As I hear more and more people in the Anusara community saying things like, “It was a time of frantic phone calls and emails, disturbing revelations, and extreme pressure…. There was no time to contemplate, or sit with, or meditate on, or give space to, this situation…” and, ”every day that passes is critically important,” and, “I feel like I have no choice but to act…” and people drawing battle lines and circling the wagons, asking, which side are you on, taking sides themselves, I can’t help but think we have created our very own small-scale Mahabharata in Anusara-land. Forgive me for seeming to trivialize (and just so you know, I don’t see this situation as trivial at all, and it is breaking my heart to see it unfold as it is), but I am reminded of watching Star Trek in the late sixties. What? you ask. Yes. Star Trek had a fairly predictable structure for each episode. Captain Kirk and his crew would be out gallivanting around the galaxy seeking new life when, suddenly, some terrible thing would happen, and the rest of the half hour would be spent in their figuring out how to get out of the situation they had gotten themselves into. But first, always, Kirk would have to say something like, “We have no choice but to…” and that would set the story into motion, and they would “boldly go where no man [sic] had gone before.” If Kirk had not said that, there would have been no story to tell. My point is, simply, whenever we find ourselves in a situation where Ganesh has placed an obstacle in our paths, we always have a choice how to act (or even to not act; see Fredo’s postfor more on this view). If we want a great story line with lots of drama and frantic last-minute efforts at salvation, we can say, “we had no choice, we had to act, there was no time to hesitate.” It does make for great stories, good movies, epic operatic themes, and lots of drama. It is almost always the worst thing you can do in any real life-challenging situation. Even when I worked for Outward Bound in northern Maine in the wilderness in the dead of winter and a call came in for a rescue, the man who managed our rescue operations would smile, slowly get up from his chair, and put on a pot of tea. Then we would gather information, carefully assess the situation, and plan.
I fully recognize that this situation has very significant impacts across multiple aspects of the lives of the people involved. I can feel the pain they are all feeling right now! Most of the Anusara folks I know are Certified or Inspired teachers, or really dedicated students, and many of the teachers have products that they are working on that their livelihood depends upon. Many spend a huge amount of their time in community with other Anusara folks (I do too! It’s the best community I’ve ever known!)! They teach and believe in and maybe were even healed themselves by the method (as I was), see John as their teacher (I do), if not their guru (I don’t), have him as their boss, etc., etc. Their whole lives are wrapped up in Anusara, whichever way it goes. So there is good reason for them to see this as extremely important to deal with in the right way, right now. The problem is, because we are so wrapped up in it, and because ours is both such a heart centered approach, as well as a Tantrik approach, where we see and feel everything as connected, we are seeing everything as connected. Many seem to me to be unable to separate out the various aspects of this situation with discernment, shining the brilliant searchlight of the mind into the deep recesses of this turbulence, and then sit with what might be appropriate and carefully weighed responses to those as separate issues.
I am no expert on many of the issues, but there seem to be ways to separate out several. First is Anusara, Inc., the business. Amy Ippoliti posted a very compelling case for dysfunction in the business level of Anusara on Elephant Journal yesterday, that echoes many others we have heard this past week. I want to talk more about the organization below. Second is Anusara the method of hatha yoga. I have heard numerous people, both those leaving and those staying, praise the method, separate from anything else going on. This is good; I think we can mostly all agree it is an amazingly elegant, powerful, healing, and transformational yoga method. Third is John the teacher. This is harder to separate out, but still we can consider him that way. Fourth is John the boss, and I will talk more about this aspect below. Fifth is John the person. I have no expertise in addressing the psychological challenges that his behavior represents. But the point I want to make is, these are different issues, even if we see them as linked together. Trying to take them on and “solve” them as a whole leaves us with nothing but a huge mess, and our responses will be nothing less than chaotic.
My own area of expertise is organizational development. Anusara, Inc., the organization, you may be surprised to hear, is really not very different from many other organizations that were started by visionary, entrepreneurial, innovative, charismatic, driven leaders. It has been wildly successful, grown really fast, and reached the end of its capacity to function well under the direct leadership and sole control of its founder. It is suffering from “Founder’s Syndrome,” a typical developmentally appropriate place for an organization at this stage of development to get stuck. It has neither the systems, nor structures, nor policies, nor practices, nor personnel in appropriate roles, nor skills necessary to enact its values and sense of purpose, and thus be able to fulfill its mission. It now all depends on John, which creates the kind of problems that Amy and others have noted. And John has shown that he fears letting go of that control, both, my guess is, because he fears that no one else can do it, and, paradoxically, because he fears that someone else can do it. This is not bad, really. This is completely typical and predictable. I don’t care whether you call it the guru problem, with all due respect to Douglas Brooks, or ego, or something else. It’s predictable for an organization to get to this place, and it’s fixable. Many organizations make the transition to sustainable and functional systems, infrastructure and leadership, all of which enable greater capacity to enact their values, purpose, and mission, which in turn enable them to go from good to great. Many do not. But it is entirely possible, and it is a choice to face the challenges and get the expertise and help to make it work. Sometimes it happens in a carefully planned and easeful way, though it always feels painful to the founder to let go. Really, it’s like watching your baby go off to Kindergarten. Sometimes it does not happen in an easeful way, because for whatever reasons, the members and leaders of the organization do not realize that this is what is happening, or they do and don’t want to let go and let change happen anyway. We may be already in the second situation. I think being a yoga organization with a widely dispersed “staff” has meant that Anusara people have not really wrapped their heads entirely around the fact that Anusara is an organization, and have tried instead to make sense out of all that is happening only through the lens of guru traditions and teaching lineages and such. Thus we might miss the opportunity to engage in the organizational development project that is required right now: building sustainable leadership and systems transitions that will enable the fulfilling of the mission of Anusara.
So that is one dispassionate look at one part of this situation. As I say, I am no expert in the other areas. I want to ask those who might have expertise in the other areas to step up and make their cases for how we might deal with those. We can do this, folks. Carefully, planfully, with love, and with full engagement in the kula. I do think we need better boundaries for the process, more muscular energy (see my post on Leadership), more discernment. As Douglas says, “Clear boundaries, no limits.” This is possible. Can we remember Star Trek, though? Every time I find myself in one of those situations where I want to say, “We have no choice… we must act now!” that is what I do. Remember to ask, do I want a great dramatic story, or do I want to learn from the obstacles placed in my path? Let’s put on a pot of tea, shall we, instead of just “boldly going?”
Creative Commons photo via Flickr by DaveFayram
For a more complete overview on what’s been happening, please visit: Anusara Controversy: Overview and Timeline