The Issue is Integrity
There have been many comments recently about John Friend going back to teaching and the quality of his teaching. That’s NOT the pertinent issue. It’s not about whether JF is a good teacher, or whether he’s charismatic or passionate or sensitive or teaching better than ever. It’s about integrity. It’s about what values and principles you stand with when you study with him. He was/is seriously out of alignment with yoga and all its precepts. He abused his power consistently for years. He said repeatedly that he wanted to have an ethics evaluation. But when an ethics committee was established he refused to go through with it.
JF seriously impacted many lives in a very negative way. He exploited many for his personal gain. He caused loss of income and reputation for those who depended on him and supported him, some for nearly two decades. He betrayed the community that he created. And now the Wikipedia entry about JF has been so whitewashed it implies that his only transgression was to have had affairs with two women.
I’m all for forgiveness and compassion … at the appropriate time. That time will come when all the information is on the table, when we know the true extent of JF’s behavior, and when he has taken responsibility for his actions by submitting to an ethics evaluation, and owning the findings. Until then we are enabling his behavior. If you want to help someone who is seriously misaligned you don’t ignore the problems; you take the uncomfortable stance of confronting the issues so that realignment can occur.
Certainly we’re all a work in progress. None of us is perfect; and presumably all of us are working on being more in alignment with what we know to be true; to align our words with our actions; and to take the dharmic action in each situation. I know I’m working on myself in this way. It’s not unreasonable to ask JF to do the same.
All of us who were involved in Anusara yoga were taught to “look for the good”. It helped us see the best in each other and to find the best in ourselves. Many blossomed with this attitude, and were nurtured, and possibly healed, in significant ways. However, in order to step fully into emotional and spiritual maturity, and to live responsibly as whole human beings, we have to move beyond this one-sided approach. We need to be willing to look at that which is painful, both in ourselves and in our leaders.
As a result of this tendency to avoid pain (remember dvesha in the Sutras?), our community developed a huge shadow side of problems and issues that simmered beneath the surface, never being fully addressed. Therefore as a community we developed very few skills in effectively resolving problems. We cannot heal something that we cannot see, or are not willing to look at.
All in all, limiting our attention to only the good has not served us very well, and I think this attitude helped bring Anusara down. Averting our gaze from the darker side of JF’s behavior allowed significant problems to grow bigger and remain unaddressed. To bring sunlight into the shadow we must be willing to look beyond how JF is currently teaching. We must feel the discomfort of looking beyond his words to the values he has displayed in living his life. His integrity is revealed in his actions, not his words.