Whether in the yoga studio or in the streets of India, Cambodia, Africa and most recently New York City while occupying Wall Street—Sean Corn urges people to wake up and lo heal separation. On a mission to shift indifference into connection, and to transform apathy into empathy she lends her voice to numerous causes, encouraging yogis to step off the mat and into the world. She is on a mission. yoga community's leading activist, Seane prefers to think of herself as a humanist. Recognized as one of the most sought-after teachers in Los Angeles, she facilitates inner and outer journeys toward healing and empowerment. Seane speaks to Origin editor, .Maranda Pleasant about harnessing the power of rage, risk-taking, and the importance of recognizing both the light and the darkness within especially for our leaders.
- Forward by Bernadette Birney
MP: You have this energy that gets people fired up, excited and
engaged. How does it feel now that you've become the face of
activism and the voice of humanitarianism for the yoga
SC: Well, I appreciate that, and quite frankly, it makes me really happy. You know, when I started getting successful in the yoga world, there was a lot of attention on me personally, and that did not feel right for me, it never did. I felt very uncomfortable. I was grateful for it, I appreciated it, but something didn't feel right. It wasn't until I took the attention off of myself and was able to put it on to things that were actually really, really significant and important, like these different social causes, that I felt like I was totally in my purpose. That felt right, and like, uoh, this is why I get so much attention. This is why I'm well-known in the yoga community." I could have easily just kept it about myself and thrived in that kind of personal attention, but I don't think that's who I am. It's certainly not how I was raised. But it. suddenly made sense to me, why I got successful, and someone else didn't. There are so many yoga teachers who are amazing teachers who have just as strong a voice as I do and have just as good a practice, so, why me? That's where I feel like I'm completely in my purpose. I'm doing exactly what I think I'm here on the earth to do at this time. When I'm in an environment where I can rally people to act, or if I can support an action in some capacity, whether it's overseas or in the United States, I feel at ease. I don't know how to explain that, but I really feel like I'm in my flow, and it's an amazing feeling. If it inspires other people in the yoga community to get involved then that makes me really happy. It's great if that is indeed their calling, it is certainly mine. It always has been. I've always been someone who has been very interested in service, it makes sense to my temperament, to my personality. At the same time I do realize the responsibility of it. I pray to God that I continue to make really good choices. I would really hate to f"*k up! I would. I imagine in time, though, I'm going to make a decision here and there that's not the greatest decision.
I think that any time you put yourself out there and take risks, failure comes along with that.
But I hope that I can be pretty consistent and continue to speak for the yoga community, continue to rally them, inspire the people that want to get involved, and at the same time keep doing my own inner work, which is the most important thing, so that I don't burn out, so that I can make sure that the main message in everything I do is Love, and Unity, and Peace. I like my role. Out of all the roles to have in the yoga world, this is the one I feel the most comfortable with and I'm proud of
Even before I go to an action, like yesterday for example, before I can even go into the crowd and talk to people, I have to sit down and ask myself some questions. "Where is my own rage in this? Where are my my own feelings of injustice?"
I love that you use your voice. You have this intensity, this sense of urgency. You help people get it. I like how it's not too sweet or fairy-fairy, it's very grounded. I have a hard time with flaky people. I feel like yogis can't really be effective in the world if they don't get real, get it together, show up on time and get organized.
When it comes to your own personal pain, how do you transform it? How do you work with it?
I've been in therapy since I was 19 years old. I have worked with spiritual mentors who have helped me to not run from the shadow; and to see it not as separate from your own light. I do a lot of anger work. I don't run from the rage or the grief, I go right towards it. To let it be a part of your wisdom. I look at it and I feel it, because I don't want that to be the thing that motivates the choices in my life. Even before I go to an action, like yesterday for example, before I can even go into the crowd and talk to people, I have to sit down and ask myself some questions. "Where is my own rage in this? Where are my own feelings of injustice?" I've had injustice in my life, and it's a physical feeling in me. I mean, I want to kill! I want to rage! But if that's the energy that I bring into this, then I can't be grounded and neutral. But I can't deny that it might not be in me, so I have to sit with it, process it, move it through, and check in. But I do a lot of anger work and a lot of very deep emotional work to make sure that I'm rinsed.
