Try Loving Now
I spoke with Seane on July 8, 2013 by phone. I had attended her YJ workshop in New York City earlier in the year and after the interview I met her again at a workshop at YogaWorks. She is so very gracious; her eminent qualities of straightforwardness, determination and clarity are inspirational.
Yoga Teacher Magazine: So usually I like to start off learning something about background, what brought you to yoga, the back story. But one thing I haven’t seen in other interviews is much about your childhood. We usually pick up the story when you come to New York at 17. But I wonder if you would feel comfortable talking a bit about what sort of childhood you had in New Jersey.
Seane Corn: A relatively normal childhood. I grew up in Northern New Jersey in a working class/middle class town. It was a different time then. I look at back it now. It was the kind of childhood where you open the door at 8 in the morning and you let the kids run amok until around 6 at night. And then stand on the stoop and scream for them to come home. And we all managed to come home alive.
YTM: Thank goodness.
SC: Yes. It was a relatively normal childhood. But I wasn’t raised with any religion. My mother was Jewish, my father was half-Jewish, half-Catholic, and religion was neither here nor there. I wouldn’t say my parents were atheists but they were certainly agnostic.
YTM: I had a similar background. It gives you a blank slate to start with, which is one good thing about it, right?
SC: Well because we didn’t really have any relationship with God, I think, the relationship I ultimately developed with God at that age was what I picked up from my friends and their families, which is a very patriarchal understanding of God. It wasn’t how I was raised ─ no one ever bothered to tell me differently. So I didn’t have a comfortable relationship with God. My understanding of God was something that was very punishing and only seemed to show up when you did something wrong. I didn’t really have a strong sense of the mystery. I was very superstitious as a kid. I was hypersensitive as a child, I remember that, so I picked up on a lot of misinformation around Spirit that stuck with me, that later in life when I got into yoga I had to reclaim.
YTM: The wrathful God idea.
SC: Yes, but again it wasn’t how my parents introduced it to us, it was in the school and my other friends’ families, it was just around and I definitely absorbed that fear-based God.
YTM: So by the time you came to New York perhaps you were seeking something but not knowing what it was?
SC: Yes, without a doubt. When I came to New York, I came to find myself as you would at 17. You go to college or you stay home or you do something like I did which was leave home and go to New York. I definitely think I was trying to find myself and within that was my relationship to God. Now that I’ve been practicing yoga all these years I do believe I came into the world very attuned spiritually. I had a very strong awareness of ─ how would you describe this?... I think had it been nurtured at a very young age I would’ve had a very strong connection to Spirit, though more in a paganistic way. It definitely didn’t occur to me until I moved to New York and different theories and philosophies were being introduced to me, including yoga. I didn’t even know that I was looking for something until it was presented and I suddenly realized that that was always the longing that I had in the back of my mind. I just didn’t have any language to articulate it and suddenly that language made a lot of sense to me, it opened up a whole other world. But it wasn’t something I was seeking, I didn’t know I was missing it until it was revealed to me.
YTM: It’s funny I remember being superstitious as a child too, and I think if you have that sort of intuition you don’t know what to do with it and it can be scary in a way. but later on, when you calm down about it, it can be useful, you can develop it.
SC: Absolutely. I also had OCD [Ed. note: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder] as a kid and that was along the same lines. One of my superstitions was that people around me would die, but that if I did certain things, certain behaviors, I could prevent the death of people around me.
SC: And again it was because I wasn’t raised with God and so in my little mind I thought I would play God and if I did things in a certain way then I could prevent people around me from getting hurt. So I would do things in numbers fours or eights and it was very time consuming. But I knew that if I didn’t do it I would have – panic attacks didn’t really exist, I mean the phrase panic attack didn’t exist then but I would definitely have anxiety, I would be terrified that I was responsible for someone getting hurt or dying, and so playing God became something that I was familiar with. Again I didn’t think of it that way but later I realized that’s what I was doing. That’s why I know that I had a very deep connection to something spiritual, it’s just that I wasn’t in an environment that helped to explain or nurture it.
