Building My Own Creative Temple

I really benefitted from listening to last night’s discussion on MLK’s powerful passage “Building a Creative Temple.” The passage spoke directly to Arjuna’s dilemma on the battlefield of the Bhagavad Gita, to the war within and the struggle for  self-mastery that each person must wage to live a life that is worthwhile, a life that can contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. The Gita teaches us that we can be our own worst enemy – or our own best friend. We make a choice in each moment whether to manifest our inner sinner – or saint. We carry within us both darkness and its light source. As Pancho pointed out, however, MLK once famously proclaimed

“darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The Mother once wisely elucidated how:

“You carry in yourself all the obstacles necessary to make your realization perfect. Always you will see that within you the shadow and the light are equal; you have an ability, you have also the negation of this ability. But if you discover a very black hole, a thick shadow, be sure there is somewhere in you a great light. It is up to you to know how to use the one to realize the other.”

I resonated with what Uncle John shared about not being able to connect with the term “sinner” MLK uses in this passage. For me, the roots of this term are linked with the Judeo-Christian view of original sin. I believe in basic goodness and that the spiritual journey is a quest to dig deep enough into ourselves to access our internal essence, which is pure goodness. Uncle John elucidated how taken literally, however, “sin” means to be without. He talked about how those who do harm are indeed without so many things. I believe that a lack of love in particular (not romantic love, but rather agape love that embraces all and excludes none) drives destruction and personal and collective despair. Uncle John continued to express how things like crime and corporate greed are really caused by the breakdown of people’s connection to themselves and to nature. The idea that it is nature, not a person, that does the healing, is very profound, particularly for people engaged in service and wanting to make a difference in society. As Somikbhai mentioned in a recent post, Swami Vivekananda eloquently stated,

“All are helped on by nature, and will be so helped even though millions of us were not here. The course of nature will not stop for such as you and me; it is only a blessed privilege to you and to me that we are allowed, in the way of helping others, to educate ourselves.”

We are only able to serve as instruments for the higher power, manifest as Mother Nature, in all Her abundance and glory, to work through, speak through, love and serve through.

Somikbhai spoke to MLK’s keen observation and awareness of how there is this gap we face in life between the values we hold dear (like compassion, truth and justice) and our everyday actions – and reactions. Rahulbhai shared some very entertaining stories about his mishaps while on the road driving. He talked about how it was a lot easier for him to be compassionate and feel warm thoughts toward the other person he had been in dangerous situations with when he himself was at fault. It was considerably more difficult to generate these same thoughts and feelings toward someone wronged him when he was doing everything right.

I could really relate to Rahulbhai’s experience. Just this past Thursday, I found out I’ve been replaced at my Silicon Valley marketing job by someone linked into one of the company’s partner biopharmaceutical firms and the son of one of the employees. A good strategic fit. I’ve been wary of working for this company from the start, particularly because they did not pay me for the initial freelance work I did for them last year. They created the job for me and felt I did a great job creating and launching their website. They were consistently pleased with my ability to meet deadlines, work efficiently and produce high-quality work. They hired my replacement and transitioned him into slowly taking over my role without telling me (and instead introducing him as someone who would be helping me) in order to achieve their strategic aims. 

Now my replacement suggested I stay on board as a “reliable freelancer” they can assign work whenever they want and expect I’ll do it. I think the fact that I was visibly angry about the situation was very positive and healthy for me. As women, we are so often socialized to be passive and accommodating in so many situations in and out of the workplace. Being accommodating can look like being compassionate and forgiving on the outside. Energetically speaking, however, something very unhealthy and toxic goes on when we repress rather than observe our natural reactions. Many women in particular seem sweet on the surface, but actually act out of a sense of self-hatred, leading to victimization and a negative, destructive spiral effect. Harming ourselves intentionally prevents us from being able to truly help another at the deepest level, as the action is motivated from violence directed at ourselves, which prevents the compassion we might think we are giving to another from being really true and pure. We must do for ourselves what we do for others and vice versa. Compassion for oneself is really the gateway to being compassionate toward another, just as anger toward another is a manifestation of unrest and violence toward oneself. We are not separate.

