October 3, 2018 § 2 Comments
An email discussion with some friends yesterday proved unexpectedly triggering. I put the brakes on and withdrew from the discussion before articulating the how, what and why of my response. I realized that the intensity of the exchanges left me feeling overwhelmed and therefore unable to fully express the depths of what I felt. It’s times like these that I’m glad I haven’t shut down this blog. Yet.
At the heart of the email thread was Guy Donahaye’s latest post, in particular this paragraph where he succinctly sums up Sharath’s conundrum.
“He is thus in an impossible position: if he acknowledges abuse then he admits to dishonesty and manipulation of the ashtanga narrative for the purpose of consolidating power. If he says nothing or denies it he is equally seen as dishonest and responsible for causing more harm. He is damned either way. The first way will undermine his authority and power but save his humanity, the second way is to lose his soul and perpetuate a cult of deceit.”
I find it noteworthy that (a) a teacher with the depth of relationship to Pattabhi Jois that he has would step up and speak up about the sexual allegations against his teacher. As he notes in this latest post, very few have done so to date. And, (b) his recognition of the position that Sharath is in and the choices he is faced with. Indeed, there is no doubt that Sharath, as the lineage holder and boss of the institute named after his grandfather needs to make a statement about these allegations and acknowledge the pain that was caused. Acknowledgement of trauma is the first step towards real healing.
And yet. AND YET. There has been nothing but silence from Mysore on this. How can this be? Speaking up about the abuse is Patanjali’s way – there’s no doubt about it! What’s taking him so long? He needs to speak up already! Yesterday!
And this is what I’m triggered by: passing judgements about what someone should be doing without any regard for the humanity of the situation. The humanity in this case, is the recognition of the massive karmic lesson that he and the institute faces right now, upon which his current authority rests, and from which he (and all the teachers on the list) draws power. To step up and acknowledge that the forces that have shaped one’s life has a harmful shadow that is now being reckoned with and has the potential to threaten the very paradigm of your life as you know it, well, that is one helluva life lesson to work through. Difficult but necessary. Recognizing the scope of that difficulty is recognizing the humanity of the person who has to face it. That this person, beyond titles and power and wealth, is first and foremost, another human like the rest of us.
The inability to recognize the humanity in others – and therefore, to have empathy – runs the risk of turning the individual into a commodity, an object devoid of history. It turns relationships into transactions. Commodifying others breeds the “taker” mentality (on our part) and enables judgement-laden expectations of others’ behavior based on how “I” would do it if I were you.
Relevant example: the commodified teacher-student relationship, where teachers are there to ‘give’ you things like asanas. Attention. Certificates. Hugs. Advice. Platitudes. And where teachers serve as a canvas (object) on which we project our fantasies and expectations of behavior. Or, conversely, where students exist as a means of satisfying teachers’ egoic needs and power trips.
Once recognized, this pattern shows up everywhere. (Exacerbated, of course, by the good folks at Fakebook who are also laughing all the way to the bank. At our expense.)
I volunteer that this attitude is a capitalist hangover and it’s time to sober up. Isn’t that why we practice? To see more clearly how we are more similar than different. To learn how to relate more authentically, deeply and radically. To effect change by relating from a place of compassion instead of the transactional (harmful) paradigms that the world currently operates on.
A humanistic approach to relationship requires the ability to hold points of view that are, on the surface, contradictory. Yes, Sharath needs to make a statement supporting victims, but also yes, this is a really difficult thing for him to do. Because history. Because culture. Because shame. Because of a whole host of reasons that we will never know about, nor do we need to in order to recognize the humanity of the situation. Any one of us could be in the same situation, facing the same sort of impossible conundrum that threatens to dismantle our life as we know it. I’m not saying the silence is justified. I’m saying, the silence needs to end but how or when it does is not within our control and it’s none of our business to be demanding that it does.