KK: Hi, my name is Kerri Kelly and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast where we are exploring a citizenship of solidarity and how we show up for each other. In this episode we're talking with world renowned yoga teacher Seane Corn about navigating privilege and power and what yoga has to do with social change.
She's blunt, brilliant, hilarious, and an abundance of wisdom.
Seane Corn is a world renowned master yoga teacher, but to just call her a yoga teacher feels absurd. She is a provocative and moving public speaker, she's the founder of the nonprofit Off the Mat Into the World, which has trained over 5000 people in how to bridge personal transformation and social change.
They've raised over four million dollars for humanitarian efforts around the world and they continue to push the boundaries of yoga beyond duality and inter radical and inclusive relationship.
Seane's about to be an author for her first book, which knowing her, will be a juicy “tell all” about her journey from spiritual practice to social action. But, what you will experience of Seane on this podcast, and what I know of her in person, is that she is relentless in her pursuit of truth and transformation.
She doesn't just preach about getting into the world and taking action, she walks the talk. Her process is real time, and raw, and vulnerable, which is why I think she's so popular. People see themselves in her stories. She gives us permission to be broken and beautiful at the same time.
I've had the privilege of knowing Seane for many years as a teacher, and friend, and collaborator and I can attest to her integrity and commitment to doing the hard end messy work of transformation, both on and off the mat.
I think it was her embodiment of the practice - more than the philosophy or the sutras or the anatomy training - that taught me what yoga really is. How it is the embodiment of our values in action. How it prepares us for the uncomfortable and uncertain experience of being alive in the world by building a capacity for those feelings on the mat. How it shows us over, and over, and over again, that we can do hard things, whether it's standing on our heads or speaking truth to power. And how the division that we are seeing played out in the world around us is actually playing out within us.
Only when we transform ourselves can we transform the world and only when we transform the world can we transform ourselves. In our conversation she says,
“We can't stand on the sidelines. We can not sit back and have magical thinking that suddenly this is all gonna transform without actually getting involved.”
There is nothing sideline about Seane Corn. She is all-in and head-first and she is showing us that transformation is possible from the inside out.
KK: I'm looking at her right now and she's making laugh with her big smile and she's known for her big smile and curly blonde hair. She's already giving me googly eyes and a really big smile, so we're gonna have some fun with this podcast I think.
She's the cofounder of an organization that's very dear to my heart called Off the Mat, Into the World that really has been bridging personal transformation and social change for at least ten years now. Off the Mat has trained over 5000 leaders, whether they're yoga teachers, or organizers, or politicians, or moms. They've raised over four million dollars for humanitarian issues, both here and abroad and Off the Mat has really been a trail blazing organization in the way in which they have really uplifted the relationship between yoga and spiritual practice and social change and conscious activism. So much so that, it's really changed, I think, the spirit of the yoga industry in America.
She is currently writing her first book, which I can't wait to get, which, Seane, to my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong, is a tell-all meets personal practice meets next steps and a call to action. Is that correct?
KK: Can I be your publicist?
SC: I wouldn't say it's a tell all. There's not much to tell, but it does juxtapose personal experience with the varying practices of yoga and transformational work. It allows me both to be very forthright and disclosing within my own experience and then to make the parallels to the practice of yoga and how to reframe your own personal narratives.
I feel like that's been your gift all along. The way that I think people experience you teach the tools and the wisdom of yoga is really though your own human experience, and you've never been shy of telling humiliating, self deprecating stories about you in the middle of yoga class.
KK: I really thing that that is actually the thing that breaks through to people. People see themselves in you, they see their humanity in you, they see their imperfection, and their humiliation, and their mistake making and they see also the potential, and the beauty, and the wisdom that you also embody and I think that that is such a unique way of imparting this practice on people, because I think it meets people where they are.
SC: That had always been my intention as a teacher just to be as ... just as forthright and as human as I possibly can be within my own experience. What's interesting about writing this book is I'm not a natural writer. That's something that's ... that really pushed my edges. I'm a communicator, and I'm very fluid in myself expression, bu the book writing has been very alchemical. It has taken me by surprise.
The thing that I'm learning most about myself is that as open and as transparent as I believed I have been in the yoga world and my work, I really have controlled my narrative and that's what I'm learning because this book is forcing me to go into places that I've never exposed publicly before, pull back some of these veils and dig even that much deeper and I am so uncomfortable. I'm really resistant and I realize that in all these years, I ...
That's the only wording that I could come up with. I control my narrative. I give as much as I feel comfortable and safe with giving then I step back and this book is forcing me to go to another level.