YTM: And you found something when you came to New York. Your story of finding God, or an inkling of God, in Heaven, a gay sex club in Manhattan in the early Eighties, is pretty well documented, and I have to say the story of the ‘angel’ Billy made tears come to my eyes. I would love to give you space to tell this story again because it’s such a moving and important story, but if you’re weary of relating it I can just have a pointer to your online article [http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Seane-Corns-First-Lesson-in-Yoga] containing the story. But at that point you began to have some awakenings…
SC: Things were being revealed to me. Again, I was doing drugs and drinking and working in nightclubs, I wasn’t thinking about a spiritual practice. I just knew there were these moments where people like Billy showed up in my life to keep turning me from one direction toward another direction and they showed up in the only kind of characters I would’ve responded to ― for example, Billy, an African-American homosexual man. I believed in him, I trusted him. I wasn’t going to trust a priest or a rabbi or someone who I couldn’t relate to, so people like Billy kept showing up for me. I look back at it now and I know how guided, crazily guided I was, that Spirit kept magnetizing to me characters that I would honor. You know, I honored Billy and others like him, who kept saying pay attention, really amazing stuff is happening, you’re being informed, you’re being guided. And I get that now. And Billy is just one of quite a few stories that were like that. Usually more adult people, but you know at that time it was drug addicts and gay men because I worked in the sex club, and artists that seemed to come out of the woodwork and subtly whisper in my ear and keep pointing me in a direction that eventually opened me up to yoga. Billy was the most significant though.
YTM: So then you were waitressing at Life Cafe. I remember that place from that time, I lived around there. And speaking of characters, you know there’s this idea that certain communal energy centers arise from time to time, vortices of creativity, artists creating all this energy together, and that seems to have been the case here, all these people working there who went on to be so influential in American yoga.
SC: It’s crazy, I mean, who would think, it blows my mind sometimes – I mean Eddie Stern was a delivery boy when I was there! I see him now sometimes, all these years later. There were a lot of people who came to Life Cafe who are also playing other roles, like in yoga schools. One woman now runs a teacher training program at YogaWorks – she’s not famous but she has a significant job, she was a customer there, there’s so many people like that. Dana Trixie Flynn, she was a customer, for years I waited on Dana, now she’s a teacher; her sister Kimberly is an Ashtanga teacher. It’s wild when I look back on it and I think, how did that become such an epicenter, not just what would become this yoga scene, but art, and poetry. It was a really cool time.
YTM: When I took the Detox flow workshop with you, what most impressed me was the sense of urgency, that this wasn’t just hanging out and showing off and congratulating each other on our lovely asana but rather that there was real work to be done. Have you always had that sense of your dharma?
SC: I think so, yeah. I think I’ve always had that sense of urgency. I always had issues around injustice and I’d get very reactive as a child if someone was getting picked on or bullied or if anything was out of alignment to what I knew was right or fair or good, I’d get easily triggered or outraged. And I hadn’t been given the skills to communicate well, I was just very reactive. But in my soul I just always knew there’s right and there’s wrong, and there’s a way that we have to treat each other and we must behave. And as I got older I realized that I would never be effective because of how reactive I was. And that’s how everyone is, everyone’s acting from their trauma, getting triggered, and if we don’t take responsibility for our own healing there’s no way the planet itself is going to heal. And I think that’s why I got to therapy and yoga at an early age. I realized that I’m accountable. I’m not here for very long on this planet and I want to do this life well, as consciously and mindfully as I can. I know that I’m responsible for both the negative and positive output, and I want to contribute to the positive output and so that urgency definitely carries over, trying to wake people up. Also as a teacher, I’ve said this in trainings many times, that anything I say out loud, I’m only saying it because I need to hear it, I need to reinforce this idea or belief system in my own head. Because if I don’t feel it the room’s not going to feel it. Very often what I’m presenting to the room is the urgency I’m feeling within me towards me, but I’m trying to do it in a way that’s very general and encompasses the space. I’m ultimately talking to myself, trying to get me to wake up and pay more attention and be more present and to forgive more often, to highlight in my heart the things that I know are so challenging, yet so human and so necessary.
YTM: I think that’s what keeps your presentation from seeming preachy or like you’re lecturing. It has that urgency, maybe because you are talking to yourself in a way that’s sincere.
SC: Yeah, I don’t have it all down. I make bad choices every single day, but I’m committed to the process of self-inquiry and self-responsibility, and lovingly holding myself accountable so I can be a part of a greater shift in consciousness. And I’m sure I come across as preachy or dogmatic at times. It’s not my interest, you know. I try not to but I’m sure I do to some. But like I said if I don’t feel it then the room’s not going to feel it.
