Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guru Purnima

Well "my two cents" morphed into a great chunk of change by the end of the day. I want to thank everyone for participating in such a rich and meaningful discussion- from the comments on the blog to the comments on Facebook and so forth. I even some pretty thought- provoking personal emails that people sent in response to my entry. I know it takes a lot of time to sit down a craft a letter or even a concise paragraph and so I really do want to thank everyone for joining in the conversation and adding so much texture to the fabric of this particular issue.

I got one email from someone encouraging me to "chill out" which was kind of funny because as passionate as I am on the topic of this method, my teacher , the integrity and intelligence of my colleagues and the dedication and sincerity of my students, I am not in anyway confused or personally troubled by the article. I have been around a while, right? I am a pretty perceptive person, right? And better yet, John is pretty much a guy whose sins are on the surface. That is a phrase that GI Gurdjeiff used to describe himself. (He was a pretty radical mystical teacher who founded the school of spiritual work called The Fourth Way. A few Google searches and you ought to be able to find out more about this amazing darsana pretty easily, if you chose.) But anyway, Gurdjeiff was making the point that if you are who you are-especially as a spiritually teacher- then its not some big shock when people learn about your faults.

So I have known John for over a decade and I have had the fortune to be with him in personal settings and in large group settings and one-on-one driving down the highway and sitting at meals with Great Masters and on the phone about business and discussing various heart-breaks and disappointments and I have seen him teaching 800 people in one room and I gotta tell you- it's always the same John. He is who he is.

And really, that has always been his message to each of us: Be who you are. A long time ago he told me it was the foundation of his teaching style. He said, "If everyone thinks they have to impress me in order to win my approval I am going to spend years getting through all that crap before I can actually teach them yoga. So I figure, why not just accept people as they are, give them the love and approval they want (consciously or unconsciously) and not make them "earn it" and we can get down to business a whole lot sooner."

So-- my point is that after over a decade, being a perceptive person AND being in the company of someone who is pretty transparent, well, nothing in the article shocked or upset me in a personal way- I mean all that the reporter said is there to be seen, right? And I am not blinded by my passion and love in such a way I can't see how someone might see things the way this reporter did, etc. John invited this person (an outsider) into the inner world and workings of Anusara Yoga and she wrote a sensationalist article. Big shock. I get it. I am not confused about how such a thing happens. I am, if anything, a realist. So I certainly do not need help with perspective on such matters. I am fully aware that people surround John and have a "Cult of John" for varying degrees of time until they realize what he is really up to is helping them love themselves, and it's not about him but about who we are together and how we might make each other great. All that's just part of the process. I am a teacher, too- I know how it works. And I am fully aware that Anusara Yoga has a marketing plan and thank god they do as my livelihood is hooked into that stream! No issue there.

So really my concern and passion isn't very personal in a sense. I was doing Anusara Yoga long before it was popular and I am going to be doing it whether or not it keeps growing and whether or not I am able to keep making a living at it. So I am solid. Partly, I am solid in my stance because I have watched with great clarity over the years what is positive and negative and so very little shocks or concerns me. And my relationship to the method has grown way beyond a fascination with the outside manifestation of our growth. Frankly, I am just so busy pouring myself into my practice, into my work and into the Teachings that have meaning for me (and not all of them turn me on or make my heart sing or anything wide-eyed like that) that I have little energy left to worry much about the rest of it.

But see, I am blessed to be on a team of people John has trusted with shaping the future of our method by creating standardized curriculum. I am fortunate to serve on several other leadership committees within our organization. And I consider it my great good luck that I was around in the early days of our method when we thought 40 people in a room with John was crowded. So for me, telling these stories is important as a way I can pay back what he so freely gave and gives me. I know today that people practice this method who have no direct personal connection to John and no direct knowledge of his commitment and sacrifices. Part of my purpose in writing yesterday was to help people who see him now as a "yoga rockstar" or "marketing genius" see that phenomenon in the light of a much larger sadhana and in the light of a long-standing and long- enduring commitment to Serve that had very humble roots.