When people are really shut down they'll say to me. "I feel empty." But the truth is, it's the opposite, they're actually so full, and there's no outlet for it.
It's that feeling of fullness that makes them completely check out, so you rinse the fullnness by crying, by journal writing, by expressing the rage in ways that are not hurtful to another person. This is in the privacy of your own room [where) you process the rage. It allows me to go into all environments, and then my traumas aren't going to get triggered. I want to be able to make healthier, more focused choices, coming form a place of grounded ness and not insecurity.
But I'm going to pretend that I don't have insecurity or fear or unresolved grief or guilt. I've got to go towards it, learn from it, and then transcend it
I find that especially with activists, they move so much physical and mental energy through their bodies and they're so passionate. There's so much fire. It's really interesting and inspiring to hear how you handle that as a physical process.
In any kind of great leadership, very often we just get so used to taking care of everybody else, doing what needs to be done, going
on overdrive, and burning out. We need our leaders not to be burned out. That's why for me, self-care is so important, especially emotional self~care.
Other kinds of self-care, like: "I could really use a manicure, my roots are like six inches long right now." That kind of self-care I kind of bypass here and there, but my emotional work. never. Because as light as I can go, is as dark as I can be. an. I don't want that darkness to override anything that's coming from my heart. And so I've got to make sure I'm doing my own self-care, my own emotional work, if I'm going to be the kind leader I want to be.
I like going to this place with you and I like how I don't have to dig. It's right there, there's no mask. You're transparent. You get meaty ... This is why we started this magazine, so women would have a voice. People that don't usually have a voice will have a way to transform their lives with topics that aren't usually addressed. Real issues. I feel like it's important for people who have never had a voice, people who have been abused, minimized and marginalized. They're saying,"We're not going to be ignored anymore. We're not saying that we're right, but we are saying that we're here." That's what I 'm seeing. Conscious people are rising up. There's a huge shift happening.
Yesterday in my speech at Occupy Wall Street, it just came out of my mouth and even as it came out it rang so true to my heart, I said,
'This is not a movement, this is an awakening." I didn't just mean in terms of what was happening with Occupy New York, or in all the
other cities where people are occupying, I meant in general. This is an awakening. People arc waking up and realizing that the real change that has to happen has to happen from within, and that transformation cannot happen without action. And action is going to be reliant on the individual. What's happening is that people are waking up and they're realizing that they have to speak and they have to insist on being heard and that we have to work together in communities to make that happen. I agree 100% that this awakening is happening. I have never felt more proud to be alive, even though there's so much conflict in the world, I'm so excited by the possibility! It can go in either direction. It could go downhill so fast, or it can shift and we can have the life that we always dreamed.
What I can't stand is the middle path of indifference, inertia, and stagnation.
Even though right now it's a little uncomfortable, growth is uncomfortable. I'm proud of all the people who are out there choosing to speak, and even more importantly, those who are choosing to be the voice for the voiceless. This is what we get to do. It's what we get to do! For me personally, it's a right that I refuse to take for granted and refuse to apologize for, and if I come across as a loudmouth, New Jersey broad, I don't care! Life's way too short.
What's happened in the world has happened because the people with the power are the ones that acted, they're the ones that spoke up, the ones that took charge, and the other ninety-nine percent kept their mouths shut. It's not okay. What we stand for in the yoga community is 100 percent truth, 100 percent justice, 100 percent unity, 100 percent of the time.
It's not about the 99 percent or the one percent, it's about the 100 percent coming together and remembering that we're one.
This is a stand that, I think, any soul can take, regardless of your political affiliation to take the stand for unity.
[Pause] Just taking taking you in, Seane Corn ... [Laughter].
That's a little scary. That's a lot. [Laughter]
Not everyone would want to do that!
