Last week a video of John Friend was released that, judging on who you speak to, either showed a bro riffing high and exuberantly on the imminence of his future success, or a deviant scoundrel further enclosing himself within a secret inner-circle of money-hungry faux-artist ambitions. With this video’s leaking came the predictable onslaught of comments from Anusara students, teachers, and detractors alike, along with another wave of resignations from certified Anusara teachers.
One thing is certain, the John Friend scandal has triggered a seemingly infinite barrage of public yoga practitioner catharses from around the globe. However, we here at BabaHQ have noticed that much of the flurry has come out in well-timed, well-edited “Open Letters” to “the community.” All the while, much of what is being said—the feelings of betrayal and remorse—float beyond the scope of dialogue. That is, letters come out, people react, people get angry, people forget, people move on. Rarely is there an opportunity to ask, “Really?” and expect a response.
Nevertheless, we The Babarazzi wanted to get down to something deeper. Who or what are people really angry at? Is it John Friend? Is it themselves? Is it the commodification of yoga? Is it yoga in general? Is it us?! Furthermore, we wanted to get a better understanding of the hurt and betrayal felt by so many. What’s fueling this bitter feeling of abandonment and loss of trust? What has really been damaged?
Then, like light in the dark, an ex-certified Anusara teacher contacted us wanting to assist in any fact-checking we might need were we to continue covering the saga. In truth, we had all but left the John Friend scandal by the side of the road, thinking it having run its course. However, it occurred to us that something more universal could be had were we to speak to someone directly effected by the scandal, and specifically about the human element of the fall out. We just had to know: What are Anusara teachers really so angry about?
Thank you “Warrior One” for agreeing to speak with us and sharing your many personal feelings. May your journey on the path of yoga and meditation bare you sweet fruits.
THE BABARAZZI: I’m interested in your take on some of the recent John Friend stuff floating around. The latest video, etc. But first, I need to know, how are you feeling?
WARRIOR ONE: Honestly? Really up and down. It’s different every day. New emotions and levels of realization arise. Today, truthfully, after that vid, I feel duped. I feel ashamed that I ever trusted him.
TB: Why do you feel duped?
WO: It was exposure for me into what I knew was true about him (stoner megalomaniac), but hadn’t witnessed. Look. The one thing I am totally doing, though, is taking full responsibility for my own willing participation in the dance of teacher-student with him. But what I didn’t realize, from not being brought into the inner-inner circle, was the mayhem going on behind the scenes. I’m a little ashamed I supported him. Sang his praises. He never fucking sang mine.
TB: In all honesty, to me he just looks and sounds like a post-New Age businessman who’s very very very excited about how what he’s creating is taking off. He sounds like a surfer who made three million dollars making surfboards. Why do you think people are so shocked by this video?
WO: I hear you. Peeps are shocked because he’s not the creator of surf boards. He stood as a teacher and leader. Though, the metaphor of the surfboard is actually brilliant. For surfers, It’s the vehicle to god: the water and the freedom, skill, joy of being out there on it. That’s what John Friend did for us. He created the vehicle.
TB: He was also the head of a hugely successful yoga business. Did you view him that way? Did his “CEO side” ever occur or present itself to you?
WO: Business came into play twice. I had issues with a couple Anusara Yoga studio owners, and he sided with the owners. Put me down, told me to “get humble,” which I did. That was a good lesson for me to learn. But, he’s a business leader before a spiritual leader when money or image is involved. He favored the other teachers unbelievably.
TB: Can you say more as to how John Friend got involved in the issues that came up between you and the studios? Who contacted him? How would he have even known there was an issue?
WO: Well, in my two cases, I called him myself…. I saw him as my mentor, my teacher, and he always told us in the giant workshops that he was available for all of us, anytime. Gave all of his certified teachers his cell number. When I was fired from one of my teaching positions at a yoga studio, I called him immediately. He responded a few days later. We spoke and he sided with the owner. Took a business approach. He was NOT good as a mediator, and that’s what we needed.
The second case was similar. I reached out to him to mediate an issue with another studio owner. Again he put me down in front of the owner.
TB: What do you mean “put you down?” Can you be more specific?
WO: “Put me down” is incorrect of me to say. I did not feel supported by him in either example. He did not ask either studio owner to step up and take responsibility for their part in the particular problems at hand. In the second case, the owner was a teacher much younger than me, both in age, and time with Anusara. I was more “senior” to her. He asked me to apologize to her, not her to me, and when I told him after how that sucked for me, he said, “You’re the more senior teacher, so you’re setting the example for her now.” That didn’t feel correct.
TB: I see….
WO: Look, I own my stuff. I really do. I don’t want to sound like I’m blindly projecting stuff onto him. But, he really set himself up to us, to me, as a friend we could count on. I looked up to him. Thought he’d support me. Like a big brother. A father figure. Teachers can be made into that by students. I own that creation.
Although, I should say that he also did support me at another vitally difficult time. Right before the scandal broke. Last October. He finally did “show up” for me. But still, what a fucker. He’s hurt an incredible amount of people, waiting THIS long to respond, and even still, not really responding.
TB: So, how are you feeling about this new video? Is it or the scandal in general something you wake up thinking about?
