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Dec 11
Monday
Opinion Pieces
The Tiger Has Teeth

A Shambhala practitioner brings her understanding of Meek to the challenges and realities of sexual harassment

by Allison Conant

When considering the Shambhala Dignities, I was initially struggling to make sense of connecting the word Meek with Tiger. I have always associated the tiger with beauty, ferocity, unabashed power.  But Meek? Far too timid a word. However, as I have continued to grow in my practice, I have begun to appreciate how confidence in one’s personal strength gives rise to quietude – the notion that one need not always be the loudest, most aggressive voice in the room to get noticed or to make one’s way. It makes sense to me that one could, like a tiger, make one’s way moving gently, intentionally, never swerving from one’s path. It makes sense that one could settle into Meek when one has fully stepped into their power, their goodness. But I am not there yet. Often I get discouraged, distracted, disheartened.  And right now, I am angry. 

Very angry.   That doesn’t make me special. It makes me one of millions who have said #metoo, victims of sexual harassment, assault, abuse, objectification. One by one we are stepping out of the shadows. Some of us bind ourselves to others and find strength. Some of us get shot down by politics, smothered by apathy, or find ourselves re-traumatized by the social machinery that seeks to ensure that as victims we are isolated, shamed, and often vilified ourselves. Some of us get our pictures on magazines, others are ridiculed. At least one of us wonders if this is simply a blip on the screen or if, at last, there will be meaningful change in the way women are treated in this world.

Millions. There are millions of us.  The sheer scale of it is appalling, but ultimately the numbers don’t really matter because we are much more than statistics: we are keepers of secrets most people don’t want to hear or refuse to believe; we are the ones who get told to tolerate bad behavior because “boys will be boys;” we are chided for being scolds and told “it’s just locker room talk.”  We are the ones who don’t speak out of fear of reprisal. We turn our anger and shame inward, and berate ourselves over all the things we should and should not have done.  We all too often stand alone, holding our secrets in silence. We who have shivered in revulsion upon seeing our abuser or hearing their name. We who smile and make nice because we are polite, and it would be so unlike us to ruin a perfectly lovely evening and make a scene. We who are oh-so-familiar with the nausea of loathing; we have more than enough hatred for the abuser, and are well practiced in hating ourselves.

I cannot help but wonder, how does the Tiger walk this path of uncertainty, of pain, of humiliation, of outrage? What does the meek Tiger do when called upon to defend itself and others like it?  Does it shake off its stealthy demeanor? Roaring, fangs bared, does it jump into the fray?

They say that one reason tigers are so dangerous is because as apex predators, they are not afraid to be as gentle or as ruthless as the moment demands, and this moment demands action.

A week ago I had a conversation with a student (I am a high school teacher) and asked her about an on-going situation she had been dealing with. A male student had been harassing her; often what he said was overtly sexual in nature. The girl said that it was “no big deal.” She was “used to it.” It is the third time this year I’ve had this kind of conversation with a female student. I let her know that the onus was not on her to tolerate his behavior; the onus was on him to treat others with dignity and respect. The idea of approaching him, however, was terrifying to her. The upheaval it might cause in her social world was too much to bear.

As a teacher I have taken it as my responsibility to give my students the words they need to make clear their boundaries, and to support them when these boundaries have been violated.  They know they have an ally in me. They know that I will stand with them if need be; they have the support, at least from me, that many victims never have.

If we are truly serious about Enlightened Society, we cannot be naïve. We are going to be dealing with sexual harassment and all the rest of human behavior.  We have to be willing to engage and support.  We have to be willing to ask hard questions, and to respond in good faith when the answers come.  I know my responsibility as a teacher in my school is to ensure the safety of my students at all times. I want to know what my responsibility as a teacher in my sangha is, and I want to know how to take care of the people who walk through the doors of our center. How do we as a community know what to accept and what to reject when it comes to discussing these issues and, most importantly, taking action?

