This morning I watched a new Netflix documentary (a new-ish practice for me that is becoming more and more treasured) called Bikram:Yogi, Guru, Predator.
Now, I was about to preface my comments on misused power, sexual violence and manipulation with some wish-washy disclaimer like: I quite like yoga, some days in the right condition and state of mind, I might even say I could love it, and it has absolutely transformed my sister’s life in all sorts of positive ways… but I’m not going to do that. It implies that yoga and monsters are linked and yoga must be exonerated, that any comments I make about this evil are also somehow commentary on yoga, but that’s simply not true. Monsters can be found in every corner of society. Yoga happens to be the vehicle Bikram used to wreak his havoc, but it could have been a big corporation, an elementary school, semi-professional sports, or religion.
Truly, though, yoga has changed my sister’s life and she’s way better since she’s stretchy like Silly Putty.
This doc was strikingly similar to the one I watched several weeks ago called Holy Hell, where another monster leveraged his position and influence to damage those who would follow him. Also, it’s just like most of the cases on the People’s Court, where the vast majority detail a person’s attempts to get something back from someone they never should have lent whatever to in the first place, and when the judge repeats the facts out loud (a tactic of mine when I speak to my kids) and asks, “Why would you do that? What did you think would happen?” Or something like that.
And these documentaries, in the interviews that take place long after the abuse, ask much the same question. It’s a question we ask when we watch the films. How could these strong, intelligent, capable women and men not see what we can see in the first 5 minutes?
I recognize we are not in the situation, being squashed and frightened, and we also have the benefit of hindsight and of course, previews and descriptions, but moving the man you’ve only just met into your apartment and adding him to your cell phone plan has never been very wise, right? And being berated by an openly misogynistic man in a 900 degree room for thousands of dollars might not be, either.
…But I’ve made plenty of decisions I can’t explain afterwards, too.
(I also recognize that I’m walking a fine line, here. When someone asks questions, calling some decisions poor, it can sound judgmental and give the impression that the responsibility is being shifted from the monster to the victim. That is not my intention. Bikram did what he did to people who trusted him, people who DID NOT deserve the horrific treatment they received – no one deserves to be abused. No one. I am also not equating the hell they endured with cell phone plans, it’s like calling a broken arm and a scratch the same. But they are injuries. It’s relative, right? Maybe to the woman with a broken heart being hassled by creditors, they are very similar. Maybe the scratch is deep and infected and will not heal the way your broken bone can. Asking isn’t judgment, some decisions aren’t great – we’re adults, we can talk about different circumstances, draw lines here that would not apply there, acknowledge levels of grey. I’m about to infer that they chose to stay in an unhealthy environment because they were attempting to fill a most basic need of ours, but in another post, on another day, I might infer that they stayed because they were brainwashed and de-valued and told (and believed) the lie that they had no future and no hope without this monster, these classes, this path. This whole paragraph is because these topics need to be discussed, evil must be stopped, we have to be free to speak out, and I don’t want to fight you, I want us to fight him and the kind of systemic sickness that allows him to exist.)
So, how could they and why would they? For the same reason most of us make our mistakes – because we’re seeking a group where we can belong. Because we want to fit in and have a family that accepts us. Because we want some purpose and be loved well.
And to get it, we’ll ignore all sorts of warnings.
I don’t know that I have a point here. I’m just sitting here thinking about decisions and communities and acceptance and love. Probably, the risk is worth it. We get our hearts broken from time to time (too many times, if you ask me) but it’s necessary. This drive for connection ends with lots of dead ends and wreckage, but when we find the real thing, the relationship we have been created for, it’s also what puts us back together.