Featured on the cover of New York Magazine right after 9/11, the renowned Manhattan yoga instructor has created The Infinity Call, a daily, guided meditation for women. Kelly Morris talks to PKM about some of the issues women face in our society and how to create change.
#Resist #Enough #MeToo #RiseUp #TogetherWeRise #Goddess #DivineFemine––the hashtags defining today’s defiance of “the norm”, “the Establishment”, “the patriarchy”. Each one is born of a-stronger-than-ever drive to break free of a culture of insensitivity, shame and control that’s been shaped by centuries of insensitivity, shame and control. While those hashtags ask both women and men to join a cause, there is one distinct voice asking women, and solely women, to find their individual and collective center through meditation. Meet that determined voice here and discover the insights of long-time spiritual student-warrior-teacher-healer-sage Kelly Morris.
“To be honest, talking about what I’m doing on ‘The Infinity Call’ with a man presents problems because your gender isn’t really saddled with the same issues mine is.”
So began my conversation with Kelly Morris, the leader of a daily, guided meditation for women, known as “The Infinity Call”. Morris created “The Call” after a twenty-some-year journey through the lofty worlds of Jivamukti Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, realms—like so many political, educational and economic spheres—typically dominated by men.
“Seeing those worlds fall apart due to the behavior of their ‘gurus’, led me to fall apart, too,” Morris said. “I made the mistake I told everyone not to make: never follow the teacher; follow the teachings.”
That’s one thing about Morris—she owns her own missteps and failings. In our hour-long phone conversation, I found she speaks more in ideas and experiences than in sentences; there’s no idle chit-chat, and she asks often if you’re keeping up. Morris is intently set on changing how women experience the world and she’s committed to teaching women how “to transmute their sorrow into power.”
Morris is determined to upend the long accepted, male-dominated, norm—everything is to be questioned, or, at the very least, re-examined. That’s a consistent aspect of her entire “teaching” life, dating back to when she was known as one of Manhattan’s foremost yoga instructors more than twenty years ago. She was, in fact, featured on the cover of New York Magazine soon after 9/11, with the quest-for-inner-calm cover piece quoting her as telling her class of media and financial moguls, “The truth might be beginning to dawn that the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz or the younger wife is not going to do the trick for you.”
Her journey to “The Call” is born of her own quest for self-appreciation and inner reliance. Reeling—feeling like she’d misled thousands of people by widely advocating Jivamukti and then Buddhism as “the way”—Morris connected with a shaman who led her through an initiation that caused her to realize: “I had been out-sourcing my self-agency, following the dictates of patriarchy which proposes that there’s always somebody who knows better than you do; that when you need help, when you need advice, when you need help transitioning from one experience to another, you should see a shrink, or a psychic, or a priest, or rabbi, or a mullah—or you should pick up Vogue and look for advice there. A girl, in particular, is taught to do that from the very beginning, and, of course, if you are always holding the hand of the father, you don’t have to look both ways because he’s doing it for you.”
How to best give you what Morris has got? Here she is, largely in her own words, speaking on topics close to her heart. While she’s clear she wants women to recognize their worth and their strength, Morris is also clear on what we all can do to change how society operates.
The Defiance and Challenge of Meditation:
Anyone who meditates is definitely flipping the bird to the entirety of contemporary culture–it’s taking your self off the incessant cultural drip of social media and mainstream news for at least thirty minutes. To close your eyes, to go inside, to refuse–in a way—the outside world is tantamount to heresy in our popular culture. People are married to their iPhones. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up, and the last thing I see when I go to bed. I’m surprised my phone and I haven’t started breeding.
“Seeing those worlds fall apart due to the behavior of their ‘gurus’, led me to fall apart, too,” Morris said. “I made the mistake I told everyone not to make: never follow the teacher; follow the teachings.”
To step back from the unending noise willfully, to step away from the distorted cultural mirror that tells both women and men, “You are not enough”, is revolutionary: it allows you root into what is and into the arising present. To say that because of meditation your sense of self expands and non-duality disappears sounds like hippie-dippie hoo-ha, but it’s not. The more you meditate—it breaks you in half and opens your heart—the more you are granted a larger view of yourself; one that locates you, stabilizes you, strengthen you and enables you to take your heartbreak and do something with it instead of just being filled by it or destroyed by it.
To not give up after a day or two of meditating requires diligence—it takes forty days to develop a new neural pathway—so to commit yourself to meditating is quite an accomplishment, especially in a world that promises happiness in your AMEX card. For a woman, in particular, to shut her self down completely, go inside to search for answers inside her self is the antithesis of everything that’s culturally been pushed at her—you need bigger boobs; a better spouse; an exotic vacation; new wallpaper; better Pilates. In meditation is that certainty that she’s been searching for forever; that certainty that no amount of money, fame or influence can give her. It’s been right under her nose the whole time.
