March 4, 2012

Grieving & Growing as a Kula: An Opportunity to Live in the Light. ~ Carrie Gablehouse

Photo: whatnot

I want to take a moment to respond to the recent shake-up in the Anusara community.

I am not sure if I have the right to do so, considering that I am not a full-time, devout Anusara student, but I hope my insider/outsider status lends me some perspective that I might not have right now if I needed to process a very personal relationship with John Friend.

I also hope that my reflections serve to embrace and cherish the light within what seems to be a lot of darkness and uncertainty right now. Please know that what I am expressing are simply my opinions, which I try to hold lightly and openly as to leave room for the opportunity to be taught another way of viewing things.

What strikes me about what is being labeled The John Friend Scandal, is how unsurprising it is. In fact, it is so unsurprising that almost its un-surprisingness itself seems sad. The fact that it is 2012, and things like this are supposed to happen for our own good, makes the event and its intended lessons, ironically, kind of tender and sacred.

Time and time again, I found that many people I looked up to in the yoga world did not, in fact, have the qualities they presented themselves as having (including myself).

Does that mean they are bad people or that I somehow felt my personal agency affected by these revelations?

Absolutely not. It just means I have learned that “discrimination” is not just a word to be thrown around, and that the quiet, inner knowing that comes from a serious and committed meditation practice is not to be taken lightly.

Currently, I know of a few very popular and some pretty famous yoga teachers who are regular pot smokers (they depend on marijuana to get them through the day). I am sure the few I know are just a small sampling of the thousands of such teachers.

I know of a very popular yoga/spiritual teacher who actually is a negligent and abusive father to his daughter (who is a friend and has given me permission to say this). This man has co-led women’s sexual-trauma workshops.

I also know of famous yoga teachers/gurus who were very rude and condescending to my sister’s friend when she did their hair for a photo shoot with Vanity Fair Magazine.

Does this mean there isn’t an element of the telephone game going on in some of these instances, even all the talk around John Friend?

Of course there is. That is our human nature. When we feel hurt and disillusioned, we exaggerate. Does this mean we should just throw up our hands at the guru tradition? Absolutely not.

   What it does mean, though, is that we might need to better discriminate and define enlightened guru versus highly intelligent, charismatic, and persuasive yoga teacher.

Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Amma—I think we can all agree these are enlightened beings (and this is not to say you have to be an Avatar to be enlightened. There are many thousands of people who are awake—they are just too humble to let you know about it).

The folks who make the Wanderlust and Burning Man circuits…awesome, amazing, intelligent, special, transformative, powerful? Yes! John Friend, a world-class, super, super brilliant and magnetic teacher? No doubt about it! Enlightened? Awake? Clearly not (or not yet).

With that said, though, I think it is truly important to consider the possibility that very sacred, powerful messages of healing and transformation are often channeled through imperfect people. It is a karmic, double-edged sword, I suppose, for the messenger and its receivers.

Take, for instance, Bill W. of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill and Dr. Bob conceived of the entirety of Alcoholics Anonymous not too long after getting sober. And despite the very real moral undertones of the 12 steps, many believe that Bill W. had multiple affairs in sobriety.

Does that mean that AA is a flawed program because its founder was a flawed being?

Absolutely not. AA has saved my life. It has saved and continues to save millions of lives.

Another example is Martin Luther King—the foremost voice on African American civil rights and still the most quoted and celebrated civil rights figure in America today. It is a well known fact now that Martin Luther King was engaged in what many consider to be inappropriate sexual behaviors (please do not shoot the messenger here folks). Does that mean we should forget all about the “I have a dream speech?” Of course not. To even consider it would be absurd.

So this is all to say that while the philosophy and technique of Anusara Yoga may not be perfect, there is no refuting how extremely helpful and powerful Anusara yoga is and how it has transformed many thousands of people’s lives in very meaningful ways.

I believe that, for the most part, it is Anusara yoga itself and not John Friend that has led to it being the fastest growing yoga brand in the world. It has led its practitioners to profound emotional, physical and spiritual healing. It has offered people a means to deep communion with the divine. It has created a yoga community so committed to seeing the light in the world that one cannot help but burst into happiness at some of the big Anusara events.

The question now is how can those of us who have greatly benefited from Anusara Yoga not throw the baby out with the bath water?

The first step perhaps is grieving what was in order to open the door to what is and what can be.

Without acknowledgement and the working through of what many might be experiencing as pain, loss, and perhaps even anger and resentment, it will be extremely difficult to let in what is sure to be a tremendously resilient and beautiful synthesis of the best of the old with the best of the new.

What I believe is of particular importance in this grieving process here is the uncomfortable type of grieving most who were close to John might be experiencing. The fact of the matter is that he is not dead. Each individual’s personal representation of John Friend or what in particular they believed he stood for is the part that has undergone a dying process of sorts (as dramatic as that sounds). As discussed in my trauma class in graduate school recently, this seems to be an example of what they call in the grief and loss world “ambivalent loss.”

Photo: Carrie Gablehouse

According to Dr. Pauline Boss’ work, ambivalent loss occurs when there is “leaving without goodbye,” as in the case of a missing child. Ambivalent loss also occurs when there is “goodbye without leaving,” as in the case of a wife discovering her husband has been cheating on her for many years or that he is actually not sexually oriented towards women.

Those who were close to John Friend might be experiencing the latter variety of grief which is confusing and sad because there is often no definite closure ( or at least not for a while).

I certainly do not mean to pathologize or trivialize such a vulnerable, tender process as grieving and loss. I just know that when I have experienced vague and confusing feelings of loss and betrayal such as this, having language and metaphor has sometimes been helpful in the working through of the situation.

Empirical and narrative studies show time and time again that one of the best ways to grieve these types of ambivalent  losses is through group processing sessions focused on discussing and processing threats to one’s identify, positive spiritual interpretations of the loss, goal setting, the need for bonding with others in the same situation, and sharing hope for the future. Perhaps of particular importance to this case will be the communal recognition that putting your faith into a teacher who has always espoused goodness, light and love is just as natural and beautiful as putting your faith into a spouse who has appeared devoted to you.

Walking around life mistrustful, doing background checks on the people who inspire us is no way to live life. It is the most human and historic of all traits to look outside ourselves for inspiration. The ability and willingness to trust in others should be the source of celebration, not shame or the should have, would have and could haves.

I am hopeful that those who chose to stay in the existing Anusara community and those who chose to go in their own direction are able to gather both together and separately to process and heal. I am hopeful we have learned in this instance that it is not one man but rather the Kula that makes the flowing with the currents of Grace possible.


Prepared by Soumyajeet Chattaraj/Edited by Brianna Bemel

Carrie Gablehouse is a yoga and meditation teacher in Berks County, PA. She holds certifications in Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, YogaLife Institute Yoga, group fitness and  Reiki. Carrie is also currently training in the Anusara and Kundalini Yoga traditions and obtaining her Masters in Clinical Social Work at Bryn Mawr College. She teaches regular classes, workshops and retreats on topics ranging from pose alignment to Yoga for PTSD to the psychology of yoga. She is a grateful member of the ‘Off the Mat, into the World’ organization and leads annual ‘Off the Mat, into the World’ Yoga in Action groups. Carrie’s most passionate and devoted form of yoga is Karma Yoga, or the yoga of action (most commonly characterized as selfless service in the West). She founded the Berks Karma Yoga Club (BKYC) in July 2007, an outreach organizationthat pairs volunteer yoga teachers with local non-for-profits. BKYC also organizes and facilitates regular community outreach projects, charitable fundraisers, and free health, yoga, and wellness workshops. For more information on her, please visit  here.

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