Podcast: Yoga is Politics with Seane CornOct 09, 2020
Seane Corn is a yoga teacher and passionate political activist who believes social issues cannot be separated from yoga and spirituality. Today we discuss how she is using her platform in an explicitly non-neutral and political manner as well as the emergence of QAnon within the wellness community and her outspoken efforts to dispel it.
Jeff: I guess I'd like to begin our conversation with the notion of yoga and politics or spirituality and politics, because you've been at the forefront of this for a very, very long time. And this is something that is in the crosshairs of my interest every day. You've been teaching, I think, since 1994. 26 years. And this has been really a centerpiece of your teaching, maybe not from the beginning, but for many, many years. And I think it's in the '60s and maybe in the early '70s, it was an elixir that made a lot of sense for people.
Jeff: I remember interviewing Marianne once and she was... We did the I Ching in the morning, and we went to an anti-war rally in the afternoon. And these ideas of meditation and Eastern religion that was coming to the United States and the efflorescence of yoga in the '60s and '70s, it felt very connected to civic engagement and political work. But then, for a long time, in what I deem is sort of the era of materialism or individualism that has, I think, defined the last 30 years of our culture, 30 or 40 years of our culture. It seems that personal care or personal spirituality or yoga has become cleaved with civic engagement and politics. And many people, I think, feel like, "Get that sully world of politics outside of my sacred space."
Jeff: But I feel that pendulum is swinging back a little bit and in large reason because you and others within our community have been on the forefront of trying to alloy those things again. And so I wonder how do you define that elixir between those two things and how did that make sense to you that these things naturally go together?
Seane: I loved everything that you just said, the way that you just painted that picture of division within the yoga community, this idea of individualism and somehow separate from politics and from engagement. The way in which you described it was my own lived experience within yoga, moving to L.A. back in the '90s. It was a little different in New York City. When I first got into yoga... Even in New York City though, back in the '80s, '90s, there were still, it was more about my health, my wellness, my experience, my spirituality. It was a lot of individualism in the expression of yoga.
Seane: But simultaneous to me getting into yoga at that time, I was also part of National Organization of Women, part of the Women's Action Coalition, WAC, ACT UP. There was a lot of engagement, a lot of passion in regards to the LGBTQ community at that time, I mean, lives were at risk, lives were at stake. And I worked in nightclubs at that time, and so I had a lot of friends who were dying. And to be proactive, especially around HIV/AIDS, was something that was very natural to me and my friends at that time.
Seane: But there really was a different personality in my activism that I had a hard time reconciling in the yoga room. I went to Integral Yoga. Everyone wore white, and you went in and there was this sense of being more grounded, at peace. You left the world behind you when you walked up those stairs, that door was shut. Everything that happened out on the streets was independent of what happened in the room. And so my experience was, like to Marianne's point, you did your yoga practice and then you went out and you protested or you stuffed envelopes or you went to rallies, whatever it may have been.
Seane: So my relationship to activism and politics was already bubbling in my own heart. And perhaps it comes from having a more of a blue-collar upbringing, being very community-oriented. When you live in that kind of environment, you help each other. If someone's father or mother doesn't have a job, someone's coming to your house for lasagna. It's just the way that it was. And I grew up knowing that you helped your neighbor and that you stay engaged with community. So it wasn't that big of a stretch to see an injustice and want to do something about it. Now, my understanding of justice was very unsophisticated. There was no nuance whatsoever. It's just like, suffering? Help.
Seane: So I moved to L.A. And in L.A., I still was involved with Women's Action Coalition, did a lot of work around abortion awareness, rights, domestic violence awareness. I was part of a lot of very large campaigns and would go to yoga class. But what I experienced in the yoga studios here was this new thing that was happening around the corporatization of yoga, around... Yoga became sexy and steamy and community-driven in a very different way. Suddenly, for me to get a pair of leggings in New York City was an impossibility. Suddenly, they're just making spandex and Lycra, and all this stuff was happening.
Seane: And I think that there was a real disconnect from the other, from suffering. And as I got more invested in my yoga practice, and I think as I got older, which happens just organically, I couldn't justify what I had been learning in my yoga practice about connection and oneness and relationship, and see that I had to somehow keep my activism separate from my yoga practice. It was just a natural evolution of like, wait a second. These two things are directly connected. It just seemed to take a while for some of my contemporaries and the yoga schools and the magazines and everyone else who was a part of the community to be willing to have that realization because too much was at stake. And what was at stake was reputation and money.
Jeff: Yeah. It's interesting. And I'll certainly raise my hand guilty is charged for taking some part in the commodification or commercialization of yoga.
Seane: Well, me too. Yeah.
Jeff: At the same time, I wonder, because you've been doing it for so long that you became aware of yoga before it became essentially an asana practice. And I think for a generation younger than us, it was a largely framed as a workout, and a workout that you were going to look great in. And the other limbs, if you will, were potentially sidelined for that... Really what I would say is the sweat part of yoga. But obviously, it's hard to be alive right now and not be part of... Well, in some cases, the invective of politics. We are in a time where that it is so pronounced. Anyone that has a phone has a 24/7 newsfeed that you can't even keep up with. I mean, just as a point of example, we were supposed to talk last week. And unfortunately, I think a telephone pole fell down and you couldn't make it up. And I think it was the day after the first debate... I don't know if you call it a debate. I call it a debacle.
