Yoga and a Punch in the Face
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | August 16, 2020
When I was in second grade, my classmate, a boy named Clay, chased me home from school – almost every day…sometimes all the way. It was terrifying and traumatizing. As I ran, he threatened that when he caught me, he would kill me. My mom told me to ignore him and it would stop. But it didn’t. Sometimes he would catch me and I’d fight and claw and desperately wriggle out of his grip and run. I’d arrive home gasping and crying.
There was not a lot of awareness about the effects of repeated traumatic experiences on kids in the 1970s – most people just brushed off stuff like the stalking, sexual harassment, and terrorizing I was undergoing as part of life – boys will be boys, he probably just likes you, shake it off, etc.
For some reason there never seemed to be any adults present to help me. I strategized how to get out of school early. I wore my sturdiest shoes every day so I could run faster. I begged and pleaded with him to stop chasing me but I was woefully ineffectual.
When I rewind the memories of my terrified eight-year old self, out there trying to problem-solve the situation, not wanting to do something wrong, but also not knowing how to deal with the aggressor, I change the story. I whisper to her – “Punch him in the nose once, hard. Because that’s the only thing he will understand.”
I punch him.
He falls down and his nose starts to bleed.
He starts to cry.
He runs away.
He never bothers me again.
That’s the story I replace my terrified memories with. It saves the small frightened me and helps me grow up into a competent and confident adult – capable of deftly handling the other bullies I inevitably encounter in my life.
Yes, certainly I would prefer if my small self could’ve negotiated, bargained, or rationalized with young Clay. But he was an aggressor who was probably dealing with an abusive home life and appeared to only understand the language of aggression.
The first of principle of the yamas, the first principle of yoga, is ahiṃsā – non-harming. How can I walk through life with the intention of not causing harm to others? When all alternatives have failed, resorting to violence does not defy the principles of ahiṃsā, in fact, it is unfortunately sometimes the only way to end harm. Using force to end force, when the intention is non-harming, can also be an application of ahiṃsā.
I’ve been working with my friend and colleague Kiesha Battles for the past few months developing a course on the yamas and niyamas for transforming racism.
During one of our conversations, Kiesha asked me this question, “How much violence are you willing to tolerate?”
I started to reflect on the violence that’s been perpetrated against African American people and the violence I have encountered in my own life. And I have come to the conclusion that I am not willing to tolerate much violence, not at all. When innocent people are being targeted, the violence has to end. This is at the core of the principle of ahiṃsā – adopting the intention of non-harming. And at the far end of the spectrum of actions that achieve non-harming is sometimes, unfortunately, violence.
Violence is an innate response to a threat. It is one half (the “fight” part) of the innate “fight or flight” mechanism built into the human body/mind system. Because it’s tied up in the survival response, violence has not yet evolved itself out of human culture. It can permeate the culture of a family (as I suspect it did in Clay’s), the culture of a neighborhood, the culture of a whole city, the culture of the larger society, the culture of a religious sect.
When we together commit to consciously practicing non-harming, it can help us transform ourselves and our culture from one of denial, trauma, and violence toward one of compassion and healing.
There are many ways to handle conflict, but unless and until we address the tremendous amount of trauma out there in individuals and in our larger culture, people will continue to resort to violence when they feel threatened.
Hurt people hurt people.
I recently looked up Clay and found him on Facebook.
I could never forget his face, even 45 years later.
He’s wearing mala beads. He makes a living as a motivational speaker.
I can smile at him now, he seems to have come a long way.
And there’s still a little part of me that would like to punch him in the face.
Looking to develop greater resilience during these difficult times? Please check out the Subtle Yoga Resilience Society
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Wow such a great blog Kristine! Feel it, see it, and connect with it…such a powerful blog! Thank you 🙏
Thanks Viana. Real life ethics are messy no doubt.