As a victim I know there are many kinds of silence. There is the silence of shame. The silence of overwhelm. The smug, willful, silence of the complicit.  The silence of ignorance.  Now is not the time for the Shambhala community to be silent.

A tiger roars to communicate, to let others know it is present. I am a survivor. I am present. My fellow survivors are present. I am learning to walk in strength and confidence.  This community has seen me through some of the most difficult times of my life, and for that I am very thankful. It is my hope that as practitioners, we can continue to walk forward together navigating this difficult path with confidence, with clarity, and with strength.

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11 responses to “ The Tiger Has Teeth ”
  1. Robert Taylor
    Dec 12, 2017
    Reply

    I support the voices of all women, Shambhalian or otherwise, speaking out against predatory/unconsented sexual behavior. We have a long way to go.

    Inspired by your bravery,
    Robert Taylor

  2. Jill Sarkady
    Dec 12, 2017
    Reply

    Dear Allison:

    I read your article with interest. I have also suffered the humiliation and horror, would not be too strong a word, in the area of sexual harrassment and abuse. I am in agreement with you that it is often too much for other people to relate with. It simply is too much for them to take in; having not experienced this behavior personally others simply can not grok the full extent and the variety of symptoms one may have. As for how one can relate with the dignity of Meek in this context, there is a quality of self-nurturing and self containment which is important to that dignity which, in ways that I don’t mean to be repressive, are also important to healing. Feeling the whole quality of your feelings, letting it be a very deep awareness, seeing the importance of the gentleness and awareness that Meek engenders. Each of us have very different stories to tell – for me, the sense of having my being be eradicated in the overwhelming nature of someone asserting their power over me was so detrimental. The fears of closeness to men and the confusion about what is what and what is appropriate in relationships can only be worked with in Meek’s gentleness and discernment. As for the social condemnation and lack of naivite, that is an ongoing issue of people learning about the causes and effects of this epidemic of violence towards women. I think that understanding the perpetrators’ motivation is important. But there is only so much one can say in this type of post. Certainly, men who feel powerless and somehow violated in their own lives take out their madness on women. But there are so many other causes. I hope that you continue to heal and share. This has been for me one of the determinant issues of my difficulties in opening up in the world. And so applying the qualities and virtues of meek have been within my recovery all along. Many wishes of ease and self-love to you.

  3. Jill Sarkady
    Dec 12, 2017
    Reply

    Just a small addendeum to the following sentence.

    The fears of closeness to men and the confusion about what is what and what is appropriate in relationships can only be worked with in Meek’s gentleness and discernment.

    RE: the above part of my quote: I ought to have said that gentleness and awareness, for me, were essential components to working with and through this very deep trauma. Also the aspect of realizing that I needed to find my own genuineness and self-mercy first. Others may find that other approaches are of more help to them.

  4. Timaree Bierle-Dodds
    Dec 12, 2017
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you! So glad to hear women in the Shambhala community talking about this.

  6. Doesn’t tiger represent the shravakayana? That seems to fit with an interesting commentary about the dignities from Changling Rinpoche, provided by the Nalanda Translation Committee:

    https://www.nalandatranslation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/NTC-newsletter-2009.pdf

    [relating to tiger] “….contentment.” Changling Rinpoche added, “The king has to have a chok-she quality. If not, he’ll burn himself. If he does not have chok-she, there will be revolution. It means that the king should not tax people excessively.”

    Perhaps contentment/meek is not so much about speaking softly and carrying a big stick, but more about reducing projections and expectations? Calming the mind. Minding one’s business. Avoiding outsized ambitions. The confidence of relating to experience cleanly without losing one’s seat, sp to speak.

    Just a thought. The issue of sexual harassment is a current issue that shouldn’t be swept under the rug, but passion and aggression are always there. The value of surrendering one’s own kleshas doesn’t change.

  7. Linda Willow
    Dec 18, 2017
    Reply

    Robert thank you for your words of support: for men to be supporting us around these issues is so important, especially speaking up to other men who do not feel as you do. Also good to remember that while less common, men, boys, (and those who are gender-fluid) are also victims of harassment and abuse.

