Ever have one of those times where the same messages and lessons keep playing themselves right in front of you? It’s like the themes of the past week or so have been the obliteration of dysfunction and defenestration of those abusing power, all with no regard for the status quo. Perhaps it’s something in the stars…if there is any truth to this astrological prediction, Pluto is quite the Honey Badger. It would seem this planet for which a dopey cartoon dog is named is going all Kali Ma in the cosmos. It’s kind of creepy, yet really profound-and as I try to let it wash over me, and hopefully learn by example rather than become one, I feel a need to reflect and hash this out in blog form. Maybe you’re processing it too.
The subject here may make many of your stomachs turn (or eyes roll) but there is a situation that everyone in the Yoga community is either discussing at length or running furiously away from conversation about. Yes, it’s John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga who earlier this month had some mighty disturbing accusations made about him and his company, Anusara Inc. Some of you are already aware of the allegations, so you can skip the next paragraph
Among them were claims of financial improprieties, abuse of his authority for sex with female employees (some of whom were married), and having employees accept illegal drugs on his behalf. While he has “apologized” and stepped down, he has not categorically admitted fault and to the best of my knowledge has yet to be charged with anything, so at this point the full truth-whatever it may be-has yet to come out. The anonymous website which posted financial documents, sexually explicit photographs and skype conversations to back up the claims (http://www.jfexposed.com/) is no longer operational, yet was viewed by thousands before it went offline. Some staff were admittedly complicit with all that was going on, and outward appearances would suggest it all to be one heck of a cult like environment over there.
Many of his teachers have resigned, though few have spoken publicly about the matters surrounding their departure. Then Yesterday one of Mr. Friend’s former employees, Elena Brower, was published in The Huffington Post. Her piece, which you can read here, directly supports that many of the inner circle (herself included) knew precisely what was going on for quite some time and kept mum. That is the only favorable thing I can say about the article. At no point does she apologize for failing to speak out. To add literal insult to injury, she defends John Friend while accusing the “disgruntled” former I.T. guy of Anusara Inc. for putting up the jfexposed.com website (an allegation he has strongly denied numerous times) and quite childishly admonishes the popular Yoga community blog Yoga Dork for actually reporting on the story, calling their coverage “salacious” and “desperately sensationalized”.
This prompted me to read all of Yoga Dork’s coverage from the beginning to present to see what she was referring to. And you know what-it was more balanced reporting than I’ve seen in various articles on CNN.com (don’t take my word for it, read Yoga Dork’s coverage for yourself). It was not over the top, it was factual.
Let’s look at the definition of “salacious”:
Ms. Brower, I’m sorry, but the actions of John Friend were what was salacious…not someone writing about it.
Anyone in the healing/Yoga/New Agey world is aware of the “don’t speak of negativity, for that is to give birth to negativity” mantra that many others have. I’ve always found fault with this. Speaking of a factual event(s), places, things, trends etc and identifying them as being factually opposite shiny and happy is NOT what makes things bad. Rather, it’s the identification of something that isn’t working that gives an opportunity to be corrected.
When I was a kid I was in Alateen, a spinoff group of Al-Anon and AA which is to support children and teens who have been affected by someone else’s drinking. They had a wonderful way of explaining the importance of admitting that there was a problem-in fact, the very first of the 12 steps is admitting that there is one. Because really, without that, where the hell are we going? We can’t begin to fix that which we refuse to acknowledge is broken.
Their analogy for failing to speak up is “ignoring the elephant in the room”. Just because we choose not to say “hey, there is an elephant right there” does not make it any less there. Denial only serves to make us powerless in the face of adversity.
Furthermore, if you ignore the elephant long enough, he’ll do quite a bit of damage. And that is what appears to have happened here-the few who knew about what was going on and did nothing, enabling John Friend to continue his damage unchecked, and stood by and let the elephant shit the bed that is Anusara Inc. And that’s the real tragedy here-a lot of people did NOT have any idea what was going on, and their spiritual center has been shaken to it’s core. Their trust has been betrayed. Their expensive certifications are at least for now quite tarnished. Many staff members at Anusara Inc. report being laid off, and others report many would-be students are trying to cancel out of upcoming Anusara trainings. Some have argued that this has given all of Yoga a bit of a black eye. As often happens, all the wrong people are paying the price for the misdeeds.
The article Elena wrote was less an article and more an editorial that inadvertently indicted the culture at Anusara Inc. that allowed this all to happen in the first place. Even though she stepped down about four months before the scandal broke, it still smells like Stokholm Syndrome. What she clearly was not expecting when she wrote it was the backlash she got in the comments, of which there are more every minute. Elephant Journal went so far as to encourage it’s readers to go to those comments and pad them with nice things…and that backfired too, bringing even more negative feedback. When she went into the comments in an attempt to correct the course, (something she also did on Yoga Dork, despite her promise to boycott them until she got an apology) she succeeded in only making it worse.
What stands out through all of this is the indignation on part of Ms. Brower and others at the very idea that anyone else besides them could or should have any opinion at all as to what went on in the house of Anusara. I’m sorry guys, but you had a chance to clean up the mess before it spiraled out of control like this. It’s like an episode of Hoarders: the mess in your house is only your business until the point it starts seeping out the sides. Once the Feds are investigating what happened to pension plans, it’s far too late for a mop.
So what can we take away from this? A whole lot, actually…and none of it includes relishing in the collapse of something that has clearly helped so many. Besides being hit with yet another reminder of why Gurus do not work, it’s a really great time to clean out our own closets. Get the mops out while there is still time, and clean up the mess on our own terms. One of the Precepts of Reiki is “Just for Today, I will work hard and honestly”. Are we living up to that? The truth is a stubborn son of a bitch that has a way of making itself known. Like so many long forgotten leftovers in the back of the fridge, the longer it’s allowed to fester the more offensive it becomes.
The other thing we can do is look at this mess and feel actual sorrow for those hurt by it, especially those who had no idea what was happening. I have many friends who are Yogis, and at least a handful of those rooted in Anusara. To each and every one of you, I am dreadfully sorry for what has happened. This is no reflection on you, at least in my eyes.
Thanks for reading. I think we all have some cleaning to do. I’m going to go get on that.
*A note about the comments: Go for it. But know that this is a private blog not a public forum. If the comment you post is of a personally slanderous nature (to anyone, even John Friend) and has no verifiable basis, I will delete it. I also won’t allow the pornographic or lewd content associated with this debacle to be posted here, nor links to it. I don’t pay per month to host this site so you can do that. Get your own blog.