and poly. Rory is, to the best of my knowledge, none of the above.

As it turned out, the issue was that the character is a teacher, and his teaching methodology is Rory’s. Hence, I’d been writing about Rory without realising it, and the fact that I was writing naughty scenes was, yanno, rather telling.

I was taken aback by that suggestion, and not because it revealed the darkest secrets of my heart. What really surprised me is that a whole bunch of people genuinely think that Rory’s teaching methodology is unique to him, a revolutionary paradigm shift that he’s bringing about. In a very real sense, this point of view is accurate: Rory’s pedagogy is extremely different from that of many (if not most) martial arts schools, and has the potential to genuinely revolutionise that field. It isn’t, however, novel in a universal sense. When you remove the martial-arts-specific aspects of it, it boils down to “find the best way to insert the learning into the student(s), do that, and review as appropriate.”

That’s not a novel approach. It’s not how martial arts are generally taught, but <WARNING – GROSS GENERALISATION AHEAD> martial art instruction was never really about maximising each individual student’s learning potential. Individual students’ needs might have been taken into account by personal trainers responsible for teaching the children of nobility, or experts writing treatises on duelling, and the like; when it came to teaching vast numbers of commoners how to kill and die for king and country, though, other considerations were far more important.

It also didn’t particularly matter if a small proportion of individuals quit or broke during training. As long as a sufficient number of people made it through, getting rid of those less apt was a good strategy. The goal was to create an effective fighting force, after all; removing the weakest links before their weakness posed a danger to their cohorts could be advantageous. Unless you could just use them as cannon fodder, obviously.

All in all, it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that the pedagogy embraced by the martial arts field isn’t terribly student-centric, and could charitably be described as only accidentally effectual, though I generally opt for stronger words. It doesn’t maximise “normal” students’ learning potential, and it often leaves non-standard students like me out in the cold. That’s not a design fault, for the simple reason that said pedagogy is doing what it’s designed to do. We’re using it to achieve a different goal, so its failures are entirely on us. If we use a hammer to open a tin of soup, we can’t blame the resulting mess on the hammer being poorly designed.

The really sad thing is that people have been learning a lot of things for a really long time, via a number of different means, so alternative pedagogies aren’t all that difficult to come by. All we need to do is branch out a little, check out how different schools teach different subjects, try out some of their methods, and steal the ones that work best for us. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, that would require breaking away with Tradition (shock!), or even admitting that martial arts are just a subject in a world full of other subjects (horror!) and their students are people, likely to respond to stimuli like other people do (heresy!). We would have to stop treating martial arts like Super Special disciplines chosen by Super Special students, who should obviously be taught in a Super Special way.

I think that exceptionalism may be at the root of some of the more breathtaking absurdities in martial arts instructions – and I’m not talking about field-specific absurdities, like teaching defences to attacks that don’t in fact happen. The field is still arguing about topics which have been conclusively settled in other fields, such as whether making accommodations for students with special educational requirements helps or hinders them; whether teachers need to actually know how to teach, or just be experts in their subject; whether students’ consent is relevant; whether it’s OK for teachers to date vulnerable students. Those questions have been answered time and time again in other settings; but somehow, those answers are deemed not to be transferable to the martial arts field.

Obviously, martial arts are Super Duper Special things for Super Duper Special people. I wouldn’t know, really, because I’m the wrong kind of special for them. I’m grossly neurodivergent, so I simply can’t function in a standard martial arts class. So, yes, I’m biased and angery, but I’m also the scion of a teacher. I grew up watching my mom tutor struggling students to make a bit of extra cash, and I learnt about “Rory’s pedagogy” before I could read and write. I have been following that pedagogy to tutor students for over three decades. Rory is one of my favourite people in the whole damn world, he really is, and his books have honestly changed my life; but the only thing more absurd than suggesting that I subconsciously wanna bang the poor bastard is the belief that his teaching methodology is in any way controversial. It is effective, well-presented, and targeted to its specific field. The only thing that’s special about it is that it’s not been universally adopted yet.

Sexual misconduct: a response.

Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS) has recently folded after allegations of sexual misconduct. They put out a message informing their members of what had happened and what was going to happen. It is the best response to this kind of situation I’ve ever seen, so I will be including it here in its entirety prior to dismembering it into its component chunks.