KK: Is it revealing ... 'Cause I've always experienced you as authentically telling the truth in most every moment of your life. It's just who you are and how people know you. I imagine you're going to a whole new dimension when you start unpacking these memories and stories and feelings. I imagine that this has been deeply transformational for you too and illuminating, maybe what you didn't know consciously about how you have become... who you are.
SC: Absolutely. I really have. I've learned so much and I'm proud of how I've shown up in the world. I've been very comfortable in the way that I've put myself out there. I've always had this skill, something that my mom always does with me, is she'll say, "We're in a kitchen. The wallpaper is yellow. You're wearing a blue dress." All of a sudden I'll say, "There's a birthday cake to my right. There's a chair and there's a pink cushion on the chair. Someone just drops a glass." And, I'm only two years old when my mother's giving me this information.
I have this ability to, once you give me a couple of indicators, it has to be something my senses can grab onto, a scent or something in a visual, I can put myself in that place, and I've done it even younger than two.
KK: So it's like time travel.
SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And have very ... I can hear conversations and my mother will affirm whether ... and she always gets ... She's like, that's just freaky. But, what the book is doing is very similar, where in the past I've told some of these stories, but because I've shared these narratives so many times, there's just rhythm to it.
In the book, as I'm writing it and I'm describing certain places and scenes, suddenly another layer will come out and I'll start to visualize where I'm at, what I'm feeling, who else is in the room with me, and different levels of the story that I had buried. That's been really ...
It's a little scary at times, very intense, really emotional, and that's why I say, I control my narrative. I have been very good in just having these particular bullet points and I share these stories and this book is forcing me to have to go into certain memories that have been convenient to bypass.
The book's not letting me bypass it. It serves me right. This is exactly what I teach. This is what I support and value.
KK: That's right. You asked for this.
SC: Totally. I'm resistant, but every once in a while I'm like, son of a bitch. Dammit.
Do I really stand for this? This is hard? Is this what I teach?
KK: In the spirit of full disclosure... about what you're talking about, I want to give a little context to our relationship. Because, you are not just another guest. You are my teacher, my friend, my ally, my collaborator, and more. I was doing the math this morning, Seane, and we have known each other for 15 years now.
I remember very specifically meeting you in San Francisco at Yoga Tree, Castro. You were there doing a youth aids event, and I had just moved to San Francisco from New York and I remembered the minute you opened your mouth, I heard home for me. 'Cause you're from New Jersey, I'm from New York, and everything about who you were was like a homecoming for me. It wasn't just about your accent or your New York style, it was about what you were saying that spoke to a part of me that changed me forever.
I think it was along the lines of ... and this was a year after 9/11, so I had just lost my step dad in the World Trade Center. I was a mess, quite frankly. On and off the mat. You said something like, "What if we turned our wounds into service? What if we turned our wounds into something else?" That changed me forever.
That was 15 years ago, pre Off the Mat Into the World. I just think so back so much has changed.
I can't even begin to articulate the experiences that I have had over the last 15 years and the way in which it has informed me personally and the way in which it's impacted the community in which I love so dearly.
SC: I hope, in a very positive way, I was so naïve when I first started talking about that intersection between yoga and service. I really knew nothing. I think that that's what my biggest take away in the last 15 years is how little I knew, that I couldn't have anticipated the way in which I was going to have to get educated to understand what it was that I was even putting out there on a public level.
It was so complex, so nuanced, and I was really immature in my understanding. I was right, but I really didn't know what I was right about.
KK: You didn't know what you didn't know.
SC: Exactly. I think, again, very alchemical. I keep ... that word has been popping up in my life so much. Even that statement that your wounds ... for me, at that time, I believe it a little bit differently now. You're wounds become the place in which you will end up being the most informed to be of service, the most qualified in a way. That is such a deck full consideration. It's also incredibly problematic.
SC: I couldn't have known that then. It was correct in my soul, and yet, I hadn't yet unpacked what that would and could mean. I think the last 15 years has been an intense education. It has been inspiring in watching people step into leadership, encouraging people to engage the way that they have.
Me personally, I have had to wake up to so many aspects of myself, my limited beliefs, my own privilege and have had to unpack perceptions that I didn't even know needed to be awakened. I didn't even know these questions needed to be asked. It was very magical to me in this way.
KK: It's funny because I was literally just talking to someone the other day about naivety. She was a young activist and she was so naïve, which made her bold and impulsive and courageous in many ways. But, she said that if she knew what she knows now, she wouldn't have done it.
I'm sure there have been times where you've been like, did I say yes to this?
