Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Back at Home

Warning up front and in plain sight- I am going to make fun of some things and speak directly to some things and if you are in an overly sensitive mood this post may not be for you. I recognize people are in various stages of a grief process, processing their feelings, observations and experiences at different rates and not every post can land perfectly for everyone.  All right, that being said, here goes.

I had a great time out in Georgia and I am happy to be back home.  Kelly and I were having dinner last night and I was talking about the time in Athens and in Atlanta and about my reflections from the experiences of teaching in these different communities. Some of the context of the discussion had to with the various delights and difficulties  involved in  teaching yoga in the midst of the dismantling of the structures of Anusara. (Has anyone come up with a PC way to say  it-- "The Scandal" sounds dramatic and inflammatory.  "The recent events" sounds vague and evasive.  "Anusara Yoga's recent growth opportunity" is funny and certainly holds a kernel of truth but all things said and done is a bit ridiculous and perhaps condescending. Anyway, what to do...)

So a few things are on my mind relative to all of that. And yes, I know I said I wasn't going to talk much about it anymore but this has more to do with my movement forward as opposed to my commentary on what I think happened, didn't happened, etc. On the first day of our  Teacher Training when we were discussing some personal feelings that folks had in the room relative to the current events with Anusara (Oooh, now there is a way to say it... current events...) a trainee made a comment that involved a criticism and a generalization of certain things in her experience of Anusara yoga. Many people shared the experience she was describing and we talked a bit about it and after we explored it a while and had moved onto another topic, when this woman raised her hand and said, "I just need to say that I do not want to be negative or critical and I hope I didn't offend anybody and I am sorry if I hurt anyone's feelings, etc." It was as though some fear came up for her  after-the-fact and she felt she  needed to cover her tracks a bit.

A simliar thing happened when I was teaching the Spring Intensive in San Marcos in March. I posed the question to the group, in all sincerity, "How much time will have to pass before we can say something critical without prefacing it with "I am really grateful for all I learned but...." or "I really respect everyone's decision to stay but...." or "I think Anusara is really great but...."

Someone in the group sincerely answered my question, saying, "Two years, at least."

I said, "Let's do some work on that for ourselves- I can't wait two years. That is too long for me- I do not  have that kind of time."

I launched into the same discourse in March that I did in Athens during the Teacher Training because I think its essential that we get clear here on a few points. There are as many varied experiences of Anusara as there are people involved with it. Some of those experiences share a lot of content and some have almost nothing in common. Everyone was looking at and participating in the same thing from sometimes radically different perspectives and therein lies the interesting and difficult part of the conversation. If we get fundamentalist about this, if we insist that ours is the only true perspective, if we dedicate ourselves to convincing others that their experience is wrong, ignorant, misguided, confused, lacking insight,  negative, vindictive or in anyway, less-than ours we are in pretty unsavory territory.

So, the first thing I propose is that we each look at our own experience very courageously, lay it all out for ourselves to see and then validate it for ourselves.  I mean it- validate it for ourselves to such a degree that the fact that anyone sees it differently poses no threat to the truth of our own truth. It is very difficult to do this as we are trained to seek validation from others in all kinds of ways. (I also think that part can be healthy at times so I am fan of sharing, processing with people and ending the isolated perspectives that secrets generate. But we need to do both, in my opinion. At least 50-50. So I am not saying it is all an inside job but I am saying we have to meet the outer world at least half-way in such matters.)

In my experience, the more I can validate and "make real" my own direct experience in any situation then the more able I am to allow people to have their full truth and I can allow their perspective to be valid as that- their perspective, true in its own way just as mine is true for me. Simply put, I am less prickly. It's just the way that it works.

All right, so all that being said, I think the second thing we might consider is that we could confront the "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" strategy as being appropriate in situations of hurtful gossip and a good tool from childhood lessons regarding playing well with others, but not always applicable to the complexity of adult life and a bit useless in the face of sorting out ethical considerations, distribution of power, interpersonal conflicts,  boundary setting, professional affiliation and so forth. I mean, the thought behind that is great but honestly, its a bit limited as a way to live, in my opinion.

Along those lines, no matter how wonderful something is, it is never perfect. No matter how bad something is, it has seeds of greater possibility. The dark is contained in the light and the light in the dark, etc. We know this from our philosophical studies. So, no matter how much we love Anusara yoga, or loved it or might love it in the future, it is, in my opinion, a completely ridiculous notion to assume that it had, has or will have no flaws and no shortcomings and no way to grow and improve. Get real. Seriously. We have to grow up on this one.

Just like each of us who are wonderful people and love other wonderful people in our lives- wonderful does not mean,  never did mean, and never will mean, flawless. Again, that is a childish ideal so to require ourselves and each other- smart, intelligent, discerning adults- to not see flaw and to not speak of flaw is more than a bit limited and limiting. In fact, it will not allow for growth, development and maturation and so the childish strategy will keep us trapped at its level of immature consciousness. (I do not mean the word childish and immature to sound mean- spirited. I really mean childish in the sense we could trace that idea and ideal back to childhood where we believed in fairy-tale endings and princes on horses, and magic wands. During this time we lacked the ability to see things in their full glory like we can learn to do as adults. Okay, this could digress very easily, so I will move onward.)