YTM: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that there may be only one person in a crowd of a hundred that you reach and awaken that feeling of suddenly being in alignment with what they feel deep down, but that makes it worth it. So if somebody else goes away thinking, oh she’s just preaching at me, that’s really not the concern.
SC: As a teacher I try not to get too caught up either way whether people like it, or like me, or don’t like it or me. I feel very strongly that I have a contract spiritually, that I have a very particular way of articulating things and a certain energy that’s unique to me and that therefore it’s how God intended me to be and that I’m supposed to use my voice in a very specific way that’s in alignment with God’s will, not my will. So if I start to cater to whether or not people like me, first of all it’s going to be completely exhausting and unsustainable because one person will like one thing and one person will like something else and if I’m tap dancing trying to get everyone to like me, then I’m trying to serve my ego, not Spirit.
So when I go into a room I take a deep breath and I open myself up and say, all right Spirit work through me, I’m available, I’m here. And when the class is over I don’t think twice about it. The only time I get caught up is when I think someone may have gotten hurt, if that ever happens on a physical level and I’m somehow responsible, that would make me feel badly. Otherwise I do not get caught up in whether or not people are going to like a class or me, because it would be exhausting and it would block me from being able to be really creative because I would second-guess myself at every turn, so I just have to trust the information, trust what I think my role is, also let it evolve and grow as I grow as a student and as a teacher. And be willing to not get attached to something that maybe worked last year. Maybe this year it doesn’t work and I’m different, so it needs to be expressed differently.
But I feel strongly in what I believe my service is and I’m committed to that service. And the last thing I can let happen is my ego and my limited sense of self getting in the way of delivering a message that’s bigger than me. That’s what I walk into a room thinking. So again whether it’s one person who gets it or a hundred people who get it, either way it doesn’t matter. I have to walk out feeling like I did my job, exactly how I believe Spirit wanted me to express. I didn’t hold back, I put it out there, I didn’t lose my own personal essence, I didn’t fake it, I stayed vulnerable, but in my body. When that’s done I feel I served well.
YTM: In terms of yogasana, from what I’ve seen you teach an athletic and powerful hatha vinyasa yoga. You’ve also talked about slowing your practice down from where it began. So what speaks to you now in terms of your style of teaching?
SC: I still love a strong class because I believe in the mind/body connection and I believe that repressed emotion is what creates the majority of the tension we feel in our body, so sometimes you have to create tension to release it and uncover some of that blocked information, to let it rise to the surface. So the work I do, I guess I could call it transformational journey work that uses yogasana as a tool for self-inquiry and exploration and I’m still into that in my own practice, so I like to go deep, I like to get into those uninvestigated areas, I like to watch my shadow come up, the different voices in my head that get passive, want to quit or get goal-oriented. I like identifying all those different parts of my character because I know if I can see them on the mat I can see them in life.
At the same time I want sustainability, especially in my nervous system. So if I’m doing six hardcore classes that are physically yang, emotionally depleting or intentional/aggressive, it’s too much on both the body and the nervous system. So for me it’s about finding poses that are more restorative, even if I’m doing a hardcore class, some of that class has got to be yin. There needs to be a good amount of time where I’m letting my body absolutely relax, go into a different kind of a head space and then do some deep meditation. So it’s definitely shifted, it’s still a strong practice. But I’m more interested in the physical and the emotional benefits of restorative asana coupled with a strong class, and the impact it has on my meditation as a result.
YTM: Finding the balance, yeah… So how did this originally connect with social service, how did you realize you needed to take the yoga off the mat?
SC: I think it was an inevitable next step. If we really believe in the process of yoga community and interdependency and connection and sustainability and ultimately love, it can’t be for some and not for others. At least not for me. It felt hypocritical. It felt hypocritical not to vote, not to eat organic, not to donate money and do things that are going to help the planet and each other. I also wonder if that comes from my upbringing, coming from the Jewish background, how I was raised, there’s a lot of service. If it comes to you, you put it back out. Coupled with the fact that I grew up in an environment where these were blue collar people, hard-working people, and neighbors helped each other. I remember getting sick as a kid and for some reason they couldn’t contact my parents and I was really sick, and for whatever reason, I called one number I knew for some reason, barely knew them, and the father answered and he came and got me, and they’d never allow that today. And he came to the school and brought me to his house and made me some soup and put me on the couch and waited for my parents to come home. I was raised in an environment where neighbors helped neighbors out, even if you don’t know each other very well, it’s just what you do.
