We, the Monsters
Yogafolk v4 | Monster archaeology.
House monsters are every child’s fear. But creatures that live under the bed and creep in shadowy corners don’t just haunt childhood bedrooms. They endure in our collective imagination, embodying our cultural anxieties, and mirroring what plagues us.
Godzilla was a vessel for nuclear anxiety; zombies encapsulate our fears about immigration, communism, and contagion; vampires are deviant, and reflect our worries around taboo and AIDS, too. In other words,
“Monsters are stand-ins — for the atomic bomb, natural disasters, the evil nature of other humans, or the raging hormones of adolescence — for all the things we cannot control.”
How do we survive cinematic, cultural and childhood monsters? We unzip the monster suit; flip up the bed skirt; and ultimately shine a light. Because everyone knows that monsters can only live in the dark. By looking at the monsters lurking within and around us, we make them visible, rendering them less strange and more familiar: not quite so scary.
But monsters aren’t just out there. There’s an existential turn in the best of monster movies, when we’re no longer certain who is hunting and who is being hunted, who is the monster and who is the stalked. We are monsters and gods, each of us an oppressor in some situations and oppressed in others, sometimes both simultaneously.
What if, as a regular, disciplined practice, we were each individually and collectively willing to shine a light on our real world demons? To excavate the ugly parts of ourselves and our ecologies?
“Master narratives are, by definition, lies and untruths. This is why we need to study monsters. They are the things hiding in history’s dark places…”
— W. Scott Poole, Monsters in America via art.horror
Just like most children eventually outgrow their fear of imagined monsters, we grown folks are being called to move beyond a fear of dark demons (our own and that of the world) in order to walk toward a less terrifying future.
Revealing monsters for what they are doesn’t erase the trauma, hate and pain being inflicted and endured. Nor does shining a metaphorical flashlight immunize us against the monsters walking among us: Covid, white supremacy, extraction capitalism and conspiracism to name a few.
Perhaps monster archaeology can, however, as a practice, allow us to make meaning and imagine a different narrative arc. Those of us able, for whom it is safe to stay with a particular monster trouble, we don’t just hunt or excavate monsters. We dance with them. Welcome them to sit down beside us. We learn their dreams, desires, fears and ambitions. We become the monster.
And maybe when I can unabashedly look at and respect my own monstrosity, then the monster in me will honor the monster in you; and in turn the monster in you will honor the monster in me.
And maybe maybe in acknowledging our shared darkness, we the monsters can find a little compassion for one another, and extend that further outward: see monstrosity, shine a light on it, dialogue and dance with it, and begin to transform it.
Let’s monster mash,
Possibility magic, Wheels Darling says, is ritual and spell-casting for that which we’d like to imagine into being. Friday’s full blood moon (19 November) brings an opportunity to reflect on the potency of possibility as it moves within us. What channels are open to us right now? Are they the blood-carrying veins that support our hearts? Are they the pens and ink with which we write our story? Are they the media networks at our fingertips? Are they communities of reciprocity, care and mutual aid?
This moon was also a near-total lunar eclipse, occurring six months from our last (total) lunar eclipse on 26 May. Think back to that moment, nearly half a year ago. What have you moved through and with, composted or created?
Sensing the Sacred with Suzanne Newcombe and Karen O’Brien Kop
Sensing the Sacred is a podcast I’ve begun following closely the last few months. Hosted by yoga scholar Finnian Garrety, whose scholarship on the history and sound of the sacred syllable ŌṀ is worth exploring, each episode is rich and note-taking-worthy. In an 8 June conversation Garrety speaks with Karen O’Brien-Kop and Suzanne Newcombe, whose new edited volume, the Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies, is a watershed publication that reflects on key topics including decolonization, “classical yoga,” scholar-practitioners, health, and politics.
The Source Texts of Haṭha Yoga with Jim Mallinson
Dr. Jim Mallinson is one of my professors at SOAS, and a pioneer in yogic scholarship. In this podcast with Seth Powell he discusses the latest methods in digital Sanskrit philology (the study of languages in historical sources) including software that maps the relationship between editions of texts much in the way that we would map genetic families 🌿.
Dr. Bruce Perry was a mentor, and his work a guiding force as I wrote a handbook on teaching trauma-informed yoga to incarcerated teenagers. In a new piece he’s just released with Oprah, Dr. Perry and Madam Winfrey conversationally traverse the ins and outs of the neuroscience of trauma. Instead of asking, “what’s wrong with you?” Dr. Perry encourages therapists, educators, family and friends to ask the eponymous question: What Happened To You?
I recommend listening to it for the joy of Dr. Perry and Oprah’s rapport.
“Even if you’ve accumulated a house full of nice things and the picture of your life fits inside a beautiful frame, if you have experienced trauma but haven’t excavated it, the wounded parts of you will affect everything you’ve managed to build.” – Oprah Winfrey, What Happened To You?
Monster by Dodie
P.S. Thanks to Yasmine Musharbash, Peg Mulqueen, Pam Lozoff, Drew Hoolhorst, Rachel Young, Khadine Morcom and Emmalea Russo for inspiration, links and support with this edition of Yogafolk. TTFN.