In the classic Tantric text The Heart of Recognition, Lord Kshemaraja quotes a lost text saying, ”The awareness of knower and known is common to all embodied beings: but for yogis there is this difference: they pay careful attention to the connection.” As I understand it, the act of knowing is colored by our life experiences, our samskaras. Only though a lot of personal work, meditation, and soul searching can we have a clearer mirror with which to reflect reality. Like the story of the blind men groping over the surface of an elephant trying to understand its nature, our views tend to be partial and very limited by our ability to “see” clearly. We see this displayed by the various reactions to what is “known” about John Friend’s actions and what should or could be done about the future of Anusara. Every day we are bombarded by all kinds of confusing choices about many aspects of our lives. This lends a complexity to our lives that can be overwhelming. I often find myself shutting down the contemplations and just punting. What I would like to offer is one more reflection on how to see more of the many facets of the “truth” and how we of the Anusara community – past, present and future – may reflect on our decisions and move to a deeper internal truth about our choices to stay or leave, and to address how we may move on without doing a psychological or spiritual bypass.
I love developmental theory and have studied many forms of these theories. What they all posit is that we must go through all the stages in a specific order. All of the stages we pass through remain within our whole, and are found in embedded layers where nothing is lost. Sometimes the issues or accomplishments that arise in each stage we go through are not fully resolved. These are the issues we keep getting into trouble with, repeating the same behaviors until finally, if lucky, we learn to think and behave differently. Organizations and societies also go though stages of development, and there can be harmonious and disharmonious overlapping of your personal developmental stages with those of organizations we interact with.
The first developmental theory I studied is called “The Eight Stages of Man,” written by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 in his book “Childhood and Society”. In chronological order they are described by these word pairs: Trust vs. Basic Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Role Diffusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Stagnation, and Ego Integrity vs. Despair (the last three being those of adulthood). Although the theory is that they always go in that order, they may be stalled or even halted at any of these stages by a variety of life experiences including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, death and other losses, untimely or stressful moves or other traumas. There can also be developmental delays due to mental disabilities, learning disorders, and mental illness.
The two stages that have come up repeatedly for me throughout my life as difficult to resolve and which were at play in my relationship with Anusara are Stage 4 which occurs at approximately ages 6-11 and whose virtue is Competence, and Stage 5 which occurs at approximately ages 12-20 whose virtue is Fidelity.
In stage 4 we grapple with Industry versus Inferiority and how we gain competence in the world outside of our family home. There are two big reasons why this stage is challenging for me. One is that we moved when I was almost 8, away from an (as I remember it) idyllic small town to a small city where it took me years to find an academic and social niche. The impact of this lasted until high school, overlapping with all the problems of adolescence making Stage 5 difficult for me with all the challenges of budding sexuality, crushes. and the challenges of being part of various cliques. The second reason for difficulties in Stage 4 is that I was physically and academically restless, leading to behaviors that led all but the most gifted teachers to be constantly annoyed by me. How the unresolved stage issues were activated for me is due to fact that Anusara is such a brilliant system for gaining competence in asana. It was perfect for feeding my need to be coordinated and competent, giving a sense of mastery of my body in space that I had never gained before. For me nothing could have been better than a teacher who was always looking for the good and giving a lot of encouragement. I have always thought of myself an uncoordinated and poor athlete, so gaining the skills to advance my asana practice has been very esteem building for me.
Stage 4 is where the work principle is prominent, that is “the pleasure of work completions by steady attention and persevering diligence.” The program of Immersions followed by differing levels of certification is very rewarding to this set of needs that we all have to varying degrees. I have certainly been quite compulsive about getting certificates in my field, doing well and scoring high at the expense of my own need for rest and good health. Many of those teachers near to being certified are in a real quandary about just this issue. In his article calling for the dissolution of Anusara, Inc., Douglas Brooks states, “Don’t worry about Anusara losing its method or its standards: these will continue in new ways led by an already formidable corps of talented persons.”
But after all, Dr. Brooks’ own Appa encouraged him go to him to go to an Ivy League University. Should these teachers leave after hundreds or thousands of hours of study without the certification? What is happening with the value of their educations? Is it really the best as they have been told? Are they legitimate and will they be seen as such without the certificate? On the other hand, has their legitimacy been tainted by the recent disclosures about John Friend? I have heard of teachers being told to rename their classes by studio owners. This may leave some of these teachers wondering if they picked the right school to gain their skills from in the first place.
