This post is not to negate any prior statement I made about my initial impressions of the compassion shown by the Anusara community towards their errant and failed teacher, John Friend. I made that post at a time where there was limited information and the opportunity for much reactive behavior. We know what we know, but we are called upon to do Svadhyaya and to discern.
While the fine details are still emerging, it’s pretty clear what happened at a minimum… John Friend abused and misused the seat of authority that the Teacher takes when he or she presents the teachings. Abused and misused is delicate – he took great advantage of his power, of the willingness of those who lacked the confidence to know better, as well as those who he involved and made complicit. Really, continue to show compassion, but also show some discernment.
In my studies, the Buddha and the Dalai Lama speak a lot about compassion. They are both great role models and offer much guidance, but they are not the voice of the Classic Teaching of Yoga – so, in my studies, first and foremost, there is a personal code of ethics and restraints (yamas and niyamas) but there is no intentional mention of compassion – certainly pretty clear:, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t seek to possess what isn’t yours, don’t do violent acts (even if they are emotional or spiritual) and while I don’t expect Brahmacharya to always mean celibacy, how about ‘ethical sexual conduct’.
So, Anusara yogis, what happened to those – what we teach every day? JF certainly didn’t practice what he preached, but I’m not sure I saw the same compassion and understanding extended by these impassioned yogis to members of the Catholic Church who abused those same ethics, do you feel that compassion for the former partners in your life who cheated on you??… why just for John? That's cultish, sycophantic and delusional. Sure, have compassion, but also enough discernment to hold him accountable. Or, at least yourselves… that’s where we’re going.
I am called to go there because of Elena Brower’s post – not from Elephant, not from Yogadork, but from THE HUFFINGTON POST. That’s a national voice, and one that isn’t necessarily sensitive, aware of, or involved in the yoga community. What’s more concerning is that everyone is praising her, when she in her own words said she knew, she ignored, she enabled and was complicit.
In her post, Elena suggests two camps of teachers, those who knew and those who didn’t. Following is an excerpt in her own words:
Even for us, the ones who knew some (but none of us really knew all of it), it felt terrible to see, from both sides: How could he? But then we realized, (sic) how could we? We were oftentimes complicit -- some of us enabled the liar to lie by lying for him ourselves (itals are my emphasis). There were these strangely uncomfortable, spooky moments in the past few years, to be sure; I was asked to help cover up one big personal lie for John, which ultimately needed to be cleaned up on my end.
Read it again, slowly… fascinating she actually used the word “complicit” - that was the same word I arrived upon a couple days ago after reading a post by another well-known Anusara teacher - based on my moving from compassion to discernment. Let’s examine exactly what that word means:
An individual is complicit in a crime or criminal act if he/she is aware of its occurrence and has the ability to report the crime, but fails to do so. As such, the individual effectively allows criminals to carry out a crime despite possibly being able to stop them, either directly or by contacting the authorities, thus making the individual a de-facto accessory to the crime rather than an innocent bystander.
Well, you assert, there’s really no crime here… or is there, possibly? So, let’s cut the heart-melting life-affirming philosophy for a second and have a reckoning. Anusara is a business, not a lineage. Hatha is a lineage, Anusara is a brand. It is ‘owned’, copyrighted, trademarked and controlled. It had a sole owner and proprietor – that’s a business!
Folks who are employed in that business, or are reliant on the support of that organization, have legal rights. To use the seat of authority (not teacher, but CEO, owner, boss, manager) to create an environment of coercion or even the implication that sexual relations are appropriate or necessary is potentially legally sexual harassment, therefore quite possible a crime, therefore worth holding the abuser of the authority (whether they resign it post facto or not) accountable for the crime.
Yup, I think it is that serious. It was stupid, immature, irresponsible, disrespectful, unethical and unconscionable – but it may very well also be criminal. Therefore, I find Elena and her self-admitted complicity as a call to action. She needs to be held accountable for the same lack of integrity and ethics that she admits she was complicit within – when she chose to place her comfort, her career, her rationalizations and her regard for her teacher as higher priorities than integrity, right conduct and a respect for the TEACHING and the students - not the Teacher, but again, the Teachings - she sacrificed her credibility, and in my opinion, her right to take that seat.
I’m in no position to suggest anything to Elena, but I would offer that she should also consider stepping down from teaching and do some serious reflection or at the very least, stop creating a wonderful, rationalized, compassionate world with no accountability. I go there because she did; she brought the discussion out of the Yoga community and into the Huff Post. I’m holding her accountable for what she wrote and to the audience she sought.
As for John Friend, well, I can have compassion for the ‘sinner’ but that doesn’t mean you don’t ‘process the sin’… I’m not asking for the death penalty, banishment or the pillory. I’m saying a businessman abused his authority to build his own lack of self-confidence (or whatever) by using the situation to get laid. Let’s talk turkey – he wanted to have a lot of sex with different partners whether he was in a declared relationship, they were, or all parties were. He abused the authority (both Teacher and Businessman) – in the world that trademarks and a brands, that is a crime. Oh, or at the least, he fucked up people’s relationships in order to satisfy his urges or his ego – I still can’t frame that as anything but a gross level of narcissism and a lack of a community to be honest with him and create accountability – again, by the broadcasted admission in writing of one of his own.