The Nowness and Newness of Meditation:
In meditation, you step into the only thing that ever has existed and ever will exist: this present moment. Most people cannibalize the present moment by using it as a platform to feel regret about the past and anxiety about the future. To most people, the present moment is nothing: it has no value; it has no meaning; it has no place. In meditation, you discover that the past doesn’t exist—it’s what’s happened already—and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You likewise learn the future hasn’t been born yet. Still, we ping-pong between the two all day long–until death arrives–and, of course, by then it’s too late.
Studies show that 97% of what you think about [today] you thought about yesterday, and the day before and the day before. It’s like Groundhog Day every day, with no one having any original thoughts. Yet as a culture, we bow down low to each thought; we pay homage to the mind. It is, after all, what separates us from the animal kingdom, right? Why then, are we transported watching a National Geographic piece on, say, the cheetah?
The cheetah is utterly without self-consciousness; her body, her instincts, all the different parts of her are united, all moving towards one common goal. It’s the same reason we like watching someone like Michael Jordan—the full integration of all aspects of the self—the ball sails improbably across the court and, swoosh, whistles through the net. We are satisfied on a deep level when we witness integration at that level. Meditation affords you the chance to integrate and soar.
Anyone who meditates is definitely flipping the bird to the entirety of contemporary culture–it’s taking your self off the incessant cultural drip of social media and mainstream news for at least thirty minutes.
There’s impermanence to each Call: each live broadcast is available for just 24 hours [via sign-ups on Facebook and on theinfinitycall.com]; after that, each Call vanishes. On the website, Morris states her aim is “to remind women of their sacred but forgotten bonds to Gaia and to free them of a patriarchal ethos that deprives them of self-agency, self-love and self-trust.”
[Editor: For those not steeped in creation myths, “Gaia”, is the ancient Greek word for Earth, although its symbolic basis and emotional roots run much deeper. In fact, the term “Gaia” has come to describe the regenerative current that pre-Indo-European tribes, who were often matriarchal, recognized as emanating from “Mother Earth”. Those earliest cultures understood there to be a primordial female force on our planet that perfectly counters the limiting, destructive and controlling aspects of an insatiable father-figure, embodied by the planet Saturn–the ancient measure of time and age–widely associated with death and material things.]
As Morris is quick to point out, “Archaeologists and anthropologists have always traditionally been men. That means all of the artifacts of goddess cultures have been interpreted through the lens of a man. Their conclusions are often these cultures were stupid and primitive because they didn’t know how to build a weapon. It’s never occurred to these so-called experts that the reason there were no weapons because every person was taken care of and accounted for. There was a spirit of generosity and mutuality; there was an understanding that we are all intimately connected on a quantum level. Women created the domestication of animals and farming, but who gets the credit?”
Among the historical narratives Morris seeks to right in The Call are the ones her participants carry individually; she’s teaching more than a goddess-centered cosmology. Her intensive yogic and meditation studies have taught Morris where people retain tension in their bodies, and her guided mediations take participants to specific “places” in their faces, trunk and limbs that serve as store-holds for pain, frustration and “heaviness”.
Men asking to be on The Call:
In the very beginning, I kept hearing from men, “We need to be on The Call. What about us? We need it more than you do. Where are we going to get these teachings?” All I can say, pardon my language, is “Go where the fuck you’ve always gone: go wherever you want; free and safe.” It’s amazing to me; there are still clubs in New York that don’t accept women, and men want to horn in on this. It’s like men asking, “Why can’t we go see a gynecologist?” The answer is simple: “Because it’s not for you.” Still, we get men trying to sneak on The Call around once a week.
The Call is a place where women can be safe–where they can be completely themselves for thirty minutes–without their husbands, boyfriends or whoever else. It’s a place where women can dispense with all the endless cultural training that they are imperfect, that they should put other people’s well-being before their own. That’s what women have been told for centuries: that your happiness is perpetually outside of you and that it comes to you in the form of a man–hence all the brainwashing around marriage: look at this beautiful dress; look at this gigantic diamond; look at all the people watching–I am loved. Meanwhile, studies show women who marry live shorter lives than those who decline.
How Women are Taught to Regard Their Bodies:
With the growth of the Catholic Church throughout Europe, you have a doctrine spread that devalues women. In medieval times–watch “The Burning Times” to understand how extreme the woman-hating was–every Sunday the local priest gets up and says things like, “The woman’s womb is filled with poisonous vipers and bile. Everything about her is unholy. Everything about her is unholy. Everything about her is of The Devil. She is a danger.” The only danger, of course, is the way that “the holy men” set up the story of The Garden of Eden.
