The Issue is Integrity. ~ Betsey Downing

Via elephant journal
on Dec 3, 2012
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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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26 Responses to “The Issue is Integrity. ~ Betsey Downing”

  1. mike says:

    Instead of waiting for John to fully accept the effects of his choices maybe people should look at their own 'dark side'.
    John is simply a mirror of his clan. That's his job & he did it perfectly. The only difference it seems is he is more forgiving of himself (a good thing) than the people around him. Look, love & accept your own dark side instead of waiting for someone else to look at theirs! Stop blaming John people! Love yourself.

  2. Doug says:

    As Mike's comment demonstrates, a huge 5-lane 'spiritual bypass' has been under construction for the last few months, and its architects feel it is ready for opening. Those participating in the ribbon-cutting will strive to reframe and revise the whole history of harm done through his irresponsible, selfish, abusive and thoughtless behavior to one of placing 'blame' on 'John' and preaching that those who suffered under his own behavior 'look into their own souls' for the true cause.

    People who speak up will be labeled as 'negative,' 'angry,' 'bitter,' and shock will be expressed that those who express criticism of his behavior are 'unyogic' for being so 'judgmental,' and are responsible for doing far more harm than Mr. Friend himself so innocently did. And exactly what it was he did has either faded from memory or been dismissed as 'old news' and 'griping.' The 'sex issue,' which has been reduced to indiscretions with a couple of women, is only the tip of the iceberg of a pattern of professional abuse and manipulation that has caused real damage to those who supported him — and now realize that their financial, professional and personal support was naive and (in the vast majority of cases) ill-informed. Now the true 'blame,' according to Mike, lies with those who were so 'naive' and who subsequently 'wait for John to fully accept the effects of his choices.' No, that's not what this is 'about.'

    Betsey Downing is staking a claim for integrity here — and appealing to both conscience and a functioning memory on the part of her readers — and it is most likely in vain. The thruway has been routed around that little town, and Mike's comment is Exit 1. There are quite a few more 'exits' (i.e. excuses, dismissals and transference of blame) to come. JF's rehabilitation is right on schedule, and he is finding himself free to pick up where he left off. Let the buyer beware.

  3. Margi Sundell says:

    Thank you Betsey. Mike, the only kernel I can glean is an invitation to look at my dark side. Got it. Doug, your words sparkle with clarity, thank you.

    What this looks and feels like to me (and i’m on the outside, having studied Anusara among others) is so much like a breakup I had — I came to realize, “oh, you are just using me; oh, you are manipulating me; oh, you don’t know what to do with this love; oh, you aren’t capable of seeing yourself.” *DAMN* Was nice. For awhile. An eency weency bit o’ while looking back. These people (with personality disorders? I would guess) attract with their charisma and charm, you think it’s genuine, they sincerely care, then you grow, you challenge, are not met, are disappointed, you try again. You are ignored. Where’s the love? Where’d all that go…??? Who ARE you? If they ever make it in to therapy, they’ll be helped to see the sides that currently remain unconscious and go around wreaking havoc. Personally it was a dark night time as I sought to see the whole picture..and decided to maintain a healthy distance. My heart extends as do my prayers of strength and hope and real healing to all those whose trust and love was used and abused.

  4. mike says:

    Betsys article was the biggest bypass yet! What I was saying is everyone has to own their own stuff fully….Fully!…Everyone!

  5. mike says:

    compassion anyone?

  6. Doug says:

    The issue at hand is JF's return to teaching, and whether a genuine change has taken place such that he will not continue in the same behavior. So far, he is the only one who has declared himself 'healed' after prescribing his own rather mysterious process of healing and reflection. Other than he himself, who has verified that he has made any real progress such that he will not harm or abuse others again? Is it really just a question of 'owning your own stuff,' or in the case of abuse, something more?