SC: So many times, except that I'm also deeply connected. My relationship to spirit is so strong, so I always believe that I’m a part of something that I can't yet possibly understand. When things are revealed to me, I feel compelled to continue within that trajectory. I feel an obligation to it because I sense that something's unfolding that I'll understand later.
For example, in the past 15 years, again on a personal level, not based on what I've taught in the community, but what I've had my ass handed to me, is I've had to really look at, like I mentioned before, my own power and privilege. I've had to look at themes around internalized oppression and belief systems that are inherited that would impact my understanding of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, of transphobia, ageism, of ableism.
These were conversations that I never had to have because I'm a white woman with privilege and doing this work with Off the Mat, and going into environments in which I went into, bringing my ignorance along with me, there was so many moments where it was like, "Oh, honey." Like, wake up.
I had to get educated. I had to-
KK: Thank God for those people, right?
SC: Yeah. I got called out so many times. Deservedly so. I wish it could've been kinder, that would've been nice, but that's not the way it went down.
KK: It was the gift.
SC: It forced me to have to recognize that I'm not exempt from any of the behaviors that perpetuate any kind of a separation or oppression and that the real ... if there was a real crime in this, it would be that I stayed so attached to my ignorance because I can. That would make me complicit. That I couldn't tolerate.
SC: The knowing that I ... that because I didn't ... I don't have to look at this stuff, that makes me complicit, which is something that I had to move towards. Understand, I don't want to be complicit, then what do I have to look at?
I had to look at, where am I racist? Where am I sexist? I'm not exempt from any of that. This was hard and it was humbling, and it was scary, and it was much easier to tell other people have to look at this stuff. But, over the last 15 years, I have read, researched, processed, invited, inquiry, asked people to challenge me, and have really forced myself to look at these issues in a way that help me to understand why people do things out of ignorance.
Why people do things out of their own unchecked privilege. When the election happened, and suddenly, especially among the privileged community, there is all this conversation suddenly about race, and sexism, and xenophobia, and people are can't believe all this rhetoric there's other people within the marginalized communities are like, "Oh, you're just figuring this out now?"
KK: Yeah, welcome to reality.
SC: Right. I all of a sudden, I sat back and I felt like, "Oh, this is why for the last 15 years of my life, I have been on this fast track of education and understanding, and trying to balance, and understanding internally, noticing the trauma within my own body, noticing my natural reaction to any oppression.
Noticing the ways in which I'm complicit. Having to embody that myself, I feel unbelievably prepared to help support other people who haven't in the last 15 years had to ... Especially people like myself, who haven't had to go into this dialogue. Those are the moments where I'm like, "Oh, that's why it happened." I thought Off the Mat was supposed to be something else, and then suddenly it's got it's own little life force.
I trust that, but I do recognize the last 15 years have been an education for me personally to help me to wake up to my own unchecked privilege so that I can be little bit more supportive as we're going through this very critical time to other people and invite them into the process that I was in so they can take their own accountability.
KK: One of the things I love about the way that you do that is that you invite people into your process and not your state of graduated intelligence. It's not like, "I have learned this and therefore I have arrived." For you, it's unquenchable, right? This commitment to constantly uncovering the truth and becoming the whole of who we are. I think that is the practice.
I know that you say often in class, and it's always stuck with me, that when you do the yoga, it becomes inevitable. You are called to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. What was that moment for you in your personal life when you realized that the yoga was so much more than the us ... and even the personal experience of yoga. That it couldn't not be interconnected and interrelated with everything else?
SC: I think like everything, in my experience of my own personal growth within the practice of yoga, is, I was always involved in social justice issues at a young age, but it was very separate from my yoga practice. It wasn't necessarily sustainable. I had a lot of issues personally, I came from an environment where there was trauma. I never knew how to express myself except through anger and through rage or dissociation and shut down.
By getting out there into the world and confronting injustice, it allowed me to express and that discharged energy and that made me feel better. But, it wasn't ... I didn't understand that there was a connection. I couldn't have 'cause I was a little baby yogi.
My first years of the practice of yoga were only physical. They were not spiritual. They were not philosophical. I couldn't have made that connection at that time. I was trying to get introduced to my body and the sensations and deal with my ego, my determination, my competitiveness, all the ways in which I related to the physical world.
For years my practice was simply physical. But, I can look back now and understand that that was a very deep physiological and psychological purification process to help me to relinquish the tension, the deeply embedded tension in my body that was keeping me safe and in control.
When that tension finally broke itself through, in a physical level, then I had an experience where I was feeling. It was never safe for me to feel. Rage was okay, because it's an active, dominating, masculine energy. But, vulnerability, that was something I was unaccustomed to. It was very threatening to my psyche.
