Spiritual betrayal can be one of the most psychologically and emotionally damaging forms of betrayal we can experience. It is a betrayal that splits our hearts so deeply that recovery can feel next to impossible. Although it can be felt in any relationship, it is often found in the moment when we realize, in small or big ways, that our spiritual teachers (read for our purposes: yoga teachers), the people in whom we have entrusted so much faith, are not perfect.
It is when we realize in whatever way that our teachers may not have had our best interests at heart when they were teaching us. It is when we hear the stories of our teachers screwing their students left and right (literally and figuratively), throwing morals out the window, cheating on their spouses, stealing, lying, manipulating, or discovering that in whatever way there is a massive disconnect between what they say and what they do. When we feel betrayed on this level, we find ourselves in the enormously uncomfortable place of having the yoga mat pulled out from under us. This outer figure on to which we projected so much faith and sense of stability has just evaporated. We are floating free in the suspension of disbelief, anger, sadness, and fiery blame.
We often find yoga at a transition point in our lives where we are searching for answers and stability. We really want the suffering to end, so much so that we will hope beyond hope that this teacher we have found can make that happen. When they claim to have found answers themselves, we pounce. If we can only replicate what they claim to have done, then the pain will stop. So, we go to class after class, workshop after workshop, hoping that this time we will get that nugget of wisdom that will unlock our shackles. If the teacher is in a similar state of seeking to end or manage their suffering, which is often the case, it can set up a co-dependent relationship where the student adores the teacher to manage their pain and the teacher adores the adoration of the student to manage their pain. Distilled down to its core, it is a cycle of avoiding a reckoning with ourselves we must have to truly lessen suffering.
Adoration is often perceived as a safer alternative to vulnerability, for when we are adored we are only showing the good side to the world. We are so terrified that if people see our "darkness" we will be cast aside for the other people who we think "have it all together". And because we are using adoration to desperately hide our perceived unacceptability from the world, we can never get enough. We go on a rampage of emotional destruction stomping over our own hearts and the hearts of others to get more. It is an insatiable craving. We willingly will throw ourselves, and others, under the bus of inauthenticity if it means keeping our imperfections safely hidden and "comfortably" managed.
We as teachers walk an incredibly delicate, ever changing, and razor thin line between being a guide who instructs and being an oracle that proclaims. Yoga teaching in the west has become a profession where the teacher is often looked to as a doctor, physical therapist, psychologist, and demigod all in one Lululemon clad package. These projections that yoga teachers can face are daunting and unrealistic. But, they are also seductive. It is all too easy, and teachers if you are self-aware you know this, to try to become all the things that people seem to expect us to be. It is a way of aggrandizing our egos to hide our sense of fragility and vulnerability in plain sight. If we can resist this temptation, we will have a healthy teaching relationship with our practitioners. If not, then we will spiritually betray them. At some point, our mask has to fall off. At some point, we have to be seen as the still-flawed human being that we are.
If you really want to stop the cycle, you must ask for and have the courage to find a teacher who will guide you lovingly to your own guidance and authenticity. One who knows who they are and practices what they preach. A teacher who is a grown up, and who can learn from mistakes, and acts like an adult. A teacher who knows they are human and lives in a state of humility. And most importantly, a teacher who doesn't care what you think of them, and couldn't care less for your adoration. Those teachers do exist and anyone who I consider a mentor at this point in my life has all of those qualities. From this place, these teachers can truly teach and guide us to what is most important for us. They are not hiding nor are they threatened. And if they are, they know it, and can address the issue for themselves without dragging us into it. They have enough self-awareness to know when they are about to drag us into their issues and can sit still long enough to soothe their own hearts with no need of external validation or adoration. They know where they end, and where we begin.
When the pain and shock passes from this sort of betrayal, take the time to sit for a moment before running to someone else and go inside yourself. Get real with yourself. Take responsibility for your part in what was created. Then, make a choice to get to know who you are and what you want. Get raw and dirty and release all the stuff you were hoping that teacher could help you avoid. Seek out the kind of mentor I described above. Stop the cycle and make different choices. Get to know yourself. When you know yourself, nothing like this can have that big of an effect on you. You realize you are always safe in who you are. And most importantly, you begin to realize the true, awesome, and limitless nature of love.