    Now, does Betsey stand accused of the same behavior such that she needs the same review that she claims JF failed to follow through on? Certainly there are people who are unhappy that she and others — by their own admission — enabled JF in his behavior for much longer than they should have; but the charge that 'everyone's guilty and should own their own stuff' diverts from the issue of JF's return to teaching and the kinds of unilateral proclamations from him that accompany it. You risk making a mockery of moral responsibility, which includes not just responsibility for deeds done, but the responsibility to speak out, even if belatedly. It is one thing to warn against 'casting the first stone;' but it would be another thing to say, 'Let him who is without sin be the first to speak out against wrong.' Jesus was talking about real stones and real violence, first and foremost; and the parable was about the way in which we should be held to account for our behavior, with room for compassion and forgiveness. Don't forget the injunction 'Now go and sin no more.' which came from Jesus, speaking on behalf of the community. It is not the same thing to act as your own Jesus, especially when you (i.e. JF) essentially bypass the community and simply proclaim your own absolution.

    It's true that there is really no means of real redress, other than legal action (which JF feared), which is why I mentioned that Betsey's efforts and those of others (if anyone makes any) will largely be in vain. JF will do what JF wants to do, as always. We have always known that, and his latest announcement simply confirms it.

    But while there can't be expectation as to the fruits of someone such as Betsey speaking up and speaking the truth, she and everyone affected has the right to the action of speaking up and speaking the truth — especially in the name of ahimsa, of preventing harm to others that can be avoided when people are forwarned. That cannot and should not be forstalled by calls that everyone 'own' their OWN stuff — and calls for compassion when compassion may well be very premature, (since there is little evidence if any that any real change has taken place on JF's part, and there is some evidence to the contrary).

  7. Mags says:

    "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." ….. Wow, great journalism. "Our view, if any…" what does that even mean? You don't have a view…. oh, but actually you do?

    Do you realize how many members of the "Anusara Community" have never even met JF outside of being one of 200+ students in a class of his once or twice? Yeah, freakin' enablers.

  8. MatBoy says:

    Many of us have become even greater skeptics since the JF revelations. One the one-hand, this is a good thing as we will be more careful next time we encounter a charismatic leader type. On the other-hand, we run the risk of hardening our hearts to life and people, the risk of becoming jaded and disappointed with humankind.

    The challenge is to accept what happened with JF and Anusara, to notice any bitter responses we may have had and to go forward living the life we most want to live and being the loving, accepting and forgiving person we want to be. There are many excuses for not living the life we dream of and the 'JF affair' is just another distraction or obstacle for us to overcome. We need to step up to the plate again and be bigger than our circumstances. The JF affair is OVER, what did you do to make the world a better place today?

  9. Katie says:

    Thank you, Betsey. It's sad how many times we have to redirect the conversation to integrity instead of spiritual bypassing. Thank you for the reminder to our community that there is far more at stake here than many are willing to acknowledge. Thank you for having the courage to point to what so many hope will just go away if they close their eyes and meditate more. Thank you for this conversation about what community and integrity actually mean.

  10. Katie says:

    Waylon, I find your disclaimer disturbing and perhaps even offensive. Can you point me to other articles where you felt it necessary to include a disclaimer? What does it say about your objectivity to suddenly insert your commentary at the beginning of such a powerful statement from Betsey Downing?

    Equating John's mistakes with the community's mistakes belies a misguided understanding of what actually happened.

    And while we're at it, let's lose this "grandmother" moniker. Betsey is a strong woman, a great teacher, and an integral part of the greater yoga community, regardless of her age.

  11. ThatDisclaimerSucks says:

    The disclaimer on this post is entirely dismissive to an entire community of people whose livelihoods were severely impacted by John's actions. Elephant's bias of favor toward John Friend this year has been disappointing.

  12. AY teacher says:

    Regarding: "Elephant's bias of favor toward John Friend this year has been disappointing."

    Amen x 1000.

  13. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks, anonymous. If you ask John Friend, we've been entirely too critical.

