Archive for ‘Doh!

March 15, 2012

Under the Influence

“Hang on for a sec, I have to formulate this thought.”

I held the phone away from my ear. I was talking with a friend about Anusara Yoga, a now out of print book written by Doug Keller, and something fuzzy was poking at my brain, trying to get my attention.

Rewind about 8 or 9 years. Doug was essentially blacklisted from from the Anusara community when he had a falling out with John Friend. I used Doug’s book in the first Immersion Program I ever taught because it was superior to John’s manual.

I should tell you this:  Anusara teachers were actively discouraged from using Doug’s book. I remember getting into a big disagreement about it with the instructor who co-taught that first program with me.

“John doesn’t want us to use that book,” she insisted.

“I don’t care. It’s the better book,” I insisted back.

Back and forth we went. Our disagreement was so heated that it was one of a couple of factors that almost resulted in the end of the friendship. In the end, a trip to India saved that relationship. I realize how dumb risking a friendship over a textbook sounds. That was almost 10 years ago, and I’ve done a lot of work on my communication skills since then.

I dug my heels in about that book. An uneasy agreement was made to use it. I remember trying to order it for my students through Anusara’s online store. It was no longer available. Eventually, I wound up contacting Doug directly, and purchasing what I believe were the last printed copies of that book.

The next time I taught an Immersion, there was no longer any stress regarding what book to use. Doug’s book had gone out of print, leaving John’s manual the only option.

I never said anything. I never openly challenged the lack of room for a book that would have been a good resource for my students. I shrugged, and eventually forgot that there was a copy of Doug’s book in my bookshelf.

Right now, there is a brutal thread active on the Kula Without Boarders Facebook page in which teachers are coming forward to share their experiences of being asked by John not to work with specific teachers who had raised his ire. Some of the teachers acquiesced. Some of them didn’t. All of the teachers relay a feeling that I’ll describe in my own words as–dirty.

I very much hope that some of those teachers will be willing to risk re-posting their stories in the comment section on this post. We can’t heal what we don’t reveal.

I am emphatically not judging any of the teachers who buckled under the pressure to accommodate John in blacklisting “troublemakers”. I honestly don’t know what I would have done had I been asked to participate more actively in the blacklist. I want to think I would have refused but I can’t know for sure. I would have certainly understood the political ramifications of invoking John’s displeasure.

I’ll say this–I sure didn’t invite any blacklisted teachers to teach programs with me, or suggest them for workshops.

It’s far too soon to say what kind of relationship I might have today with some of these teachers who were made to disappear. I’m not suggesting that we all reflexively hug it out, braid each others’ hair, and give each other facials. I do intend to keep an open mind, and to allow my perception of these folks to be shaped by what direct experience I have with them. I have apologized to Doug for having chugged enough Kool-Aid to have affected my judgement.

Wait–that was it!  That was the thought I had needed to formulate. Kool-Aid!  All this time, my friend was still hanging on the other end of the telephone.

I drank a lot of Kool-Aid  over the last decade.

I am not debasing myself here, okay? I’m not vilifying, blaming, or playing the victim. I’m a free, competent human who sees value in self-reflection. I’m reflecting upon the way I voluntarily help out my cup to be filled, swallowed, and drank. I’m reflecting that, under the influence, it made sense to me that some teachers were anti-Anusara, and needed to be ostracized. That was never a conscious thought but my actions demonstrated that it was somewhere in my unconscious.

So, what other assumptions might I have made with impaired judgement? It’s very unlikely that I have detoxed overnight from 10 years of metaphorical substance abuse. I have to go on the assumption that there is still residual Kool-Aid in my system.

That means it will probably be a pretty good idea to be open to questioning my beliefs–especially around Anusara yoga, and John Friend.

Lots of good beliefs will probably hold up. Some might not pass muster.

I’m open to waiting to see.

Have you ever been complicit in blacklisting someone, or have you ever been blacklisted? Tell me your story in a comment below.

February 25, 2012

Response to John’s Latest Letter

The thing about love is that it doesn’t just disappear overnight. I may have resigned my license but I haven’t stopped caring about what happens to my friends of over a decade, or about what happens to Anusara. Yes, I have freed myself, but just sailing away into the sunset without regard for the community feels…wrong.

I find myself in an awkward position:  much as I’d like to shift my conversation away from Anusara, Inc., new developments continue to require that I use my voice.

In that spirit, here are my thoughts on John Friend’s latest letter to the teachers about the future of Anusara yoga.

John Friend writes:

“Three weeks ago private information about me was posted on an illicit website in order to harm me, Anusara yoga, and all those named on the site. Although there has been no investigation or verification of the claims, a wide range of intense reactions and judgments has divided our community.”

This paragraph–in fact the entire letter–is full of troubling passive language. For example, “private information about me was posted on an illicit website in order to harm me…,” and, “…a wide range of intense reactions and judgments has divided our community.” This passive language carefully creates the impression that the circumstances we find ourselves in have somehow just happened to us, rather than being the result of John’s misconduct.