And so as I started getting successful in the yoga community, which was a very weird thing, it wasn’t what I set out to do, it’s not like that was a goal of mine… There weren’t that many celebrity yoga teachers that were making a lot of money and getting magazine covers, that just wasn’t the reality. There were a couple of them… Rodney Yee… So when I started to get successful it was a real surprise. And I knew spiritually it was a bit of an ego trap, like was I going to be able to maintain my center, was I going to buy the hype, was I going to be able to maintain the importance of my own practice? Where would my head go in this, and it confused me a little bit, because I didn’t know how to reconcile it at first, all the attention I was getting. I was such a young teacher and any young teacher is not a good teacher and so I didn’t really know why I was getting all this attention, and so at one point I realized I was given this amazing platform. I’m getting this attention, how am I going to use this platform in a way that is not to serve me but to serve the planet. And I know that success ebbs and flows and I wanted to make sure that for the time that I was/am in the spotlight that I’m constantly redirecting the attention off of me personally and onto things that are important. And as importantly try to empower other people to step into roles of leadership so that they’re not waiting for me to make a difference, they’re actually the ones empowered to make the difference. And if my career fell apart tomorrow I’d walk away feeling very good about the intention that I had and the impact that it has had on the yoga community over the last ten years or so since I helped create Off the Mat Into the World. It was natural, very organic, to want to be able to use my voice in a way to activate change or serve other people.
YTM: What are the causes that are closest to your heart and why?
SC: HIV/AIDS, still to this day. I guess because I was in New York City in the Eighties. And because of Billy, because so many people I knew at that time died, and there was such a stigma around it. I was confused about the stigma because I knew these amazing people who happened to be gay, who were dying and who were so stigmatized, it outraged me to my core that human beings could be so marginalized and there was so much ignorance over something that was so deadly. It wasn’t just tearing apart one person’s life, it was so many people and their families.
Gay rights also. Being in New York City at that time, working in those environments, I had a lot of friends who were gay. I also felt saddened by the oppression that still exists to this day. I see it so much with queer, transgendered youth, the same kind of hostility, ignorance and oppression. I still get my buttons pressed in a big way around that. So HIV/AIDS, gay rights, anything to do with sexual abuse and exploitation, exploitation of children cuts right to my core.
Animal rights ─ that’s the one area I have such a hard time touching personally. People ask me very often how I can go into an environment where there are exploited children and not get triggered and remain so calm. I don’t know. It’s in my nature, it’s in my spirit, I can really hold the focus. But if you brought me to a farm, if you even show me a picture of an animal getting abused, I’m rendered helpless, I get hysterical, it becomes about me. It’s wild to me that I can hold space in such a strong way in one area that would buckle someone else.
So I know the areas where I can work, I can be in those environments and I can manage that space without being reactive, whereas when it comes to animal rights… oh my God. I know someday I’ll probably have to do something, other than my own personal work which is not eating meat, not wearing leather, not contributing in any way to the meat industry, but I can’t be much more vocal about it than that because it’s such a hot button for me. So where I can be effective is in that other realm.
YTM: I saw you after you came back from India, working with the sex trade problem there. You mentioned that it was really, really hard, I could see it in your face. I don’t want to push any buttons but I wonder if you could relate what that was like, unless it makes you too uncomfortable.
SC: No, not at all. Why it was so hard is because I was in India for five weeks, five weeks of a conversation about rape every single day, it takes a toll on your spirit. You’re seeing 6, 7, 8 year old girls who have been sold by their parents, who are told every single day what kind of sex acts they will do, anal sex, oral sex, sex with other children, and we’re not talking once a day, twice a day, I mean you can ask does it matter, but we’re talking 40 times a day ─
YTM: It’s staggering.
SC: There is no medical attention given to any of these girls. The psychological trauma is so overwhelming sometimes. That would be very difficult, to look at these kids, to know what they’ve gone through and have a sense of how this trauma was going to impact their future, even their ability to have relationships, to have children. The good news with that is that we worked with incredible organizations that work tirelessly to make a difference in these children’s lives and are effective in creating change. Giving education, skills, love, food, support, a future, and so there was a lot of hope in the children that we met, but that doesn’t account for the millions of children that have not been rescued, will never be rescued and will live their life in this kind of abhorrent slavery. So it was a very triggering experience on so many levels, but also it was an incredible experience to be able to witness what grassroots organizations are doing to make a difference in the lives of young people.
