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

Via elephant journal
on Oct 14, 2012
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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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11 Responses to “It Isn’t Really about John Friend. ~ Annie Langdale”

  1. greateacher says:

    Right on! Right on!

  2. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Already. The people who studied under John Friend and acolytes have to admit they made a mistake.
    Not just a small error, or a tiny slip in judgment.

    A mistake–they could talk, blog and post comments to their social networks for years about the mistake.
    But in our Western culture, mistakes don't seem to become lessons; there is little acknowledgement of there being no "there" there … and somehow, this culture of the United States, you have to either get it right after the first few times, or wear your handicaps like a badge. No middle paths to be found. Anywhere.

    So, being that not all mistakes are under your control. Being that there is not the transparency you feel you deserve in every quarter. Being that there are sunk costs involved, and that cognitive dissonance has become the defense you operate under. If you followed John Friend, You made a mistake. But this mistake is not a reflection on you.

    Own your newfound ownership of your teachings.

    And tread the middle path, the path upon which you Move On.

  3. Marsha Dees says:

    I don't know John Friend, but your well written thoughts and words were just outstanding and had me teared-up several times with your wisdom. Thank you so much for reminding me of the things I know are correct in my soul and the life lessons I should be pursusing diligently, with no excuses or blame allowed.
    Thank you again Biffy and Annie. You are both wonderful.
    Marsha Godfrey-Dees

  4. Uh-uh says:

    Dear latecomer, you got it a little right. Only a little. Friend and those like him — and there are MANY — were/are profiteering tycoon con-artists who deliberately posited themselves as gurus, teachers, spiritual guides. Friend micro-managed his teachers to the point of bullying and intimidation, pushed out other studios and teachers from targeted marketing niches, try to gain copyright control over ALL work produced by ALL his teachers, whether or not those works were Anusara-related, use his staff as mules for drugs, use his teaching status to trolls for easy lays, and have sex with employees and students. He did all those things, then spent months equivocating about it and lying to the “community” he’d created. Those actions are his responsibility. Yes, the Anusara “community” was responsible for going along with it for too long, but he is responsible for his own actions. Forget all this “You create your own reality” bs. Not EVERYTHING is ONLY a “matter of perception.” Real people do real wrongs in the world. To hold them accountable is not to play “victim.” This is just the same old sanctimonious garbage from the sidelines. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  5. Annie Fox Langdale says:

    Thank you all for your comments!!!
    In regard to creating our own reality, please check out quantum physics and realize– we do. I absolutely do not know all the details of the Anusara scandal and did not claim to. As the title of the article states, it's not about John Friend. He obviously did bad things and he was held accountable. frankly that was not the point of the piece. The point is: until we as students discern who we are following especially when they are doing "bad" things, things that hurt us, bully us, micro-manage us, intimidate us, push out other studios, gain control of our work, have sex with us… We won't grow. Until we stop FOLLOWING——————> "THEY" won't LEARN! It does take two and if you believe "THEY" should just know better.. Yeah, I hope that too, yet as you stated there are MANY of them out there. ANd since there are MANY, we as students must realize it's ALWAYS up to us (to discern and own our power). In every situation. I'm responsible for what I think, feel, see and how I react is 100% my responsibility.

  6. Vision_Quest2 says:

    God created the bad apples. They really exist.

    Unfortunately people make mistakes – BIG ones – in getting distracted by the red, luscious-looking apple – or, another metaphor: distracted by the bright and shiny objects on the dark road – they are bright and shiny for a reason, usually …

    But real light is worth seeking on that dark road …

  7. Annie Ory says:

    Excellent. YES! Take the power back. It is all our choice, in every moment. The experience you are having is of your own making. If you blame someone else, you relinquish your power to learn and grow from it. Grab it with both hands and ask how YOU got yourself here. Then you can choose consciously where you want to go next.

  8. huh? says:

    Well, actually, that’s not what you said. If the point of the article was taking responsibility for one’s own actions, then you should not have used a scandal concerning a yoga mogul’s ethical transgressions as an example. You also should not have used it as an example if you yourself admit you don’t know all the facts. You did in fact interpret a blogger’s expression of anger and betrayal as “clearly positioning herself as a victim.” Since when is the expression of anger and betrayal playing victim? The presumptions you have made are ridiculous. If you had done your research, you would have found out how intensely difficult it was for many employees, teachers, students and yoga studio owners to even get answers, let alone swim against an enormous tide of pressure to conform and worship at Friend’s feet. Having not faced that yourself, can you be so sanguine about your “discernment?” What arrogance. What ignorance. If you want to write entries about personal responsibility, then certainly do so. But don’t exploit other people’s difficult as a way to one-up about such things. This is srlf-congratulatory tripe.

  9. Jen Hensiek says:

    Love it Annie!

    It takes me back to my first yoga teacher. I was very much in aw of him and quickly felt like I couldn't live or breathe without his teachings. I starting to feel a complete overwhelming obsession with his every word. I was drawn in and completely overtaken by the sensations and feelings that started to embody me. When we moved to another city, I felt paralyzed and was sure I would never find another "guru" who could take me to those places. Once we moved and I found my new studio, what I realized was that the person who was expanding my heart, healing my soul, bursting my world wide open was me. I soon developed a strong home practice and could heal and grow anywhere "I" was.

    Looking back, I see that the person who I was when I started yoga was incapable of believing I had the ability to create so much power and sensation for myself. I had to believe that it was this other person creating it for me. To believe "I" was capable of so much beauty was overwhelming and unthinkable. My only hope is that other yogis soon realize that while there are many powerful teachers, spiritual leaders and gurus out there, the wisest teacher lives within.


  10. Vision_Quest2 says:

    This happened to me twice. With two unknown (at the time) but extremely charismatic teachers, a young man and a young tall, skinny woman … the style was very inadequate to my needs–didn't even feature enough alignment–but it still happened.

    But since I could financially and timewise, afford few lessons; yet still desiring a full, frequent practice (which was at home within the four walls) and since these were young, hungry teachers; the relationship had been strained.

    But it's worth the fight!!

  11. hanna says:

    Quantum physics proves we create our own reality?????? No it doesn't. And what you're suggesting is morally and politically extremely dangerous. I mean, I guess all the women systematically raped in the Sudan, and over 50,000 dead in Iraq and Afghanastan, and 6 millions Jews, and all the dead in the killing fields of Cambodia and East timor, and the thousands lost in the Dirty Wars in Argentina….they just, what, "manifestated that reality?" Called it to themselves? I really wish people would actually think this stuff through before spewing it in the name of what they may think of as their own "enlightenment." Jeeeeeez.