Those roots are part of our method-- to me, much more than the world-wide growth we are experiencing now. And it seems appropriate to speak to some of that so that what we are today is placed in context. (Back to my love of context!) It's true, yoga has the ability now- like at no other point in its history- to elevate people to positions of fame and influence and so sure, ambition lurks around in yoga shalas in ways in didn't used to. Years ago it was some thin hippie lady with long braids and no make-up teaching yoga in the basement of a community center or a church a few nights a week and yoga was seen as more-than-a-bit-weird. Now, yoga studios abound on every corner and yoga teachers have tours and blah, blah, blah... I do not have to tell you all about that-- just open up the Yoga Journal and its self-evident.

But really, when we all begun with John, we had all been practicing for a while. Most of the people around then had come from Iyengar Yoga or from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and it was a very dedicated crowd. We were super-intense and John asked for a lot from us. And we loved it. If we saw him in June and he told us to work on getting more strength in our legs, for instance, when we saw him in August, he was like, "Hey, I told you to work on that!" or he would be like, "Great job, now get your thighs back for real this time." And there was love and there was laughter but I have to tell you we worked our asses off around him because he had so much intensity and we were being pulled in his wake. It was a very high time, but it was no party!

I told him at the first of the year that, in my opinion, our community grew from the love of the practice. We were joined through our zeal and passion to grow, change and serve. We were so into it and all the while John was training us to love ourselves and each other better and after many years, this massive community had formed. Such a massive community had formed, in fact, that even people not-so-intense could now find a way to experience the magic of the method. And fast forward today to Anusara Yoga on the world-wide stage and plenty of people only know John in the role he is playing now and think that the growth was planned in some strategic way. (And sure, yes, I am aware there was some planning along the way but having been in those planning sessions myself, honestly more often than not, they are trying to keep up with growth, not trying to make it happen!)

So I write all this on the full moon of July which in the Hindu tradition is when the teacher is celebrated in what they call Guru Purnima. I am not writing so much for me, Christina Sell, but simply to honor my yoga teacher, John Friend, and to tell a story (of sorts) about how- in part- we got to where we are now. One of the very thoughtful letters I got encouraged me to tell more of these kind of stories because she felt that they were important for people new to the method to hear.

And really, again and always, this method is in our hands in a lot of ways. I think each one of us is its integrity. I think that each one of us is its majesty. And in my heart I know that each one of us is its future. The stories we tell today about yesterday will shape our present. Today's stories will become the story for future generations and the Power of the Word to give birth to reality will continue on. And so I think its worth considering, what story are we telling?


Barefootlotuss said...

Dare I say, "nice story."

Christina Sell said...

Hilarious, Shannon.

Beej Galvan said...

Thank you for never Chilling out! Thank you for being such a steady presence. Your "two cents" is PRICELESS! What a blessing to be in this Anusara Story, with our deep roots that will continue to grow into beautiful lush forests for our grandchildren and theirs and theirs infinitum. Blessings to you and John and all of our teachers on this most auspicious "Mogul Moon"

Christina Sell said...

Thanks, Beej!
Just love the image of the Story being a lush and beautiful forest.
So glad we are on the path together. Love to you.

Anonymous said...


Dale said...

"I think each one of us is its integrity. I think that each one of us is its majesty. And in my heart I know that each one of us is its future. The stories we tell today about yesterday will shape our present. Today's stories will become the story for future generations and the Power of the Word to give birth to reality will continue on."

Wow. You know that feeling you get when something penetrates to your core, and your whole world stops for a moment as you suffer a realization that literally rocks your world?

I didn't have those stories when I grew up. My mother was a bit distracted with health issues, and my father was gone most of the time, and they didn't tell me the stories that set fire to the imagination, hopes, and dreams of youth. Fortunately, I found sci-fi, which although humanist/anti-deist, still pointed me to a higher vision, the ide that one person could _and must_ make a difference.

And then, in the fullness of time, I became a Christian & inherited a past, a people, and an identity - roots. Now I had a people who stretched back in time 6000+ years. Abraham was my ancestor, and David, and Peter, and Paul - the uber-great sages and warriors that shaped a people. And not just any people, but the people of God - those who are passionately dedicated to the things of the Spirit.

Others, I am sure, have realized their place in the tradition that stems from the Buddha, or the Warrior Priest, or any number of other Peoples who are dedicated to the Divine.

And more than doctrine or philosophy or culture, it is the stories that ignite the fires of a young man's soul - the stories that unite the kula around a common identity. Because, I think, it is the stories that most powerfully touch us. That answer the question "who cares what you think or believe?"

The stories we tell matter, because the kids are listening, and they can grow up to be mighty, and change the world.