Alongside my anger at being disrespected and used, I could feel the force of compassion arising within me. It allowed me to be sensitive enough to notice how much, in harming me by suggesting the company use me as a reliable freelancer, the guy replacing me was harming himself, too. I could see how bad he felt and felt compassion for him. In the moment, I told him this puts me in a difficult situation and that I would like some to time to really think about how I’d like to manage it. Even though my face displayed anger, I told my replacement that I know I am responsible for and able to control the way I respond, rather than react to these kinds of situations. That I have it in me to make the best of whatever situation comes my way. We all do.

I am able to accept the situation because I know that this is the way the modern corporation works: with regards to profits over people. I really value human relationships and intend to channel the powerful emotion of anger I feel toward the situation into fuel to propel me further along the plans I have been creating to be of service. I love the question Nipunbhai asked in a recent email: What will it take to create a new corporate framework, rooted in compassion rather than corruption?

I am now planning to contribute to answering this powerful question by going back and stating that I will be happy to consider agreeing to freelance projects as they arise and that I would like them to help me find companies I can serve through teaching yoga. I feel a lot of compassion for corporate folks and want to help them transform their consciousness and develop deeper compassion for themselves and others. To restore the sense of connection with Mother Nature, who as Uncle John and Swami Vivekananda wisely remind us, is the true healer. I never resonated with the idea of charging people for yoga, but think it will be powerful to use the existing model to support the work I’m doing to serve in juvenile halls. And eventually be able to train ex-convict fellows to teach corporate yoga as well as work in the halls, to provide them opportunities to exit poverty and give back after having taken from society. I believe that what makes me, and ex-convicts, powerful teachers is the experience of overcoming obstacles in life. I think corporations and criminals have a lot to offer and learn from each other. Corporate employees can help criminals channel their energy into creative enterprises while (transformed) criminals can teach corporate employees about how to attain self-mastery.

As a naturally calm, compassionate and soft-spoken young woman, the experience of teaching criminals has already transformed me in many ways. I have developed deeper compassion for perpetrators, seeing the victim in each one. I have grown stronger as a teacher and woman by making clear my boundaries in terms of inmates’ desires to have intimate personal relationships with me. Being a fearless person has been my greatest protection. Compassion in this space has been the most important asset, however. Women often try to become like men in order to be seen as strong and powerful. I have found that compassion (a quality traditionally associated with women) is my greatest strength. Even when I need to state my boundaries with these young men, doing so with the intention to serve and care about them has enabled me to become a source of spiritual strength for the inmates. Abandonment and a lack of love are really what cause criminals to lash out in such severe ways. Stating my boundaries while being clear about my intention to serve has been a powerful way to command respect for myself in such an environment. And it works. Inmates are so often so grateful to have someone to care about them. They sense that I am, at the same time, someone to look up to rather than step all over.

One youth in particular who was pestering me with personal questions and desired me romantically was recently surprised at first that I stated having boundaries (as so few women have with him before, including his female teachers). He tried to test me by persisting with more personal questions (even having the nerve to ask me if I’ve been tested for HIV!), but I, too, persisted in stating I did not wish to discuss any of this because it’s important to me to respect my boundaries as his teacher. The next class, this same student behaved very differently with me, thanking me for taking the time to help him and being very respectful throughout class. He also shared how he was able to apply mindfulness in his life when deciding not to give in to the temptation to react to another inmate who provoked him.

“Instead of fighting as usual, I was able to keep my cool, thanks to what I learned about turning to my breath in times of trouble. Now I know there are other options for me besides gang-banging and fighting.”

Knowing just this one previously violent inmate can see options for himself besides fighting gives me great hope. Serving people in this way always renews my faith while enabling me to transform myself in deep and dramatic ways. What comes out of my service efforts, and responding to my current Silicon Valley situation the way I intend to, is less important to me than keeping my heart in the right place. I am grateful for the challenges life presents me with. They give me the opportunity to become so strong that I can one day be like Aunt Mia, by facing gunpoint and the possibility of death with a heart armed only with the powerful force of true compassion. I bless my current situation by having compassion for all those imprisoned by the customs of corporate and criminal cultures as I continue to build my own creative temple, from the inside-out.