Stage 5 is about the themes of Identity vs. Role Confusion. During this time a teenager moves from conformist tendencies to gaining his or her own voice and to developing his or her own style, also known as teenage rebellion. For me all the problems of adolescence made Stage 5 difficult with the challenges of budding sexuality, crushes and my strong desires to be part of the cool and popular cliques with a willingness to be a bit of a joker in as the price I paid for entrance into these groups. When I started regularly practicing Anusara I thought I had finally found a group of like-minded members in my local kula. My stage-related issues came up because it has been painful and confusing for me to voluntarily pull myself to the outside of this kula as I noticed certain things that have not added up over the last year in regards to how Anusara presents itself versus how it actually seems to function. I have done a lot of personal work with this tendency of mine to want to be part of a group over the years, but apparently it is not all resolved. Stage 5 is when cliques, “in crowds” and “out crowds” form, when fraternities, sororities and secret societies are most alluring. Joining this ‘merry band” must have been very compelling to the teachers, especially those selected for the inner circles, perhaps more so for those who had unresolved issues about belonging from earlier in their lives.
Anusara teachers tend to be very interpersonally warm and it is a very social system of yoga practice. When people join groups they hope that their inclusion will enhance their lives and are willing to abide by the rules. Following the rules is how people show their loyalty, commitment and how they demonstrate that they can be counted on. Members of groups receive, in exchange for following the rules, the security and communality of inclusion. I have heard John Friend talk about the “Inner Circle of Trust” versus the “Outer Circle of Trust” and read about it elsewhere. From the many stories I have heard it sounded to me as if you had to demonstrate this trustworthiness (by both written and unwritten rules) or be sent out into the periphery of the group (something no group member wants). People want to believe that the rules are trustworthy and won’t be randomly changed so that they can stay connected and in good standing with the group they have chosen to join. I believe the recent exodus of so many teachers has as much to do with just this aspect – the changing and arbitrary rules and status within the group – perhaps as much as the questionable morality of John Friend’s personal life and financial dealings.
Darcy Lyon mentions this in a post that originally addressed Douglas Brooks’ call for the dissolution of Anusara Inc. saying, “Anusara is in its 15th year-what an amazing teenage rebellion we are going through! The teen needs to reject the parent-this is a developmental task-they need to find their own voice. But as we as a community move through this developmental stage may we resist the temptation to split off into factions and primitive defenses of splitting and rejection.”
I would agree in part with this statement; however I’m not sure if in any rebellion the rebels can totally resist this temptation to resist and split off and reject at least as a temporary measure to give themselves space to hear and understand what is arising within them. Stage 5 is very influenced by our parents, teachers, and friends, and if not successfully traversed we will be unable to see clearly the direction to take in our adult life and to leave relationships behind that don’t serve our growing self-definition. An aspect of this transition to the next stage is that while developing our identity we must also confront our tendencies to conform to other people’s ideas of how we should stand in the world, to discover what we truly believe in and whether we can stand on our own two feet at all. I was not surprised last year to see teachers beginning to leave Anusara to “rebel” against John Friend, beginning in the 14th year of this organization. As I stated in my previous article, “Perhaps a big part of the problem in the situation with Anusara stems from when teachers accept branding as part of their certification. As far as I understand it, objects, not people can be branded. Maybe the process of accepting the brand created an internal dissonance that didn’t allow these bright and talented people to see and think clearly.” I imagine that these teachers had originally accepted branding as part of showing their commitment to the organization, but this eventually began to rub against their ongoing needs to push forward in their intrapersonal development.
Working through this stage, the issues have to do with the ongoing development of our own voices and our definitions of what yoga truly is for each of us going forward in order to move to the next stage (6) that is about Intimacy vs. Isolation. To achieve true intimacy, we must develop our own identities and be ready to move forward with increased ability to commit and be trustworthy in order to connect in the one-to-one relationships. We begin deepening their friendships, and perhaps move toward marriage or toward a deeper commitment in a career. We are more willing to make the sacrifices and compromises such intimacy calls for. In his challenging and complex article, Matttew Remski talks about the choices he has made to keep his classes small and his ayurvedic consultations one to one in spite of lesser financial gains in order to receive greater gains in intimacy and authenticity. There is an ongoing temptation to not deepen this kind of intimacy and instead to keep looking for multiple other like-minded people to connect with or to perhaps join, or creating powerful groups order to avoid the threat of isolation during this stage. This may be truer even than when Erik Eriksen wrote his book because of the increasing mobility and decreasing long-term family and marital commitments of our post-modern society. More and more people talk about their “families of choice”, which often is their church or some other organization they belong to, more people chose the intensity of a large community over the joys and challenges of the one-to-one relationship.
