Nick Mattos answers the question:
What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?
This is a bit abstract, but it's to tell the truth at their own great personal expense. To contextualize this, I have been on a journey with yoga and meditation for a little over 20 years, and at the time when I intersected with these paths I was in the process of uncovering and healing from a number of different situations of abuse and really self-hatred that I was carrying around from my family of origin and from my experiences in childhood.
So when I discovered yoga, I took to it straight up like a fish to water immediately. It really formed the backbone of my life. And there were two different lineages that I was practicing in — and I won't mention what they are, but if you're in the know you'll know — that really were the backbone of my practice. And each of these were led up by very charismatic men who took great pains in order to brand these practices as their own.
There was a certain sort of intensity and a confrontational quality about their teaching that really resonated with me at the time. As I went on in my practice, I eventually became a teacher in both of these lineages and hung a significant professional and personal shingle out around them, and presented myself in the world as a proponent and as an advocate for each of these lineages. It was one of those things in which I can look back and say that there were ways in which this intersected with my own sense of a void of meaning and purpose, that my engagement with these really gave me a sense that I had some sort of deeper truth and that I was able to convey that truth in a way that was effective and responsible. It also justified certain ways that I was treated when I was younger, in which I could re-contextualize what was functionally abuse as a harsh form of loving.
So, over time, there were a number of revelations that came out about each of these teachers — and these revelations were initially instituted in each of the cases by a single woman who would go public with her experiences and tell about the abuses that she suffered. Muriel Rukeyser very beautifully phrased it that, "What happens when a single woman tells the truth about her life is that the world breaks open." And this was absolutely accurate in each of these lineages.
Functionally, individual women who came forth about the experiences that they suffered at the hands of these teachers caused an absolute shockwave inside of each of these communities. And furthermore, it opened the path for a number of other people, men, women, and otherwise alike to step forward to identify ways in which they were complicit inside of those abuses, and that they also suffered abuses both at the hands of those teachers and in the cultures inside of them.
This was personally utterly devastating for me. When the first of the two lineages fell, there was a certain way in which I was able to excuse it for the fact that I had the other one to lean on. Basically, that I was able to bypass the real engagement with what it meant — that I was part of a lineage in which this abuse occurred — by saying that at least I had this other one that was pure. When that one was proven to be unpure as well. It was stunning. I remember the day that I found out and the totality of the situation. I was on a vacation with my boyfriend at the time. He was sleeping on the couch and, as a yogi does, I went into corpse pose. I had literally laid on the floor and felt the gravity of the situation in that I was being physically held down onto the floor and that everything around me was falling. It was a stunning moment, and I remember I stayed there on the floor in corpse pose until I found the ability to stand up — and in that standing up I realized that I had to leave them.
And I can't tell you how meaningful, how extraordinary, how kind it was for each of those women to step forward and to tell the truth about their experience, to light the truth that eventually got them kicked out of their organizations, that caused the downfall of these empires, that got them labeled horrible things as part of it. It was an extraordinary act of kindness for them to tell the truth about their lives and the truth about their experience. And in the ongoing process of healing from those experiences, of unpacking why it is that I would be complicit inside of that as a teacher, why it is that I would allow, as Ram Dass so beautifully put it, to have egg on my beard when it came to these teachers as a teacher myself.
I keep coming back to that idea that these individuals who were willing to step forward with their truth at extraordinary personal expense, were doing an act of kindness that I can't even fathom — that as they really projected the wave and the particle of the light of truth into these situations, that it had a resonance that went so far beyond the circumference of their own lives, the circumference of their own communities, to hit me as one of them and to hit millions of other people as well.
I keep thinking of a poem by Mary Oliver, and this is an excerpt: "To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your own bones as though your life depended on it, and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go." I think it would have been really challenging for me to let it go had I not had this extraordinary act of kindness that was set up before me.
And I also think of a particular story via Ram Dass about Mahatma Gandhi, another interesting character with lots of shadow. That there was a particular moment in which, at the very last moment, he called off an activity that was going to be happening, a protest. And the people who had put a huge amount of energy, a huge amount of activity into trying to plan this, pushed back against him greatly — that it was too late, that we would lose all this momentum if we were to stop this. And Gandh,i in extraordinary wisdom said, "My commitment is to truth, not to consistency." And that resonance comes through as I start to rebuild my own practice outside of these sort of lineages, as I rebuild my own body of teaching outside of teaching in these lineages.
I keep coming back to that, that an initial commitment of truth, to truth, to telling it and to letting it have its own existence, its own resonance in the world, was what empowered these people who will never know my name and never know my story and never know anything about me to do something so kind for me. And I hope that I would be able to have an equal and maybe even greater act of kindness at some point, to tell my truth even if there was a great personal expense to it.
So that is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me, and they're never going to know. There's no reason for them to know, because it wasn't for me ultimately. It was about a certain fidelity to something that was existing inside of them, that exists inside of all of us, and it's what inspires me to keep moving towards that too in my practice, to keep realigning myself with that interior truth so that I can do something kind in return. Thank you.
Nick Mattos is the Faculty Recruitment and Engagement Manager for The Shift Network.
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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 11: Mindfulness & Meditation Summit