I had to go through a process to try to recalibrate my natural need to want to tense up around my vulnerability and creating space for it without trying to make it bad, or even at that point, trying to figure out where that vulnerability came from, just being with the vulnerability. That process helped me become very empathetic to the human experience, my own.
I really understood and had a deep appreciation for just the little girl within myself who found very interesting skills for emotional survival. I understood why I made choices the way that I would make choices, whether it was in my relationship, or in the work that I did, based on this need to be loved, and to be value, and to be seen.
The yoga practice gave me space to have to feel that and to be present with that and to allow room for the healing to arise via my body and also through a shift in perception.
There's a chunk of time now where I am deeply immersed, not just in the physical practice, but also in therapy, trying to make the connection between the trauma that I've experience, not just in present time, but historical trauma ancestral trauma, cultural trauma, and how that lived in my body and how that was affecting the way in which I was seeing the world.
As I moved through that process and really understood the way in which narrative lives in the body, I was able to discharge it in a safer, more integrated way.
It did something just quite organic. I just liked me better, the highest aspect of myself, and I was able to see the higher aspect in self, of self, in others, even if I didn't like them, even if they were going through their own stuff. I really had a strong sense that the way in which their responding to the world is a reaction of their own unhealed wounds historically, or in present time. I felt such a deep compassion for those beings.
What also happened is that when I would recognize people in the world who didn't have access to the tools that I had, I understood why they would drink, or do drugs, or beat their partners, or neglect their kids. I'm not saying that I condone that, but I understood that what they were doing was a reaction of their suppressed experience. I also felt a deep compassion.
Yoga moved for me, from the physical to the more energetic and emotional and it opened me to a level of first, self compassion, and then more universal compassion. As I cultivated these skills ... and they started to work in real time. I started to notice that in conflict I was less reactive. That I was able to ground, I was able to resource, I was able to breath. I could make a note internally, like, "Oh, I feel the impulse that I want to rip their frigging head off."
I could feel it in my body, but I knew that I had the skills to make a healthier choice in that moment that would be more integrative. Then I would process that other, that anger out, at another time, but that I in the moment, I didn't have to react. I could respond and the response was coming from way more centered and way more loving.
In answer to your question, my particular movement in the practice of yoga started from the me, my body, my health, to the me, my emotional health and wellness, my self awareness, and then self responsibility to the we, to the collective. Because, what I think that what I recognized deeply, is that the fact that I have access to these tools, these books, these resources, these support systems, is a privilege and I don't know why.
It's certainly growing up ... this is not something that was inaccessible to me as a kid, but for whatever reason, when I stepped on a yoga mat, the languaging that was being asserted in that space spoke to something very deep within my unconsciousness. I felt I was home and over the years, through the practice and through the literature was able to gain insight and wisdom and practical tools.
It's a democratic experience in that I, through the practice of yoga, I get to ask questions, who am I, what is truth, what is love, to whom will I serve, what is god, do I believe in God, and it's very fluid in the way in which I can self reflect. I became aware that most people in the world, because of systems of power, that include political, religious systems, these people would literally be killed or jailed doing what I get to do each and every day, without question.
It was because of that knowing, that really shifted something within me where I thought, "Wait a second. How dare I not take these qualities that I've learned through these tools," this is not magic, it's practice, "and apply it to trying to create through action and through participation from the inside out, a world that is fair, and free, and equal, and safe for all beings."
Because, the practice of yoga teaches us we're one.
There's quotations marks, if you can see, we are "one". Which, is absolute unrelative. It's not that it's not true.
It's energy. We are all one and ... but if that's true, then everyone should have access to resources, then everyone should be able to love whom they choose.
KK: And yet, we're not having the same experience of being alive on the planet.
KK: On any level.
SC: Therefore, that's not yoga and if I'm a yogi, then I've got to go towards where the separation exists and do my best to heal it, but the thing is, if I'm participating in it, because of my own ... Again, I'm check privilege, or my own bias, and discrimination, and racism, my own unwillingness to look at my ignorance, then why would I expect our leadership to change? Why would I expect our systems to change. Why would I expect the world to change, if I resist the change within myself.
I really do believe that if you do this work, and are committed to the work, you recognize that the work doesn't end on the healing of the individual. The healing of the individual is what is required to begin to create a shift of consciousness via active and conscious engagement and if we can not stand the systems ... the system are only made up of people.
KK: That's right.
SC: Change the people, you change the system.
KK: Well, I feel like what you're talking about is really tricky for this community to comprehend. Because, we are participating in these systems. We are a part of the problem, whether it's because of our whiteness or whether it's because of our unchecked privilege, or whether it's because of even the ways in which we participate in capitalism.