Jeff: And even in the five or six days that have transpired since then... Proud Boys standby. We don't even remember that. Or the New York Times bombshell tax report or whatever. The news cycle moves so quickly, often at the expense of depth. But that we are just taken away in this flurry of activity. And in a way, I think about sort of this we're sitting in this kind of cortisol-fueled sympathetic nervous system, amygdala fear place so much of the time. I mean, even me that has cultivated tools for the awareness of that, I'm still sucked into that. And I'm like spending my nights brooding over this stuff and trying to catch myself.
Jeff: So there's no escaping the fact that we have to confront... Like how are we going to manage our relationship with our community, with our civics? And if yoga is part of your life, it's impossible, I think, to divorce those two things. But I think you've been very brave and courageous to be very clear and blunt about your position. And I wonder what that experience has been like with folks in the community. Certainly I follow you on the various platforms. And I certainly see plenty of people cheering you on as well they should, but there's plenty of people that are highly critical. So I wonder how you manage that. Yeah.
Seane: Well, it goes back. You had said something about being a part of the commodification of yoga. And I had responded, "Yeah, me as well." And I think that that was a turning point, where I came into this as a very serious yoga student. And then all of a sudden, Nike, magazine covers, all these entities coming at me and wanting to elevate me, show me off. And I knew it was not because I was an amazing teacher. I couldn't have been, not in 1994. I was six months out of a teachers training. I knew the only reason I was getting opportunities that a lot of other people were never going to get was because I was marketable, that I was white, able-bodied. I fit into a standard of beauty that was valued. I'm ethnically neutral, which means I'm so white, you can't even tell what kind of white I am.
Seane: And I knew that I was getting these opportunities. Now. I wanted those opportunities. I didn't have any money. I didn't come from that kind of environment. I knew how hard I was working. And I wasn't going to say no just on principle. But I knew by saying yes, that I was going to be complicit in validating, for example, a standard of beauty, for supporting a lack of representation, that I was going to be part of something that internally I knew was really problematic. And so I remember that first real deep conflict within myself and how do I reconcile it within yoga?
Seane: I knew that there's a shadow here that I am now complicit to, but, again, I wasn't sophisticated enough to really understand this. It was just, something's not okay, so how do I balance this? And at that time, it was to push back at the companies a little bit and say things like they couldn't airbrush me, they couldn't change my body, which was a big thing. Meaning they used to airbrush me so that I was unrecognizable to myself. So not only am I participating in a standard of beauty that's unrealistic, it's unrealistic to me. It's not real. So I had to fight back at the system and push back in a little bit of a way that created conflict. And I had to sit with the discomfort. I want them to like me, but if I'm doing it just to get corporations to like me or hire me, then that's all about just my ego. And then I'm feeding into that.
Seane: And so my practice let me look at this stuff again and again and again. And as I then co-created Off the Mat, Into the World, our first work at that time, was just about helping people find purpose. It really wasn't more invested than that. But as I started to explore purpose and meeting new people and hearing what purpose was, I started to identify the privilege that exists amongst the people I was working with. And then I started looking at the privilege within myself, so there goes another layer.
Seane: Then I had to start looking at like, "Okay, and I want to help." And I was like, "Son of a bitch." Now I've got to learn the difference between help and charity, and then charity and social justice. And it just kept getting more... Each layer that I had to confront within my own ignorance around the integration of yoga, justice, politics, anything that impacts the health, wellness resources of any individual has to be aligned with yoga. You can't turn your back on the suffering of others, otherwise you're complicit to it.
Seane: And all I kept seeing was all the ways in which I can turn my back, because the color of my skin allows me to. But my yoga says you can't get off the hook that easy. You got to start taking accountability. You've got to normalize these conversations within my own experience. So my journey in learning more about this integration didn't happen overnight. It's been a long process that has been a part of my path from the beginning, and each stage that I get just keeps going deeper and deeper and deeper.
Seane: So when you ask the question, "How do I feel when there's pushback?" The truth is not too much. Because I'm 54 years old, I've been doing this a long time, I have a certain amount of confidence. My yoga practice informs the position I'm taking. And if I allow myself to not speak these truths, even if they're not popular amongst people who might not have as much experience, again, I have to question is my yoga working? And am I doing the work?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean, for me, who's not as schooled in yoga, but my yoga is essentially defined as union with my higher self and union with others, with the planet, union... Non-separation in every way and living in accordance with my highest principles. And if those principles are essentially the perennial virtues that exist across almost every religion or spiritual tradition or philosophy: compassion, empathy, love, forgiveness, humility. And if I'm truly living in those virtues, it's hard for me then not to bring myself back into this human experience and look around me and say, "Well, this is in alignment with those principles and this isn't."
And so then when I get down, and I'm not going to dwell on particular political figures here, but when I look at the president, I say, "Is he in alignment with those principles?" And for me, the answer is obvious. And so to not call that out, for me, is hypocritical to my own spiritual practice.
Jeff: And I think where it gets... Where one's walking a tightrope is that is my experience and those are my beliefs, and I want to respect sort of a pluralism of ideas. I do believe in the John Stuart Mill concept of a marketplace of ideas, such that we can have public discourse and the best ideas will sort of cream to the top. And I do subscribe to that. At the same time, how do we not call out hate when we see it? And so how do you walk that tightrope of trying to stand for these perennial precepts or virtues and not to say, "Well, Trump. Get him out." Or do you say it?
Seane: I say it. Lives are at stake. And I think that it has to be named. When I think of folks who live on the margins, black and brown bodies, who are at risk every single day, because of the policies that this administration is putting forth, or rhetoric that's being normalized, how our culture is... Or rather white supremacy culture is being elevated in such a way that things that were once in the shadows are now out and proud and wrecking havoc within our culture. I have a responsibility to name it. Again, my privilege lets me not.