The Message:

Dear Sangha,

We are writing to inform you of the outcome of the investigation into Noah Levine’s conduct and the future of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS). We regret the delay and lengthy period of silence that contributed to uncertainty, confusion and pain. We have worked hard to conduct the process thoroughly and in a manner that protected the rights of all involved, including strict requirements for confidentiality required by the Grievance Council Procedures. Members of ATS governance have been deliberate and volunteered hundreds of hours to ensure the trustworthiness of the investigation. We retained expert consultants and an attorney to guide us. All of this has taken time. We ask for your understanding for the ways in which the process has been painful for you.

Investigation
The ATS Grievance Council received allegations of sexual assault involving Noah Levine on March 27th 2018. Pending an investigation, Mr. Levine was temporarily suspended from teaching at ATS on March 29th. Soon thereafter, Roberta Yang, an experienced attorney and investigator of workplace harassment, was hired to conduct an independent investigation of the initial allegation and other allegations of misconduct that surfaced shortly thereafter.

Ms. Yang’s task was to determine if the ATS Teachers Code of Ethics was violated by Mr. Levine and convey her conclusions to the ATS Grievance Council. The standard Ms. Yang used was the preponderance of evidence, which means that she considered if the allegations were more likely than not to be true based on her evaluation of statements from witnesses and other evidence. Ms. Yang interviewed, or offered to interview, all affected parties and reached her conclusions independently and without any influence by ATS. Ms. Yang concluded that with multiple women, Mr. Levine violated the Third Precept of the Teacher’s Code of Ethics, namely, “to avoid creating harm through sexuality.” That is to say, Ms. Yang concluded that, based on her evaluation of the evidence she reviewed, the preponderance of that evidence showed such violations.

These findings were carefully considered by the ATS Grievance Council and recommendations were made to the ATS Board of Directors in consultation with an independent ethics consultant. The standard for evaluating a Buddhist teacher’s actions are not the same as the criminal or even the civil standards of proof. Spiritual leaders are held to a higher ethical standard than the public at large and higher than other community leaders. However, ATS’ conclusion is not a finding of guilt or liability by a court; it is our conclusion based on our own evaluation of the evidence presented to us. Mr. Levine denied, and continues to deny, wrongdoing.

At the conclusion of the process, the Board decided to remove Mr. Levine from the Board and from teaching at ATS. The Board further recommends that he seek all necessary support to transform his understanding and conduct, especially as it relates to his relation to power dynamics.

Firstly, to the women directly impacted, we wish to remain available to you and to provide whatever support we can that you might find helpful. We consider this another critical moment to study the way that different treatment based on gender constellates in the ATS community specifically, and society more generally. Events such as this have the power to shake one’s confidence in the refuge of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We hope that the pain of this moment actually leads us back towards the heart and that we might all find true refuge.

Effects on Organization and ATS Future
The effect of the controversy arising from these events has been devastating for ATS. While ATS has previously experienced precarious financial moments, this period has eroded core capacities of the organization. Fiscal impacts were immediate. A 10th anniversary fundraiser was postponed; a large foundation grant was returned because we could not meet our objectives; other forms of giving contracted. Monthly expenses significantly outpace revenue and our savings have been drawn down. Four Board members resigned, a co-guiding teacher departed, two affiliate centers – Boston and Nashville – are dissociating from ATS, and our Executive Director is planning to depart at the end of his contract period. Each member of our Teachers Council has expressed a wish to dissociate themselves from Mr. Levine – to begin again and share teachings in a new form with students.

During the course of the investigation, the Board of Directors, Teachers Council and Executive Leadership explored a number of financial models and collaborative arrangements that would allow ATS to remain a viable, healthy organization. We were unable to find a solution.

With deep sadness, we announce that ATS will close the doors to its Melrose, Santa Monica and San Francisco centers on Sept 30, 2018. Know that the impact of losing a spiritual community has been given every possible consideration. We understand that many of you have been sangha members from the very beginning. Our commitment moving forward is to be available and be present for the grief or anger or confusion that may arise.

Moving Forward
While we have tried to navigate this time with as much skill as we have, we know that these events are a lot and land in different ways for you. To the extent that we can be of support, we wish to be available for you. We will be holding community sessions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the teachers will use class time, when appropriate, to help digest all of this. Please know that we’re also part of the sangha – none of this has been easy and we’re experiencing our own forms of loss.

The refuge of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is supported by people and places, but is never dependent on a person or a place. Though ATS is ending, the Dharma, as always, continues. The ripples and resonances of goodness and sincerity continue.

