Saturday, February 18, 2012

Living in Our Own Shadows

There has been some controversy in the yoga world recently. I follow a lot of yoga blogs, and there is always a topic du jour that takes the yoga blogosphere by storm.  I have never previously commented on them because even if I sometimes find these issues interesting, I do not see them being interesting to the readers of this blog. But this current one is something that I think is important for everyone to consider.

In a nutshell, the current controversy revolves around John Friend and his “brand” of yoga – Anusara. To make a long story short, many of his high-level teachers have stepped down, and as of a few days ago, even John has decided to take a break. For purposes of full disclosure, I did my teacher training with someone who is Anusara certified, and I really respect its teachings, but I am not, nor have ever tried to be, Anusara certified.

So why do I care? More importantly, why should you?

John Friend is/was the leader of a type of yoga that has gone international. He owned the company as a sole proprietorship (the legal implications of which are huge, but sadly, that is not the type of law I practice, so I am not going to even pretend to be competent to comment on those legal issues, but I would be curious about it, so leave some thoughts in the comments if you know about this). This was his brand. Anusara teaches about opening to grace. It teaches energetic anatomy and community. These are powerful and beautiful teachings, but the man at the top admittedly had serious interpersonal issues and is being accused of some fairly serious infractions. While I have no personal knowledge of the veracity of the accusations, the appearance of impropriety is something lawyers take very seriously.

John Friend is not the first spiritual-type leader to face controversy for his personal actions. In fact, the list is fairly long, and some refer to these people as “fallen gurus.” As leaders of a spiritual community, their public lives revolve around particular teachings that their personal lives rebel against on a daily basis. Some argue this is what makes them such wonderful teachers – they can be compassionate and understanding of the difficulties of the human condition.

At some level, we all do it. We do everything in our power to hide the truth, sometimes having to even hide it from ourselves. It shocks people to learn that I do not practice yoga every single day (unless the deep breaths in the car count). I often talk to people who say one thing about how they act, and the next day I see them acting in contravention of that statement.

I am fascinated by this phenomenon. Is this how we can believe that it is always the other person who is being unreasonable? Is this how we can demonize people for whom we find it difficult to have compassion? In the story about John Friend, the accusations are that his inappropriate behavior was happening for years, but no one said anything about it. I can only guess why people would hide this information if it was true. But it is not the first time we have heard about this. Institutions keep secrets. Loyalty, friendship, and the need to keep the institution alive mean that it is easier to take care of the problems “on the inside,” rather than shed light on them.

And this brings me to the legal profession. We are a self-regulating profession. Lawyers have an ethical duty to report other lawyers who violate the Rules of Professional Responsibility, but the requirement that lawyers act at all times in ways that do not lead to an appearance of impropriety never manifested. Judges must, but lawyers need not.

Is this just a recognition that none of us are perfect? Is it a recognition that we are all going to make mistakes? The “fallen guru” phenomenon, and the ostensibly hypocritical actions so many of us take might actually be something different altogether. Real people recognize that which is so difficult for them in their own lives. Therefore, they ask, and sometimes demand, others to be “better” than them. But then they must hide their own personal failings, begging their closest allies and friends not to tell anyone about. And then, when it finally surfaces, entire institutions fall overnight.

No one can live with that guilt forever. No one can live with those secrets forever. Perhaps this is why lawyers are not prohibited from acting in ways that could lead to the appearance of impropriety. As a profession, we did not want to force ourselves into that double bind, into that shadowy existence. The lack of that requirement used to bother me, but with so many of these hidden worlds coming to light, perhaps it is better not to force people to pretend to be something they are not. Out in the open, we can nip problems in the bud much faster.

The teachings of Anusra are wonderful. I do not know John Friend, nor will I probably ever meet him, but sadly his story, whether true or not, might destroy all that he worked to build all because he possibly felt the need to be one person on the outside while living a private life in direct contravention of his teachings. I find that incredibly sad and disheartening.

How do you notice this in the world?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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