Seane: And in yoga, I get... I totally hear what you're saying. And I've processed this so much over the years, this need to be inclusive. That yoga is a space. As a teacher, I want to hold a space that is nonjudgmental, so people can come in. I'm supposed to meet them where they're at and create an environment so that they can drop in, connect to this God of their own understanding and do their healing work.
Seane: I don't think that I'm their teacher, because I'm no different now than I've been for the last two decades of my work. I've always called out injustice and been willing to, because I have to within my own heart. Because to your point, if someone is not living these values, satya, truth, for example, I can't dance around that, make excuses for it, make nice to someone just because I want them to come back to class or I want them to feel comfortable. I think about that a lot. I feel badly at times when folks who have different ideology than I do feel somehow judged or rejected by me as a human being. Of course, that hurts me, because I wouldn't want to do that ever.
Seane: And I would rather run that risk than not using my platform or influence or the trust that I think people have put in me over these years, to call out an injustice. This administration is literally killing people. There are the level of xenophobia and racism that's always been there, but that is being excavated to the surface. Really just mirrors what's within all of us. This is a profound opportunity to have to look at it, but you can't look at it until it's also named.
Seane: And so I've got to name this, and it's uncomfortable. It's even more uncomfortable to look at within it, within yourself. I have to name my own racism before I can call out anyone else's, and I'm willing to do that, because my yoga, again, satya. It demands that level of self-investigation and that level of truth-telling. So I'm okay with the fact that right now, I mean, Republicans feel rejected by me. Again, that makes me sad because what Trump is I don't really see as being Republican. It's its own entity. And again, that makes me feel badly and lives are at stake.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. I've been struggling with this idea, and I'll need a moment to scaffold it, because everything that I read about the evangelical community, for example, or white working class that has remained very, very loyal to Trump, despite the fact that they find him quite vulgar. When I read articles or I watch interviews, a lot of those people have maintained their fealty to the president, because they feel so ostracized by the left in many cases or the elite that labels them as racists.
Jeff: And it's interesting. After all of the progress in the civil rights movement in the '60s. In the '70, the most... This wasn't true until the '70s, that the worst thing that you could call someone was a racist. And in the '70s, it started to take on different names, like the Southern strategy and then subsequently the war on drugs or whatever. It just became hidden behind other curtains. And it became such a sensitive word for very good reason.
Jeff: But from what I'm feeling from people that are on the right and so dedicated to the president, is that they feel attacked and called racist. And I read Ibram Kendi's book How to Be an Antiracist, and obviously like many, many, many other Americans post-May 25th, George Floyd, I had my own personal reckoning with racism and did a thorough personal inventory that was scary and at moments debilitating. And I learned more about probably the history of the American police than I thought I ever would and a whole variety of different things, from the income gap to the wealth gap to mass incarceration and across the board.
Jeff: And I really largely resonated with Kendi and his message. I think he's a beautiful writer. His sort of creative non-fiction way of how he weaves his family, and it very much appeals to the way I like to write and I like to read. And I thought many of his definitions were quite insightful, but one of the things that he did that worried me was that he, in some ways, expanded the definition of the word racist to include people that are engaged in inaction or not engaged in action to overturn systems and structures that perpetuate inequities. And I think that that's dangerous because I look at a kind of blue-collar woman who is raising a kid with a mental disability, who's working two jobs and just doing everything that she possibly can to make things work and-
Jeff: Everything that she possibly can to make things work in her own life. And that is honestly the plight of most people. And even though they're not engaged in dismantling the systems and structures that have produced all these inequities, they feel as though they are being labeled as racist when, in their minds, all they're doing is waking up and doing the best they can. And I wonder where you come down on this. And I realized it's two White people talking about racism, it's like, we're basically galloping along the third rail, but we have to have honest conversations, right? And this is a place where I am blurry because I want to, I've had to sit in my own discomfort of my own privilege and acknowledge it and understand where I'm perpetuating certain systems. At the same time, I think that our communal goal is to eliminate any idea of race in some level, then to move towards a system, towards a society that produces equal opportunity.
Jeff: So I wonder what you think, how do you navigate that of essentially people feeling like they're being consistently insulted and then the "anti-racist left" expanding the notion of what racism is?
Seane: Well, I can only address it in relationship to the practice of yoga and also my own work. You said something, within our work as yogis, if there was a goal, it is this idea of oneness and we understand oneness to be this unification. But in so, we understand our differences and the places where we're not the same, oneness is just this ideology, it's something that lives in the abstract. What's oneness to you and I is very different to oneness to someone else who doesn't have the same access to what we have access to for no other reason, except being born in this particular color of skin. And so I look at it through a lens of trauma and trying to help people to understand the way in which we embody racism, that has very little to do perhaps with the way in which we think, or we are, but it's really who we've been. Meaning that, and again, I like to turn this on myself rather than talk about just people out there, only because this is in relationship to normalizing these conversations, which are hard to do, but taking accountability.
Seane: It's very easy for me to tell other White bodied people what they should or should not do rather than actually have to look at my own stuff. And so part of my yoga practice is just turning that mirror around on myself always. What I understand though, is that this body, this White body, can't not be racist, even with all the information I have, even with all the training and the tools, it's impossible if you believe in the mind-body connection, meaning that everything is connected, everything is integrated. And in a way, in which I inherited my eye color, my curly hair, I also inherited the fears, the limiting beliefs, the grief, the culture of my ancestors that came before me and their beliefs live deep within myself. Now, they might not get activated day to day, but this body is also influenced by my educational system and my religion. So I grew up in a White environment, White education, White religion, White history, all of that has been imprinted in my body.