We're trying to get the principles of yoga into the mainstream world, to use this voice. There are 20 million of us doing yoga!
I think we are the new mainstream and we just need to integrate. We need to take this outside, rather than just talking to the people who already agree with us.
What is it that drives you, what is at your core? Why do you wake up in the morning? What's your fuel?
I just feel so grateful. I really just wake up everyday; I feel so grateful that I get to be here and be a part of this experience of being alive. I know it's really hard at times, I've had my ass f••king handed to me, but our days are just numbered and we embody this spirit for such a short time. I just want to know that when I take that last breath that I just used the time I was given upon this planet really well. It was kind of my exchange. It's like, "God, you gave me this gift, you let me be a part of the world for this time, here is my little contribution back." I feel like that's what motivates me everyday. I guess also that I'm not afraid. It's not that I don't get insecure and scared, but I know how to take a deep breath and try to pull that self-confidence up and out and do what needs to be done anyway; and not let that other stuff get in the way. When my insecurity gets in the way, I hear a little voice that says, "How dare you?" How dare I let my lack of self get in the way of what I know in my heart needs to be done? It's not about me, it's about the collective. But I have to deal with that other part of me that gets weird.
What is that part? What is that voice for you?
The voice for me is that I'm not educated enough. That's always what it'll come down to, -What do I know?- I barely graduated high school, I got a -6o on my f••king SAT I'm not an academic at all. I'm passionate, I'm street smart, but I'm not an academic. When I'm asked to speak in certain environments ... I've been asked to speak in the weirdest places: UCLA, with women bankers, about transformation. There's a little part of me that thinks, "Oh my god! They're going to find out that I'm really an idiot!" Then I think, "Where did that come from? I'm not an idiot."' But nonetheless, the little voice in my head, "Someone's going to find out that I shouldn't be here." That's the little voice that can sabotage me. It never does, but I watch it, and then do what I have to do anyway. Those are my little fear points. I just feel like I'm not afraid to go up against my fear. I'm not afraid to do what needs to be done anyway. I don't expect all people to be like that though. As my mom says, "Someone's got to make the coffee." Everyone's got a role.
They should feel really good in their role and in their purpose. Some people's roles are seemingly much more simple and quiet; it doesn't make them any less important in the big scheme of things. I just happen to have the personality where I can put myself out in the world. I don't mind speaking my voice. I don't mind getting egg
on my face every once in a while. I can handle it and I know how to dust myself off and get back in there. And so, because I can do that, I feel like I should do that. I don't expect that to be everybody's path, but since I know it's mine, I've got to put on some lip balm, fluff up my hair, take a deep breath, and get out in the world and make a difference.
We were talking about the Occupy movement. It's controversial right now and you don't play it safe.
Yesterday I heard myself say, "I don't trust people who need me to like them and I don't trust myself when I need you to like me."
I love that you just said that. And it's so brilliant because it's something I offer in teachers training that I ask myself all the time. If I walk into a yoga class, when I go in to teach, in my mind before I even go in there, I have to say to myself,
"I cannot care what one person in that room thinks of me personally. I have one job to do, and that is to honor the way in which Spirit speaks through me."
Not everyone is going to like that. But if I try to make Joe like me or Sally comfortable or Marie come back tomorrow, I'm going to micromanage every word that I say to make everyone in the room comfortable and I am
no longer in truth. After class is done I have to take a deep breath, I have to be like, "Okay, someone's going to have something not great to say about me personally." I just can't care. It doesn't mean I don't care about you as a person. I just can't care what you think about me.
That's not easy. That is really not easy. I've noticed that the second you step up and say, "I'm gonna shift, I'm going to bring people together, we're going to change," you hear people who don't like your personality or say unkind things, and they don't even know you. I'm learning to have an open heart, but to have a very thick skin. I 'm just wondering how you deal with that?
There's a ton of stuff that gets written about me that's really a lot of assumptions. A lot of it is based on (something} as simple as the way that I look, or my accent, you know)
Because my tones are really harsh. It 's regional! I'm from New Jersey!
