Article previously featured on Bay Shakti.
Maturity in the practice: Where do we go from here?
As an Anusara yoga teacher I’ve felt a bit like Arjuna in the midst of the battlefield of Kuru these last few weeks. All around me chaos is raging: quick flashes, sharp words and sudden changes.
I do not feel I can align fully with a “side” because there are so many perspectives – I see the wisdom in each one. I see my brothers and sisters in community fall away as they resign positions for which they worked so hard and long. And while I realize they are not actually gone, there is a bit of hope and vision that fades with their departure. This community of which I’ve been a part, that has been central to many of our lives, is changing –and suddenly. We are taught that this great battle in the Gita is an analogy for the field of the human heart and the battle waged is one for dharma. Dharma is from the root “dhr” –“to uphold,” and so we each, as members of the community, are called to uphold our love, however we see fit to do that. For ultimately a transformation this fierce, sudden and powerful could only be from a ground of powerful, if sometimes conflictual, love.
So how can we understand this great transformation, this fire of Samhara that is moving through our community at such a rapid rate? Should we as individuals take sides? With whom do we align? What is “right action?” What is our work, as a community, to do? As a Marriage and Family Therapist I cannot help but look through the lens of psychological growth and development, group dynamics, and character structure as much as I contemplate through my spiritual grounding and theory.
I believe we are in a rapid, intense, but normal maturational period as a community and a practice. As John Watkins noted in his earlier post “Put on a Pot of Tea,” it is natural in an organization founded and led by a dynamic leader to go through a crisis period and to have to re-envision and re-structure itself at some point. This period of transformation is de-stabilizing, stressful due to the uncertain outcome, and usually accompanied by that which has not been fully addressed in the organization rising to the surface. In this uncertain place it is quite understandable to want to run away, or fight as though physically threatened. We may even have extremely strong emotional responses connected to previous intense shatterings in our lives or during unstable times. We may respond as we did that time, because it was how we made it through before. These strong protective impulses are especially likely if Anusara is deeply embedded in your life as your spiritual grounding, your career, or community of friends and peers, because these things are so close to our heart. It is natural at this time to want to split off into different factions or try to divide up what is “good and worthy” in Anusara from what is “bad or tainted.” It is natural to want to get away from what we believe to now perhaps be “inherently flawed” due to actions from the past.
All of these responses are understandable and normal at this time and so we have seen intense reactions and exchanges on Facebook pages. We have seen dramatic statements and a desire to know answers quickly and to know what is our next course. It would be nice if everything that has arisen in the past month could be quickly digested by our founder, our senior teachers, or ourselves. The thing is, that’s not how psyche operates. Human psyches need time to digest. It doesn’t matter how much you speed up the rate of your wireless server or your instant messaging- your heart, gut and mind still take time to digest and integrate. There’s too much complexity here, and we simply cannot understand it all upon first view. If we find ourselves quickly jumping into deciding “what’s the highest” or making major choices, we are at risk of taking a spiritual bypass. Our work, as in all cases of intense periods of growth, is to stay with the difficult, uncomfortable process and see it through. As I tell my therapy clients, “unfortunately, there is no way out but through this difficult work.”
Spiritual bypass is a phrase coined in transpersonal psychology (psychology that sees spiritual development as fundamental to psychological growth) to describe using spiritual jargon or practices to unconsciously side-step or avoid difficult psychological process.
For example, we may be someone who has developed an avoidance of personal relationships due to our own wounding and so we choose a spiritual practice which has jargon we can use to support this defensive pattern and therefore “heighten” it as a spiritual choice rather than facing it as a psychological growth edge. In the past we have unfortunately made some spiritual bypasses within our system and within our community, and now this is coming back to us. We have to be willing to take time to be with this difficult asana. No matter what choices we make at this time, it will take time, months or even years, to truly digest, reformulate and grow something anew.
There have been debates about whether Anusara, the system of yoga itself, is fundamentally flawed, or whether John Friend must permanently be separated from Anusara Inc. This is where we must be careful to distinguish appropriate and understandable rage, grief, disappointment, and the multitude of other feelings present in upheaval from the long range evolution and potential of a given method. We can look at other methods for consideration and time and again I believe we will find that great methods, whether it be non-violent social change as developed by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, or our own system of democracy as developed by our founding fathers, or even business models such as Steve Jobs with Apple computers, had fundamental efficacy and potential even given the imperfection of the given founders. Shall we dissolve or turn away from a given system or method because it cannot be separated from the imperfect human beings who channeled them or the structures from the past that now need to be changed? Shall we permanently shun a human being from their life’s work because their actions are so unacceptable as to be unallowable?