We pay taxes. Whether we like it or not, we are a part of these systems and I think sometimes in wellness and spiritual communities, we like to believe that we're above them, but we are very much anchored ... we are swimming in them, whether we can see it or not.
One of the things I feel like you've done really well, is articulate that we have to hold that paradox, that we are of these systems, that we are actively participating in them, and, simultaneously we are a part of the solution.
SC: It's funny, I just had an experience of that just last week. I had gone to South Dakota to do a learning and listening tour to learn more about the real American history of the Native Americans and the impact that the genocide and colonization has had on the tribal nations, past, present, and future. I did this kind of education for myself a lot because it's probably the gift of growing up with a mediocre education.
I grew up in an environment where I learned the way that everybody else learned about American history. As I've gotten older, I didn't go to college, so I didn't learn social justice one on one. I didn't learn that stuff. I don't have an academic understanding of anything, really. It's not the way I operate.
KK: It's also not what we're taught.
SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
KK: In school.
KK: We're not taught the whole truth.
SC: No, not even close. My interest is actually finding out the real truth, but by the people who are actually directly impacted by it and to listen. Just to listen. One of the reason that I wanted to go specifically to South Dakota and to do this particular tour, is because right now I'm at a place where I'm really looking at systems of power and I'm looking at the impact institutionalized oppression is set up in the most subtlest of ways to continue to disempower and marginalize communities.
I understood this intellectually. Again, because of my own education, I wanted to understand, what's the root of this? Where, in terms of America-
KK: Where did this begin?
SC: Yeah. I thought, "Well, let's go back to the original people where the first true, in the United States, the first genocide happened where colonization happened where it was strategic.
KK: I love that you're returning to that place as the origin, because I think even in American politics right now, I think there's a lot of rhetoric around, we need to return to the values of the founding fathers, who were slave owners, and colonizers. We're like, that's not the truth of how we began, the truth of how we began to your point, is we came to this country as a white dominant culture and we stole the land and we killed people.
How do we tell that story from the beginning, and how do we reconcile that?
SC: There was a saying back in the day, "Kill the Indian, save the man." It's very deliberately what they did was to take them away from the communities to try to annihilate the spiritual practices, to cut their hair, and to try to get them to ... and I put this in air quotes again ... "assimilate" into the culture at that time that was dominating by destroying their natural earth based practices.
It was so systematic and strategic, very deliberate. It still exists today. It's more complex-
KK: And subtle.
SC: And subtle.
KK: And insurgent.
SC: It's in our media, it's in all of the ... It's everywhere. I can see it way more clearly now. Now that I see how it originated, again in the United States. Again, I'm only a week into the process, so there's still so much that I'm trying to-
KK: I can imagine.
SC: Oh yeah, it's gonna take me a while to process this. For the first few days, my head was just spinning. 'Cause it really is the real American history. Even to this day to see what the government is continuing to do and how the Native American people are having to fight for things that they shouldn't have to fight for.
One of the things, we went to this place called Devil's Tower. That's what it's called. That's an offense to the Native American people, 'cause this is a sacred place. It's a rock that was featured in close encounters of the third kind. That's where people might know that rock, that mountain, from that movie.
KK: Which is a whole other can of worms that you reference.
SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
This is ... They call it Bear's Lodge. It is sacred and there are tons of stories that go along with this. It's still a very active place of worship to the Native American people. Yet, it's also a national park. When you get there, there are people climbing up the rocks and taking pictures and hanging out.
Now, he refused to take us to the front entrance. We had to hike just the same way that many of the Native Americans go to worship. We had to hike to the back and sit in a field as he told us the stories, 'cause he won't support, of course, that culture.
He said it was akin to ... if he came to any church or temple and threw ropes up over the building and started to climb up churches or temples. It's the same thing.
KK: Or the US Capital building, or the White House.
SC: Anything. But this is a sacred. This is their church and people are hiking on it and defacing it every single day and it's allowed. There's no place in the entire area that talks about what it really is to the Native American people. No place.
It talks about the butterflies and the wild life, but not what it has meant for thousands and thousands of years to the Native Americans to this day. He showed us examples of that everywhere and the ways in which they have protested to get signs up, at least, just-
Just to get a sign up?
Yeah. Just to get a sign up to explain what these places are and the impact that these places have had culturally to all of these tribes. That's the kind of thing that's like, well, that's still going on. That hasn't really changed and people are still having to fight-
Just for the truth.
And for their own identity. What you see now, right now, it's very symbolic. There's the white male dominance is so prevalent and rich in our ... especially our governmental system and it is so devoid of a sensitivity to the diversity that exists within the country, that existed way before we as white people descended upon it. It was very difficult to be there.