I certainly hope you caught him up about his traumatization of you – he needs to know his effect on you as a child. That’s the first thing I would do. I am grateful you have talked about ahimsa and it’s various applications. There is woeful misunderstanding of that one amongst the yoga crowd, I’m afraid.
Why didn’t you contact Clay and his mala beads and punch him in the spiritual nose?
You crack me up Beth. 😂 I think JP Sears would approve.
This is a beautiful little story of trauma, resilience and ahimsa. I would love to share as I teach young community mental health workers about ACEs, trauma histories and supporting children with resilience resources. Almost everyone has a story… but few of us are so in touch with them!
Thanks Genny! ❤️ Feel free to share of course.
You need to contact him, on line or in person. Stand up to him and tell him that as a young girl, he TERRORIZED you and that was NOT okay. The next part is up to you…you can tell him that you forgive him OR you can tell him that he has NO power over your present. Whichever you do, you have taken over the narrative.
Thanks Mary Anne, I’m good, I don’t feel the need. It’s funny how much power the stories can hold though.
Beautiful post, I love how you wove ahimsa into your experience. THANK YOU.
I loved your post.
So many times the story ends with the blame game, your positive and empowering re-write of the story felt liberating! Thank you for this brief and powerful exercise.
I too would be interested in how CLAY remembers and interpret his actions from the past now, and how speaking with him would reveal more about those years. Would he affirm your guess about his past? Maybe there is even more to understand.
I think it is best to avoid assuming, instead to check and see what is true. Assuming is simply an ego-filled guess. It would be a much more interesting story with these details.
Martin Luther King’s non violence impresses me more than violence in response to violence being approved. I am not comfortable with your interpretation of AHIMSA. Each person justifying their behavior based on someone else’s poor behavior seems a treacherous. Life has dangers, risks, and threats. There have always been bullies. There have always been adults who don’t help their children to find a better way in the world. I would hope it could change, but I in studying history, and watching humans in life, I see these problems are a part of humane behavior as much as some of us wish and try for it to be otherwise.
Thanks for the comment Mindy and I can totally understand how difficult it is to be comfortable with my interpretation. And being uncomfortable is sometimes part of the process of deepening understanding. I have felt uncomfortable many times when wrestling with the yamas and niyamas, particularly in light of my own unconscious racism and the racism of the culture.
The issue of violence lies at the heart of the Bhagavad Gita. As renown religious scholar, Huston Smith puts it in his introduction to Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation, “What you should do in any given situation depends on the kind of person you are and that shows itself in the size of your lived world.” Arjuna says he would rather be killed himself than kill others. But Krishna tells him to “rise to the fight.” Smith goes on to say that Arjuna is tasked with keeping his people safe, that’s his job, his dharma. “This relegates Arjuna’s pacifism to sentimental whim. Had he acted on it, when he saw his upright subjects, who had counted on him for protection, decimated by an evil horde with all the pillage and rape that goes with such slaughter, he would have looked back on his abdication with unbearable regret.”
People have different roles in this world, different jobs. The role of the ksatriya or warrior is to stand for what’s right and to fight against evil.
The reality of violence is not pleasant or comfortable, but when it’s understood as a reality, I think that ethical choices can be made within the context.
MLK was not a pacifist – he was considered the most dangerous man alive during his time. This is an interesting article. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/04/kings-message-of-nonviolence-has-been-distorted/557021/ “His nonviolent resistance never meant private abandonment of self-defense or even complete conversion to pacifism. And it certainly did not commit future activists to nonviolence or love by association.”
I would suggest that at times self-defense requires violence – not because you are justifying bad behavior, but because you are defending your person. This falls fully within the sphere of ahimsa IMHO.
What was it with second grade in the 70’s?! lol For me it was a second grade teacher who called me stupid. Stuck with me far too long! I was fortunate enough to study the Gita with Yoganand Micheal Carroll. During the course I was finally able to turn loose all those negative feelings. And like you and Clay, there’s a part of me that would still like to punch her in the nose!
Thank you for sharing!
BTW- I love Keisha Battles!