7 thoughts on “Building My Own Creative Temple

  1. Catherine Todd says:

    Glad to find this article with more information about “Building a Creative Temple” and the war / struggle inside and out. And here I thought it was “just me.” Plenty to think about, ponder and meditate on. Gracias amigos!

  2. Catherine Todd says:

    But I can tell you that all the compassion in the world won’t save you when those inmates decide to “turn on you.” I have had it happen to me. You have to be on guard at all times, since manipulation and saying what the other person “wants to hear” is something that criminals learn to do early on.

    Just because someone acts differently one time in class, or even a number of times, doesn’t mean they have “really changed.” They will say what you want to hear, just to get something else they have in mind. Who knows what? But it’s all to possible that they have another agenda in mind. One you can’t possibly expect or plan on. Wait until their true intentions show and don’t be surprised by anything that happens, best or worst case scenario. Lots of prisoners also suffer from severe personality disorders. Compassion isn’t going to change that.

    I have been held at knife point even while I was “showing compassion.” Not a pleasant place to be. I stayed calm and they put the knife down. Another time I was being strangled, until my compassion saved me once again. But did they change? No. They almost killed me and I finally had to stay away. I think they are back in jail now after actually killing someone.

    I paid a price for my interaction with them, while “being of service” and believing I was being of “value” to lost souls in this world. But ultimately I was the lost soul caught in their trap. For them, it was standard operating procedure, to get whatever they wanted or to act however they wanted!

    Be cautious and careful as you really don’t know who and what you are dealing with. If you did, you wouldn’t be a yoga teacher, you’d be an inmate! I learned the hard way that it isn’t always society’s fault that people are evil doers. Some do it because they want to and they like it. There are some that are never going to change. This was a very difficult lesson for me to learn. Service does have it’s costs and enabling wrong-doers is all to easy to do, without even realizing it. It’s more than them wanting to have an “intimate relationship” with you. It’s wanting to get out and get everything given to them that they are denied in prison. Wait until they are “free” and see the instant changes that take place. You won’t know the person, as that’s when their “true nature” comes out.

    They lie in wait for people who want to be “of service” and they know how to manipulate the system and “good” people in it. I saw this over and over, especially in hindsight thinking back. How could I have been so blind? I was so busy “helping” and “being of service” I coudn’t tell the difference!

    The other criminals knew what they were up to, since it “takes one to know one.” But even when they would tell me, I wouldn’t believe. I kept thinking I could change their lives for them if I just tried a little bit harder. Well, they changed MY life as it turned out. Not always for the good.

    I think sharing is better than giving, but that’s another story. But at least “sharing” creates shared responsibility. That seems to be a key. When something is “free” it has no value. If people have to work for something and sacrifice something, then it has meaning and value for them. It’s a trade. But like I said, that’s another story, but is tied to this one.

    It took me ten years of working with “at risk” youth and jailbirds to finally get ripped off enough and have my life threatened to finally “get the message.” I may sound cynical here, and I suppose I am. But I learned the hard way when everyone who grew up in the criminal culture – “the hood” – kept telling me what was “really going on” and I refused to listen or believe. Then SMACK I found out. THE REAL HARD WAY. Watch out.

    I think it’s good for prisoners to practice yoga and meditation and breathing, but I’m not sure who they should be learning it from. They are probably coming to your class since it’s a beautiful young woman they can engage with and day dream about. That’s what it was for me when I was in your situation. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not. To this day I still don’t know. But I do know not to get involved with criminals anymore, and I let the men deal with the men. Works out better for everyone concerned.

    No one wants to hear this, since we are so “service” oriented nowadays, but there are realities that should not be ignored. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t work with prisoners, but I know that I shouldn’t have. I don’t know what is the right thing to do, but I do know I had to learn that all people are simply not good nor do they want to be. I had to learn to stay away from certain kinds of evil so as not to be infected by them. Conflict and cruelty is an infection, and eventually just about anyone can get caught in it’s trap. I thought I was strong enough, but one day even I found out where my weakness lie. Those criminals knew from the start and were just biding their time.