It's not that I felt guilt or shame. I didn't. I'm third generation American. There's something that feels a little ... I don't have that particular emotion. I felt so deeply saddened because we are continuing a cycle of oppression where the end result can only be the same. More genocide, more colonization, and when I say genocide, it's spiritual genocide, cultural genocide, gender genocide, sexual genocide.
It's just so evident and this need for land, this need for power, this need for dominance, I think my trip and focusing on the real American history via that particular perspective was really illuminating.
My hope is that everyone takes a trip like this to all the different cultures that they're not familiar with. That's always my interest. I didn't understand it and the same way I don't understand black culture and the same way I don't understand so many different kinds of cultures because it hasn't been mine.
My culture has afforded me the luxury of not having to have to look and I want to know.
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KK: In my witnessing of you over the last 15 years, you have a hunger for learning and I think we're hearing that in this conversation. You're like in relentless pursuit of the truth that continues to unfold for you. The way in which you go about getting the truth has always been through relationship. I in so many instances witnessed you lean into a relationship and ask really hard, sometimes humiliating questions so that you can better understand who we are, how we have come to be here, to reconcile the ways in which we are different, and the same.
I say that because I do feel like we are in a moment in our country and in our community of awakening and there is a lot of seeking of understanding racism, understanding privilege, understanding an equity and inequality.
And yet, all of the text books and white papers, and trainings in the world, don't compare to the kind of learning that is present when we are in authentic relationship with one another, when we're vulnerable, when we open our heart, when we say, I don't know or I'm sorry. Or, I don't know where to go from here or help me understand. I just think back.
You really have modeled that consistently over the years. The source of your learning has always, I feel like, been inside of relationship.
SC: Yeah. I don't think I ever thought about it consciously. I learned differently. Like I had said, I didn't do well in school. You couldn't give me a text. I could read it, maybe memorize the information, but it could never land in me. I didn't do well in school. I realize now, I didn't learn the way a lot of other people learned. I wasn't linear in the way that I learned.
If you put me into an experience, I'd get very quiet. I'd pay attention, and something happens within my consciousness where all of a sudden, everything starts to click and come together for me in a very different way. I just learn differently. I remember a teacher that when I was 15 who recognized that I learned differently.
He gave me the book The Color Purple. It wasn't on our book list. At that time the Color Book, Purple, because it was dealing with race and incest, and all sorts of homosexuality. Really more taboo subjects for a 15 year old. He gave me those books and he would give me independent exercises from the other students and he would only ask me to write how I felt about the themes.
I could use any language that I wanted and express myself in any way I wanted to. That was very liberating for me.
KK: And radical in an educational system.
SC: Yes. That doesn't make space for that.
SC: Mr. Pomaculi. He was only 26 years old when he was my teacher. He was ...
KK: Mr. Maculi, you just got a shout out from Seane Corn.
SC: Yes he did. Uh huh (affirmative). He really helped me to ... Again, kind of like I said earlier. The way in which my mind works, is I'm very visual that way. I'm kind of ... in some ways I'm very left brain. In some ways I'm very right brained. But, I realized I learned differently. The Color Purple was really about relationships and it exposed sexuality and trauma and community, race through a very different lens of all these different relationships.
Something about it connected for me. Then, when I moved to New York City, I was constantly put in situations where they were outside my realm of understanding growing up in New Jersey, just sheltered and suddenly I'm in an environment, there's a lot of drugs, there's a lot of sex, there's a lot of diversity and-
KK: This is when you moved to Manhattan.
SC: When I moved to Manhattan. So I'm 17 years old. I'm a baby.
KK: Culture shock.
SC; Mm-hmm (affirmative).
And, because I asked questions and it was probably inappropriate when I look back at it. It was probably really naïve and annoying, but if I didn't understand homosexuality and I was hanging out with a person who was gay, I asked. It didn't occur to me at that time that it might be uncomfortable, it might be inappropriate. I was too young. I just would ask questions.
If I met someone with a different disability, I would ask questions, but I was also open if someone wanted to ask me any question. I didn't-
KK: It was reciprocal.
SC: Yeah. And it would be, not just some stranger, there'd be a relationship developed and an intimacy. It was through this intimacy that I started to wake up more. I would still read in books, but it wasn't the same as actually being in the experience itself and I think that that's always been a very organic way in which I've operated. I started traveling alone at ...
My first trip to Europe I would've been 19 years old and I spent three months in Europe on my own, just immersing myself in the culture and watching the loneliness, the isolation that came up from me. They way in which I felt so out of place in a foreign country.
