Bernadette Birney, whom I respect, has another post about the Anusara revelations up on Elephant Journal. Some aspects of what she has proposed have left me uncomfortable, and so I responded thusly in the comments section.
While we’re being confessional here, I must myself confess some discomfort with the metaphor of Kool-Aid. I am old enough to remember the Jim Jones massacre on which the metaphor was based, and in the 15 years I spent in the software industry, I never got over cringing when the marketing professionals would trot it out to declare their fealty to some new technology the developers had trotted out some months before. (“Down in Orlando, they’ve totally drunk the Kool-Aid on server-side Java.”)
More importantly, I think this metaphor reinforces the notion that Anusara is some sort of new religious movement. I say new religious movement, because I learned this is the less disparaging (read: politically correct) term that scholars use to indicate that any new religious movement is somebody else’s “cult.” Even those religions our culture now today considers “mainstream” were “cults” a few thousand years ago. I learned this less disparaging term at a panel discussion I had attended as a newly minted sociology major. All of those on the panel would end up being among my favorite professors.
This interest would follow me to graduate school, where I did a fair amount of reading on both religious organization and social movements, and even into my dissertation on the adult children of alcoholics movement. This raises another source of discomfort with this post. When people heal from what they reveal, they tend to do so in the context of anonymous fellowships. They don’t spill their guts out online. It’s fine as a genre–I have finally gotten around to reading Eat Pray Love–but even Elizabeth Gilbert cordons off areas from discussion, like the messy details of her relationship with her ex-husband and the true identities of those connected with the ashram in India, including its guru. So it’s not your confession I mind, it’s the invitation for others to so engage that does not sit comfortably with me.
I say this partly because I am aware of fellow yoga students or even would be yoga students whose families are discomfited by the idea of their even doing yoga in the first place. Even though this would today surprise many of my friends, I still consider myself culturally a New Yorker. We tend to be loud, gregarious, and up in people’s grills. But the reason my friends would be surprised is that I’ve lived in New England for nearly half my life, and people here are not like that. People out there will skip a beat on yoga reading a long list of such confessionals. Again, it’s not that I don’t think such confessions wouldn’t be healing. I just think the audience has to be appropriate. Moreover, I found that anonymous fellowships work according to most, if not all ,of the same principles of identity transformation as new religious movements, so there is no easy dualism in their technique: between “bad” cults and “good” healing.
So far it seems that “discomfort” is my main objection to the invitation implied in this post. Of course, one may object in turn that’s a difficult thing to avoid. Tell me about it, I’ve been in meditation, on my morning walk, and on my mat already today. But in the same way that singer-songwriter Chuck Pyle may intone “What ever happened to ‘Keep it Simple’?” I ask what ever happened to Yoga Sutra II.46, “sthira-sukham asanam,” “Posture should be steady and comfortable”? Isn’t it still a goal?
The last familiarity I will claim is with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is both born from a concern with mindfulness and well-supported empirically. DBT does not seek an accounting of Who-Did-What-When in order to work. The chief dialectic is between acceptance and change. Change is really hard, and you don’t get there by white-knuckling it. Among the other minor principles that flow from it that I think are pertinent here is the notion that there is more than one right way of doing things. I wonder, what it would look like for a whole community to heal dialectically?
So thanks for not “keeping secrets.” Hopefully your courage will enable others to more easily speak their truth. And consider that there might be more than one venue in which they may feel it is appropriate to so, and more than one language with which they might. The goal is not the way, but the way is the goal.
As far as this last conclusion “The goal is not the way, but the way is the goal,” I totally blame it on my muse. I only almost sort of get what what she meant by that, well, maybe the second half, particularly in this context. My muse also keeps reminding me that the T-shirt Birney is wearing in the EJ headshot is the same one I saw John Friend wearing the first time I laid eyes on him in person.