Since last year, we’ve planned to return to Miami and study with our teacher John Friend. Our flight departs in 24 hours. Our classes are covered, our hotel is booked, registration completed, and our $2,290 payment has been made to Anusara Inc. In light of the recent J.F. exposed findings, the question is this – “what do we do?”
Circumstances are a matter of timing. Just one week ago, we were full-blown, all in Anusara yogis in in every way. At the moment I’m not sure where I stand. Over the last five years, my girlfriend and I have practiced, taught, and operated a yoga studio from the central teachings of the brilliant system put forth by founder – John Friend (J.F.). In that time, we have devoted most of our available time, energy, and money to the study of Anusara – a system that has enhanced our lives in every way. So I begin as I have been taught to do, by “looking for the good,” and I am forever grateful.
Anusara yoga is composed of a powerful combination of two main things:
- Universal Principals of Alignment (U.P.A’s) &
- The life affirming Shiva/Shakti Tantric philosophy.
When applied appropriately, the U.P.A’s heal suffering without fail. I’ve seen examples so radical, I hesitate to mention them for fear of disconnecting with my audience through disbelief. But let me assure you, Anusara alignment works. It is good because it enhances life in all its nested layers of existence from physical to the spiritual, and it frees people from suffering. Nothing about the validity of the system of Anusara yoga is in question for me.
Here are some of my very basic understandings of the Tantric philosophy. It’s called “life affirming” because it awakens its practitioners to their divine nature in this this life rather than showing them some way of escaping it. The purpose has never been to elevate practitioners per say, but to help them navigate the complicated earthly web of embodied living relationships and find enlightenment down here on earth. This is why John is applying the teachings in his upcoming workshop called “The Dharma of Relationship,” the workshop we’re scheduled to attend the day after tomorrow.
The Tantric philosophy is the “common vision,” shared by both myself and my teachers, which should make things convenient in that we may see eye to eye. But some of what has been recently published on the subject at hand hasn’t lined up with my understanding of the teachings or my life experience, so now I’m at least a little confused about a lot of things. For example: Christopher Wallis recently published an article called How Should the Teacher Behave? vs. What Can I Receive?: Understandings and Misunderstandings Around the Role of the Teacher
In that article Wallis states “Lack of awareness of this truth [the truth about the Guru Principal] causes teachers to be put on pedestals, and students to be disempowered. Then, inevitably, the teacher “falls.” In fact this fall is not real, because the pedestal was never real.” Is this true? Have I placed my teacher on a pedestal and asked any more of him than I would ask of myself, or anyone who I place on a level with myself? Am I somehow accountable for the “fall” of J.F? I really don’t think so, as I’m only applying basic laws of human relationships to my judgments. I guess the question isn’t really all that important because he goes on to say “the only one thing that actually matters for the yogi is “Can I receive something from this person?” Is that true? My understanding of the Guru Principal is that EVERYTHING is a teacher, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to spend thousands of dollars and decades of my life listening and practicing from just anyone because they “I can receive something.” In reality, choosing one teacher means not choosing another, at least for that moment. It’s called discernment, and in this moment, it’s what is needed. What do we do? I’ve got to make a decision.
It’s difficult to tease out my individual perspective from what I’ve learned in my studies. The practice of yoga adjusts our worldview for the sake of greater clarity and truth, which ultimately leads to higher experiences of bliss – it’s basically chit and ananda. Because of my devotion to Anusara, my observances will inevitably flow through its unique lens. Thus, while I’m making my decision to go study with J.F. in Miami, I’m thinking as a free individual, but I’m also thinking as a yogi applying the tools I’ve accumulated on my path.
As an individual I am a yogi, a teacher, a business owner, a community leader, a homeowner, a “husband,” and a father among many other things. All this, I understand is part of my “story” which inevitably frames my perspective. I get that from Wallace. But as I make my decision, it’s important for me to keep things rooted in the “real world,” and refrain from exhaled thinking as a way of bypassing simple laws like cause and effect or the Golden Rule. To do so would be like trying to learn to fly without acknowledging the law of gravity.