Our teachers and facilitators are actively transitioning to new offerings, groups and spaces to ensure that former ATS communities across the country are supported going forward. In Los Angeles, JoAnna Hardy has announced the formation of the Meditation Coalition, which Mary Stancavage, Cheryl Slean and some ATS facilitators will be joining. In San Francisco, Vinny Ferraro is in process looking to rent space for the Friday night class. Matthew Brensilver will remain accessible and is committed to serving the sangha in a sustained way. Nashville ATS will continue in the same location as Wild Heart Meditation Center. In Boston, Chris Crotty is committed to ensuring long-term sustainability of sangha in that city and on the east coast. We will announce more details as they come.

For the next months, Vinny Ferraro’s September weekend retreat will continue as planned, the New Years’ retreat with Cheryl Slean and Dave Smith will be held again in Malibu, and the Women’s Retreat with Mary and JoAnna will be held once again at Joshua Tree in January 2019.

We will update you as details are finalized.

To our beloved community, we are humbled, we are heartbroken, and we grieve with you.

Sincerely,
ATS Board of Directors
ATS Grievance Council
ATS Teachers Council

 

The Breakdown:

I absolutely love this reaction because it includes:

  • An apology for the length of time the investigation took, and for the impact of the delay on community members.
  • An explanation of how the investigation was carried out, including the people involved and the standards used (in this case, “preponderance of evidence”).
  • The conclusion reached and its limitations (it is not a guilty sentence from a court of law).
  • A recommendation to the person under investigation to sort his shit out.
  • An apology to the women involved, and an offer of further support.
  • An explanation of the resulting impacts on the organisation, and an offer of support to affected members.
  • An acknowledgement that this kind of shit can rock one’s spiritual world, and not in a good way; that it takes time and sometimes help to digest and process this kind of event, even for those not directly involved; and that community leaders are still people, and are not immune to feelings on the subject.

I personally believe that all of the above are essential elements of any response to any such allegations. There’s probably more that could be included, but any response that leaves these aspects out is coming up short, and should not be accepted, even when it’s printed on fancy paper or signed by important people.

What this response does not include is just as important. Most notably, it makes no mention of the names of the women involved, or of the details of their allegations. As for the former, anyone who’s been involved in a situation such as this knows that to publicly name the victims is to paint a target on their backs. Regardless of the results of any investigations, people in power are guaranteed to have a cadre of fans who will make damn sure that those who’ve dared accuse their hero will suffer. As for the latter, random third parties do not need to know whether Mr. Levine was grabbing boobies or asses. Provided that the investigation was carried out thoroughly and transparently, people’s prurient curiosity can take a back seat to the victims’ need for privacy and a space to heal.

To put it another, blunter way: it is pretty damn unlikely that someone is going to have a wank reading this statement. It informs and assists rather than shock and titillate. If this kind of reporting was more common in sexual misconduct cases, that’d be peachy.

So?

ATS has just died a honorable death. I’m sad about that, I can’t deny it, but I am overjoyed at witnessing a religious community that is willing to live and die by its own ethics. Sometimes doing the right thing hurts, but we have to bear in mind what the alternative really amounts to, and who gets to pay the consequences. Plenty of other organisations have given us examples of what happens when allegations are quashed, when investigations are conducted with no transparency, when the rights of the accused trump the needs of the victims. Most organisations don’t set out with the goal of facilitating sexual misconduct, yet plenty end up doing so, and continue to do so until something happens that is too horrific to bury. Why we can’t learn from this, that’s beyond me.

CW: Suicide

Put behind a cut for suicide and depression. Here’s hoping it works on previews.

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Anthony Bourdain killed himself a wee while ago. It was the weirdest celebrity suicide I experienced, for the simple reason that I’d never heard of the guy. I’ve not really watched TV since ’88, so that happens quite a bit. Everyone around me seemed to know and love him, though, so I ended up stuck in the odd position of watching everyone go through a process I could not engage with. For me, a person was dead, and that was sad, but the death was no more impactful than the death of any other stranger.

Most people I know had serious feelings about the situation, though, and they weren’t shy about expressing them. I’m an asshole with a very low tolerance for other assholes, so the people I hang with are carefully selected and pretty splendid. As a result, I didn’t have to suffer through the moralising and vilification that so often accompany suicides. Instead, everyone seemed to feel that they had to do something – not just mourn the death, but Take Some Steps to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, especially to someone close to them. Most responses consisted of:

  • Posting broad-spectrum advice for people with depression;
  • Pleas to contact suicide hotlines in the event of an emergency;
  • Heartfelt declarations to people as to how their continued existence is appreciated by their loved ones.