Women are all weaned on that lie–that the human race was booted from the garden because of us–whether or not we subscribe to Judaism or Christianity. We are taught we the sinners; we need fig leafs in front of our genitals; we are shameful. This cultural experience creates a deep-seated self-consciousness that’s caused women to live at distance from their bodies and their power. And, of course, our modern culture doubles down on it with mirrors and scales, with “beauty” magazines and this relentless demand that women subscribe to an ideal of beauty that changes every fucking four weeks according to Anna Wintour.
The Age-ism and Biases Against Women:
In this system, women can’t keep up; we’re not meant to keep up. We’re taught to chase ideals that we can never quite reach in beauty, in fashion; we’re taught to objectify ourselves and to maximize whatever we have that the patriarchy finds valuable. You are not allowed to get older, so you have flocks of women making plastic surgeons very rich men because they are not stupid: they understand, and say, “as soon as I reach a certain age, I’m out of the running.” If you’re a woman in New York City after age forty, nobody looks at you on the street anymore. Eventually, you’re an old lady that people treat, like, can-you-get-the-fuck-out-of-the-way?
In essence, when Eve is booted out of The Garden, we are all booted out of our bodies–the body is disgusting; womankind is weak, treacherous and inferior–leading man astray from his relationship to the almighty. As a result, over thousands of years, the Earth–our Mother–becomes nothing more than a stepping stone; Paradise is not here in this foul place. In a macro sense, this moronic mindset leads us to what we’re dealing with in climate change: nothing is sacred, because God left the premises a long time ago–and it’s all Eve’s fault.
The Call is also called “Return to the Garden” because of all this. I come back to that “sacred place” over and over, encouraging everyone to stop living at a distance from their bodies, from that feeling we are innately flawed, inadequate, on the periphery of power, because that’s what women have been taught–you can date it, you can fuck it, you can blow it, but you can’t have it; you can’t have it for your own. What many women don’t realize is that power is never given; it’s always taken.
In each Call, Morris articulates perspectives that challenge the truths women are often long accustomed to–that they are “weaker”, “beholden to men”, “incapable”. Her seemingly good-natured questioning on patterns of paternal inheritance can delve into a discourse on the dark practices of medieval societies, which controlled the influence of women for so many centuries that even modern society accepts those prejudices and legacies as “normal”.
Morris covered that topic on our call, too, pointedly saying that in the patriarchal order, “In essence, women become property. If there’s ever any defense of women, it is because another man is harming ‘your property’, not because of any desire to ‘honor women’. And by making women get married–and only presumably having sex with one person and thereby assuring that the father is actually the father–then all property rights could be passed on through the male side. It’s a complete upending of what I consider to be the natural order of things.”
The accepted “order of things” is something Morris has questioned from an early age. Describing herself as more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King, Morris says her burn-down-the-world ethos, her rage against injustice, is an aspect of herself that led her to cross a Brooklyn street as a 12-year old to stop a man from hitting a woman (despite her mother’s horror). At age 52, she remains far from being a crazed harpy, an elderly crone or even slightly middle-aged. Morris dances, poses nude and celebrates her body in her social media posts; she encourages other women to do the same.
Conceiving “The Norm” Differently:
What if the situation had been reversed for the last 4,000 years? Imagine you’re born and on every corner—everywhere you looked—was a temple to the Divine Feminine? What if only women were CEOs, presidents, senators, congressmen, police, lawyers, cops. What if every position of authority is filled, and has always been filled, by a woman? I can’t even imagine women not stopping short and saying, “Wait, hold on a second, this is totally unfair. My husband is only making two-thirds of what I make? What is this?”
What astonishes me is that so few men have stood up, looked at their daughter, or their wife, or their sister, or their mother and said, “Wait a minute; this is so wrong. How can we men possibly feel good about winning, leading, providing? We’ve benched half the population.” No man I know has ever said that. And no man has ever been able to tell me exactly why he hasn’t done that yet.
How to Create Change:
The mandate of patriarchy is profit over people, unilaterally and preemptively. Therefore the only way to change laws or perspectives is to disrupt their profit making. It’s like in Poland a year or so ago—since the 1950s Poland has had lenient abortion laws but its mostly male legislators decided to make those laws truly draconian. That led to an effective protest: one Monday every single Polish woman didn’t go to work–let me repeat that, every single Polish woman hit the streets, all wearing black. It’s a more homogeneous society than ours, so it’s a little easier to generate that kind of response, that uniformity, but it was powerful: the streets were rivers of black. The government was so freaked that they immediately reversed the laws and made them even more accommodating of women than they had been previously.
