December 3, 2012

The Issue is Integrity. ~ Betsey Downing

Update, via Waylon Lewis, editor.

My personal apology to Betsey & the community: we do offer notes to many controversial, painful articles.

My sincere apologies to you, personally, Betsey, and anyone who was offended by my clumsiness. I hope you can see that I was just trying to say “may there be peace.” Betsey asked me to take this down, which I’m happy to, but I thought offering an apology, which I feel, would be less cowardly and more transparent on my part.

It is my wish that we, especially this time of year (Peace on Earth, quietude) can find inner peace, and peace as a community of friends, colleagues, yogis. My Shambhala Buddhist community has gone through several similar splits and hurts, and while we recovered and shine bright today, we also lost many of our friends, and some of our ability to serve the larger world. The Anusara community was not about John: it was about joy in waking up, and joy in service. And whatever shape, or lack of shape it takes today, you can be of great benefit to many.

In any case, there is a place for self-introspection. Choosing a teacher, as Betsey wisely advises, must be done properly. Leaders are servants, and should be role models. Finding our wisdom and peace and maitri within is what great leaders help us to do. If a leader fails, that too is a lesson, and we can and should be independent. We are all fundamentally good examples in our own right.

Below remains my original, clumsy, unedited (I’m not seeking to improve what I said below, but to acknowledge my clumsiness here) editor’s note. It is not a disclaimer—I’m honored to have Betsey’s voice offered here. It was intended, simply, to offer some peace—and clearly, in that, I failed, and for that I personally apologize to each of you and most of all to Betsey. With thanks to some of you for the heads up re my confusion. ~ Waylon Lewis, ed.


~ Original note follows ~

This article does not represent any sort of official elephant view. [We’re an open forum] Our view, if any, is that John and his community both made different enabling mistakes, together, and that it’s time not so much to move on, but as Betsey says, to acknowledge both good and bad, happy and sad, and learn to work with the whole picture that is our messy, but basically good existence.

This article via Betsey is published in the spirit of conversation. We welcome any points of view, as long as any criticism is balanced by a spirit of fairness and is fundamentally constructive—this sort of deeply felt dialogue on this difficult but potentially helpful subject will help all yogis, whether Anusara or no, to learn from this experience. ~ ed.

Our Actions versus our Words.

There have been many comments recently about John Friend going back to teaching and the quality of his teaching.

That’s not the pertinent issue, to me. It’s not about whether John Friend is a good teacher, or whether he’s charismatic or passionate or sensitive or teaching better than ever. It’s about integrity. It’s about what values and principles you stand with when you study with him. He was and is out of alignment with yoga and its precepts. He abused his power consistently for years. He said repeatedly that he wanted to have an ethics evaluation. But when an ethics committee was established, he refused to go through with it.

John Friend impacted many lives in a negative way. His mistakes and the resulting implosion of Anusara caused loss of income and reputation for those who depended on him and supported him, some for nearly two decades.

And now the Wikipedia entry about him has been so whitewashed it implies that his only transgression was that he had affairs with two women.

I’m all for forgiveness and compassion at the appropriate time. That time will come when all the information is on the table, when we know the true extent of his behavior and when he has taken responsibility for his actions by submitting to an ethics evaluation and owning the findings. Until then we are enabling his behavior. If you want to help someone who is misaligned, you don’t ignore the problems. You take the uncomfortable stance of confronting the issues so that realignment can occur.

We’re all a work in progress. None of us is perfect, and presumably all of us are working on being more in alignment with what we know to be true: to align our words with our actions and to take the correct action in each situation. I know I’m working on myself in this way. It’s not unreasonable to ask that John Friend to do the same.

All of us who were involved in Anusara yoga were taught to “look for the good.” It helped us see the best in one another and to find the best in ourselves. Many blossomed with this attitude, and were nurtured, and possibly healed, in significant ways. However, in order to step fully into emotional and spiritual maturity, and to live responsibly as whole human beings, we have to move beyond this one-sided approach. We need to be willing to look at that which is painful, both in ourselves and in our leaders.

As a result of this tendency to avoid pain (remember dvesha in the Sutras?), our community developed a huge, unacknowledged “shadow side” of problems and issues that simmered beneath the surface, never being fully addressed. Therefore, as a community, we developed few skills in effectively resolving problems.

We cannot heal something that we cannot see, or are not willing to look at.

All in all, limiting our attention to only the good has not served us well. This attitude helped bring Anusara down. Averting our gaze from the darker side of John Friend’s behavior allowed significant problems to grow bigger and kept us, the community, from addressing them. To bring sunlight into the shadow we must be willing to look beyond how he is currently teaching. We must feel the discomfort of looking beyond his words to the values he has displayed in living his life. His integrity is revealed in his actions, not his words.

From the Kula without Borders group, via apprentice editor, Edith Lazenby

Betsey Downing, Ph.D., E-RYT-500, has been a yoga practitioner since 1972 and a meditator since 1974. She teaches from a deep well of wisdom and practical knowledge, and loves empowering students with progressive techniques to move them beyond their perceived limits. Betsey’s teaching is vibrant with her passion for yoga and special expertise in progressive teaching.

One of the earliest certified teachers in Anusara Yoga, she was a leader in the community, serving as co-chairman of the Certification Committee nationally and internationally. Betsey was also one of 12 certified teachers chosen to serve on the Anusara Curriculum Committee. Betsey recently resigned her license agreement with Anusara.


Ed: Kate B.

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