Being who I am, family and community are of the highest importance. I understand that for some older single men, sleeping with married women doesn’t seem like a “bad” idea. As a husband and father, my “story” reveals that to me this decision has a devastating effect on families and on even entire communities, as I’m sure is being revealed to J.F. at the moment. Relationships are so intricately woven that one missed stitch, one misalignment can affect the whole web. That’s why society has a system of integrity and accountability. These are the checks and balances of relationships. When someone in the community makes a mistake and creates anguish in the larger group, they must be held accountable for their act. This includes EVERYONE; nobody is exempt – students, partners, employees, and self. Call it judgment. Accountability serves a purpose, and I know that it can be done out of love and kindness and a big picture perspective. I ask for accountability from everyone else in my life, shall I not ask for accountability from my teacher?
I AM contemplating J.F’s situation with compassion. He is inevitably suffering at the moment. I want to give him a big hug and tell him how much I feel for him – and I do feel deeply for him. It’s got to be damn hard thing being a single man in his position of power. I also understand that his behavior is really very normal for a single older man. So I offer compassion – there must be humiliation, emotional pain, distress, and a general struggle for peace. But I have been taught to see these experiences as indicators of “misalignment,” painfully obvious road signs on the path to deep inner harmony. So, I know my teacher is out of alignment in the grand form of the concept – life in general.But since I too am suffering, I must also be out of alignment.
I’m not suffering the “fall” of J.F. because I placed him on a pedestal, I’m suffering because this is yoga, we’re yoked, and we’re all in this thing together. That’s the truth. One person’s actions can be the cause that affects us all in ways that either enhance or diminish life. That’s why we’ve got the Golden Rule. Anyone who wants to simplify complicated matters with statements like “the only thing that matters here is…” aught to seriously consider this method – do onto others as you would have done to yourself. It’s simple but also true, and it works.
We’re living in a time when we lack true leadership. All too often we have been let down by those in power. Company executives, politicians, the president, coaches… But nobody is “above” basic laws of humanity – this is a lesson to all. People of power have to play by the same basic rules as us commoners because these basic rules are woven into the fabric of nature. People get busted even if they’ve surrounded themselves with an insulated bubble of believers, money, and power. The truth has a way of revealing itself. That is grace. Sometimes it’s really not pretty and people often get caught in the crossfire and that’s tragic. This is true of website – J.F. Exposed (a site that in no way do I sanction)
The question now is – what do we do? What do we do when we’ve been let down by the people we thought to be living examples? Many have made comments like “it’s so good to hear that he’s human like the rest of us.” Is this helpful – admitting that you had him on a pedestal and then reducing humanity to mistakes like sleeping with other people’s wives? This situation is a brilliant opportunity; it can raise or lower our humanity, and in my opinion it’s time to raise it.
Douglas Brooks famously says, “Enlightenment is a collective endeavor.” But if we discount the mistakes of our leaders by passing them off as “human” we fail to hold them accountable and this damages the integrity of us all. If we don’t call a spade a spade, we’ve participated in the deception. When turn a blind eye on one person’s blatant lack of integrity, in turn we sacrifice our own. If we’re going to elevate consciousness, it won’t happen by bypassing basic laws of civilization like “don’t sleep with another guys wife,” and “don’t have sex with the interns.” Even though yoga does explain these things, we really shouldn’t need yoga to do that because these are lessons everyone has learned, however spiritually immature they may be.
What do we do with all of this?
Let’s use the painful transparency of this situation to engage in a large-scale conversation that enhances life and raises consciousness. Truth be told, the Anusara community tend to prefer cloaking reality in a shroud of shri. We’ve been taught to “look for the good,” and this is a valuable practice. But there comes a time to look for the truth, and the truth is this: the shadow is real. We’ve been a group that commonly beats around the bush and avoids it. Here’s the result: jfexposed.com. Let us all take a good look now and get real clear about our own accountability. Let’s attempt to live with the highest integrity and hold each other to it. When I slip and I don’t see it because I’m shrifully gazing into the eyes of the divine, I want to know someone’s there to wake me up and say, “Hey buddy and get real!” I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen, but I can’t make any promises. I AM human, and I’m going to make mistakes like everyone, but without the checks and balances of relationships, I may start to feel like I’m on an island when I’m not. I’m down here like the rest of us, in this tangled web of relationships where the teachings begin. The practice of yoga starts now.
Todd Vogt (Studio Owner)