Seane: So let's say I'm out and about walking down the street and I come across something or someone of difference, that my body doesn't understand, or that my body's been taught historically is scary or dangerous. Or somehow I feel like I'm a threat, even if I'm not, the reactive part of my brain might in that moment, get activated. I will be put in, even if it's subtle, fight, flight, freeze or collapse, I'll contract. In that moment of contraction, the same contraction that my grandparents experienced in the face of oppression, the same contraction my great-grandparents experienced being ostracized, perhaps because being Jewish, and all that they learned. In that contraction I am no longer in present time, I am my grandmother, I am my great-grandmother, and odds are, I will do or say something in that moment that can create harm or separation because of the familiarity in my system. And it's in that moment that I could actually, especially if it's a person of color, I could actually cause great suffering because of my reactivity.
Seane: So it really does come down to looking at trauma, like what if in that moment I was able to ground, take a breath, recognize that I was having a traumatic response and that my reactive brain was ignited, connect to the sensations in my body and be like, all right, grandma, I hear you. You're scared, but what's happening now is not actually in present time, ground, maybe I'll make a different choice. And it's the same for all of us. We're all having an historical, ancestral reaction to trauma that hasn't been reconciled. And because of all the triggers that's happening politically right now, all of that is activated. As White bodies, we're terrified, our privileges, our power, our sustainability, our control, it might get taken away. I can't speak for what the Black and Brown lived experience, but whatever's on, probably death that they're going to get killed, is what's the undercurrent. So when you don't have tools for reconciliation in any way, then hate meets hate, fear meets fear, and the cycle continues.
Seane: So folks who are blue collar, who maybe they don't live consciously thinking themselves as racist, odds are if we all got really honest with ourselves, that every single day that they're doing and saying, and responding to the world through the White gaze and creating harm, whether intentional or not, but just not having to look at it. So I do believe that if you're in the White body, you are racist. And this includes myself, even with all the tools I have, and I won't be not racist. And in this entire lifetime, it's too deeply embedded, but will I act out on it? I hope not, because I have tools that help me to get present. And that's the part that's so important.
Jeff: So even if you are engaging, and you often do with incredible bravery, even if you are engaging in dismantling the systems that have perpetuated a lot of these many inequities that are so numerous, we can't even name them all. You feel that you are, or you bear some innate racism that you will never be able to shed?
Seane: My guess is not in this lifetime because it didn't take this body a single lifetime to get racist.
Jeff: Right. So what are the tools that we must employ, I suppose, as a greater society, in order to process that trauma?
Seane: Normalize it, communicate and take accountability. That is key. Notice all the different ways in which one, initiates microaggressions each and every day. Be aware of your response to race and sit with it as a sensation, as a lived experience, really meditate on it so that when you're out in the world and that sensation arises, you're like, ah, there, that is, and be actively anti-racist. I think that that's the difference between saying that I'm not a racist and being an actively anti-racist, I can work as hard as I can, but I feel like my best activism is to do what I'm doing right now, is just to normalize it and own it. And hopefully, that there's other White folks who are out there that will be less afraid, less ashamed to be able, just to acknowledge the obvious. Again, it's like I grew up in a household where there'd be all sorts of racist jokes and we weren't exempt, there was every Jewish joke and every Polish joke, known to man thrown around my table, doesn't make it right. It still was oppressive. Still was really hurtful. It still perpetuated these different ideas in our brains.
Seane: I want to stop that in my family now, my own family, that can't be okay now. But every once in a while, I can feel the impulse to want to make that joke just because it's so normalized in my culture. And it's always a wink, wink, we're not really racist, actually we are. And so I think it's just the more that we can own it, take accountability, say, we're sorry, when we need to, and also pass the mic, amplify other voices, get out of the way. I try to use my platform in a different way than I did five years ago, or 10 years ago, make more space for other people, who this is their lived experience. It's not mine, I can talk about Whiteness, but I can't talk about what it's like to be in the Black and Brown body, but I certainly know folks who live that experience, who might need the opportunity to come forward and speak.
Seane: And if I can create that, great, that's what I should do and need to do going forward. Especially, as I will still get more opportunities than most. It's just still the way that the systems are set up.
Jeff: And especially as a grandmother.
Seane: Especially as a grandmother. Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, I joke, but there is a kernel of truth in there. I mean, as I watched my three daughters grow up in the environment in which they are growing up, brought into stark relief by 2020 and all of the things that have happened this year, I feel an additional layer of pressure to create a world that is sustainable for them on every level of sustainable. And I suppose that every generation feels like they're in the cross hairs of the most important moment in history. And there's a certain pantherae post centrism that is perpetuated, I think, in every generation. And when I have these conversations with people of my father's generation, my dad's almost 80, they talk to me about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. And there's, we've been through these moments that mutually assured destruction was on a hair trigger and all these kinds of things. And when I listened to them, I get what they're talking about, this isn't the first moment in the history of humanity where we've felt an existential crisis.
Jeff: Still, though, it does feel that we are at a crossroads on so many different fronts. So we talked about social justice. I mean, environmentalism. I mean, for me, and again, I'm not a scientist, but I read and from everything that I read, I've got to feel that we are at a precipice right now, that if we do not find some cohesion around this, then all other issues become moot on some level. And to be honest, social justice and environmentalism are absolutely conjoined and interweaved. So I wonder if you were to elucidate a series of priorities of like, this is what humanity needs to tackle, what are those for sure?