It started making me think, "Well, if I feel out of place in a foreign country, I wonder what people coming to America must feel like." My education only happened through these experiences where I put myself in them and then reflected. It has evolved from there.
KK: I just wonder if that isn't exactly the way we should be learning. I think about how our educational system doesn't actually make room for everyone's kind of learning style, or capacity, and also doesn't really center relationships in the way in which we learn. I think back to the original way of learning, and I'm sure you heard a lot about this in your listening and learning tour in South Dakota.
That learning happened through story telling and relationship. There are no text books, there was no indoctrinated religion. There was story, and experience, and relationship, and learning, and vulnerability, and suffering, and joy. Yet, it does seem like we've lost that. I just name that in a time where it seems like a crack in an aperture of awakening. There seems to be a grab for the kind of learning that we've been taught to learn.
SC: We're better served, in fact, doing the thing ... You were just saying, I learned differently, and I'm thinking, you learned exactly the way we should all be learning. If we actually can return to a place of, let's be in an authentic relationship and learn together, that's a huge leap forward, especially when we're having to navigate issues of racism, and privilege, and inequity, and corruption, and suffering, and oppression. These are hard things to understand because we come from different places and we have different lenses and different privileges and different access.
KK: We can only learn together.
It's interesting what I learned about myself in this learning and listening tour, because our guide, his name is Rain Bear Stands Last.
Rain Bear Stands Last.
Yeah, Rain we called him. Rain would ... We would sit and he would talk and just drop down these stories for hours. Literally hours. It was a deep listening. Now I've done this kind of work a lot, but normally there's an exchange. You talk a little bit, you have some questions. There was no questions. There was no interruption. You listened.
I can see that this was very much a part of their tribal way. What I noticed in myself was a couple of things. One was, my need to ask a question. I would be listening and in my mind already formulating questions without really recognizing odds are, he's gonna answer that question at some point. It was more my need to actually assert myself into the conversation, which is dominance.
The right that I felt that I had to ask these questions. Again, it's in my body. This, I have that right. Where did I learn that right? Where did I learn I could interrupt? Where did I learn that my question was even of any interest and not just to shut up and pay attention and absorb. That was a real interesting thing to me 'cause I kept saying, Seane, knock it off.
Why do you need to be asking questions and formulating in their head rather than being totally present? That was a really interesting experience to have to just sit and listen and take it in and let it assimilate, the way in which I was always done.
KK: Intended. Right.
SC: At the same time, it really brought up stuff for me, that still, that dominant impulse. It also brought up as a woman. I really watched my need as a woman to have to-
KK: Take up space. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And assert.
SC: Uh huh (affirmative). The oppressed because Rain, although he's a Native American person, he's still a man. I had to look at my own impulse of trying to assert dominance, male female. And be like, look at that. Look at that. Where else does this show up?
This experience, again, always holds that mirror up and that's what interests me. I want to do this well, in meaning that I want to in the small little time that I'm a part of this world, engaging in the way that I am. I want to be effective in my leadership and the only way that I believe that I can do that is if I'm committed to the inner work itself, both without apology, and also without excuses. I don't get to let myself off the hook.
Again, if I do, then I'm complicit. The fact that I don't have to, it's not self beat. I laugh at myself all the time. I'm very well aware.
KK: I laugh at you too.
SC: Thank you. I'm humbled by this. I'm humbled by my humanity. I'm humbled how deep it is. How deep trauma runs and all the different ways our ego will try to assert itself for dominance.
KK: And protect and defend our heart.
SC: And create separation. It's like the macro and the micro are absolutely aligned, but if I can understand and sensitize myself to the impulse that I have, then I can understand why Donald Trump makes the decisions that he makes. I can understand. I don't condone it. But I can understand based on his own unpacked trauma and his need. His survival is dependent upon his dominance.
It makes sense why he's gonna surround himself with billionaires. Why he's gonna surround himself-
KK: With the like minded.
SC: Yep. Because of the depths of his insecurity. I can sit back and if I can see that shared humanity, maybe I can work with that. Otherwise, all I'm gonna do is the hatred that I have for the perpetuation of oppression, is going to influence my ability to communicate to that. I'm gonna come across as shrill, or unyielding, or defendant.
Instead of trying to pull that layer back, see the depths of the insecurity, and recognize, where is that root? Where was the survival of the original people from the 13 colonies? The oppression that they experienced over in England. How is that being replicated here in the United States against the Indians? How is that original oppression still being played out today?
