October 14, 2012

It Isn’t Really about John Friend. ~ Annie Langdale

What is actually going to free us out from the “Guru Cycle”?

I recently read a blog post about a student and her former teacher. No names were given, but plenty of insinuations were made and since she was a prior Anusara teacher, it’s pretty clear who she was talking about.

I’ve read a bit about the Anusara scandal, but have stayed on the outskirts of the debate, not forming too many opinions, mostly watching and observing. I’m a practicing yogi and teacher and keep up on news and developments in the yoga world. Yet, I generally maintain an observational perspective, that of an outsider looking in. As a natural introvert, I feel little motivation to be the it teacher garnering attention and accolades.

The blog writer expressed anger, sadness and disappointment, clearly positioning herself as a victim. She blamed her teacher for being a fraud and a sexist and for using power to fulfill selfish, self-serving desires. Any way you slice it, these qualities are absolutely not cool.

However, this is where we can go much deeper, not only into the realities of teacher/student relationships but into our own beliefs about responsibility and spiritual guidance.

Many of us yogis have had the privilege of experiencing some form of discipleship learning directly from a spiritual teacher. While Western culture certainly encourages professional apprenticeship, academic tutelage, religious training and other formal modes of learning, the relationship with a trusted spiritual guide isn’t so common or widely understood. In Hindu traditions, the Sanskrit term “guru” means teacher or master, but in the U.S. it’s more often used as a cynical reference to a self-aggrandizing New Age leader who’s managed to acquire naive followers.

As a nation that generally values individualism over community (a word that also means union), it’s no wonder we’re struggling to create a framework for this unique relationship between student and spiritual teacher. One that doesn’t rely on either fearful suspicion or blind idealization.

The Anusara scandal highlights a fatal flaw in this suspicion/idealization paradigm. Following and believing in a teacher as “Guru God,” someone above us who has the answers we don’t have, is a choice that has serious repercussions. The practice of yoga is to begin to see our projections.

How can we see clearly if all our answers lie within someone else, eliminating the hard-earned rewards of confidence, trust and love for ourselves?

Once we’ve bought into the belief that a guru has the answers for us, those gurus start schools, word spreads and a community is built. The projection takes on a life of its own. Anusara is an example of this. A man, John Friend, becomes a powerful projection, a hologram embodying our own disowned and unconscious qualities, from unconditional love and divine wisdom to megalomania and power run amok. It’s our human nature to idolize and put select others on a pedestal. We come from King and Queen lineage. It’s what we know.

However, sometimes the King has some emotional baggage to work out, and we tolerate it because he’s the King. Of course we choose to overlook the obvious because the power lies in the teacher’s hands and we don’t want to jeopardize the status quo, right?

Maybe for some in the community, that King holds the projection of Father, an ultimate authority from whom we crave approval, love and acceptance. For others he might be a mystical being who can help unlock our own mysteries and accelerate our awakening, like riding on someone else’s enlightenment coattails. Whatever the projection, speaking up is scary, especially in group consciousness.

Believing in something or someone gives us purpose and identity, something to cling to in the hopes that all this pain will go away, or that I’ll get to be somebody. Perhapsthe next rock star yogi. Reality seems dull to us if we’re used to living in our fantasies, so we spice it up by believing in something dramatic or otherworldly.

We believe in Anusara, for instance. We may even devote ourselves to it. If we’re not careful, that fierce attachment to a belief, however seemingly spiritual or benign, will blow up in our face. Then we get to blog about the hypocrisy and the cycle continues. We’ve again projected it onto that ill-fated King, except now it’s our shadow we’re disowning, not our light. Now John Friend is our enemy.

How dare he? We trusted him and devoted ourselves to him and gave him our power!

Whose choice was that?

John Friend performed his role perfectly from savior to betrayer. Idol to enemy. The John Friend show blew up and now what? What is actually going to free us out from the Guru Cycle? Are we so blind to our own choosing and participating that we conveniently overlook the truth.

That we’re responsible for our own lives, choices and outcomes?

The practice of yoga is intended to illuminate and liberate soul consciousness. How can we even begin to live that reality if we’re still looking out there to a projected other? A great teacher said the truth quite simply, It’s all you all the time. There’s no equivocation or qualifications in that. All means all, always, in any situation.

What I think, feel, see, and how I react is 100 percent my responsibility.

It can’t be any other way. So how can we start taking responsibility for our projections and misconceptions? We must stop what we’re doing and take a look. Start asking ourselves some deeper questions. Not only, how did I participate in this? but, how did I create this? What is the role I’ve learned to play, the conditioning mechanisms I call me? What are my beliefs? What am I judging? Who am I really judging here if it is indeed all me?

If we’re going to heal and truly invoke change, we have to start by owning, and then releasing, our inner victim. If we want to live empowered lives, we must see and feel where we have given our power away.

What is it exactly that we’re seeing in these teachers, the John Friends of the world? What’s the projection?

There is a teacher in my hometown who’s very popular. Her classes are consistently packed, and she’s placed on a pedestal by many in the community. She is a strong and powerful teacher. People look up to her and often feel intimidated in her presence. I have been one of those people. She seems to say the most amazing things in class and apparently touches her students’ souls. They’re entranced by her, effusive in their praise.

Yet, she seems untouchable in some respects. There’s an aura around her that seems to place her higher than the rest of us. Is that really her? Or is it a projected illusion that satisfies our need to feel inadequate, perhaps jealous, small, competitive, awe struck?

We chant “Namaste” in every single yoga class, all over the world. We know in our being the truth of “Namaste” without needing to understand its definition intellectually. Yet we still get lost in our personae, the human characters we’ve created. Our fear based conditioning, coping and self-limiting excuses. I do. All the time.

What is it going to take for me to break out of the illusion of separation? To really understand that what I see in John Friend is me? I painted that whole story on him, both when he was King and criminal.

It’s all me, all the time. There is no other. To break the chains of victim, I must start telling the truth and relinquishing all blame.

I am grateful to John Friend for playing this role. So I can see more clearly the illusion I’ve been living under the identification as indignant victim, inferior yogi, confused sleepwalker. My hope is that as a yoga community we can start to break down the illusion of idolization and begin to see where we can, as one of my teachers says, let go to grow.


Annie owns Yoga Shala with her husband in Sacramento, CA. She’s a lover, a believer, a healer and a traveler.




Editor: Olga Feingold

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