An Open Letter to the Yoga Community One Year After Resigning My Anusara Certification
Almost one year ago I resigned my Anusara certification.
Between then and now I’ve done a lot of processing, a lot of quiet mulling and a lot of speaking up. I’ve been inspired by new freedom. I’ve invested in some close new friendships while thrilling to say, “Sayonara!” to other former associates. I have grown myself up.
None of my experience is relevant to Yoga Journal. They have yet to find the disintegration of Anusara yoga newsworthy.
One of the best–and hardest–things for me this year has been the shattering of beloved protocols I knew both by heart, and by rote. I’ve taken steps–tentative at first and then more assured–outside the comfortable box in which I had safely–or so I thought!–dwelled for over a decade. I have decided what I think makes for good yoga and also reclaimed interests in things other than yoga. I’ve questioned pretty much everything–including whether or not to continue on in this profession.
Questioning everything is good work but it’s exhausting. Moving on: it’s not the unilaterally forward trajectory we might hope for. All this year I have looked both forward and back. Word trickles in, mostly through Facebook; John Friend is teaching again.
It hurts to learn that some knowingly choose to attend his workshops. I mean, it’s not an incapacitating kind of hurt, or something I ruminate upon every moment of the day, but it is something I think about. I realize that it is beyond my control. I don’t presume to tell anyone what to do. I’m just explaining how it lands on me.
It’s like saying, “Hey, I know this person broke your heart and the hearts of so many others, and detrimentally affected your livelihoods, and made having sex with him one of the most viable ways to advance professionally in his organization. I have heard the accounts of how he predated upon women who’d been sexually abused, and engineered career-devastating blacklists against teachers who dared stand up to him. So he subjected uncomfortable workers in his office to viewing photos of himself being fellated? So he used the Anusara data base as a mechanism for inflicting unwelcome sexual advances? So he is a self-admitted, ‘Master Manipulator’? So he intended to fire employees while assuring them that their jobs were secure? So what? My desire to have a good time is more important than all that.”
It feels about equivalent to being flipped the bird.
“No matter what he’s done, he’s still a good teacher,” I read on Facebook.
To which I say, “No.”
No, because good teachers do not prey upon their students and employees. Good teachers may have private lives but they do not have secret lives. Good teachers don’t lie. They don’t injure students so severely that they can’t walk or even sit, and then climb upon stage boasting: “Not a single person has ever been hurt during any of my events.” Good teachers don’t abruptly, imperiously demand 10% of community earnings because they’re overextended and short on cash.
Good teachers do not do any of these things. Therefore by my calculations John Friend cannot be good teacher.
No matter how it gets dismissed and spun, the outrage of the community was never about a little pot and a little sex. It was always about the abuse of power. I’ll never understand why we resent the Bernie Madoffs and Jeffrey Skillings of the world but don’t seem to mind abuse at the hands of famous, charismatic yogis.
“But what about forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness?” so many of us are asked. “When do you forgive, forgive, forgive? You’re only hurting yourself, yourself, yourself…”
Well, I believe in forgiveness. Much like respect, I believe it is a privilege that is earned rather than a god given entitlement. I decline indiscriminate forgiveness and am here to report that it’s not deleterious.
Where my trust has been violated, I determine when–and if–to forgive. Claiming that prerogative for myself is a way of respecting myself. Being too quick to forgive is a good way to enable people who need help, a better way to encourage repeat abuse, and the very best way to bypass emotions that–although painful–would be better felt.
Yet I find no shortage of people who tell me how to feel; no lack of readiness to police my emotions. I would be shamed if I allowed myself to be.
But I refuse.
I shall of course receive emails after posting this letter. I shall be the recipient of advice from those who would police my feelings and tell me–for my own good and with love–exactly what should be in my heart. Let the illuminating begin.
The irony is that I’m mostly not dwelling on John Friend. I’m about the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m exhausted but, emotionally, feel good. This blog post is just a tiny snippet of my reality–not its sum total.
So, yeah, sometimes I find myself revisiting the past and it bugs me but then I remember the present. Sometimes I even dare to dream a little daydream about the future.
And I smile.
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