Well, I had a great time in Virginia. Kelly and I woke up early on Wednesday morning and caught a flight out at 7. We got to Virginia right after noon and had lunch, walked around a while and then my host picked up and took us to James Madison University for the talk I was giving there. It is Eating Disorder Awareness Month and over a year ago, the awesome folks at JMU invited me to give a talk and to teach a class at their school. I expected to be in a classroom with about 15 people there but to my surprise almost 600 people showed up for the talk and we even ran out of chairs. Mostly there were students there but there were also community members and faculty in attendance.
The theme of the evening was about The Transformational Power of Self-Love and it was such a great topic to talk about to that many college-aged kids. I look at self-love like an ongoing practice that we are going to be working with our whole lives because life is always changing and, when we look into self-love as it relates to body image, our bodies are also always changing. So to me, its not a fixed state that we arrive at. Self-love is a relationship, or a friendship with all aspects of ourselves in which we sincerely ask ourselves on all levels - physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually--what we want and need and then negotiate the terms of getting those needs met effectively.
The students paid attention, lots of them had tears in their eyes and a few even asked me some questions. I really enjoyed myself. The next day I taught a class on campus and then a class in town in conjunction with the local yoga studio. We had about 40 folks in the community class which was a lot of fun. The students were so open, sincere and I was struck by how polite they were and how well they listened. They were very sweet and open-hearted which made teaching a joy.
I did feel like I had my feet in two worlds during the last few days, however. I was having some very high and delightful moments teaching and some very difficult and painful conversations with my friends and colleagues who are working to bring clarity to the situation they are in as a community. I am not really sure whether I should write “we are in as a community ” or “they are in as a community” as, I suppose, a case could be made for either point of view.
On the one had, I formally resigned my right to identify myself legally as an Anusara teacher. On the other hand, the last 12+ years of my life have been spent in that community and a piece of paper and some disagreements with policy, procedure, leadership, and certain aspects of community culture don’t sever ties like that so easily. Disagreement is a natural part of life and mature relationships can manage love and opposing views all in the same heartfelt bond. So, like I said, it’s hard to know exactly how to place myself and more importantly, how best to be of service to the people I know and love.
So, as I was in the deep flows of teaching at some very beautiful events these last few days, I was also conferring, counseling and considering some pretty heavy stuff and bearing witness to the confusion, commitment and care that is circulating around the community right now. I have to say that the last few years of my involvement with Anusara yoga have been a lot like that. I have had some of my highest times teaching and some of my most profound personal and ethical challenges sitting side-by-side, sometimes in the same day. I have had more than a few difficult and confrontational conversations with John about topics ranging from ethics, legalities, loyalties, teaching methods, personal accountability, public image, branding, boundaries, organizational politics and so forth. I wrote a lot of this already and I do not want to dredge it all up again but the topic has come up again and people are asking me why I really left.
All those hard conversations eventually led me to recognize a deep and abiding feeling that I disagreed with too many things as they were to continue on in the same way, even though I loved John, was grateful for all I have gained and was deeply integrated into so many aspects of the Anusara community. It was my social life, my professional life and my practice life. Resigning felt like I was ripping apart the seams of my identity and yet I didn’t feel like I could effectively- without harming myself- continue to work for change from within nor did it seem to me that the system wanted to change.
I was living with an ongoing rub of anger and resentment that I couldn’t get to shift. I went to therapy, I went on retreat, I examined my marriage, I changed my diet, I had lots of bodywork and finally I came to the realization that I was angry because I was no longer aligned in the way I was portraying myself. My public persona did not match personal truth and so understandably I felt angry and misunderstood but the real thing is that I was the one keeping the game going. I have looked at this a lot and believe me more than few therapy sessions have been devoted to where that pattern has its origins. Add into that, the fact was that all this stuff was also my job, my social life, etc. and that made it difficult to face the truth because many times the truth demands action.
John himself told me several times that anyone who is not aligned with him should go their own way and so it was a huge wake-up call to own up to the fact that it was me who was not aligned, plain and simple. I disagreed with a lot of things that all added up to the stark and sobering realization that I was no longer able to hold my seat.
Did I know facts about covens, pensions, etc. and fail to expose them? No.
Had I heard rumors? Yes.
Did I mention them publicly? No.
Did I give feedback privately and repeatedly? Yes.
Did I protect John Friend by withholding my suspicion and comments from the public in forums like my blog or other articles? Yes.
Was that right or wrong? Did that enable the dysfunction or spare the innocent? I am still not sure, honestly.
Am I bit upset that my ethics are called into question because of my yoga teacher’s actions? Yes.
The hard thing about secrets and rumors is that they are not always ours to tell and yet once we know them we can become complicit as much by omission as by commission. I am sorting through that for myself. This cycle of events as been the hardest ethical challenge of my entire life. I am sure I made mistakes. If my actions- outright or otherwise- cause you or anyone else harm, I apologize and I ask for your forgiveness and understanding. If you need to speak to me directly about it, please email me or call me.
In my experience, which admittedly is not everyone’s, there have been very few formal channels for feedback in the corporate structure of Anusara yoga and very few, if any, checks and balances. The times that I tried to contribute in that way were painful and unproductive. With so many nuances and domains of relationships in play, it has not been easy to know what is best for me, for my friends and for the thousands of people who are associated with the method, most of which is very positive. Never in my whole life have so many people been so potentially affected by my choices. It is sobering to say the least.
I still don’t know about how best to really speak to some of these issues. When I resigned my legal right to use the Anusara trademark, I kept thinking about how many people run studios and make their livelihood on Anusara yoga and how much I love so many of those people and did not want to hurt them of give them a problem as a result of my choice. What’s a tricky thing to really look squarely at is that when John Friend was riding a popularity high all those years and and his reputation was good, we all benefitted from that and in some ways- not all ways- but in some ways, made a method that revolved around him and capitalized on his good name. And if our success is hinging on his good name, the hard thing is that the opposite sits close by as well. It’s hard to get one without the other, it seems, when it comes to esteem by association.
I think the cool thing that can happen now for the community is that it can begin- if it chooses to- to make some distinctions between the man and the method, the teachings and teacher and the practice/principles vs. the personalities involved. I don’t think it will be easy or quick and I think the road ahead will be fraught with difficulty. That being said, I think it will be a worthwhile process to engage.
All right- thanks for listening. I am very aware that my viewpoint is just that in and in NO WAY do I intend this to speak on behalf of anyone else.