With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

By on Jul 21, 2016 in The Unruly Ascetic

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Here I am in Mysore and the birds are chirpin’ for some blog posts.  Everyone is dying to know all of the secret information Sharath confers on us during these elite and occult daily conferences.  As it turns out, he doesn’t want us spouting knowledge on the internets (who knew!?) so I’ll spare you the details.  Long story short: teach because you want to learn and be nice about it.

In other news, I’ve been thinking and dialoguing (with authorized future Gurus as well as mama-shala acolytes who are admirably mature and dedicated despite the second class status some ashtanga jerks impose on them) on the topic of personal and collective responsibility as it applies with the Mysore community, in the larger community, and in terms of Authorizations.

There is something of an epidemic in Mysore during the regular season, as I have noted before, students are making a habit of prioritizing their own individual needs over the needs of the community.  This a dangerous pattern, which I spoke at length about with all my tender bossiness here.  This oh-so-special course has us all sighing in relief at the freedom we are finding from this dog-eat-dog pattern of the last few seasons.  Everyone is so calm, so generous with time and space, and dare I say it, friendly.

One of my long time ashtanga buds (and really, mentors) told me that part of the reason for this rise of bad behavior and selfishness in the regular season is that there are not enough older students being accepted, and therefor not enough well-behaved examples. Another perspective shared was that, since everyone here knows the score, there aren’t any voices for selfishness encouraging newbies to look out for themselves, to get to class über early, to wave off assistants in order to work with Sharath, or to avoid the cliques and clubs of mean older students (because this happens, people come to Mysore once or twice and start recommending to the only slightly younger students that they should behave badly and create biases because it is necessary to protect oneself). It’s generally acknowledged that the difference is that everyone in the main shala is already authorized, so no one feels (as much of) a need to prove themselves or vie for attention because the group is small and we’re all going to get more attention than we probably want (or are at least used to) anyway.

The summer program is easeful and graceful for all the reasons the regular season is not.  There’s less to prove, there’s less competition, and mostly we all know each other (or have at least seen one another around for years) and want to be nice… because the accountability for bad behavior is that much higher.

Many of these main shala problems don’t exist at Saraswati’s shala and it seems obvious that the numbers and the intention are the primary differences.  Fewer students and no (current) potential for authorization create a different dynamic of understanding and support in that community.  I am having really interesting conversations with Mamaji’s students about a collective disinterest in authorization as a result of the behavior of many main shala authorized students, whether elitism, egoism, or downright unkindness.  As much as I want to tell them they’re wrong and my peers are loving and gentle people, I know this is not entirely true. Whether we like it or not, if people feel that way about us then we need to consider it and where the impression comes from because it’s not bitterness and jealousy like the defensive authority would have you believe.

As a result I am considering what authorization currently means socially, as opposed to what I think it should mean ethically. Here’s what it breaks down to.

The consensus (from the outside) appears to be that authorized teachers view themselves to be authorities within themselves, above criticism from anyone shy of Sharath. They are entitled to hold their autonomy sacred and expect acknowledgement for the work it takes to become authorized.

As someone who has been a longtime self-abuser of the notion that I am actually a fraud and probably no one likes me and anyone who does will soon see my lack of worth, authorization felt like an amazing shield to hide behind.  I thought it would give me confidence and authority, only to realize not long after that a laminated piece of paper and my name misspelled on a list that no one really looks at wasn’t that powerful.

It’s a bummer to think that authorization is no longer powerful.  It doesn’t mean anything except that you are privileged and disciplined enough to come to mysore a handful of times. I want to redefine authorization so that it becomes powerful again and actually means something within our community.

Here’s my idea.

Can authorization mean that, instead of being autonomous and above criticism, we have acknowledged our responsibility for the good of our community on the whole?  Not just Sharath, not just our students, not just the single line of parampara that runs through the individual, but to every students who comes to our school (Sharath’s shala), our sister school (Saraswati’s) and to the students of all our fellow teachers?

Can we, please?

Authorization should not make us less accountable it should makes us more accountable.  Authorization should mean that we are agreeing to, volunteering (nay PAYING) for the privilege to be of service to any member of the community who needs serving. This could mean teaching in our home shalas, honoring our start times (for self practice and led class), showing new students where to buy chocolate and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD being present and openly, publicly available when someone needs an ear, and white knight, or a mentor when they are the victim of some type of harm. 

Because at the end of the day it is our responsibility. No one has forced authorization on us.  We accepted it after years of toil and work. If one wants to remain a student and free of this obligation, that is also anyone’s right, but if we accept the authorization to teach, we are accepting the responsibility to be of service. It is not the newbs responsibility to know what to do or how to act, it is our responsibility to show them with kindness, compassion, and a genuine desire to help. It is not the naive victim’s responsibility to call out a potential abuser, it is our job to be present enough to listen and help protect.

This lovely summer program has made me aware of how much the desperation and the self interest of the student body affects the energy of the group in the regular season.  Events of the past couple of years have made me aware of how much harm is being done to students and aspirants to this method of practice by people that are meant to be leading them.  It won’t change overnight and it won’t change because someone writes a blog about it.  But it will change if we start taking personal responsibility for the happiness and well being of the people around us. I know people who are already doing this.  I have friends and frenemies who are proactive and put themselves and their popularity on the line for this cause, so I will join them on the front lines.

I love you guys. The ones I know, the ones I don’t know, the ones I’ve argued with or rolled my eyes at because if you want to do this practice, then you’re doing something right.  I am here, there, anywhere for anyone in this community who needs something.  As much as I’d rather ‘mind my own business’ and ‘not get wrapped up in the drama,’ I will listen to your pain and I will do what is in my power to protect you from it, whether than means teaching in my morning program, showing you where to buy necessities (chocolate) in Mysore, or hearing fearful tales of abuse of power.

Because I want to be a good person, mostly.

But more importantly, because I am authorized and to me, that’s what it means. It means that I will make myself uncomfortable, I will put my own needs on the back burner, I will go out of my way to help and to protect anyone in my community who needs it.  It is an honor, a privilege, and a responsibility that I have knowingly signed up for.

So, who’s with me?