By Claude Genest
Walking downtown the other day I stopped before a busker, guitar in hand, open, coin-littered guitar case at his feet, and waited for him to begin singing.
“When are you going to sing?” I enquired.
“I’m waiting for your donation first” he replied.
“And by the way, the suggested donation is 5 dollars” he added guilelessly.
“Odd” I thought, and moved on to meet my friend for lunch.
After taking our order, the waitress just stood there.
And stood there.
“Are you going to place our order?” I enquired.
“…Mmm-hmm… Right after I get my tip, minimum 20% of the total thanks”.
In the real world this would of course never happen. Because it would never fly. Because it’s nuts.
The word “donation” means “an act of benevolence, a gift,” or, something you give VOLUNTARILY in proportion to how much the recipient succeeds in touching, moving or inspiring you.
The word “tip” originally meant “to insure promptness” i.e. something extra you gave WILLINGLY to incite or reward superior service.
But of course the rarefied air of the modern American yoga studio is not, by any stretch, the real world.
In these ecologically harvested bamboo-floored halls, common sense, good intentions and spiritual aspirations all take a back seat to the guru’s (or newly graduated teacher trainee — what’s the difference, as long as you’ve googled a sutra or two and can say Adho Mukha Svanasana with a convincing accent) entitled sense of deserving Bikram-level money and reverence money. Now. Now. NOW! Om Shanti.
I suspect that most of us Recovering Yogis share in common an understanding that the crass commercialism and profit-motive of entitled capitalism make very poor bedfellows with the stated (and mindlessly, endlessly, numbingly repeated) intentions of spirituality, altruism and a desire to create, you know, “commuuuunity.”
Among the many places where this is tragi-comically evident is the sham of the “By Donation community” class.
It was a good idea, at first — an opportunity for aspiring teachers to perfect their craft, for the studio to give back to the community, (give as in “free”), and for students to practice karma yoga by showing their appreciation with a voluntary donation. A gift. A token of their appreciation. You know, like they do in India?
When I asked the receptionist the other day here at my Los Angeles temporary studio what the difference was between the “suggested donation,” (payable up front before the class), and being charged the same amount as in my package of ten classes, she was unable to answer and said she’d speak to the owner and get back to me.
I then asked why they wouldn’t just deduct a class from my package of ten, since it worked out to the same amount? She said it was “cash only”. I pointed out that she already had my cash in the form of a package of ten which was well and duly paid for, and what was the difference again ?
She was unable to answer and said she’d speak to the owner and get back to me.
She never did. But something tells me the answer would have something to do with, if I could just open my heart chakra a little wider and drop my pre-conceptions, you know…. commuuuuunity.
Every fiber of my being wanted to demand a refund and take my business elsewhere. But then it occurred to me that the business of Yoga, however filled with un-answerable and un-ethical self-contradictions, would be the same at every other studio.
So I stuffed my resentment inside, and for the sake of our commuuuunity put on my best fake-o enlightened half-smile, bowed and began inwardly chanting Om shanti, ashamed at my lack of deeper understanding for how a mandatory “donation” helps engender community. Cause that’s what it does, right ?
About Claude Genest
Claude William Genest is recovering from a massive Green Burnout after 6 elections as Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada, receiving an Emmy nomination for the eco-show he created, produced and hosted, teaching Permaculture at the University of Vermont and chopping vegetables in the makeshift kitchen at Occupy Montreal.
With two gruelling Vipassanas under his belt, and mid-way through a year long Jivamukti Teacher’s Training in Montreal, he has finally decided to give voice to the resounding eco-greenie-yoga-woo-woo resentments that have built up over the years and hopes like hell he will be forgiven for daring to be, you know, negative. www.claudegenest.com