In Erikson’s words about the next stage, “Generativity is primarily the interest in establishing and guiding the next generation or whatever in a given case may become the absorbing object of a parental kind of responsibility.” My son is becoming a fine young man developing his own individual identity in college now, so many of my generativity needs have been satisfied. I do think that writing these articles as a service to this community that I am part of, without being paid, is meeting another part of my generativity needs. It helps keep me from falling into stagnation by offering some ideas of ways to process the feelings coming up for people impacted by these disclosures and who are involved in creating a future for how this yoga may evolve.
My professional work is mainly done in the one to one, occasionally with couples. In posting these blogs I have also had to confront a Shadow issue of mine that arises often about my desire for fame, recognition, and influence. I have needed to confront these fantasies and calm my every arising desire to “impact thousands of people with a best selling book that I get to promote on the Oprah show” (that’s how the fantasy rises up full formed in my brain…). I am sure this is an issue with many of those in teaching or in the helping professions. It can be frustrating to not know what impact your work is having on the greater whole of society. I have developed a constant internal reminder to continuously come back to being satisfied with a deep connection in the moment with one other, to dissolve the perception of otherness and co-create an understanding of how we are the same at our core. Though tempting, I have to continuously pull away from attempting to shape my patients’ thoughts. I can really only imagine the temptations that would arise within a person having hundreds of adoring people hanging on his or her every word (like at a large Anusara gathering or any other large yoga teaching experience). I don’t know how well I would resist the siren song to my ego! Knowing about this temptation is part of the reason I haven’t put much energy in creating a large extroverted professional life for myself.
People in the intimacy stage and even more so in the generativity stages are those most capable of accomplishing what Douglas Brooks has described as a healthy way authority can arise in a community: “Rather, the “seat of the teacher” moves with all the members of the Kula, the community.” I believe this can only happen if people have passed through a healthy resolution of this stage 5 with fidelity to their own truth and an ability to use discernment in their relationships to leaders. Jumping right to this type of authority structure from the rather autocratic way John ran Anusara and with the anarchy that exists now is probably unrealistic until some further clarity within the community at large and among the individual members of the community has had time to settle and evolve. With the deepening into the adult stages of development, we can join groups and still find ways to stay true to the healthier aspects of our identities.
I am intrigued and excited about the next stage I am entering. In Erikson’s words again, “Although aware of the relativity of all the various life styles which have given meaning to human striving, the possessor of integrity is really to defend the dignity of his own life style against all physical and economic threats” and “Ego integrity, therefore, implies an emotional integration which permits participation by followership as well as acceptance of the responsibility of leadership.” This is the stage that comes full circle back to take the initial trust towards others that we develop in infancy to a deeper level of trusting ourselves, knowing that we will be there for ourselves in the various relationships we enter. This stage is about following your own truth. I am finding myself more able to stand for what I know serves more than my limited ego and trusting my intuition forged from my life’s lessons. This is very challenging to me, to dive deeply into true discernment and be ready to be challenged by those I have chosen to be my partner, friends and mentors.
We don’t know what our boundaries are until we reach them. We don’t know what our values are until we find them challenged. It is a great task to be authentic and transparent without being irresponsible by sharing before our issues are fully cooked. The process leading up to the good is not always nice. There can be the need for many course corrections. We may need to journal and read through our notes to ourselves in order to discover and absorb the truths we’ve gained along the way. To communicate we may need to again write old-fashioned notes to people on paper and send via snail mail. Yes, it takes longer, allowing us to really commit before we send something that we hope will be true and alive for us when it arrives.
One of my friends recently said that all this worry about an Internet yoga teacher scandal is a first world issue, there are people with much larger problems to grapple with. I replied that although this is true, issues of how we use and misuse our authority, our sexuality, and the gifts we are given are universal. We learn from the perspective of wherever we are standing. Somehow through a mix of my karma, lila and a bit of “the lucky” I am blessed to be able to learn my lessons in a first world situation. Waking up and integrating a little more of our own truths can happen in any moment if we allow ourselves to look deeply within at our sticking points. The other day in yoga class, Chrissy Graham focused on commitment to the moment, to where our body was willing to go, to what our 100% is today which will be different from any other day, any other moment. While meditating she reminded us to open to how we can drop in, be with our minds and get a little quieter, and then drop in and arrive a little more centered in the base of our hearts. This is the gift of yoga, to get to know our bodies and our minds better, now. This is how we begin to know how we know what we know. Thus we can make the connections to what our body tells our mind, tells our heart, and back around, today, in the ever-arising moment.
Creative Commons photo via Flickr by inoc.
For a more complete overview on what’s been happening, please visit: Anusara Controversy: Overview and Timeline