That’s how to make a change: the only way to disrupt patriarchy is to throw a wrench in the wheels of commerce. As soon as they stop making money, the whole thing changes because that’s all the patriarchy cares about. Every single time a woman makes a movie, or publishes a book about her own suffering, guess who the fuck is profiting off that? Yes, it’s the guy who owns the publishing company; the guy who owns the movie company. They are like, “Yes, go ahead. Put everything out there about all your troubles, little girl. In fact, let’s make a whole series about it. Go ahead, have a march, because we are going to make some serious bank off this, and not change a motherfucking thing.”
Putting a Stop to Bigotry:
Most of my parents’ friends were Jewish when I was growing up. I was about 19 and at my father’s best friend’s house for dinner—it was all the banking and finance people in Barbarians at the Gate–and my father starts telling everyone how he’s applying for membership at the Maidstone Club [an exclusive, non-Jewish, golf club in East Hampton, NY]. Everyone was looking at him, nodding, even though everyone at the table is Jewish, except for my dad and my mother. I took a look at my father and said, “You can’t do this. You can’t apply to be a member of a club that doesn’t accept Jeff or Susie or Peter or Karen as members.” Everyone got a little quiet, and looked down at their plates. Needless to say, my father changed his mind about what he was doing right there.
It’s like that; it’s really simple: you can’t give in. Ever. When too many people go on not saying anything, things like the Holocaust happen. It happens with sexual assault, too. In America, there’s a woman sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and yet less than one percent of rapists spend even one day in jail. Get your head around that. Napoleon Bonaparte would execute rapists. I think if America executed a couple of rapists, you’d see rape go down significantly.
The moment you hear anything against a woman, even the slightest put down, you have to speak up loudly and immediately because that’s the only way anything is ever going to change. I want to give women that confidence–that voice–to stand up and claim the dignity that’s theirs.
Listening In: The Infinity Call June 19th
Here is Morris’ introduction to that morning’s meditation and some of the direction she provides in meditation. Even this short piece is much more than Morris wanted to share, but it was too good not to.
Welcome, Daughters of the Earth and Sky. It’s Tuesday, June 19th, 2018. Remember the essence of meditation is to be located within your inner authority, and for you to emerge out of that into the world–acting with power, integrity, and grace.
It is not wrong, or somehow self-centered, or arrogant to claim your own authority. Rather, it’s profoundly responsible to move individually beyond the collective or conventional models and to take responsibility for your own perspective and values.
You are no longer a child in a kind of parental engagement with God or society. You are completely inhabiting your own personal and creative engagement with Life. To be truly oneself is to run the risk of being different than others. Perhaps your culture, family or friends introduce anxiety and self-doubt.
That’s how to make a change: the only way to disrupt patriarchy is to throw a wrench in the wheels of commerce. As soon as they stop making money, the whole thing changes because that’s all the patriarchy cares about.
You are a gift, there will be no one like you again; and your particular way of knowing is a huge contribution to the collective. When you embody who you are, the connection between all of us is enhanced. Inhaling, take both arms into the air, spread the fingers, arch the spine, lift the chest, the chin up, hands to prayer.
Step into your intention. Your intention should be something you’d be comfortable with having on your tombstone. It should be something that you would stake your life on…
What follows Morris’ introduction are specific points of focus for the mediation, asking those on The Call to relax common centers of tension (scalp, forehead, jaw, etc.) In her leading, Morris additionally provides mind-shifting direction:
…Engaging your consciousness retrieve the scattered aspects of you that are embedded in space and time that isn’t right now. You’re retrieving your consciousness from the past, from the future, from whatever issues or problems you’re having today in your world. By actively engaging with your physical temple, you begin to remand your speculative unconscious awareness. You knit it back together with the physical. In a way, it’s another version of that tiny exchange in the chest between flesh and spirit–or matter and energy. You’re bringing these disparate parts of you–specifically your body and then your mind–you’re bringing those two back together.
…Your body is tall, soft, transparent. Continue to transmute the rest of the body. Return it to a time before it had been insulted or made small. Unhook yourself from your own history.
…Remind yourself, inform the world, “Every part of me is holy.” You might add, “No matter what you say, no matter what I’ve been told, no matter how many lies culture says about my body, about me, about women. Every part of me is holy.” You must come to know this within yourself.
After the mediation, Morris often reflects briefly on a number of “issues” faced by women. On this day she was quite hot about a number of things, but that discourse will remain between Morris and the other women on The Infinity Call...