Fast-forward a year and the final, guillotining communication from him that severed my contact with this studio echoes with condemnation of me as a person.
"I am sure you are angry ... it is your anger that prevented me from discussing theHere, the walled garden was now protecting its serenity, through force.
[DELETED]matter with you and kept me from quickly responding to your demands. You scare me and you have for a long time."
When I was still in the program back in February, I was going through a rough time. I had met someone at the studio who I had developed strong feelings for. Those feelings were not reciprocated, however, and there followed several weeks where the woman I liked was not attending class. I sent her texts: "Am I the reason you're not coming to class?". "No, no, I'm having roommate issues" came the replies. Something was wrong and I wasn't sure what. I finally came to the realization "No, no, you are the reason she's not coming to class, (you stupid douchebag)" and I immediately left the program, informing her voicemail that I was going and it was now OK for her to return.
During this time, I felt pretty low. The feeling of rejection surrounding the entire experience was traumatizing. I wanted to talk to the owner of the studio about this and maybe ask for a partial refund of the money I had spent to sign up. No dice. He was slow returning my emails or calls. After 6 weeks of waiting, I got angry and told him so. It all degraded even further from there. I wrote a strongly negative review for the studio online and the owner posted a number of quite hurtful, dismissive rebuttals and then sent his final email to me (partially quoted above). He said nastier things in this mail, some of which were deliberately intended to be hurtful, coercive, threatening even. I was quite careful not to make my communications personal (either private or public), but even then, he obviously interpreted the whole event as an attack on him.
I think back on this interaction and furrow my eyes in perplexed confusion. As a business owner, his handling of my participation took a perfectly straightforward situation requiring a little humanity and turned it into something really nasty. Some of the things he did were things I consider both egregious and unethical.
Why would someone apparently committed to the pursuit of yoga treat one of his customers so badly? He seemed genuinely frightened of the 'negative energy' that I had suddenly introduced into his world. I think that he felt that he was fighting for his livelihood against someone who he couldn't empathize with or understand.
All of his actions were geared towards excluding my 'issues' from his life. He initially ignored my requests for communication. When I posted my review, he tried to have it taken down. He then attempted to silence me by discrediting me and then his final communication has the tone of an act of violence: an emphatic rejection of me as a person. Naturally, this had a strong impact on me. I thought that perhaps that it might have had a traumatizing impact on him too, but no, he only really cared about the negative 'one-star' Yelp review I posted about his studio online. When I published this post, I also took down the review since now, it's time to move on.
As he wrote in his email to me, I scare him. Perhaps the purpose of yoga is to make people happy, and it's natural to attempt to preserve a space of happiness around ourselves. It's natural to attempt to avoid negativity, and to shy away from people with issues. We hang out with people we like, we avoid people we don't. It's simple, right?
Well, no. To paraphrase some Sanskrit (and hopefully do justice to millennia of ancient wisdom), yogic philosophy describes the four essential causes of suffering as egotism (asmita), desire (raga), revulsion (dvesha) and our own fear of dying (abhinivesha). These can all be bundled together so that each is a different expression of the same underlying root: a misperception of reality (avidya). Dvesha is related to this fear of negativity. The act of pushing away and ignoring the things that we recoil from prevents us from engaging powerfully with them. One might say even, that it is the basis of hate, of non-acceptance, of cruelty.
How do we learn to mistreat people? We start by distancing ourselves from them.
It seems that we think of 'happiness' as an idyllic walled garden: peaceful, tranquil, and full of gorgeous, happy, perfect people who never cause problems. Here, negativity can feel a little like a smelly homeless man mumbling quietly to himself in a corner. Most people just stay the hell away from him. Some people want to tidy him up a little and maybe make him a little more palatable for everyone by giving him some new clothes and a bath perhaps. Some people want to chuck him out, make sure he doesn't ever come back and attempt to eradicate any trace that he was ever there. Now, that's dvesha in a nutshell.
A little compassion goes a long way. Negativity is usually based on some sort of unresolved trauma. Even aggressive, argumentative, upsetting negativity is worthy of an ear just to listen to. In fact, people who are upset often only want to be heard and understood. Some of the most profound moments of communication I've had in my life were with people who were angry and shouting. When I was able to hear what they were actually trying to tell me, the whole situation usually transformed in a heartbeat. Sadly, that has not always been possible and, God Knows, I've been on the other side of that situation, saying how I feel, trying to be heard, but using a tone or a timbre that frames the conversation in a way that prevents the other person from hearing me. I'm sure that this is what happened with my experiences at the studio.
The defenses of these little walled gardens of human perfection are cold, hard and sharp.
Even now, I value my negativity, my shadow, my 'issues'. It serves as a barometer to gauge people's resilience. If someone can't handle a little honesty about a sticky point of conversation or the authentic expression of an emotion, what sort of person are they going to become when genuinely difficult situations arise? What will they do to protect their own little piece of perfection?
Life is as it is, negative and positive. For me, yoga is somehow to seek a sense of equanimity that treats the negative with the same respect and attention as the positive and isn't afraid of it. My personal challenge is certainly to understand the impact that my negativity has on others and be responsible for that impact (in some contexts though, I still assert that it's not unreasonable to expect a little courage, humanity and compassion from the people around you, especially in the context of something so personal as yoga). Having said that, there is a trend in the emerging multimillion dollar self-help and self-improvement industry towards the complete eradication of negativity. We are encouraged to try to build some version of the pristine, perfect, personal walled garden. These are now being sold as services, practices, tapes, books, courses, gurus (and yoga teacher trainings) as possible vehicles for you to transform your life into something beautiful, a place where you can strive to be perfect and happy: a walled garden all for yourself.
All I can say now, is 'Buyer beware'.
"Don't try to transform yourself.
Move into yourself.
Move into your human unsuccess.
Perfection rapes the soul."
- Marion Woodman quoted in Stephen Cope 'Yoga and the search for the true self'"