This is the way I was raised. But I do know that there's an edge to my voice. Even when I say. "I love you,"
I say it with a lot of passion; there's a lot of fire behind it. I don't hear that, but I can see that for someone else it could get reflected in-a way that seems hard. So there's been a lot of opinions, people seem to be pretty
extreme in the way that they feel about me, either they really love and care for me a lot or really don't like me, and I have to keep fairly neutral to it, on both sides.
I appreciate people who love me and care about me, but at the same time, if I get too sucked up in to that, I'm going to be looking to them for approval, for validation. I can't do that either. I can't do either extreme. I have to love myself.
One thing I find, when women are radically honest, unapologetic, even when it's delivered in a compassionate way ... the first thing I notice is people will sometimes go to the word, "Oh, she's crazy."
I feel like "crazy" is the one word that if they can label you, then anything you do is marginalized and so discredited that it's almost ineffective. It silences you. I think it is one of the most dangerous words right now, in our society. We can make someone "crazy," then whatever we do to them is absolutely fine.
Yeah, they don't matter. I was in a relationship when I was young, and there was betrayal in the relationship and I knew. I knew that this person that I was seeing was cheating on me. I didn't have any evidence, but everything in my soul was telling me it was true. And I remember confronting him, and him looking me right in the eyes and saying, "Seane, you're crazy," and I thought, really? Because everything in my body just knows that this is the absolute fact and that word kept coming up, he kept saying, "Seane, you're crazy, you're nuts." Well, it turned out he was cheating on me and I remember saying to him, that it was ultimately. .. the cheating was forgivable, but the part to me that was the biggest insult is that he knew that the thing I relied on more than anything else in my entire life was my intuition, and to look me in the eye and to ask me to second-guess my intuition, that to me was the bigger betrayal. And that to me, that hurt more than anything else, that you would make me second guess what I know in my heart is true.
This is my art, this is my soul. I really trust rny intuition. My intuition is everything to me.
It motivates me. It's gotten me in trouble, because it's often asked me to make choices that my fear necessarily didn't want to make, but my gut was like "this is what has to happen." It's never misled me though, and the only time I'm misled is when I second guess that knowing. And to me, that's crazy. I don't really get called "crazy" though. I get
called a lot of things: too much, too big, too loud. It's that T-O-O word that I also think really blocks women. I always say that I'm really grateful to my mother that she always encouraged me to be too much, too big, too loud. To celebrate it, never change it. As a result, I feel really comfortable in my skin. Other people might not feel
comfortable with me, but I'm okay with the T-0-0 word. I wasn't really when I was young, and I see a lot of other women block themselves from being too much or too big. As a result, they play too small. You can ask me anything. There's really nothing that I wouldn't share ... you know there's that saying, "You're only as sick as your secrets." And I don't have any secrets. I'll talk about anything. I want to be part of the conversation that breaks any kind of shame. It's about empowerment. Life happens. Shit happens. It's about what you do with it, that's where the grace lies.
I don't think of you as an activist, I think you're a decent human being, and it sometimes is so strange that we have to put these labels on it.
I feel the same way. That term around me gets coined a lot that I'm an activist and I just think, I'm a fu•king humanist. I'm just out there doing what I know should be done and using my voice to make this happen. But I don't feel like there's anything extraordinary to what I'm doing, I feel like I'm doing what I should be doing. Look for Part II of this interview in our next issue.|
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism and inspirational style of
teaching. A strong and articulate voice for social change, she started her activism work by creating the yoga program for
L.A. shelter "Children of the Night." Since 2006, her work has been focused on training leaders of activism through the
organization she cofounded, Off the Mat, Into the World.g and bringing awareness to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Over the last 20 years of her career, Seane has been featured in magazines, Oprah. com, The Huffi ngton Post, numerous radio programs such as NPR, and four self-authored dvd programs. and in 2005, was named the National Yoga Ambassador for YouthAIDS. She sits on the board of both the CambodianChildren's Fund and the Engage Network.