Seane: Oh my God.
Jeff: I know but just.
Seane: You just hit me with a big one. And right now I feel that there's that saying in the practice of yoga, that, our liberation is bound and that's known as free, unless we're all free. And I really take that quite literally, in that my yoga is not what's happening on that yoga mat, it's what's happening out into the world, where there is separation I've got to orient myself towards to create cohesion. And if it's in relationship to the environment or animal rights or social justice or racial justice, I have a responsibility to that otherwise, I'm not sincere about my yoga practice. Again, not yoga as the asana practice, it's the tenets of the practice, which is unification with source and understanding of the interdependency of all things. And so it's challenging because where does it end? But the truth is it doesn't, there's a purification process that happens within this practice that demands us again and again, to have to look at our complicity in creating destruction or devastation.
Seane: And that includes these environmental efforts. It's why I'm so passionate about animal rights. Because to me, as an environmental justice advocate got to be a vegan, it's just all connected to me. And so there's like sure, cheese would be nice, but when I understand what it takes, what happens to the environment, what happens to the animals for that cheese, again, I have to really look at that bigger picture and say, well then I'm a hypocrite and I can only hold myself accountable because this is my practice. Yoga is politics. Yoga is social justice. Yoga is gender rights. Yoga is indigenous sovereignty. Yoga is anything that impacts the health and wellness of any sentient being. And so I've got to look at what needs to then change in order for there to be equity, for there to be oneness. And it really comes down to policy. Our government dictates who gets a lot and who gets little, our systems are set up to continually give a lot of power to a few and very little to many.
Seane: That's not right, it's not equitable, it is not oneness, but these policies are in place that will impact generations to come. I know that my body can't dismantle these systems, but I can dismantle the systems within myself that participate. And I can engage in these civic practices that elect leadership, that is more closely aligned with the values that are important to me and to members of my community. And so if I'm looking at a candidate, I want to know what is their environmental stance because their environmental stance is also going to tell me how they feel about racial terrorism, their stance on racial terrorism is going to help me to understand how they feel about healthcare. It's all connected. I'm going to find out the source of that person. And I think that to suggest that yoga and politics should be separate means that we keep segregating ourselves from each other. And that is not what yoga is about. So go towards what you're passionate about, be proactive to the best of your ability, recognize your own complicity in division, in whatever regard, whether it's in relationship to race or the environment or animal rights.
Seane: Look at, where does your own comfort end? At what point where you're like, I'm all for animal rights, but man, do I love that hamburger or I'm all for environmental justice, but I really wanted that hummer so badly and I've earned it and I deserve it. These are things that you have to actually sit with. What I look at with this administration right now, from a spiritual perspective, even though what I see happening is so horrifying and dysfunctional, cruel, deliberately terrorizing, is that there's nothing that's happening within this administration that hasn't already been woven into the fabric of our society. It's just blatant and it's obvious, and it's being extracted from the bowels of this nation. And I have to hold that hope that we can only change something that we can see. And now that we are seeing it on a national, global level and witnessing it within ourselves individually, maybe we can actually change something.
Seane: And that more and more people actually have skills for integration and nonviolent communication and centering and emotional processing work and learning how to be more mindful in dialogue. That doesn't mean you're not fierce, it just means that when you get triggered, you know how to respond rather than react. Which creates more relationship with which allows more space to be heard, as dark as this world is, is as light as it can be. And I hold on to that, knowing that there are great people right now doing extra ordinary work, but I want to listen to, I tend to want to listen to the Black and Brown women. I'm taking my cues from their wisdom, their lived experience, their guidance and using the privileges that I have to engage my community to think a little bit differently at this time. And to be responsible in the way that yoga tells us we have to be, for what is true unification and what has to be sacrificed and compromised in order to make that so for all beings.
Jeff: Yeah. That's beautiful. I deeply admire your ability to platform other people, you've done a wonderful job with that. And I think one of the trickiest parts, and I know that you navigate this as well, is how to foster dialogue and cohesion and discussion that is respectful and thoughtful and researched and still be really strong about your own beliefs. And where, it's, again, walking a tightrope between becoming part of the polemic and part of the forces of polarization, by standing up for something strongly, but then also trying to build actual bridges. And this is a jagged line to some of the next things, next topic that I want to talk about. But I watched the documentary called the Social Dilemma, you may have seen it, but certainly I think you're very aware of the impacts of social media and almost as a cult factory. And that we, as individuals are all served up an algorithmically regenerated feed that is essentially eliminating any form of social cohesion, because we all have our own individual sense of fact.
Jeff: So it is hard to gather or have discussion around any centralized truth, because we actually think that our truth is the real one, when everyone else feels that same way. And often, bad actors within that soup will weaponize this kind of misinformation and groups emerge. And I don't even want to use the word conspiracy theories in some ways, because just using the word conspiracy, almost casts the whole skepticism in a bad light, because as you know, many "conspiracies" come true. Big pharma is responsible for perpetrating all sorts of misdeeds and malfeasance, but there are collective fantasies that emerge now on social media that can be rooted in some very dark places. So the one that I think we have been most sensitive to over, at least, the past six months, has been the emergence of QAnon and QAnon adjacent or related theories. And I think one of the reasons that we've been so sensitive to it is that we've seen it emerge within our own communities.