YTM: That’s amazing. Ugh! It’s so hard to wrap your mind around any of that.
SC: It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you see these little girls, and that’s all they are, they’re little girls! We had unprecedented access, over the course of the five weeks we saw hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of abused children. We didn’t know we were going to have that kind of access. We were warned in the beginning, we might not get to see any children, and if we did we knew we had to be very discreet in our dialog with them.
When we got there all the organizations loved what we were doing, loved who we were and our intention, and they wanted us to engage with the children. They wanted the children to develop confidence and to develop their English skills and to learn about yoga and appropriate touch, and just play, actually. And so all the organizations gave us unprecedented access. But one of my rules for the participants was: do not ask any of these children about their stories. There is only one story. They spent the last year, two years, ten years, being raped. There’s no other story, you don’t need the details, you don’t need to know who sold them to who. We go in and we engage with them, not as children who are victims, we engage with them as children, who, like all of us, need love, touch, attention, validation, like any kid would. And yes it was hard for some of the participants at times, playing with these kids and later realizing what these kids have gone through, and the trauma that’s still in their bodies.
YTM: What are the pitfalls in activism? You’ve referenced the need to not impose beliefs and customs on people in other cultures, to respect those cultures. From what you’ve said it seems like you knew to hold back and watch until you knew how to respect those you were working with.
SC: We do a lot of training around cultural sensitivity, learning about privilege and power dynamics, so before we bring anyone out in the field these are conversations that we have first and foremost. We don’t try to shame it, we highlight it. We’re not going into these cultures saying learn yoga. Yoga’s the last thing we use, we use it just to play. We partner with organizations that are already doing work, grassroots organizations. We’re basically saying, what do you need, and let us give you money so you can make your programs happen. We’re not interested in saying, build a school and name it Off the Mat Into the World, when a school’s not what they need, they need micro-financing and loans, so we try to accommodate the needs of the community, and these organizations know the needs much better than we do.
There are a lot of pitfalls for a Westerner with money and privilege going into some of these environments and there are often so many assumptions, and there is racism and classism and sexism, all sorts of stuff come up that we can’t deny, we have to look at it. That’s why we call the trips Bare Witness, because we’re not there to bear witness to these cultures, we’re there to bear witness to ourselves in relationship to these cultures, so we’re there to look at our own limited beliefs and some of the misunderstandings that we have and our desire to create change where perhaps change is not necessary. It’s a great question. For an activist there’s a lot that you can do badly, and certainly I have over the years, moments where I wouldn’t do it the same way now, but at the time I had no clue. Just naiveté. I recognized that and now I go in there now in a much more listening space.
The other issue is burnout. If you’re not doing your own work you’re going to get traumatized by these experiences and you’ll burn out. So I have to grieve and rage and cry, but privately, I can’t let that energy come out onto the children. I have to make sure though that when a big feeling comes up I’m processing it out of my body.
YTM: Some of the people I’ve met in various movements through the years have seemed so entrenched and dogmatic. Very intent on helping humanity but sometimes can’t see the people right in front of them. I have more hope for yoga activism, because I think in bringing yoga or some kind of spirituality into the mix people almost have to truly see and confront themselves and are hopefully working on some kind of personal evolution along with their interest in their causes.
SC: The way I work, it’s always been that mirror. It kind of goes back to that story of Billy. “Ignore the story and see the soul. Remember to love, you’ll never regret it.” When I was at that gay sex club, it was really easy to get caught up in the story of Danny the Wonder Pony or the story of that cross-dresser, instead of seeing that that’s their karma. The bliss and the challenges they’re going to have to face, that’s none of my business. But who is that soul beneath all of that stuff and how does that inform who they are and who they’ll become. The real lesson in there was my reaction to those beings, my assumptions, my reactions, my resistance. My ignorance. When I went to hug Billy, and here I am, so sophisticated, I thought, working in this gay sex club, and as soon as I saw a sore from AIDS, I physically recoiled. I pulled back. And so the mirror got flipped right back on me.