Thanks Joan! Yes what was it about 2nd grade in the 70s LOL! Glad you got to study with Yoganand and I love Kiesha too!
I am so sorry. I also was terrorized and threatened with death in school. Daily, for 2 years of junior high school. The adults said to ignore it. Sending you love and peace and an appreciation for and understanding of your deep well of courage and strength and bright wisdom.
It’s a horrible thing for a kid to go through – but IMHO – it’s also never too late to have a happy childhood. Sending you love and peace too Jean!
What a brave little girl you were. Thank you for sharing. I am certain if our parents had been more aware and awake they would respond more appropriately. I am certain your mom would or another adult would have walked with you and spoken to Clay or his parents had they had more awareness/centeredness of you as a child. Thankfully the divine protection was with you! Thank you for sharing, ahimsa is beautiful.
Yes that’s a beautiful way to think about it Virginia – there was some protective force there. I don’t think about Clay very much, but when I do remember what happened, I also have compassion for my parents who were just doing the best they could with the knowledge and resources they had.
Interesting comments…I’d like to think Clay would be remorseful and apologetic as an adult but….Your productivity is impressive Kristine; another well considered and thought provoking blog…did someone mention pitta energy?
“Hurt people hurt people”…sometimes for generations and generations. And history is full of hurt. I agree, naming violence and bringing it to people’s awareness is integral to dealing with the extent of this behavior. Ahimsa and respect and intention are powerful tools for change. Congrats on developing a yoga centric course on transforming racism.
And it’s no coincidence that your bully was a male, I appreciate cultural behavior is collective and complex but men have got some big work to do in this space. I think developing sensitivity and empathy as well as resolving some of the trauma men do to each other would help. It’s a big shift, again congrats on developing a course on transforming racism.
Thanks Chris. I’d like to think that too, but I’m not terribly motivated to find out if he would – unless he somehow reads my blog LOL that would be some serious karma! And I agree that there is much work to do for men in healing trauma. Thank you for your kindness. You are a bright light!
I grew up in the same generation as you. Nobody spoke of trauma at that time and I am so glad we’ve come such a long way. As an adult woman, I literally punched an unknown guy who put his hands where they didn’t belong with no regrets. My parents always told me that I couldn’t start any fights but I sure could end one. My yoga practice has taught me tolerance strength, but also the fearlessness to stand up for what is right. I now call it “good and necessary trouble” in honor of Senator Lewis. You and your teachings are a blessing to all of us, thanks for sharing this important story. We are all people who change, Clay included – its a good thing that we don’t stay the same as we were as youngsters (me included!). He still better play his cards right, lol.
Hey Sandi, what a great quote! You can’t start fights by you sure can end one! I love that! I also the love the idea of “good and necessary trouble.” Mmm-hmm, that’s what I’m talking about here. Looks like Clay is doing much better as a grown up – I’m sure he had lots of healing to do. I’m grateful for your comments.
This was a wonderful post which spoke to me, too. Thank you for framing ahimsa in a way that acknowledges the reality that, as much as we don’t want it, sometimes brute force can only be mitigated with equal force. The motivation behind the action is the differentiating factor.
I found this to be a very powerful and quite emotional post. Thank you
Thank you for sharing that memory . One definition of racism that has been on my mind is that it is the belief in the inferiority of another race. So does that mean disliking another group or not having affinity for another group or race is different from racism? If I dislike another group am I saying they are inferior? I don’t believe so.
As I read your account I could feel the terror of pursuit in my chest and throat! Sorry that was your 8 year old reality. I have a close family member who suffered trauma just a little older than you were, Kaoverii. No one else knew and she did not remember until adulthood and then, having remembered a couple of things after so many years, hypothesized that there may be more she could not recall, which just made it worse. Memory or not, this trauma was obviously influencing much of her important life decisions and not in her best interest as she grew up. Now, thirty years later, she is becoming a life coach and in this training, hopefully finding resolutions and tools for herself. We will never know the whole story. But the way forward could look much brighter. Thanks for sharing this.
