The Spiritual Bankruptcy Of Yoga Teacher Training
Narcissist, egoist, self-serving, insensitive, power hungry, aggressive, ruthless…these are the words we articulate to pathologize and demoralize men and women who dare to excel and succeed. As a culture, we attempt to stigmatize, then generate and attach negative stereotypes to power. Creating stigma is a ubiquitous part of our culture and, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, has become institutionalized and capitalized upon. Both sexes must contend with the stigma of power but the masculine psyche has fewer outlets for exposing the scars it leaves behind. Suffice it to say none of us are born questioning the value of our inherent power, in fact, the infant brain doesn’t have the capacity for such a complex relational matrix. Stigma and self-loathing are learned, reinforced and today often amplified by social media. Public figures are routinely humiliated and denigrated…it is a kind of sport, a joke, a distraction…and often a screen to hide truth.
A little more than a year ago I stumbled into the choppy waters of social condemnation. I wrote a provocative Facebook post about a colleague of mine. It wasn’t a post I wrote hastily. I had attempted direct, private lines of communication first. When those failed, I attempted to ignore the issue and “focus on building my own community”. Eventually I could no longer ignore the hypocrisy and I took what I thought were valid concerns to the very public forum of Facebook.
Much to my chagrin, my provocative post turned into a tirade of vitriolic and incredibly hurtful comments. People who I had never met were lashing out at me with bitterness and profanity. What emerged bordered on hysterical and quickly became very unseemly - something I had never encountered before on social media. The tipping point, for me personally, came in a subsequent post, when a former student publicly compared me to his second grade teacher…a pedophile.
A few days after releasing my post into the wild world of social media, I was served with papers and found myself in the midst of a legal bickering match. Apparently free speech is frowned upon in the yoga community, while gossip is embraced as a spiritual sanctuary for the insecure and poorly trained.
Ultimately I decided (with some strong persuasion) the “best” thing to do was to take down the post and “let it go”. “You’re being oversensitive”, "you’re being paranoid”, “you’re being too aggressive”, “you’re being confrontational, what do you expect” - these were some of the things my fellow teachers and even some of my “friends” were telling me. So eventually I backed off. I assumed, there was a “wrong and a right” and somehow, through arrogance or hubris, I had landed on the side of “not right”. Essentially, despite knowing intuitively the reputation I had built over fifteen years was being damaged, I walked away.
The result of not standing my ground and listening to my intuition was internally devastating. Publicly, I continued to be bullied for a time on Facebook. I felt like I had turned into the perfect role model for PTSD and I watched as my world crumbled around me. My professional life took a hit and my old friend, self loathing, decided to pay me a visit. So began, what I think of, as a very long dark night for my soul.
As my unrest grew I believed I must have done something wrong…I mean we all make mistakes. So again I turned to the people in my life that I knew loved me and sought guidance. One of the people I turned to was a longtime friend, someone I had know for decades, someone I thought accepted me for who I was. Over dinner one Sunday evening, during the darkest part of my journey, with tears running down my checks, I made myself vulnerable. I attempted in halting words to explain what I was grappling with…to expose the shadow that seemed to be lurking inside me…this power hungry monster.
My friend’s response was to say in one breath, “you have no idea how much I love you do you?” and in the next, “I feel like I can only tell you these things when I am talking to this John…” I looked at her through my tears in confusion, “this John?” I said, and thought WTF! Despite a truly visceral desire to leave the scene of the ambush, I stayed put and decided it might be a good idea to listen to this “old”, trusted friend.
What ensued was a laundry list of my personal failings, missed holidays, implications that I didn’t love her children, and a discussion about what other people in her life thought of me including her therapist. Surreal doesn’t do justice to the conversation. Needless to say, the experience did not bolster my spirits…but interestingly enough it did provide me with valuable insight.
I am certain some part of what my “friend” relayed to me that summer afternoon was true for her. In the end, it was not what she said…it was her timing. She waited until I was literally at my absolute weakest to regurgitate and resolve years of unspoken hurt and resentment. Perhaps there is never a good time to say difficult things but even someone with the most rudimentary emotional intelligence understands projecting more pain onto an already taxed psyche is potentially harmful…in this instance it just seemed cruel.
It took me a few days, but eventually I recognized the enormous mistake I had made. I had allowed history to trump true connection. I had mistaken the persistence of my relationship with someone to equal empathy and genuine connection. Denial is truly a powerful force. Needless to say, I severed the relationship and noticed how it’s lack of authenticity echoed patterns in my life on and off social media.
In ending the relationship with my “friend”, I re-established a much needed boundary within myself. The boundary had been transgressed by strangers in a Facebook post - faceless people who failed to recognize the humanity of the person on the other side of the screen. As I walked away from the dysfunctional relationship with my friend, I recognized, I had stayed in an unfulfilling relationship out of guilt, shame, self-judgement and OBLIGATION.
I thought back to my experience on Facebook and realized I had effectively allowed perfect strangers to question my integrity and self-worth. In attempting to open a discourse around the hypocrisy that shapes the “local yoga scene”, I inadvertently opened a window into my own insecurities just large enough for hate to enter. Instead of closing that window and recognizing that my life’s work has been about finding the truth within and without, I became fascinated and disturbed by the fear and anxiety that had been exposed and expressed.
A few weeks ago I received an unsolicited Facebook message from a woman. She had been through a teacher training with the colleague I had become mixed up with on Facebook, the one who hired an attorney and threatened to sue me. I feel it is only fair to keep her name out of this post…because I can only imagine the backlash she might endure…so I will call her Kathy. Kathy wrote, “I was a YTT student at [Marietta yoga studio] under [said teacher] a couple years ago. She turned our training into discussions of being wronged by you, and at the time I didn't know you (or her). I didn't see any of the fb posts. I had never heard your name discussed in a negative way by other respected yoga teachers. There were nine of us in that class that heard only bad of you, but know better now.”
It has taken me weeks to process the ramifications of Kathy’s message. I remain undecided as to whether I will find a way to reconcile my loss of faith in the yoga community with my love for the practice and the breathtakingly courageous people I teach. It saddens me to think students excited about any transformative practice, like yoga, would be subjected to so much misplaced fear and hatred…it is even worse, as a community, that we label this “yoga teacher training!”
I came across this quote recently…on Facebook…it pretty much sums up my current state of mind regarding social media: “Don’t worry about what I am doing. Worry about why you are worried about what I am doing”…unless of course you are not really interested in your own growth.
I have arrived back where I started, knowing my own truth and trusting in the choices I make. I don’t believe in right and wrong or good and bad. Morals are relevant only to the degree they are fashionable in society. Values are driven from inner awareness. I am a man. I am clear. I have worked hard for everything I have. I am proud of what I have achieved. What I do every day of my life is look around and see potential. I see it in myself and I see it in every person who has the courage to show up and do the work with me. The work is called being authentic and it is powerful to the core. Hate has no place in this work. Power is love.
Prison continues, on those who are entrusted to it, a work begun elsewhere, which the whole of society pursues on each individual through innumerable mechanisms of discipline.