So, while I’m not an Anusara teacher, I have a personal stake in this one (and full disclosure, I’m trained in Kundalini Yoga but don’t teach it because it requires a code of ethics that allows me no interpretation or latitude in how I present it, so I don’t teach it because it would be unethical; I’m also trained in Ashtanga Vinyasa, but again, there is no latitude to alter the teaching and in respect to the lineage, I choose not to teach it. That’s my issue with singularly-lead lineages, almost that cultish factor of ‘guru infallibility.’ I simply don’t accept this. One of the greatest privileges of teaching Vinyasa and being a ‘universalist’ or ‘yoga-mutt’ allows me to combine the teachings that have become disparate – if we are to be honest, Anusara is Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga is Hatha Yoga, even Tantra will tell you that Kundalini is Hatha Yoga – to reunite and synergize in new or unique ways).
My issues to wit:
Tantra – JF, you have done incredible and indelible damage –you created the most broadcast hybrid of Tantra and to your credit, built it to a national presence through words like ‘life-affirmning’ and ‘heart-melting’and the ‘experience’ that you curated through your standards. Luckily, I’ve had the personal privilege of studying with Pandit Rajmani and Rod Stryker in the last six months. Two very credible, very established Teachers who are each uniquely devoted to sharing Tantra as a living philosophy. Each of these great teachers, in their own way and style, prior to this debacle, still felt the need during their intros to make it clear that, and I paraphrase, ‘Tantra is not about Sting and Trudy having sex for 8 hours.’ Can you imagine what it’s like for them, and for serious students of Tantra to now have JF validate the bullshit perception that Tantra is about sex… that’s what it turned out to be for JF, and I again, hold him accountable for his errors and the negative effects they have on serious scholars and the study of Tantra.
Male Teachers – JF, you did every one of us a great disservice… it takes a long time to set a tone in the room that is so totally asexual that you can create and hold appropriate relationships with students. Combine that with creating space where often confusing and conflicting emotions arise, and the fact that the experience of asana practice is primarily physical, with emotional undertones, and you set up a situation where male teachers must be very careful about boundaries, student attention and students’ desire for connection. It’s a perfect storm and frankly, a low integrity guy in there for the good times could probably play all he wanted, and we all have stories about how some have. Now, JF has escalated that to the point where every controlling and possessive husband has good reason to object to his wife starting practice. Where every salacious thought is entertained, where women who do not have appropriate self-esteem or boundaries will come on to their teacher, and where frankly, it makes it a bitch to actually just try to teach asana practice.
I can sympathize with those women who when are met by a stranger who then asks her how she makes a living to which she honestly responds “I’m a massage therapist” while the stranger gives her that, “oh, I get it” look and smirks. That's who has my compassion, now. There is already such a gross hyper sensationalism over working with the body for the general public that makes it very difficult for those of us who see this as the noble work to not be cast as perverts. For that, I hold you accountable and I am personally disappointed by your totally selfish rationalizations.
I’m lucky, and I give thanks and praise – daily. I had great teachers… they asked me questions in my first year of teaching I ask myself every week: am I here to attach the students to the teachings or the teacher? Am I in the room to be liked or to be a teacher and an accountability holder? Am I teaching for the right reasons, or for my ego. Tough questions, but asking is easy, the contemplation is fruitful and consideration of and observance in applying those tenets is the sacred bond the teacher takes.
I also have a wife I love and have loved for 20 years, and I have appropriate self-esteem and I’m not afraid of confronting my own shadows. The overwhelming preponderance of brightness, light, love and the like is attractive, but life and living folks also have shades, shadows, depths and darkness. Deal with it, honestly, with yourself and via other perspectives if you desire to create sacred space for others… heard of projection, co-dependence, transference? Otherwise, get out of the room, get into counseling and heal yourself before you try to guide other souls to clarity – your projection feeds your ego, not the practice.
From their own branding, it’s clear that there was a lot of brightness, sunshine and heart-melting, but not a lot of looking at the shades, the shadows, being honest and holding the teachings more sacred than the teacher.
So, that’s why I write today – trouble has been put in my world by JF, and I cannot tolerate the emphasis of compassion over complicity by his coterie that hid his shame and unethical behavior. Sustain the compassion, but hold the account and the action as reprehensible as it is.
I’m not trying to pick a fight; I don’t know Elena but from what she’s shared –that’s troubling enough. If you are reading this and know her and think she’d like to dialog about her complicity, I’m open to that. We need more frank talk and more accountability – I’m not going to shy from that. Tha'ts a true invitation, not posturing, not looking for a polemic... just need to hear her explain how she continues to hold the seat of teacher at this point, as a peer to a peer.
And, by all means, love the method if you must, but it’s hatha yoga plus, so you can teach everything you know and not actually have to pay for the brand, support the unethical business, or further aggrandize JF… but, funny how all the departing from the Brand by the ‘established’ teachers didn’t happen until careers were established and disclosure was imminent. Complicity is exactly what that is - thoughts?
Give thanks and praise.