Rielle Hunter: just another crazy new age yogi.

Yesterday I stumbled upon Rielle Hunter’s GQ interview , and it has thoroughly consumed my brain. Generally, I don’t pay much attention to the sexual exploits of politicians. I assume that everyone is stupid when it comes to sex and relationships, politicians included. I don’t care who these men (because let’s be honest, political women have not yet achieved the ability to maintain their political stature and have sexual exploits outside of marriage) are sleeping with, I care about the kind of policies they support. However, in this case, I am left thinking that John Edwards is actually a fool for getting involved with this crazy woman. The interview is worth reading, not just for the absurd photo shoot of scantily clad Hunter posing alternately with her daughter and her daughter’s toys, but for the fascinating (and terrifying) tone with which Hunter tells her story.

The story is this: Hunter slept with Edwards on the first day they met (in February ’06 of his campaign for the 2008 presidential nomination) and began a relationship with him. She gave birth to their child in February of 2008, and until now, has refused to speak to the press. She really should have stayed quiet, because the person she revealed herself to be contains all of the worst aspects of new age yoga philosophy.

First, a bit about the new age yoga philosophy. I go to a lot of yoga classes, and sometimes, I feel that I too, am one of the true believers. I enjoy the chanting of ‘om’ on a sunday morning among strangers who also love yoga. Yoga, once you get really into it, is never just a form of exercise, it’s a practice. It’s a way of living in the world. It’s this aspect of yoga that makes it both so appealing and so disconcerting. I love it because it doesn’t just produce physical results, it’s a metaphor for life, and us such, is always also spiritual. My teacher likes to get us all into a really difficult pose– something like this and then, while we all struggle to look as good doing it as this woman pictured, she says “remember to breathe” and then talks about how we will find ourselves in this position in life. Something will happen and we will be in this pose at work, or at school, or in a relationship, and we should remember to just breathe through it so that we can keep going. I know this sounds cheesy, and it IS cheesy, but I love this crap. Even as I critique it, it completely rejuvenates me, and I keep coming back for more.

However, I do have some serious critiques. Yoga (at least the American version of Yoga that I’ve encountered) is all about recognizing your body’s limits, and moving within them. If you can’t do a head stand, just do child’s pose. If you can’t move into the bind, stay in the less challenging variation of the pose. Never do anything that feels like it is actually bad for your body. In short, it’s all about you, the individual. Specifically, it’s all about your intention, not necessarily your words or your actions, but what you intend to do. If you intend to do a head stand, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if you actually do the head stand. And in terms of the physical practice of yoga, that makes sense. But what about outside of the studio… Are you really free to say and do whatever you please, so long as you mean well?

In spite of this individualistic orientation, yoga philosophy is also all about the universal connection between all beings (animal and human alike). This adds an interesting twist to the above mentioned critique. It’s not only all about your intention, but you also are part of a much bigger universe of beings, and there is some kind of harmony inevitable among them. During the Haiti catastrophe (which of course is still ongoing but no longer worthy of much media attention) my yoga teacher kept saying “we are Haiti.” As I tried to find inner-peace in Shivasana (this is the pose that completes all yoga classes, where you lay on your back in the dark for about 8 minutes), my blood was curdling inside my veins. Obviously, we are not Haiti. Neither the specific ‘we’– the people who attend yoga classes at an expensive studio in North Carolina, nor, the general ‘we’, “America,” “North Carolina,” “Humans.” The experience of living in Haiti is different from the experience of living in the U.S.– and I find it extremely problematic to assume that we know something about living in a destitute country that has been hit by a natural disaster merely because we too, are human. I don’t know how useful it is to always emphasize the similarities among ‘beings,’ when the differences are so severe.

What does all of this have to do with Rielle Hunter. Well, in short, everything. The women over at Slate’s XXfactor blog touched on some of this in their conversation yesterday, which is a lovely analysis of her interview and photo shoot. Here’s my read. Hunter’s discussion of her affair with Edwards reeks of the kind of ‘intention’ based understanding of new wave philosophy that is so corrosive, and think, actually a misunderstanding of yoga. The idea that the only thing that matters is one’s intention takes all responsibility away from the individual. If you intend good, then there are no consequences for your actual words or actions. Furthermore, Rielle, like my yoga teacher, seems to believe she has access to understanding not only “Johnny’s” thoughts and feelings, but his wife Elizabeth’s, and all of the other people she refers to. In short, she sounds like a yoga crackpot.  She says things like this:

You know, I’m not a great mistress. I’m not a mistress by nature. It’s a role that I took on because I fell in love with him. And that was the role that was available to me. [laughs] But there were times, yeah, that were extremely challenging for me. To be sneaking around, or hiding. And I didn’t want to get caught, because I didn’t want to hurt him. I wanted to support the life he was choosing. And love him. Not to be responsible, funny enough, for the destruction of it. Which could be—I mean, a lot of people view it as such—that it is his biggest self-destruction. Or self-realization. Depending on your perspective.

and this:

Well, I don’t really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he’s more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn’t a mistress. You know, I’m not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It’s not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It’s not really what he was put on the planet to do.

This tone comes out throughout the entirety of the interview. It’s abundantly clear that Hunter has a zen attitude about the whole affair. She isn’t the type of person that serves as a mistress– she just found herself in this situation. Edwards isn’t really a politician, he just found himself playing the part. If she wasn’t so uncompromisingly devoted to him, it would be easier to swallow the zen part, but she also says refuses to criticize any of his actions, and only her own:

It’s beyond difficult. To allow a man to be a man. The biggest mistake that I find is that women attempt to make men women. You know, we want them to be like we are. We want them to get it immediately and do things the way that we want them to do them. And men are men. And I love him for being a man. But oh, my God, yes, it’s been infuriating so many times.

Really Rielle? This sounds a lot like ‘girls should listen to their husbands, and speak when spoken to,’ and I’m sorry, but I expected a bit more spunk from a woman who was willing to have a baby on her own at 42. I just thought you would be a bit more independent, a bit more progressive. “men are men,” she sounds far too much like the dodge charger superbowl ad for my taste.

Maybe it’s not fair, but I expect more from a mistress tell-all. I don’t judge Hunter’s actions, but I do judge her words, and insistence that everything will work out OK, as if real human beings haven’t been hurt– herself included— by the circumstances of this extramarital affair.

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