Now, I know what you're thinking - New Year, new me. And what better way to start 2020 than setting up as a guru or spiritual leader. Think of it. NO more hiding your light! Being adored by THOUSANDS! Sharing your wisdom with THE WORLD! Netting LUCRATIVE sponsorship deals! Having your OWN range of votive candles!
At first glance, it may seem as if there is no downside to being a spiritual leader (unless storage is an issue and you wouldn't know what to do with all the free stuff). But I would be remiss if I didn't urge a note of caution. It's easy to confuse being a spiritual leader with being the head of a creepy cult with permeable boundaries, so here are my TOP FIVE TIPS to help you make 2020 the year to live your best life and avoid tiresome lawsuits.
1. AVOID BEING A MAN
Even in the 21st century, women remain under-represented in the higher echelons of cult leadership. The reason for this is multi-faceted, but boils down to:
1. Poor child-care provision
2. Carrying the majority of the responsibility for household chores
3. Being too f***ing knackered to badger sex from underage initiates.
Come on, girlfriends! Let's make 2020 the year we smash that culty glass ceiling! You may feel that we're wandering into the realms of positive discrimination but it's time we stepped out from behind the throne and claimed that adulation for ourselves, out-of-school activities permitting!
If you're a man, I can see how advice to avoid being one could be problematic. Take comfort from the fact that guys are still knocking sexual scandals out of the park with unbecoming regularity! Move over, boys!
2. REFRAIN FROM FINDING "AN ANGLE"
It can be vexing when ancient texts and thousands-of-years-old practices cramp your personal style. No disco asana? Judgy. No drugs? Judgy. No sleeping with students and/or their partners? Judgy-Judge-Judy to the max.
When faced with such restrictive and unreasonable edicts, as a would-be leader it's tempting to pull out a Sharpie and rewrite ancient teachings to resemble something a little more doable. You may even consider starting your own breakaway group, aka "a cult".
Stop right there, friend. First up, yoga with disco moves - Fun Salutations, if you will! (Yes, I'm terribly pleased with that.) Tbh, it just looks like you enjoy yoga and you enjoy disco and you can't decide which one you like best. What is your message here? Would-be followers need to be clear before they whack your training intensives and branded athletic wear onto a credit card already herniated by Christmas.
Secondly, think of the paperwork. Revising the Bhagavad Gita or the teachings of Buddha and forming a breakaway sect simply can't be done via a few quick thought showers over a Pukka pad and a Nespresso.
3. AVOID OTHER PEOPLE'S GENITALIA
It seems so obvious yet when you're walking a higher path it can be easy to confuse oneness with sexual assault.
For ease of reference I've created this handy mnemonic to help you remember when it's okay to touch someone's sexy garden and when it's not:
NEVER EVER EVER, UNLESS IT BELONGS TO YOUR OFFICIAL, CONSENSUAL, PARTNER OR A WOMAN WHO HAS GONE INTO THE LAST STAGES OF LABOUR NEXT TO YOU ON THE BUS.
Yoga gurus in particular seem to struggle with this one; it seems they can no more ignore an unguarded gusset than I can an unalphabetized bookshelf. Choudhury, Jois, Manos, Desikachar Jr ... all found themselves powerless to resist intimately "adjusting" with fingers, toes, tongue, hips and that ultimate multi-tool, the penis.
If you must physically assist a student to find an asana, think of adjustments as you would chips. Don't offer them unless asked and then only use your hands.
4. DRESS LIKE SOMEONE NORMAL
Sometimes, when you've developed your angle (see 2. above), it becomes painfully apparent further down the line that the what-to-wear aspect hasn't been fully thought through.
I get this. There are more pressing priorities, such as where to put the inflatable chair* or over-sized beaded hula hoop.**
However, I feel that the what-to-wear should be right up there at the earliest planning stage, alongside which moral principles to ignore and how to monetize tax efficiently. Bikram Choudhury's infamous budgie smugglers were obviously a last minute panic buy when the reality of practising yoga in a room heated to 40.5°C hit home.
It had nothing to do with him being a narcissistic and sexually abusive exhibitionist. Nothing.
5. CONSIDER SPEAKING UNAFFECTEDLY
A curious phenomenon happens to spiritual teachers when they decide to level-up their public profile,
The finest example of this phenomenon manifests in Reggie Ray, disgraced ex-founder of Dharma Ocean Foundation, Buddhist academic and teacher, and former student of Buddhist mouton noir, Chögyam Trungpa. Ray's speech is so slow that you could take a fortnight's holiday half-way through a sentence and still not miss anything.
It's true, talking slowly can lend gravitas to any recycled homily but it's a question of finding the balance between appearing thoughtful and considered, and coming across as a total blagger buying thinking time.
Which brings to mind an incident when Ms Tilly, English teacher, called my schoolgirl bluff. I had adopted the practice of putting my hand up whether I knew the answer to a question or not. It made me look as if I'd done my homework and I figured the odds of 1 in 32 worth the risk. On this particular occasion, Ms Tilly's gaze fell upon me. Obviously I had nothing. Not a thing. So I had to resort to pretending my top lip had painfully caught in my dental brace.
An unedifying spectacle, despite some quite good acting.
So there you go, my beautiful yogis! Five top tips to help raise your profile and develop your very own yogic or spiritual cult! Get out there and make your mark in 2020! Make this the year you shine without scandal!
* Bikram Choudhury
** Shiva Rea