I’ve blogged a few times about clinical depression and suicidal ideation, but I have to admit that I’ve been pretty cagey about my actual experience on said subjects. That isn’t going to change with this blog. All you really need to know is that, once upon a time, I used to know four people with clinical depression. Now I don’t know any: two got better, two died. And I know that this isn’t The Official Statistic For Depression, that it’s not a disease that kills 50% of its sufferer, but it’s hard for me to care about that. The number of people I’ve lost is the only number that matters to me. My dead people matter to me.

Being of a quasi-scientific bent, I have tried to disentangle my experience in a rational and organised fashion. Four people, two alive and two dead. How can I fit that in a pattern? What are the relevant factors? Three had lovely, supporting families of origin, and one didn’t; the latter is alive. Two had created lovely families for themself; one is alive, one is dead. Two were stuck in horrific living situations; one is alive, one is dead. Two were receiving treatment for depression; one is alive, one is dead. One self-medicated; they’re dead. One is neurodivergent and unmedicated; they’re alive. One was at the peak of physical fitness, two were meh, and one was a wreck; dead, alive x2, dead. Two were financially secure and two weren’t; one alive and one dead in each group. I just can’t make it stack up. The data doesn’t fit any of my theories, and it leaves me with the sneaking, horrific suspicion that it doesn’t really work like that, that this an aspect of life that can’t be kept at bay by Good Living, or even by good luck.

The really funny thing is that I know that. I know it because I’ve seen it, because I’ve lived it. I know that if anyone else came up with a checklist of ‘Things To Do So Depression Won’t Get You, Guaranteed’, I’d laugh in their face. I would know without even looking that half of them would be things people can’t do when they’re depressed and the other half may or may not help people, and are less likely to help those with depression.

This is the thing people don’t seem to get about depression: it’s a debilitating disease. It takes away your ability to do things and to enjoy what you do. Yes, for a person without depression, it may be obvious that “if you’re dirty, take a shower; you’ll feel better!” But the truth is that someone with depression may not be able to summon the energy to take that shower, and may not be able to feel better after it, because they are depressed. Telling someone with depression to “just” do this or “just” enjoy that is no different from telling an asthmatic to “just” breathe properly. And get this: people with severe depression know that if they could do this or enjoy that they’d feel better. They don’t need to be reminded about how badly they’re malfunctioning; their depression has got that covered.

When Anthony Bourdain died, I sat and I watched as my timeline filled up. I pondered, and eventually I started fuming. I knew that people were coming from a good place, that they really wanted to help, but I also knew that they weren’t helping. They meant well, but they were putting real people in real danger.

I tried to talk about it. I tried to explain that listing a whole series of things that people ought to do to fix themselves may help some folk, but is throwing some very vulnerable individuals under the bus. I was told that I was too negative. I tried to explain that some support lines are awful and pushing at-risk people towards them could be the thing that finishes them (fun fact: The Samaritans cut off a friend of mine twice after telling them they could call back if they really needed to). I was told that, unless I could suggest some better helplines, I ought to shut up and let people do their thing.

And then one day I got a message, and it was so amazing that I wanted to ring my best friend and tell him all about it. “So, this guy out of the blue decided to Do His Bit by telling me how much he values my presence in his life, which was beyond funny because he had to write to my work inbox because he unfriended me two months ago.” I knew exactly what my friend would have said, how his laughter would have sounded, how much he would have enjoyed that kind of unintended irony, and I would have given anything to share that with him. But I couldn’t, because he’s dead.

Antony Bourdain died. I watched people agonise over the event, and not one of them said that he “died of depression,” in the way we’d say that someone “died of diabetes.” Nobody commented how amazing it was that he’d made to 61 despite his disease. If a cancer sufferer made it through decades of treatment before finally dying, we’d call them an inspiration; but when someone with depression does that, we call it “a tragedy” or “a waste” and we trot out advice on a par with “two apples a day.” Seems to me that, despite protestations to the contrary, we refuse to accept that there is a disease called depression, that it is real and potentially lethal, that we can do our best and still catch it, that we can fight our hardest and still lose to it. And I can’t help thinking that this is part of the problem.