Well, we had a very productive weekend at the Immersion.
Yesterday. I gave a talk on the introduction to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and so when next we get together at least some of the groundwork will have been laid for a discussion of the actual text. An Immersion, while much deeper than a public class is still only designed to be an introduction (albeit a very thorough one) to the practices and principles that inform Anusara Yoga. We just cannot do justice to the majesty and enormity of the philosophy but I do think we can glimpse some of its beauty and we can certainly get ourselves pointed in a direction for further study down the road. So like that.
I am really enjoying this Immersion group a lot. We have a very cohesive group with lots of strong practitioners, deep thinkers and passionate people. After the talk we spent the afternoon practicing arm balances, hip openers and we ended with some pranayama and meditation before savasana. All in all a great day.
After dinner I met Gioconda and Sabia for a trip to see New Moon which was thoroughly enjoyable and more than a little painfully overacted. We had fun though.
One of the ideas that came up in our discussions over the weekend was the difference between a model of spirituality that is essentially conversionistic and a model that is not.
I got to thinking about this because of the notion of darshana we have been discussing and what it really means to see several viewpoints as equally valid. All of the images of the yoga saints and sages are that they are seated on top of the mountain and the seeker climbs the mountain to go get the teaching, to get a new way of seeing. Inherent in the formula, at the core of the context is that the seeker is looking for a new perspective. They want help. The sage is not walking through the streets with a bullhorn saying "I have a new vision for you and you need it even if you do not think you do."
In fact, one time in India one of my teachers looked at us and said, "All of you are so fascinated with our culture and religion. You do know that you cannot convert to Hinduism, don't you? You have to be born into it!" But that is part of another story, I suppose.
Anyhoo-in the day and age of the commercialism of yoga we may find ourselves roaming through the streets selling our yogic wares and certainly a certain amount of promotion is wise in the world of business. I mean really, if you have something great to offer, well, people need to know about what it is and where they can find you to get it. But, converting people is really something to watch for. How easy it is to try to "give people yoga whether they want it or not" or make yoga a reason why we are no longer able to be in relationship with someone. (Like Manorama said, "Yoga is always the unifying force. It should not be what is making it harder for you to love someone. If that is happening do not blame yoga, because that is not what yoga does. Yoga unifies.")
The roots of conversionist mentality can run very deep and are often hidden in our own biases and wounds. For instance, someone recently complained to me about how hard they thought it was to teach yoga to Christians and how closed off the Christians she knew were to yoga philosophy. I asked her how open she felt to Christianity. The truth was, not very. She had been very hurt by the religion of her childhood and this affected her ability to accept that darshana as valid.
So anyway- I think what all good teachers I have worked with over the years have in common is a kind of generosity with their knowledge and yet they also have a wisdom with how they share it. It seems that when they have a good student in front of them the jewels just pour forth. And while they will keep offering nuggets to someone less open, they do not waste a lot of time or energy planting seeds in soil that is not fertile. One of the teachings John Friend always gives us as teachers is to answer the student's question and to wait until the student asks for our help. He generally advises us not to force our wisdom on anyone else.
Timing is critical and waiting for the "teachable moment" can make all the difference in the world. I think there is lots of inner work to be done as teachers so we are able to clearly see the receptivity or lack thereof that exists in our students. And also students "ask" for help in different ways and we need to know that. The teacher has to be free enough of their own projections and baggage to see the student accurately.
And also, as students we have to be willing to see what the teacher's terms are. Not every teacher wants the same thing from their students. Protocol varies, what is deemed "readiness" varies and if we want to learn from a certain teacher, while yes, their job is to, in some way, come to us, our job is also to come to them on their terms as much as we can. (Remember, the sage is on the mountain top, not roaming the streets. The seeker has to go to great lengths to climb the mountain to get the teaching!)
So again we see the inextricable link between teacher and student. How intimately tied we are together and how fascinating the dynamic is.
And in terms of converting others I think the 12-step programs have it right when they say, "It is a program of attraction not promotion." I mean really, if the people we love do not see evidence in our own lives and attitudes about the efficacy of yoga, if we are not examples of the fruits of the practice, all the proselytizing in the world will not convince them to engage the practice. So best that we stop trying to convert them and simply practice the principles and be the change.