So my experience of service has always been that way. Oh, so you want to show up? Well here, try loving now. And each of those moments give me an opportunity to look at where I’m deficient. When people talk about my service as being selfless, I have to correct them, because that’s not how I feel. My service is in direct response to my own desire to continue growing and healing, and I don’t get to grow and heal until I witness all aspects of myself, both the good and the not-so-good. And the not-so-good parts of myself come up mostly in conflict. And so when I go into these environments where there’s trauma and there’s conflict, I meet my shadow. And I get fuel. So I ask, who’s the one getting served? I’m the one getting served. I can provide some money. I can maybe provide some awareness. But I’m the one getting served. That’s how we run Off the Mat, it’s how we train our leaders, that this self-inquiry can shift the way we’re approaching social and environmental justice, all of that. Coming at it from a place of more personal inquiry.
YTM: One problem with service work is that the yoga community is large and growing, but hasn’t been all that diverse. It’s mostly white women, right? How do you see that evolving?
SC: Yeah, it’s a huge issue. But you know, we’re very aware of it. Next week Off the Mat is hosting a global action summit, where we’re bringing in our leaders, in the community, to talk about different issues. I’m not actually speaking at it, I’m just teaching the yoga. We’re trying to highlight some of the people who are out there doing significant work but perhaps they don’t have the opportunities that people like myself get, and Off the Mat has been working hard to support some of these leaders, give them fiscal sponsorship and organizational skills to bring their work out.
For example, a woman by the name of Nikki Myers, she runs the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) [http://www.y12sr.com/]. She’s an African-American woman, ex-prostitute, ex-junkie, owned a yoga school in Indianapolis in kind of her second lifetime in this lifetime, and it’s using her experience of 12-Step in relationship to these embodied practices to reach broader audiences and to also train teachers like myself to find a more sensitive language in the yoga rooms to be able to accommodate people with addiction, and she’s also doing a lot of work now on race as well, and this is very important. We’re hoping that someone like Nikki can begin to bridge, can as a result of her work and the way that she communicates, create space for people of color or people of addiction who might not normally go into a yoga school to finally feel that there’s a language that speaks to them. Even mentioning “Higher Power” in prayer, something that, even though I’m not in the program, I do that all the time. I know that there’s a percentage of people in my room every day who are in the program but they keep their program practice and their yoga practice separate. It needs to be integrated.
So we’re working with the Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, we’ve been working with some people within the queer/trans community, the LGBTQ community, to create a curriculum to bring more sensitivity and awareness to a conversation on gender, that is something I’m very excited by. These are the people that are going to be speaking at this conference, people of color, people of varying genders and sexual orientations, people who are going to be talking about things like the war on drugs, women and violence, and money, so we’re trying to create a conversation that is more inclusive, offering scholarships ─ we do that all the time at Off the Mat anyway, we give out a lot of scholarships. We try to create a space for people who might not ordinarily have the funding but they certainly have the passion to want to make change.
So we recognize it as a problem but we’re definitely trying to create a very welcoming space for all kinds of people to feel that there is someone in that room who is speaking to them, their circumstance, their culture, and that their presence is not only welcome, it’s necessary.
YTM: I think that because the attention is turning in this direction there’s a lot of opportunity there. I wanted to ask you, it intrigues me that you often talk about prayer. Because of my background I’ve had problems with it. As in the Janis Joplin song, “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” I’ve sometimes thought it seems for some to be a selfish sort of action, but when I hear you speak about it, it doesn’t sound like that all. What does prayer mean to you?
SC: It certainly doesn’t mean asking for things. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed asking ─ no, that’s not true, when my dad was dying I would ask all the time for his healing, pray for his healing. Then I realized I can’t change what is, but I can pray for the strength to shift my perception to what is. And I think that’s where my prayers go all the time, to shift my perception. Life is life, you know, money comes, it goes, we get old, we die, shit happens every single day that comes as the luck of the draw, or karma, and maybe we’re not supposed to bypass this, maybe this is how we strengthen our muscles, and we can’t let ourselves live in this bubble. But what I do believe what we can open ourselves to is commitment, strength, compassion, awareness, and by putting those words out there and setting intentions, it heightens both my awareness and my responsibility and reinforces what I’m committed to do. So I don’t think I’ve ever said, “Dear God give me more money, I want a big car!” That wouldn’t be the way that I pray, my prayers would be more about directing energy toward people in need, just generating love or being open to receiving love.