    I survived, but there are other stories that need warning. So that is what I am trying to do here. I hope you can shed light on why we should put ourselves in dangerous situations, or help those that have harmed others. I believe that prisoners should practice meditation and other harmonious activities in jail, I truly do. I admire the programs that are in place to see the “victims” in everyone, and help everyone heal. Sharon Tate’s mother runs a program for murderers where they come up to get a hug every time, and sometimes for the first time in their lives. But they killed someone’s daughter or son or parent or loved one, so it’s hard for me to see why a bereaved mother would want to work with the men who killed children and daughters, over and over again.

    I hope you keep writing so people like me can learn more about what you do. Like I said, I gave up when it threatened my life too many times, but I’m interested in knowing how someone manages to “keep their boundaries” and that’s something that was eroded, little by little, via the game they played. The game I didn’t know I was in at the time. So I am hoping that this doesn’t happen with you and that you can teach ME the value of “compassion” in a situation like this.

    Please, let us know how things go. I am very intrigued by your story and can see I have a lot to learn. Thanks for posting all this. Yours, Catherine Todd

  3. inspireyoga says:

    Dear Catherine,

    Thanks so much for your letter! I appreciate you sharing your experiences and will be sure to keep posting. I have been fortunate to work with fairly “mellow” youth who opt-into our classes. I don’t live in the same community they do, so the possibility of me seeing them when they get released is quite small. They have no way of getting my contact information and I don’t follow-up with them after they get out.

    But I agree it is best to let men deal with men in this case. So I am in the process of transitioning out of direct service and into creating a structure to empower these changes and having ex-convicts deal with the criminals. I read a powerful book called “Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison,” which includes a story of a beautiful young woman working in a MI prison. This woman went on to become warden and had a powerful influence on the men she worked with there. The story is painful to read (about an innocent gay young man who dealt with lots of rape). But it’s very powerful to speak to your questions.

    I think the main thing is that the kids get to experience some very healing practices that give them a chance to come out of some of their own conditioning. I am good at reading through B.S., but feel the kids are generally sincere about their interest in learning to meditate.

    Shall keep you posted!


  4. Catherine Todd says:

    Ripa, I am so relieved that my “letter” was OK to post. I had my doubts about sharing this, but felt like I had to express my own experiences. Glad to know that you are handling things very well, and that you aren’t “living among them.” I was close “personal friends” and shared far too much and that was probably my downfall.

    The story about the female warden is intriguing. Where can I read more about that?

    So glad these juveniles are interested in meditation. When people come from a violent culture that punished them for NOT fighting, someone has to step in and make that change. Violence has to be cut with a knife, and meditation is wonderful way to do it. I never thought of it like that. Wish we had meditation sessions in our own house when I was growing up. Perhaps our own household would have been far less violent.

    You and programs like yours are making important changes and I couldn’t be more happy or inspired. Perhaps all my time wasn’t wasted after all, and better ways and methods will show The Way. Maybe I helped “clear the way” a little bit, in my own way. I certainly hope so! Keep up the good work and looking forward to more.

    Yours, Catherine Todd

  5. Manoj says:

    Hey Ripa,
    Sorry to hear about your day job! I think that you really inspire me to think beyond the average lifestyle. So with respect to your work circumstances, I think most average people especially in corporate environment are not as sensitized as probably you or me are. So it is a lots of of energy not wasted if you deal with them with that assumption. Getting them sensitized is a different task altogether I think. Also I think you have something for you to do in this world than beyond a day job. This is probably a leeway into thinking about that which is waiting or probably on its way like you have stated.:-) Good luck…Be inspired..BTW, I have joined the Niroga Teachers training..It is going great..Thanks for introducing me to Niroga..

    take care,

  6. catherinetodd says:

    “The passage spoke directly to Arjuna’s dilemma on the battlefield of the Bhagavad Gita, to the war within and the struggle for self-mastery that each person must wage to live a life that is worthwhile, a life that […]”

    Thanks be to God to find out I am not the only one!

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