  8. John MacAdams
    Dec 18, 2017
    Reply

    Alison,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    For your honesty, your bravery, your dignity, your power.

    Sexual harassment and predatory activity have been (are?) closer than many care to accept.

    Top down power, whether physical, economic, spiritual or social, when abused must be pointed to, called out and dealt with. Let our knowledge of suffering, our adeptness at kindness, and our understanding of what to accept and what to reject, drive our community response to abusive power.

    May our path of sanity and transformation bring healing in time, and wise action now.

  9. John MacAdams
    Dec 18, 2017
    Reply

    A brief rewording for directness and accuracy.
    The language around abuse of power, particularly sexual abuse, harassment and such, is most often delivered in passive voice. In this way it removes the actor from the act, and tends to place attention on the victim. As in, “someone has been harassed or someone has been abused.”
    More important however, and more effective to cut to the root of the issue, is that “someone has harassed, or someone has abused.”
    When I wrote
    “Sexual harassment and predatory activity have been (are?) closer than many care to accept.” it is form of language that removes the doer from the doing.
    More accurately, it can be said that:
    “Sexual harassers and predators have been (are?) closer than many care to accept.”

  10. An excellent contemplation, with equally rich discussion. I would like to add to John McAdams’ comments on speech and note that even the phrasing of “sexual harassment” is offered from the point of view of the harrasser/perpetrator. In what ways is the behavior sexual to the survivor? To us, the actions more likely feel violating and aggressive. Perhaps we can start shaping and refining language to reflect those who are harmed, and in doing so, may we consider the impact of the behaviors, causes, and conditions which continue to foster the actions, rather than regard the act itself as the primary issue of harm. In other words, how are we, as a society, communicating with an accurate description of these crimes and who posits power in our definitions? It’s often the subtle and unseen ways where we continue to operate on habit. May we handle them with care and fearless wisdom.

  11. Jill Sarkady
    Dec 27, 2017
    Reply

    Dear John:

    I appreciate your pointing out the language issues as in:

    The language around abuse of power, particularly sexual abuse, harassment and such, is most often delivered in a passive voice. In this way it removes the actor from the act, and tends to place attention on the victim. As in, “someone has been harassed or someone has been abused.”
    More important however, and more effective to cut to the root of the issue, is that “someone has harassed, or someone has abused.”

    I agree with what you have said, but I don’t believe it goes far enough. It distances society from the very direct and terrible reality of the acts of sexual abuse and assault. There is still a very heavy stigma for women to bear if they publicly reveal their experiences — which have been nothing if not immediate, and not at a distance (though some dissociate during the experience to save our minds). People don’t want to hear words like “he sodomized me” or “he penetrated my vagina violently over and over again.” This is too crude for most people. Culture wants and requires of us to speak politely as women. It is this politeness that I see being taken issue with in Alison’s words. Being fucked against your will is anything but polite. I know even now that I am crossing a border that most victims of sexual abuse will not cross in the open.

    The requirement to be polite as a woman and to not show aggression is harmful in these–what should I say–circumstances? What a polite word that is. Isn’t it? Though my words express anger, this is not a personal anger at my aggressor. It is the anger of seeing the ways in which the demands of culture and propriety sabotage a person who has already suffered this type of abuse. There is the sense of losing ground about one’s being and confidence; one’s connection to sanity and basic goodness is truly challenged. The use of language is like a societal collusion to keep the silence, to make the victim harbor their experience alone.

    And what sexually abused people need sometimes is to be loud, to express unthinkable emotions, to break conventional speech, to speak ugly words, etc. The Tiger’s confidence and meekness is helpful, as I have shared above; but other expressions are often necessary.

    When you hear a person who is willing to share their feelings or thoughts about this, it is important to be strong and listen carefully. Let basic goodness arise in whatever they say.


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