Back in February, reporters for the Daily News and NY Post either accessed court records or received a press release pertaining to a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Jivamukti Yoga teacher against a senior teacher. The complaint contained enough details of intimate encounters between these two teachers to make for the kind of tawdry click-bait tabloid reporters lust after.
The complainant’s attorney apparently made his client available for a photo shoot in his office, as he prepared to try his case in the court of public opinion.
I read the initial news stories and formed my own opinions based on nearly four decades in this field, my personal history of student-teacher-guru dynamics, as well as my inside knowledge of many of the guru-teacher scandals of the past. I kept my opinions mostly to myself until I was contacted by Michelle Goldberg who asked to interview me for a piece she was writing for Slate that would focus on the “cultish” environment at Jivamukti. Michelle and I had a maintained a friendly connection since I had invited her to present an evening talk last June at The Breathing Project discussing her just-released book about Indra Devi “The Goddess Pose” so I agreed to the interview.
Over the course of about an hour, Michelle and I discussed many things, including my history teaching at Jivamukti in the early days (1992-1994) at their Second Avenue studio. I named a few other people I thought she should talk to who had more intimate knowledge of the current atmosphere at Jivamukti, but it never occurred to me to ask whether anyone had agreed to be quoted on the record. Apparently, I was the only one. To be fair, had I been offered the option of being quoted anonymously I would have declined because in my opinion anonymous online commentary is cowardly. Though I was quoted accurately in the final article there was far more that wasn’t quoted.
I enjoyed reading the Slate piece. I like Michelle’s writing style and she treated me fairly as far as she quoted me. Predictably, she chose the most controversial things I said for her article. I have no problem with that – she was doing her job, and doing it well. I even called to leave Michelle a congratulatory message the day the article came out. I thanked her for quoting me accurately and helping me sound critical without trashing anyone personally. As it turned out, not everyone agreed and some people felt very personally trashed by what I said. They wasted no time condemning me as an insensitive, brutish “victim-blamer.”
The most notable criticism came via Matthew Remski who interviewed the complaining teacher and her lawyer, as well as Sharon Gannon and David Life. Matthew gave me a chance to respond to their points of view (which I did), and to retract any of my quotes (which I did not). Matthew did include small excerpts of my lengthy reply in his blog post on the topic.
This past Wednesday, I decided to deliver a heartfelt talk on this topic for my monthly members event at The Breathing Project. We made a video recording and have edited the 90-minute talk down to about a half-hour – which is still pretty long, but if you stick with it, I can guarantee it will at the least provide food for thought. If you have limited time, skip ahead to the 25-minute mark to hear how rules, ethical guidelines, vows and boundaries can actually provoke transgression.
I may have more to say on this topic in the future, but for now, this was the most efficient way to get a response out there.
As always, feel free to leave a comment.