Jeff: And for those of you who not super fluent with QAnon essentially, it is a theory that supports the notion that there is a global cabal of elite that is hell bent on instantiating a new world order. That this cabal of elites is engaged in large widespread child sex trafficking, pedophilia, and also drinking, in the more extreme cases, drinking the blood of mostly Christian children or the adrenochrome. And it goes potentially, farther out on the thin edge of the branch from there, but it is a very pro-Trump movement that posits the notion that Trump is here to fight this cabal and that he has been placed in this position either by well-placed people within the military, or maybe by the Galactic Federation of Light, it goes on and on. But it had originated on what is known as the chant, 4chan, 8chan and 8kun, which are these image boards that are very highly associated with White supremacy and White nationalism and militia groups that have been ... Well, 8chan was de platformed because the El Paso mass murderer posted his manifesto on there.
Jeff: And these channels are run by a guy named Jim Watkins, who is an ex-pat living in the Philippines who happens to be a pig farmer and a pornographer. It sounds just so wacky, but it has had very.
Jeff: ... it sounds just so wacky but it has had very serious implications. And I think where we have seen it also is that it has taken various issues and co-opted them as recruitment techniques to bring good hearted people, which I would categorize our community as into the fold. And one of those issues has been child sex trafficking, and many people are aware of the hashtag that was savethehildren and saveourchildren. And you felt compelled along with a group of other teachers to make a statement about this group and about its insidious recruitment of folks within the wellness community, so I wonder if you could just take a few moments to elaborate on all of that.
Seane: Yeah. I mean, it just sounds so wacky just hearing you say it.
Jeff: I know, I have a hard time actually articulating it because when I do, I think I'm crazy.
Seane: Yeah. I've known about QAnon since pizzagate and didn't really give it much thought, it was just one of those things, it was ridiculous. But then after the pandemic began, people within the community started to reach out to me, sending me little videos and I started seeing the great awakening and paradigm shift, and they started talking about Bill Gates and COVID is a hoax, anti-vax and the reason is because they were going to microchip all of us and basically control us. And I was thinking, wait a second, where is this going? I totally appreciate questioning the government, we should, that's our right, we get to. We should question and be deliberate in our investigation towards all things, because that's our freedom, it allows us that. And there were certain aspects of this that felt to me that the truth was that there was fear that wasn't being acknowledged.
Seane: And this group, QAnon and these Q drops were affirming that fear and creating almost like a trauma bond between the alt-right and the alt-left, that they were finding a point of communication, an alliance and Qanon was giving space for magical thinking and it was just so absurd to me. A question yes, but buy into this rhetoric as it is, when all roads lead to Trump, when all roads lead back to at its core is antisemitic, is racist, is anti-science, is bred in White supremacy culture. That lives in this fantasy about these alternative motives of Trump's that he's actually a lightworker here to be in service to our community, but we just can't see it. And if you just "do the research", you will be able to understand, pull that veil back and it'll all make sense.
Seane: Dangerous, very, very dangerous and especially when I started seeing the hashtag walkawaymovement. The invitation for folks who vote Democrat or lean to the left to literally walk away from the party because is bad, evil, flawed, this seemed so strategic to me. And it was working because folks who have been friends of mine for years, who I would have always imagined were very reasonable in the way they were thinking were suddenly saying things that were going to contribute to the potential election and perhaps the advancement of Trump and his policies. And it was at that point where I thought as I started to do the research, where I realized that these Q drops or this periphery of Q that was starting to target the community, I started to see that they were infiltrating in a very unique way, using a lot of pastel colors, very specific fonts. They'd become influencers, wellness influencers, there'd be four posts of yoga, wellness walking on the beach ...
Jeff: Yeah. Vegan.
Seane: ... food.
Jeff: And food, yeah.
Seane: And then a little slideshow of being pro-gun or COVID as a hoax or some pro-life stance. And it felt so curated and I couldn't help it but everything in my body became high on alert and thought that this isn't a real person. I don't think this is an individual, I think that there's individuals who are doing this and they're understanding that this community is vulnerable and needing something and angry, rightfully angry and are speaking to it. And also I want to say though, that the wellness community is very diverse as it needs to be and I love the creativity within it. Not everyone within the wellness community who's interested in yoga, meditation, eating vegan food are going to have my Liberal values. I think that that is beautiful, it should be that diverse. So I run risk when I talk this way of alienating a lot of people, I get that, and I did when I made that post, but I needed to make some of the people within my community aware of what was happening, to recognize that they were using mind control gimmicks.
Seane: If you go to certain Q videos, they use music that just like in meditation, impacts the brainwaves, puts you in a trance-like state. In yoga, we do that and drop words like love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness when your consciousness is open and more available. But in Q, they're planting seeds of fear and paranoia and dominance when you're in that state of receptivity and your fear is being spoken to. It's very dangerous and I started to see it and thought, I think I need to name this. And because I know that not all people in the yoga community, but there are a lot of people who trust me know that I'm a pretty reasonable person, that although I am as woo as you get, I'm also Jersey to my core and I can smell bullshit a mile away.
Seane: And I'm not afraid to name it, even though there's consequences to it. And I knew that posting that there would be consequences, but I wanted to let people know where I stand more importantly. And give them language in case they were confused by what was happening at this time and also affirm that if they've been hearing things from their teachers or their students that were perplexing them, that they weren't wrong in their confusion, that there is this thing happening. And that here's an alternative ideology and pathway that they can explore to get other kinds of research that might help them feel more steady in their beliefs.
