February 16, 2012

Guru Yoga 101: How to Not Get Screwed by Your Teacher. ~ Emily Hicks

John Friend screwed up.

Big time. We seem to have on our hands the failure of yet another Guru figure, and somehow we’re all surprised. But before all the Anusaris jump ship due to John Friend’s sexcapades, let’s consider something for a moment…

The Guru is a mirror.

Their job is to reflect back to us exactly what we need at any given moment in order to further evolve ourselves. They are largely reflectors of the light, but also of the dark.

Humour me for a moment, and let’s review how mirrors work. If you look in the mirror and see something you don’t like, do you blame the mirror? No. A mirror reflects what you put in front of it. As much as you may wish that the zit on your chin is coming from the mirror, it’s not; it’s coming from you.

Just so, the Guru, (and how you see the Guru) is coming from you. So when the Guru “fails you” by doing something you see as wrong, where is it coming from?  You guessed it. You. (Or in my case, me).

So what exactly is John Friend reflecting back to us?  What is he teaching us?

I can only speak for myself, but maybe I need to look at the ways I might be taking advantage of my students for my own gain. Perhaps I need to look at how I’m using my sexuality. Maybe it’s a warning to look at my shadows before they get out of hand and to not let my ego run the show. Hey, maybe there’s a reason the yamas and the niyamas, our ethical restraints and observances, are meant to be practiced before asana. (Do ya think???)

Am I justifying John Friend’s behavior? No. Does that mean what he did was somehow ok? Hell no. It’s fucked up. Does that mean Anusara teachers and students shouldn’t leave? No, not necessarily.

But to completely disassociate ourselves from him and what he did is to deny his shunyata, his lack of any self-existent quality from his own side. He (and everything else in our world) is just a blank screen. We see what we see because of our own past actions and habits. To deny that, to say that it is his ethical failing and it has nothing to do with me, is to leave him out of ignorance, not wisdom.

It is my ethical failing, otherwise how could I see it in someone else? If you also see it as an ethical failing, it is your ethical failing. So if you leave, leave out of wisdom. Maybe leaving is the right thing for you, maybe not.

The thing is, whether you stay or go is not really the point. The important thing is to understand why you see this happening in the first place, and how to change your own behavior to get rid of it. If you don’t like what you see another person doing, Guru or otherwise, don’t do it yourself—even in the privacy of your own mind. To deny that this has anything to do with us will push it into shadow, and all that will result in is seeing the same thing happen again, perhaps even in ourselves.

For those of you saying to yourselves right now, “It’s the Guru model in general that’s the problem; be your own Guru!” I’d offer this: the fact that John Friend seemingly does not have a current functioning relationship with a Guru, someone to keep him accountable for his actions, may very well be the problem.

My teacher (I lean toward the Tibetan side, so I call her “Lama”) is fond of saying, “We need a Guru so the ego has something to bend its knee to.” And isn’t that the truth? In this day and age where yoga teachers are the new priests and celebrities, it’s a dangerous path to tread. Without someone to show us where we’ve taken a wrong turn, where it’s become about us instead of our students, we all run the risk of doing what John Friend appears to have done.

At this time in particular, a relationship with a Guru/Teacher/Mentor/Lama/Guide is increasingly important. But we don’t enter into it blindly. We head into this relationship with our eyes wide open. We understand that while our Guru may appear to emanating goodness and wisdom and purity from their own side, that can’t be the case. They are simply mirroring our own light back to us, showing us our own Divine potential. Just so, they will mirror back our own humanness and darkness when we need to see it.

Without this knowledge, they will fail us. With it, we can actually learn from them.

So whether or not you consider John Friend your Guru, hopefully there’s a teaching here for all of us.

Photo credit: Mirror

What is the mirror reflecting back to you?

Emily Hicks is a yoga teacher in Portland, Oregon. She is happy to have functioning relationships with her sometimes controversial Gurus, who are always forcing her to change and grow. Without them to reflect the light and the dark, she doesn’t know where she’d be. You can learn more about Emily at her website.


This article was prepared by Elephant Yoga Editor, Tanya Lee Markul.

Read 29 Comments and Reply

Read 29 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,509,480