This is wonderful, thank you 🙏
Just yesterday, my 92-year old mother told me the reason I was molested by the school bus driver, the next door neighbor and father of our babysitter, and my cousin, is because I was “so cute.” I remember this remark then, and it still stings 55 plus years later. Harm on top of harm. I have been thinking a lot about wise speech and, like you, try to speak with wisdom and compassion to that small child inside. It’s very empowering. Thanks for sharing your story.
oh wow, I’m really sorry about that Andy. I think women of our parent’s generation often had to suck it up and rationalize what happened to their kids.
Oh wow, this was so hard to read – it brought up lots of memories for me of feeling frightened by a boy at primary school. Memories I’ve not thought of in years. I have 2 school age sons and I’ve instilled in them that they are not to be violent or to bully but I do get scared if anyone bullies them and they might just take it. So hard. I liked the last part of this too – I wonder if Clay remembers how he treated you? Maybe you should message him!!
I actually found a little clip from an interview he did. He talked about how he was completely afraid, insecure and thought he was worthless when he was a child. Not surprising.
As always, great blog. Your story was a great example about ahimsa. I remember, as a little girl, I had a dream one night that a dark form was following me. The next day, as I walked to the bus stop this man dressed all in black followed me down the street but he walked on the opposite side of the street. The second day, it happened again. I told me teacher when I got to school and she said, “it just your overactive imagination.” When I got home, I told my mother who said the same thing. Guess I was a very imaginative child…I was an only child what did they expect!? LOL. Anyway, the third morning when I was telling my mother, my father happened to be present. I asked my mom, if she was going to walk with me to the bus stop because of the dark man. My mother said, “I told you you imagined that.” Unbeknownst to me, when I walked out the back door my father went to the front door and watched me walk down the street.. a few seconds later the dark man showed up again, walking down the opposite side of the street. My father came out, crossed the street and followed him. He saw him duck behind a tree when I met up with the other kids and just watched us. I don’t know the rest of the story but I never saw that man again. It was a very scary experience made more so when you tell someone and they don’t believe you or make light of the situation. Unfortunately, there are still many Clay’s and Kristine’s out there.
Are you and Keisha planning to offer a course together?
Oh wow, what a story Gabriella, you are so fortunate that your father actually believed you! Yes there are a few scary people out there – fortunately most people are not!
Hey Kristine, a very connecting read. We all go through this stage of what to d in various situations. Become the saint or the rogue who hits back.
and typically, it’s never that black and white.
You might have been the first person in little Clay’s life to interrupt a pattern of behavior that was acted out on him first by some older child or adult. What else could it be? I am so sorry you had to go against your inherent nature Of punching Clay in the face. (Young people are so vulnerable and easily traumatized if all their rational needs are not met, especially for closeness. Most of us are probably sitting on a backlog of undischarged hurts from adults not understanding when we were kids that stopping the feelings only shuts down our ability to heal.) What you did to Clay was not an act of violence but of caring for self and ultimately for interrupting Clay’s behavior. He was not acting intelligently. Good job! On some level he felt safe enough to show you his hurts, as boys are constantly told to be a “ big boy” and “ big boys don’t cry.” This unthinking behavior Clay acted out on you goes against human nature, especially young male persons. Young people are always using a pretext to get attention on how bad they feel, expecting adults to be there and listen as they show themselves by discharging and freeing themselves of the hurts to going back to be their loving caring selves again. You both were abandoned by the adults in your lives. You should have never been left alone in that situation. It is still possible to heal from these old hurts. We cannot change the past, we can change the effects he past has on our minds. Or we will tend to repeat what was done to us or internalize the hurts. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Joe, yes I agree that Clay was a hurt child. I actually found a video of him (he’s a public person now – a motivational speaker as I mentioned) talking about his childhood and you could see him going into a freeze response before answering. Clearly, he was traumatized and probably neglected as a child.