Jeff: Yeah. I think what was particularly triggering for me was the child sex trafficking component of it because I felt that it became compulsory for me to actually really learn about it and where it actually truly exists. And I know that this has been a focus for you for a very, very long time. So I wonder, and just again to be clear, I would say a significant number of people that are attracted to this movement require a good deal of compassion because many are survivors of abuse.
Seane: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: And this collective has given those people agency and community, and they've been heard or feel heard but unfortunately, it's being used for quite nefarious purposes. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your experience working with child sex trafficking, where the problem truly exists and the scale of it is so large that it exists all over the place, that's a whole multi series podcast in and of itself, but just talk about your relationship to it and that if people truly care about this issue and there is every reason in the world to care about it, where they can focus their energy.
Seane: Well what was amazing is that when I came public with my feelings around QAnon, how many people came to my comments, sometimes it's just bots, sometimes it's a deeper level of strategy, that's happening to try to engage conversation to aggravate, agitate. And of course, because I'm anti-Q suddenly I'm pro sex trafficking and I'm a pedophile and support pedophilia. And one of the reasons I came so hard at Q and the community around it is because by co-opting save our children and save the children they're acting as if sex trafficking is a brand new phenomenon, when sex trafficking has existed worldwide eons. And in many ways, the level of exploitation is literally under our noses and has been. By utilizing this hashtag it takes resources away from the organizations that exist whom are doing unbelievable work.
Seane: It's distracting them, it's sending them on wild goose chases. And it is speaking to the trauma to many people who have been exploited themselves, who have been traumatized as a result. There is this feeling of being seen and heard. Now, as someone who was traumatized, has sexual childhood trauma to be called a pedophile or a pedophile lover, or that I'm pro sex trafficking by people who say they care about sexual violence, to have people come onto my feed and hit me up in my DMS with so much sexual violence I've had coming at me the last few weeks. If it was someone else's nature or personality, I can only imagine the pain and the fear, the genuine fear that they would experience.
Seane: My life hasn't been threatened, but my body has been threatened over these last couple of weeks since I came forward. But, again, I've done a lot of work around that, so it doesn't sit on me, I expected it. I got involved in this work because of my experience. I started working with Children of the Night, which at the time was the only shelter in Northern California in all of America, actually and they're right here in Van Nuys, that houses and educates children who have been sex trafficked. Very often, they use the word child prostitute, but that's a word that I reject heartily from my soul because that suggests that somehow this child was complicit within the action.
Seane: A lot of these children because of prostitution have been put through the system, these children are trafficked. They're exploited by their families, by pimps, by their neighbors. Look, there all size, shapes, colors, ethnicities, genders, including White, including affluent, but that's the minority. And I started working in the shelter because it felt at the time like in an environment because of my own experience that I might be able to be in service too, because I can come at it from a more empathetic eye. And so, I started that work then, teaching yoga. From there, I became the yoga global ambassador for Youth AIDS, which is an international organization and they brought me to India and it was to do work around providing necessary life giving care to children infected and affected by HIV AIDS and they brought us into the brothels in slums.
Seane: And that was the first time that I was introduced to the international slave trade and understood that it's a multi-billion dollar industry and it is complex and it is insidious and it impacts globally, countless young people. From there, Off the Mat into the World, we started doing some programs. We raised over a million dollars and I help to support organizations doing incredible work like Apni app, for example, who are lawyers who change policies, which is critical and building transitional homes in India. Transitional homes is when someone who has been sex trafficked is rescued, in some cases, it's a literal rescue, but they're brought to this space, but when they're 18 years old, they age out. And if they don't have skills, if they don't have education, odds are at that very vulnerable time they will be trafficked again.
Seane: And so, we built a space literally from the ground up working with organizations that provides a space for young people from 18 to 24. And it teaches them skills, how to have their own bank account, how to live together, how to do chores. They have more freedoms with there still some support and guidance and so, I've been very invested in this conversation around trafficking for a really long time, because it's personal to me and because how complex it is, and the fact that it's right underneath our noses has been often overlooked. But having been a part of these different systems, there's amazing people. They've got their thumb on the pulse of this. If people want to really help, if QAnon folk really want to do something, organize and raise funds for Children in the Night, for Apni app and for the countless other organizations out there that could use the money and get out of the way. Great to raise awareness, but not in this way, this is dangerous and this is going to cause young people to retreat back into the shadows.
Jeff: Yeah. Also, I think it can be called out that a lot of children sexual abuse really happens online and on social media, that you don't actually have to be trafficked in, I suppose, the more classic way. And there's a journalist named Gabriel Dance who runs a small investigative journalism desk at the New York Times that has done some of the most unbelievable reporting, I mean, traumatic reporting because I mean, you can only imagine what it's like to work on this topic all day, all night for years and how traumatizing that is.
Jeff: And often where the perpetrators are trading is on Facebook itself where they'll create a false profile and pretend to be a 13 year old and solicit over messenger some lurid photography from another kid and then essentially come out with their true identity and then threaten that kid, well, I'm going to tell your parents, or I'm going to post this photo on your wall, unless you send me something more lurid or a sibling or something. And then that pattern, which is known as sextortion just begins to roll up and up and up and Facebook alone reported 90 million images and videos of child pornography just last year.
Seane: Wow. Wow.
Jeff: Yeah, just to grok the scale and obviously there's a tremendous problem that exists on Facebook and it's tied into some privacy issues around encryption where they're talking about under the of [inaudible 01:09:46] of privacy rights to encrypt messenger, but then that gives cover for anyone trading in this illicit material. But to Facebook's credit, they're the only tech platform actually reporting to NCMEC, which is the federal agency for missing children and abused children. But what's happening on Zoom with live streaming, I mean, it's hard to even talk about.