In my eyes this is normal, but young. This adolescent perspective tends to split the world into “good” and “bad” objects. We look for powerful, often dynamic or charismatic leaders and attach to them as idealized figures in some way. It is this very idealization transference, when worked through with its opposite devaluation transference, that helps us to integrate our own best selves from the parts of ourselves we would like to hide. It is a normal developmental process as an individual as well as that of a group and it is part of coming into our own wholeness. However, we must be able to ride both sides of the journey as an individual and as a community. It is time for us to mature as a community. Our work is not to kill the leader and destroy the system, although certainly this is what often occurs in group dynamics as Irving Yalom has documented in his work. It is time for us to mature as a community and move through this potent time into a more adult expression of Anusara.
Thus, what does it mean to go “through” something? It means that it is time for us to sit with, discuss as a community, and find ways to integrate all that is rising to the surface right now. The unintegrated material within an organization I refer to above is called shadow in Jungian psychology. Shadow is all that which we have pushed to “the back of the bus” or the back of ourselves. It is the aspects of ourselves as individuals and an organization which we don’t want to accept or fully face. It is all the anger, hurt, disappointment, manipulation, power dynamics and ego which are now being openly aired but which has been present for a long time in our community. It is the intensity exploding through some blogs and Facebook posts which is both a reflection of the individual and also a reflection of the underbelly of Anusara’s past culture. Our work is not to destroy or dissolve what has been birthed- this would be a continuation of the split that was already present within our community in general. Instead we must sit still, dialogue, envision and hold the split together, we must stand in the tension of neither black or white – no neat categories anywhere, but rather shades of gray.
Our work is to integrate the shadow. For a while we have been a community with much greatness, while we have been brilliant in “looking for the good” and highlighting the beauty in the world, we have not been as able to speak to the difficult, to work with darkness. It is time to weave a more complete fabric of Anusara. For in moving beyond “looking for the good” we could start to “look for the good and be able to easefully discuss and integrate the difficult.” We must honestly see the patterns of favoritism, unequal treatment, narcissistic grandiosity and some childish thinking within our community and create something different. Our work is to carry this system forward. Every system holds the shadow of its founder. This is true of Psychodynamic psychology and its founder Sigmund Freud as well as of Jungian analysis and Carl Jung. Shall we then jettison all of Western psychology and its richness for hope and healing? The work of those who follow the founder is not to destroy the system but to witness the shadow, to integrate it and carry it forward. This is maturation, this is the refinement of which we speak so much in our practice, and this is how we grow into adulthood.
Fortunately, alongside reactivity and continuations of our patterns there have also been examples of exactly this of which I speak. There have been brilliant, brave voices, willing to speak to complexity. There have been outrageously selfless souls willing to step forward to devote hours and hours to serve a vision and continuation of Anusara in some form to the best of their capacity. It is on this ground of fierce love that we all gather with our friends, consult with our own heart and take actions to uphold that which supports us. For as Krishna tells us in the Gita: “Dharma upholds the one who upholds the dharma.” I look around at all of you, my fellow teachers, peers and mentors and I see you working so hard to uphold the dharma- I bow to you. I look around and see our students confused, unknowing, uncertain- I bow to you. I see my own teacher uncertain, having worked for so many years. My heart aches for him- I bow to you.
This work is not fast, it is not always clear, it has no “quick fix.” It may seem light years long compared to the speed with which we have grown accustomed to operating. But then, all the work that is meaningful and lasting, takes time. May we all grow and mature the greatness of Anusara Yoga’s capacity to stand for healing and transformation. For I will still stand strong next to all its potential that has radiated through my life, and I know many of us feel the same, wherever we find ourselves standing. We know the greatness of this practice and can speak to that. If we dissolve or water down Anusara Yoga as a distinct method I believe the world will lose a great voice for healing and we will side-step a powerful place of evolution. May we instead add to the conversation, stand alongside the other great paths of Yoga- Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Jivamukti, so many powerful lineages. May we grow as a community and redefine ourselves, find our own voices and weave a broader, truer fabric from this fierce love.
Darcy Lyon (MA, MFTi, RYT) is a Certified Anusara teacher and Expressive Arts therapist. After many years studying dance and theater, Darcy fell in love with the grace and intelligence of Anusara Yoga in 1998. Reflecting an exuberant playfulness and passionate love for movement, her classes are based in Anusara’s Principles of Alignment which support body, mind and heart to live with deep strength, wisdom and ease. In 1996 Darcy formed her company: Heartfire Arts for her work with healing, hope and transformation. She has been hired by the Federal Emergency Management Association to create a puppet show for traumatized children, developed a yoga program for an eating disorder clinic and developed a six month intensive that blends yoga and psychology. Her teaching equally reflects a depth of understanding in psychological change and bridging of eastern and western wisdom traditions. Darcy teaches public classes, leads retreats nationally and internationally, mentors new teachers and runs workshops for teachers and students.
Editor: Jeannie Page