The passivity of the language makes John appear to be the victim of a situation beyond his control. Let us remember that this is not the case. John is not the victim in this situation. Lest attention be diverted away from the actual victims here, we should remember the teachers and students who have invested years, effort, and lots of money in Anusara yoga. These teachers are the actual victims.

Should we be reflecting upon the ways in which we may have given away power and conferred too much authority upon John Friend? Absolutely. Does that make John Friend the devil? No. Does it make him the victim? No.

The letter continues:

“During this month, many of our licensed teachers resigned (8% in total), including some of our leading teachers. I am very sorry and sad for the hurt that everyone has experienced during this scandal, and over time, I fully believe that truth, clarity, and great soul lessons will be revealed for all of us.”

Here we get more passive language, and a statistic. I would be interested in seeing exactly how that 8% percent is calculated. Given the lists tracking resignations that have been posted to Facebook and Bay Shakti–and given that there are currently 505 members in the Facebook group for teachers who have resigned– I find it hard to believe that the resignations amount to a mere 8%.

Actually, I find it impossible to believe. Actually, I don’t believe it at all. I wish I could say it’s the first time I have been suspicious about statistics John has cited, or claims that John has made, but it’s not. In this case, downplaying the number to 8% would certainly be some good damage control. It would also effectively–and conveniently–marginalize the number of teachers who have left.

“The first change is that I have joined in a business partnership with Michal Lichtman, who will now serve as CEO of Anusara, Inc. Michal is a successful business woman and a certified Anusara yoga teacher, and I am very confident that she will skillfully direct Anusara for the greater benefit of all. I am remaining as founder, student, and teacher of Anusara yoga. I am embracing this profound change in my life with bright openness to the next chapter for both Anusara yoga and me personally.”

I do not know Michel Lichtman at all. I have no reason to doubt her integrity. I’m sure she is a perfectly lovely human being. Here’s what I find questionable:  the new CEO is a former student of John’s? She was already in business negotiations with John to expand Anusara? Now she has been appointed by John?  To avoid conflict of interest, I would have much preferred to see someone less close to John appointed as CEO. Also, all this appears to have done without John having been subject to an ethical committee review.

“With significant counsel from teachers in the Kula, we will be transforming Anusara yoga into a teacher run non-profit organization (501C3), Anusara Yoga School, dedicated to serving the Anusara kula. Anusara Yoga School will direct certifications and curriculum and will serve as a central hub of information on Anusara yoga and its licensed teachers.”

A non-profit? That would be admirable. It would perhaps be just the thing an uneasy community would love to hear. Right now we are a long way from being a 501C3. Assuming the claim of going non-profit is made in good faith–who is going to elect the board of directors? Am I correct in my understanding that it is the current organizational structure that would elect the officers of the non-profit? That doesn’t sit so well.

Also, don’t non-profits require donations? Business wizard, Taro Smith, points out, “Given that the non-profit will require staff (executive director and development director as well as administrative support, office, ability to publish materials, website, directory, enewsletters, training manuals, etc)…I am estimating that is will need roughly $1,000,000/year to meet operating expenses to stay competitive with the current landscape of certification options. This means if there are 1000 remaining certified and inspired teachers then that is likely average donation annually they will need to keep this afloat…”

Who is going to donate this money?

“Details of the next steps for the establishment of Anusara Yoga School and the election of its Board of Directors will be communicated to everyone next week by a Steering Committee composed of Ross Rayburn, Todd Norian, Ellen Saltonstall, Deb Neubauer, and Jimmy Bernaert.”

This Steering Committee is made of upstanding members of the Anusara community. I have nothing but respect for these fine yogis and humans. That said, I would feel a lot more comfortable that the community was being well represented if the Steering Committee included more teachers who have publicly asked challenging questions, and pushed back on a single tiered power structure.

“I would like to personally thank every one of you who have stepped forward to support Anusara and myself during this tumultuous time.”

I fear that I am not one who would be counted among the supporters. I feel, sadly, that support in the form of disagreement has had no place here. It appears to me that “supporters” will be appointed to committees. It strikes me that the promise of being given a voice will be a balm to anyone who has ever felt unheard, unseen, or overlooked by John. That makes me nervous.

“May this new era of Anusara yoga continue to expand Light throughout the world.”

I hope so but I can’t say that I think it’s looking good. As my friend Natalie Miller explains, “For me, it’s not an “era of Anusara yoga” that will expand Light throughout the world. It’s you, and me, and our teachers and students. One by one, community by community. We deserve – no, we REQUIRE – direct, truthful, authentic communication, to be able to do that. This is not a good start.”

February 21, 2012

Symbolism Much?

Last night, I dreamed that a poison tree had grown up in my backyard. Its central trunk was busily reproducing, sending foot soldiers–new tendrils and runners–in every direction. I had to only to look at it. I could see that it wanted–badly–to reproduce.

I needed an axe but all I had was the dull steak knife in my hand. It seemed hopeless.

I sawed at it, anyway, with my dull, little knife.

Poison branches fell down on my head.