To me, it's all connected because the Donald Trumps of the world are in direct relationship to those original 13, and that oppression, and that need for survival and dominance. I feel like I have to sensitize myself to all of the ways in which trauma plays itself out and let that, with compassion and form my dialogue, doesn't make me any less determined, or fierce, or truthful, but it does make me a little bit more loving and a little bit more human.
Maybe, if more and more people can actively engage in the systems, radically truthful, with determined commitment for social change, but steeped in a commitment to put love above everything, then maybe there's a more creative way in which we can transform these systems from the inside out.
I don't know if that's true or not. What I do know is true that if I keep staying in the unconscious, then I will participate and perpetuate behaviors that are propelling this country towards annihilation, towards true separation and death. The soul of the nation. The death of the soul of the nation.
I need to change. We need to change. We need to transform. But it requires ownership. That's why I laugh at myself in this process because I realize how much I don't know, how flawed my educational system has been, how deeply embedded into my body are these old conditionings based on my religion, and my education, and my gender, and my whole community in which I grew up with and how hard it is to change thought patters when they are so organic to who we are and the way in which we identify ourselves.
It's this deep unraveling. The only way for me to change it is...being in relationship. It's having skin in the game. And, it's being able to take ownership for my own humanity without feeling bad about it. It's like, yeah I'm an idiot and I'm gonna try better.
KK: But you do that for other people to. I think that that's what feels really significant in this particular moment of resistance in our country, where we are facing rollback after rollback after rollback and so many people are going to suffer at the hands of this administration.
Your brand, or your flavor of transformation, it doesn't just include holding the humanity of yourself. It includes holding the humanity of everyone. Including. No one's excluded from that practice. I think that that's what makes your activism for me (and I've been drawn to this for 15 years now) so profound, because it's not a transactional kind of activism that reacts or that blames, or shames.
But, it's a tricky activism that's relentless in it's pursuit of the whole truth and integrates in the way in which it embraces the whole of who we are and the whole history. I don't know if this is really how we're gonna make change, but I do ... I'm invested in this theory that if we can be a commitment to the transformational work of the whole, and including the joy and the pain, and the miracles and the suffering, and the whole of who we are, then that is the only way forward.
SC: Then peace is inevitable. That's the inevitable outcome of this kind of interconnection, and compassion, and empathy. But empathy with action. Compassion with action. And participation. We can't stand on the sidelines.
KK: That's right.
SC: We can not just sit back and have magical thinking that suddenly this is all going to transform without actually getting involved. I know that I have to be involved and share my gifts, and my privilege in the way in which I can to help to support other people into this particular process, and to want to be in this deep inquiry because the more that we can do the inner work necessary, and the more that we can see this interdependency, then wanting to engage becomes the next step natural progression and expression of our love.
That's why I don't see yoga as separate from anything. It's not separate from politics. It's not separate from social justice. It's not separate from animal rights. It's separate from environmental injustice. Injustices. Everything is connected and as our friend Miriam Lumsa says, “you can't be selectively conscious”. Either you are or you're not.
Now, there's a lot of unconsciousness in the world. I understand, it's uncomfortable. Waking up is really uncomfortable 'cause it-
KK: And, you're having your own experience of that, as am I, as are many of us in our own ways.
SC: I think I'm just willing to talk about it. No one told me years ago that I should be embarrassed about talking about my humanity publicly.
KK: Well, we're back to that naivety. If we knew what we know now, would we have said yes?
SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). To me it was just very natural and plus holding the seat of the teacher, it was very important to me not to buy into those kinds of projections and to be allowed publicly the space to continue doing my inner work and sharing what I'm learning along the way.
Not suggesting I'm better off than anybody.
KK: You're not above it. You're not perfect. You don't know everything.
SC: I'm in it. I just have the ability in a public space in an embodied experience to articulate information, but all I'm ever doing is saying out loud what it is that I'm practicing and what I believe, then hoping that someone else is just like, "Oh, I hear you sister."
I'm still always struggling. But I'm again, grateful that I get to do this work.
KK: We are imagining a citizenship where everyone belongs. That calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us.
We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities.
You can learn more about how to engage at fairimmigration.org and unitedwedream.org.
Well, this podcast is coming to an end. Our work in the world is just beginning. This weeks call to action is to listen and learn. Get curious about what you don't know or can't possibly understand and then get educated and Off the Mat Into the World trainings are a great place to start.
Check out their schedule at offthematintotheworld.org. If you haven't experienced Seane Corn in living color, you must. She is an experience that will change you forever. It certainly changed me. Check her out at seanecorn.com.
Want you to come together.
Thanks for being here today. Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing sound track. You can check out his music at djdrez.com and thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly news letter Well Read at ctznwell.org.
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