In response to an email from a reader who felt the need to give me critical feedback about my use of personal funds to come to India for healing when I could be offering those personal funds to the programs for which I act as the fundraising coordinator and fiscal sponsor (Breitenbush Hot Springs and DAYA Foundation):
It’s a privilege to be here at Vaidyagrama Healing Village. Given the numbers of people on the planet and the comparatively far fewer people who get to come to places likes this, and the numbers of people who are fortunate to meet Vaidyas, doctors, who hold such ancient, indigenous medicines in such high regard and who make those medicines available to the people who seek them out, I am both very privileged and very fortunate to be here.
We can also count, among my privileges, that I am able bodied enough to travel right now. I have been strategic with my airline miles and had a surplus for this trip. I’ve never been frivolous with things related to my stability - money, my home, my garden, the things that keep me grounded. I have a stable enough home and living situation that I could leave for a month. I’ve wisely juggled some financial resources to dedicate to this trip while waiting for car insurance reimbursements for the medical care I am receiving. I’ve had the wherewithal to set up my car insurance policy, at its inception 10 years ago, to provide enough PIP, personal injury protection, that I have had a medical recovery budget to work with.
Even so, there are plenty of financial hurdles and challenges with traumatic brain injuries. There are the medical expenses that are not covered. The loss of wages. The cost of transportation to and from medical appointments. Fines for late payments or missed government filings. Lost opportunities due to not comprehending a potential transaction that could have added to my life stability. Loss of revenue in my training school and in the yoga non-profit that I founded and continue to chaperone. My concussions impacted both organizations in destabilizing ways. While they have not been so destabilized that they’re at risk, each has experienced the increased costs of systems backsliding due to my absences, mistakes or limitations.
And still, I have had the privilege to come here. Personal privilege and privilege in the sense of my place in society.
To outsiders, all of this might appear to be a luxury. People may think to themselves, “How nice it would be to have the luxury of time to go to India for treatment!”
I bristle against this statement partly due to my relationship to the word luxury - defined as a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense. On the one hand if I weigh the expense to my vitality, my life and my relationships caused by brain fog, challenges with word finding, headaches, vertigo, gut-brain axis issues, gaze stabilization issues, clinical depression, fatigue, and social apprehension, the great expense isn’t in this trip nor these treatments.
The greater expense is if I don’t do all that I can to get well.
On the other hand, the design of modern life leaves such little room for the freedom to truly value oneself and one’s vitality. From the world view from which I live, this treatment time in India is not a luxury but rather a necessity. If we place our well-being, physical, mental and spiritual, above all else, we have the best chances at meeting the events of our lives with wisdom, skill, openness, ingenuity, and the love and energy needed to navigate those events. The depleted versions of ourselves just can not do that in the same way.
These treatments are necessities for my contract with myself about how I want to serve in this life. I recognize that even the opportunities that I have had to serve come from a certain amount of privilege. In 1998, I had the training, gumption, spunk, and well-being to start a prison yoga program from nothing. I had no financial resources, but I had the inner resources that yoga catalyzed in me. That passion and perseverance sustained me in that service until April of 2022.
The day before we certified a group of students at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility to be 200hr Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teachers, April 14, 2022, was the day of my second and more serious concussion. I have not been able to serve in my usual capacity in Oregon’s prisons since that time. To be fair, the prisons have not yet opened up for volunteer services to begin again. Just a couple of weeks prior to this trip, I received word that we would soon be able to get underway again with our programs. I also got the news that Oregon State Penitentiary wants to host one of the 200hr Yoga Teacher Training programs so that they can have certified resident teachers in their facility too! That would make three Oregon prisons with teacher trainings and five prisons with yoga programs.
One reason I want to get well is to go back to these facilities and bring hope and meaning to lives that are otherwise susceptible to stagnation, depression, and hopelessness.
I also feel committed to the communities in which I am blessed to be talking about the climate situation, issues of racial and social injustice, and collaborative solutions for our civilization. I am eager to be used in whatever way I might serve these communities and conversations. For example, Breitenbush Hot Springs has allowed me to support them with the fundraising of rebuilding after the 2020 fires. They’ve also invited me to support their commitment to BIPOC led events that bring more indigenous healing practices and social justice to their offerings.
For me this is like two rivers coming together - my decades of dedication in social justice in the prison system and my decades of involvement as a community member and presenter at Breitenbush. I shudder to think that my concussion situation could make all of that too challenging to participate in.
I started this blog in response to a comment that I must be so privileged to come here. I was criticized by a reader for the cost of this trip while I am also fundraising for Breitenbush. Specifically, the reader suggested that the cost of my trip would have been better offered as a donation to Breitenbush and that I ought not “brag” about being here. Even though I take this to be a rare perspective that a reader may have, to the extent that there may be other lesser misperceptions, I wanted to take the time to reply to this comment.
I also wanted to offer this reflection because it is also true for all of you. Your vitality and well-being is a duty. I would go so far as to say it is a moral duty to neither damage nor disregard your vitality. Whether you have an ounce of privilege in our society or not, if you have an ounce of passion for making a difference, I want to support your well-being so that you can be of the highest service possible. Tending to your well-being, prioritizing your physical, mental and spiritual health, is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Your contributions would otherwise be compromised or, sadly, half-hearted and at risk of being unsustainable. We don't need people with passion and vision who are unable to sustain such service.
I see this healing time in India as a personal, moral duty. My duty to the vitality offered to me (and everyone) as a part of being born. My duty to live in integrity as I have leadership roles in my life. Yes, there is privilege involved. I hope to always make the wisest use of the privileges that I have. In this case, my greater sense of duty to serve both the communities in Oregon’s prisons and society at large (in my own geographical way), make this healing journey a duty. It is my duty to get well and to be well enough to continue the work that I started and to see to it that I create the systems of sustainability and collaboration that will allow any of these programs to go on beyond my lifespan.