WO: I’m not at all thinking about the video. I sometimes wake up sad about the fractures of friendship. Like a shattered illusion.
TB: Can you describe what the illusion was?
WO: It’s probably personal for everyone, but mine was the illusion of community, or even family. You take the good with the bad. Work things through. All held together by the common thread of values and beliefs. But, really we were gathered around John’s ego and vision.
There’s a pic that Wanderlust used of him that I now find so horrifying: He’s teaching in a tent, a huge group, and it’s shot from behind showing his arms spread wide. Like, “these are my minions.” Ugh.
TB: Can you explain for people who weren’t his direct students why seeing John Friend standing in front of what he built—taking pleasure in what he’s created—why that can feel so disturbing?
WO: He’s not behaving, or hasn’t behaved, like he cares about his teachers. He cares about the business first. That’s insulting. It’s like he promised something and didn’t, or couldn’t, deliver. And, he won’t come clean and admit it. He’s simply not living what he’s been teaching all these years.
I feel misled about him caring about us, his teachers. He always said Grace comes first. In there is Love, Hope, Wisdom, etc. That’s the First Principle (to put it in Anusara Yoga language). But, he’s doing Second Principle, first. He’s being ego-ic, grabbing, stubborn, not letting go.
TB: Can you be specific on how he was supposed to care for you? What do you mean by the word “care?”
WO: Again, it’s my projection onto him. But, he certainly brought that projection into being by saying, “I’m here for you, day or night. Follow me. Trust me.” Sounded to me like he was saying, “I’ll take care of you when in need, when troubled. Find Grace and Shakti in me when you’re unable to find it in yourself.” He was a vehicle.
In a way he remains a vehicle. But, more for our own expansion, each one of us. I’m stepping up. I feel more liberated than ever, and it’s because of his downfall. I no longer have to be friends with people I didn’t really like! Imagine that!
TB: Do you think a lot of the anger and resentment that is being hurled at John Friend is actually stuff that’s really about the people hurling it?
WO: YES. But they are totally NOT saying it, seeing it, or willing to admit it.
TB: Are you personally more angry with yourself than you are with John Friend?
WO: 100%. That’s what’s making me crazy. That admittance from teachers would be a real example of Taking Ownership. I am admitting it to you, and to others. I’m in therapy, I have been processing this!
TB: You entered therapy after the John Friend scandal or before?
WO: No, no. I’ve been in for years. I’m just saying I’m not using Facebook, or blogs, or my BFFs to process.
The scandal didn’t “turn” me to get help. Please don’t misunderstand.
TB: What angers you most about yourself, specifically related to the John Friend scandal?
WO: Well the anger is from recent experiences. What I know is that I needed what I received from him and the communal experiences in the early days. Really, there were amazingly healthy good times. Friendships: strong. His teachings: strong. His practice: strong.
But, I’m angry that as I matured, and saw misbehavior, and felt duped, that I didn’t listen to myself. I didn’t trust myself sooner. I didn’t leave sooner, or speak up sooner. I flirted with resigning about a year, year-and-a-half ago. More like three years. Around the time I was fired, and so poorly supported during that time. It was extremely hard for me.
TB: Can you give a specific example of your projecting something about yourself onto John Friend?
WO: The family stuff is my projection. I don’t have the closest relationships to my siblings. I looked at John for fatherhood and brotherhood. More brotherhood, I think. The way a big brother would come to your defense on the playground. I’m closer with my bro now, but he’s far away, and we didn’t have a shared high school experience because he’s older. Not close with my sis either. I sought siblings in the kula. I’d LOVE to hear others finally admit this.
TB: Perhaps it isn’t their experience.
WO: Perhaps. But I can’t be alone in that one, can I?
TB: Hard to say. It’s hard enough to know what your own experience is the more it unfolds, let alone someone else’s experience. Especially one that’s so twisted and hidden.
WO: True. And it certainly keeps unfolding. Deep layers in me are rising up. Partnered, though, with this incredible experience of strength. It’s fascinating.
TB: What do you think is the most hidden aspect of yourself that has come to the surface from this experience?
WO: As of today…. Confidence, wisdom, an ability to believe in myself, trust myself. A true sense of Liberation. Trust in my own process rather than relying on group-think.
TB: Were you less confident before this experience?
WO: Yes, a bit less.
TB: Less confident in what specifically?
WO: More likely to jump on the bandwagon. I really owe it to my practices for grounding me.
TB: Would you say you were easily swayed previous to this experience?
WO: Yes. But it’s not really about this experience for me. It’s about having a meditation practice, a meditation community. This experience is the vehicle for me to see how meditation has shifted me. That’s more my true experience. Pre- meditation I would have been more swayed.
TB: So, who is John Friend to you now? He was a projected brother. But, who is he now?
WO: That’s a deep question.
TB: These are the only questions worth asking.
WO: I’m not sure yet…. Well, I’m sure of one thing: he’s not my teacher now. And I’m loving my relationship with my brother. It’s gotten stronger.
TB: Do you think you will ever take on another teacher?
WO: Hmm…. Well, I have. I have a meditation teacher. Although, I’m watching my projections very closely. I feel forewarned by this current experience.
I guess, what I am now is more open to learn from everyone. Every teacher can be my teacher, if I let them.