YTM: I was once in a sweat lodge in Minnesota and you had to pray, but the only rule about praying was that you couldn’t pray for yourself… Can you talk for a moment, Seane, about your personal spiritual aspirations? In a video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw3KHkmhV1Y] with Deepak Chopra, in answer to the question “Who are you?”, you said, “On a spiritual level I’m terrified every single day, but really open to standing in the presence of those fears so I can uncover not only who I am but who we are to each other…” And I think it can indeed be terrifying to contemplate what this all means, who am I, mortality, the soul, God…
SC: When it comes to aspirations, whether it’s professionally or spiritually, I tend not to set goals for myself because I always feel that because of my five senses I’m always going to minimize the potential. You know what I mean? I think it’s bigger than that and I want to be a part of whatever that is, and you know Spirit’s intention for me is bigger than I could possibly invent in my head, because I don’t even have the language for it, so I never really put it out there.
I think, though, if I did have a goal it would be to get out of my own way, to continue to be in the “I don’t know” and be okay with that, to allow the mystery to unfold, even if it hurts me sometimes, to trust it. I guess what I was thinking in that video was like, for example, my dad’s passing was horrible, cancer was awful, my dad’s death was really hard on him, on the whole family, it was something brutal to have to witness. I wished with everything in my soul that that never happened, yet simultaneously it was so apparent to me what was being taught, for both me and my father, why it was so necessary for it to go down the way it did. And even though I was holding on, I was holding my breath through that whole experience ─ that’s how it felt ─ there was another part of me that thought, “This is it, this is the magic, this is what I pray for, this is the illumination!” So I think when I did that video with Deepak, that was very shortly after my dad’s death and I guess that’s why I said it terrified me, because the spiritual practice doesn’t always mean roses and unicorns and rainbows. It’s so messy and it’s heartbreaking and it will absolutely drop your ego to your knees and I don’t see that ending at any time in this lifetime. So I would never declare to Spirit, like, “I’m ready, I’m open, bring it on!” Because I think that’s exactly what will happen! I’ll get my ass handed to me! “Hey, bring it gently, gently!”
SC: I’m terrified of the spiritual practice but I’m more afraid of dissociation and denial. So, given the choice, I’d much rather endure that emptying that’s necessary for something new to be filled than to live life disconnected from the experience because we’re afraid of our feelings or afraid of getting hurt. That to me is a psychic death that would make me very sad.
YTM: Haven’t those who act in a way that we consider “evil” disconnected themselves and numbed themselves in that way? It’s hard to keep the heart open.
SC: Yes. And apathy, that to me is the true evil. When you can’t care about someone else it’s only because you can’t care about you. And that’s either going to come from trauma or mental illness. But with trauma you can actually heal it. You can work with someone so that they can feel and connect to their vulnerability. That’s what so brilliant about yoga. It’s a deep process and it requires an enormous amount of courage. I pray for the courage to be able to withstand some of the bigness that spirituality will reveal over the course of my lifetime. It will shine a light on the darkest parts of our nature and say, again, can you love now, but can you love you now? Because if I can’t love me, light or dark, then I’ll never be able to love another human being. So the work starts within. You know, it’s a process.
YTM: And we’re in the process, we don’t have a choice.
SC: Some people I think do make that choice. You know, there’s a part of me that thinks, oh God I envy them their karma. That’s just not my karma and that’s where I get that urgency. You know, I don’t want to live this life ─ I don’t want people to live this life ─ brain-dead or heart-dead. I’m so afraid that it would take nothing for me to shut down. Just like anyone else. Where it’s like, okay, I’m done, enough, give me a drink, give me a cigarette, give me something so I don’t have to feel, and I’m very aware of that impulse and I work to not fight it but to understand it and be in relationship to it.
YTM: Seane, it’s really been a pleasure talking to you, I have to say.
SC: You asked great questions, I really appreciate that.
YTM: Thank you so much.
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism, unique self-expression, and inspirational style of teaching. Featured in commercials, magazines, NPR, and Oprah.com, Seane now utilizes her national platform to bring awareness to global humanitarian issues. In 2005, she was named “National Yoga Ambassador” for YouthAIDS, and in 2013 was given the “Global Green International Environmental Leadership Award.” Since 2007, she has been training leaders of activism through her co-founded organization Off the Mat, Into the World®. Seane has spent time in the US, India, Cambodia, Haiti and Africa working with communities in need- teaching yoga, providing support for child labor and educating people about HIV/AIDS prevention. Seane is also co-founder of the Seva Challenge Humanitarian Tours, which have raised over $4 million since 2007, getting the yoga community involved in fund and awareness raising efforts across the globe. Her self-authored dvds are available through Gaiam, Yoga Journal and Sounds True. www.seanecorn.com