Simply put, criticism is not the about the whole thing its about the aspect of the thing being criticized. We do not have to generalize one flaw (or several) to the whole person or organization, etc. So when someone is criticizing something, maybe we could, within ourselves, just pause and go, "oh, they are not talking about everything, just about x,y, or z."

The other thing we could do is to observe why we get so easily offended when criticism arises and instead of asking people to stop speaking their truth, examine our own prickliness and dismantle it interiorly. Yoga can make us more sensitive but it can also make us more resilient. And the kind of sensitivity it is training in us is not the kind that means "easily offended" anyway. But that is another story.

I could go on, but I spelled all this out in my TT and told them that I would like to make an agreement to go forward for the week we would be together-

  1. We would grant each other the generosity to be able to share different perspectives without apology. 
  2.  If our feelings were hurt we would first look inward and see if we could gain clarity about why were so offended.
  3. If we felt we needed to share it with someone, we agreed to speak directly with the person whose comments rubbed us the wrong way.
  4. We would listen to each side of the story and agree to disagree at times, apologize if we did indeed make a mistake and that we would ask for help from others in the process when we got stuck.
  5. We would agree to remember that everyone in the room had mixed feelings of gratitude, hurt, shock, anger and even boredom relative to the situation and that we would not longer preface everything we said with "I love anusara..."etc.
Anyway, the woman who made the comment was a champ because I took her comment and made it into a full-blown teaching lesson that went way beyond her sweet plea to the group that she did not want to seem rude, etc. But that is the way it is when we teach sometimes-- someone opens a door and we can walk through a simple comment into a much bigger teaching. I have been that student more than once for my teachers over the years and its always a bit wild to see what can happen and how a teacher can make a big point out of a small comment. Sometimes, we just have to take one for the team, like this woman did. She was a trooper about it, though. 

So, like I said, I personally am not interested in a 2-3 year period of time having to  go by before everyone is undefended enough to hear each other's thoughts about things.  I am putting the people who know me on notice. I am smart, intelligent woman who has opinions about things and whose job is to offer those thoughts and insights in service to others in the process of deepening our sadhana together. Part of my job is to share that reflective process, not to not offend the group.  Freedom is only freedom when we are free to agree and free to disagree, when we are free to praise and free to criticize.  Of course, there are skillful means so I am not planning on becoming some kind of crazy blurter or anything like that but I am just saying, that in order to really teach and learn, we have to clear the field a bit and be less identified with our own feelings of being offended.

I am saying "we". I am rarely psyched to be criticized and I prefer for everyone to think I am great and for us to have big lovefests of agreement. I am big fan of preaching to the choir. Like any good co-dependent I like to please people and have a good repertoire of adaptive strategies in place to do just that. But I have to say, it's tiring. And this recent situation has just gone on too long, in too much scale to be able to preserve those strategies without breaking down and destroying my energetic field entirely. Being PC all the times takes a lot of energy.

All right, tomorrow or the next day I have some more things to say on teaching and some clarity around that I came to.


art said...

thank you, very helpful

alohajerseygirl said...

Thanks so much for this, Christina. I get so tired of feeling like I have to apologize for my opinions for fear of upsetting people. I also find it aggravating when people talk *about* a person whose comment upset them rather than *to* that person. If you're not willing to speak to that person face to face to come to some sort of mutual understanding, then let it go. Gossip isn't helpful; it only makes a small situation into a big one.

My favorite part of this post is: "But that is the way it is when we teach sometimes-- someone opens a door and we can walk through a simple comment into a much bigger teaching."

I am a high school and middle school teacher, and I think my students are sometimes baffled when I digress because a comment a student has made spurs a thought process in me. But if I can't be spontaneous and learn and grow from my students, then I'm dead as a teacher and as a human being. We all can learn from one another--which comes back to the subject of conflict. I so appreciated your bullet point about being responsible for our emotional responses to people and first looking within to reflect on why a particular comment upset us. What button did it push? Is this really the other person's responsibility, or do I need to take more responsibility for my reaction and recognize its roots?

Speaking from my own experience, this very practice has changed my life immeasurably for the better, and I can see the positive effect it has on the people around me.

Thank you for your blogs; they are always so thoughtful.

Kristina said...

"Freedom is only freedom when we are free to agree and free to disagree, when we are free to praise and free to criticize. Of course, there are skillful means so I am not planning on becoming some kind of crazy blurter or anything like that"

Ha...I literally laughed out loud at this. I love that - skillful criticism is tricky. but possible. I'm from Minnesota which is probably the passive-aggressiveness capital of the world, so I can totally relate to the frustration of hearing people constantly say "Well, I think this is great but..." or "I really like X but..." There is a place for direct, honest and skillful criticism. We don't always have to mask it with honey. Beautiful entry.

Hope said...

Okay, sorry--and sorry for saying sorry--but i found this post offensive, profoundly shocking, and yes, more than a little heartbreaking...are you really saying there are no magic wands?

Thanks for all the honesty, this time and every time. it's always so clearly from the heart, to the heart and for the heart.

Debbie M said...

Amen, Sister! Maha Love to you for always being clear. Whether it's comfortable at the time or not , it brings clarity, and clarity brings growth. Thanks!

Kathy said...

how about calling it the Anusaga?
as always, I love your sharp insights, and am part of the choir. :)

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