    You know you're in trouble when 80% of our coverage has been by you, and your community, and has been critical of John, and the remaining 20% has also been largely critical—and yet that's not enough for you.

    I know we all want to only hear what we agree with already—but the end of that road, media-wise, is Fox News, and we're an open forum.

  14. elephantjournal says:

    It's not a disclaimer, it's a note, and there are literally hundreds of editor's notes on this site.

    As for why I put it there, it's because I genuinely want to hold the space for more articles like this one, or those holding other views—as long as they're not aggressive, we're here to host a conversation, not control it.

    As for the note, it must be clumsy, because I'm not equating his mistakes with yours—as a Shambhala Buddhist who has lived through and seen several scandals nearly tear apart our community, the main lesson for us has been not to place too much faith or idolatry or trust in leaders, but to, as Buddhism says, recognize that "it is wisdom which seeks wisdom." That's all I was saying—much of the anger was fueled, in my view, by a feeling of betrayal. But you all don't need John to have an amazing community and be of benefit. So forget the kind of theism we saw for years and regard this as an opportunity to move beyond patriarchal, top-down leadership.

    The grandmother moniker was not my doing. In any case, age is not an insult. Elders are people with experience, deserving of respect. Anything else?

  15. elephantjournal says:

    Explanation: We don't hold that our community needs to have one view. We're an open forum, and protect that. We do however, like editorial boards everywhere, have certain views. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous, and you wouldn't want that, would you? Can we engage is respectful disagreement, without being disagreeable?

  16. Kelly says:

    Yes. Compassion for the people that Mr. Friend has chosen to abuse and for the students that NEED TO KNOW what kind of a teacher he is. They deserve to know and not have this swept under the rug.

    As for Mr. Friend? He's fine. His needs are more than being met. He has a place to live, food, and company. He has the resources to get real, professional, non-niased, non-enabling help but he does not. He asks that people take his word on his progress and changes but the truth is that his word is no longer honorable. He went back to the same type of work, again in a leadership position, without doing the real work on himself and without taking responsibility and being held accountable for his grievances. You cannot call for an overdose of compassion when his life is not in any harm and for all intents and purposes he is behaving like a spolied child.

  17. Jennifer says:

    If you ask John Friend, everyone of his teachers, who held him to an iota of accountability, were too critical.
    If you ask John Friend he is the victim of harsh and unfair judgement.
    If you ask John Friend his transgressions were few and practically private.
    He has proven what type of source he is. A false one. he is a source of Avidya.
    The more twisted and off center John became the more Anusara began to torque too.

  18. Jennifer says:

    The compassionate thing to do is create and uphold standards. In business, in private, and in community.

  19. AY teacher says:

    After manipulating his students and teachers, destroying a community, and abusing women, John Friend doesn't get a say in the media coverage. Period.

    But then, EJ's made it pretty clear that this isn't unbiased media coverage. Interestingly, some comments have been silently "disappeared" from this thread. Perhaps they weren't to EJ's liking?

  20. Jennifer says:

    Mike, John Friend's job was not mirror, it was sole proprietor and head of Anusara yoga. John Friend failed at his job. His mismanagement of his business and his poor ethical standards are the results of his actions. The fact that John Friend's integrity is being scrutinized has nothing to do with blame, or love, or acceptance. It has to do with integrity. Wholeness, completeness, reliability, facts.

  21. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Evidently, a yoga teacher/leader must establish integrity before they go about promulgating "tensegrity"

  22. […] Isn’t it time to swallow our pride and own up to our mistakes? […]

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  25. Direwolfe says:

    Yoga as a profit center is not yoga, unless one believes yoga is a word merely a word and the word is granted a new meaning in modern English. "That's what langages do," i'm told. Anicca vata sankhara.
    Too bad about the loss of the language and, dare one say, wisdom that the teachers had found and conveyed with Anusara.
    Too bad for the various kulas, or maybe it hasn't.