Seane: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it is.
Jeff: But Google Drive, Dropbox, all these tech companies that are hosting this content and this is really where people need to focus their energy. If we want to eradicate this problem and we absolutely should eradicate it, then we have to hold tech companies to account, we have to invest in the groups that you've listed. There's another one called A21 that I know does tremendous work and I just hope that this word gets out that there are people doing tremendous work.
Seane: I remember when my stepson was maybe 12 or 13, he and his buddies were in their room laughing, giggling whatever I walked in and just was like, "What's up?" And Clyde said, "Come here, come here, check this out." And he was showing me their feed and he points to some name, it was just something cute and it had big letter, little letter, number, it was just a cute name, I can't remember what it was. And he said, "That's an adult male." And I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "That's an adult male." And I said, "Well, what are you doing?" And he said, "We're fucking with him." And I said ...
Jeff: How did he know?
Seane: I asked him that same question. And he said, "It happens all the time." And for whatever reason, he and his buddies knew that this was a man and he was showing me, I can't remember how it went down at the time, but he was showing me that there was a pattern of questions that happened, that this adult male was pretending to be another 13 year old girl. And in the thread it started with a question and it was bait to see if the boys would bite and the boys knew what to do, so they deliberately threw it out to see how far this would go. And of course I went ape shit and I had to have a long talk with Clyde. I'm like, "How long has this been happening and has anyone ever contacted you directly? Have they ever outed themselves?" And he said, "No." And all his friends, he said were very well aware and knew how to navigate, but they also liked to kind of mess with them a little bit and egg them on.
Seane: He knows now as an adult, how incredibly dangerous that was. And my feeling with was be in conversation with your kids, the grooming that happens to make children feel valued and wanted and heard and seen, same with QAnon, the way in which they're recruiting young people and the same with White supremacist movements is through gaming. There's a whole strategy within gaming that helps a young person to feel like they're a part of community, that they're in relationship, that they're somehow special. And so, if you have a child who already feels insecure as they do when they're young or feels like an outsider or misunderstood, these are the kids that get very vulnerable to someone coming online and suddenly telling them that they're special and beautiful and precious and loved, and let's get together, let's meet. And so, the thing that we have to do, the adults, we have to communicate with our children and make sure that they understand these risks and help to support them, especially if they feel isolated from community in any way.
Jeff: Yeah, no, I mean, this is the heart wrenching challenges of our time. The fact that I have to sit with my 10 year old daughter and explain to her what sextortion is or sexploitation, it's heartbreaking, but we have to be brave enough to have the conversations.
Seane: But I think in full circle, again, yoga is having these hard conversations. It's going towards the injustice and naming it, even if it means naming it within yourself. It means having to get real about what is happening in this world and the impact that it's having on our collective sustainability and being willing to care enough about the collective to take those risks. It's utterly essential. The day my granddaughter was born, I had a dream and in the dream she came to me and she was fierce and really intense and she ...
Seane: ... In to me. And she was fierce and really intense. And she read me the riot act. And I got a real download about what was expected of me on her journey and the way in which she was like, "You don't get off the hook, you're going to show up no matter what." And in the dream, I leave her to her parents and I go outside and there's all these children playing and adults, but kind of not watching. And I notice that the ground is made of slate and it's very rough. And a part of me is like, "Huh, that doesn't seem safe, but there's all these parents, so it's got to be okay I guess." And then I see that the slate is wet and you know when slate is wet, it's really slick. And I'm like, "God, it really seems dangerous. And there's a lot of kids, but I guess the parents are watching. It's all okay."
Seane: Then I notice that the slate is surrounded by this abyss, this massive hole that's filled with water and the water is undulating and steaming, and there's no ropes around this big gaping hole in the ground. And I'm like, "Wait a second." And then I noticed that this rope bridge and all the children are running up on this bridge and it's swaying over this watery, openness.
Jeff: Oh my God.
Seane: I know. And in that moment the adult came out of me. And it didn't matter what the parents were doing. It didn't matter. All I knew was in that moment that there was only one right thing to do and that's get the kids off the fucking bridge. And I think that that dream told me a lot. That we know more than we think we do. That injustice is often right in front of us, but we second guess it because we think other people probably know more than we know. And unfortunately it takes us seeing what is so obvious before we act, but we have half to act. Otherwise, the children are going to fall into the abyss and drown.
Seane: And so we have to be the adults in this room and name the obvious. And if it means other people are uncomfortable or judge us, I would rather run the risk of their disapproval, than the loss of more lives. And that's how I weigh it out personally is I can take those hits of being not liked. Again, my age really gets me off the hook on a lot of things. I just don't have that same care level as I did, a decade ago.
Seane: But also just experience. And if you have any kind of a platform at all, then I think that you have a responsibility to name it, so that someone else who doesn't have that platform doesn't have to get hurt. So that I can take the risk of getting hurt or losing a student or losing a follower, but maybe someone else, it might affect their livelihood. That's my commitment in looking at this integration between yoga and politics and justice is that I have a responsibility to move towards it. If I really believe in oneness, then that is my right. It's my obligation. And it's the work of the practice. And that's what I'm committed to.
Leading teachers, life-changing courses...
Your path to a happier, healthier life
Get access to our library of over 60 courses on health and nutrition, spirituality, creativity, breathwork and meditation, relationships, personal growth, sustainability, social impact and leadership.
Stay connected with Commune
Receive our weekly Commusings newsletter + free course announcements!