Friday, May 14, 2010

community issues

I have a quick turn around with this trip and a lot to do before heading out to the Anusara Yoga Certified Teacher's Gathering. I am looking forward to the event this year. I have lots of friends I want to connect with and spend some time with. I have said it many times before but since it is on my mind now, I can repeat it. When I first started Anusara Yoga I was so into the alignment and "getting" the loops and spirals and so forth that to me the method was really about alignment and getting poses. Then I got really into John Friend and I would get excited to see him. Now, Ansuara Yoga is about the community for me as much as anything else.Don't get me wrong here- I totally dig alignment, I love to practice poses, I still like my teacher just fine. But really, Anusara Yoga is so much more than good alignment and so much more than "John Friend Yoga" to me.

Anusara Yoga is about who each one of us can be when we are in the company of the Heart. Anusara Yoga, to me, is about a vision of community that is so grand as to be quite impossible and yet completely worthwhile as an aim to pursue. What do I mean? Well, I simply mean to say that our ideal of being an uplifting, affirming, life-enhancing community of like-minded and like-hearted practitioners who function like a "merry band of bohemian artists" while respecting one another's boundaries and limits is no fluffy, New-Age affair. It takes nitty-gritty, real-life work to make progress toward a vision like that.

Sure, we all feel that kind of connection for a week at time on retreat or for 75 minutes during a class or over a weekend for a workshop. We feel the very real heart-level connection. We can glimpse the very real possibility that exists in growing together as a group of practitioners. And it is Real.

And then, enter the personality (thousands of personalities, in fact!)- with all of its beauty, all of its generosity, all of its hopes, with all of its fears, insecurities, unconscious sabotage mechanisms, and so forth and community can get messy pretty quickly! In one moment kula become clique, inspiring becomes devastating and working together gives way to self-concern. In an instant. And over a long time.

And see, I don't think any of that means the vision is in any way off. My spiritual teacher always says, if you are going to fail, you might as well fail at something that is impossible. For instance, we do not avoid headstand because it is potentially problematic to the cervical spine, do we? No. We learn proper alignment and proper action and we practice until the poison becomes nectar. Till we sort it out- and by " it" I mean "the pose" and "ourselves in relationship to the pose."

And the task of sorting out the pose and our relationship to the pose exists in community as well. There is always gonna be the "outside trigger" of someone else who upsets us. Seriously- it may be the teacher who makes a remark that hurts our feelings, it may be the person in class who is always acting up for attention- who has to comment on everything or who asks self-serving questions, it may be the guy whose ujayi pranayama puts Darth Vader to shame, it may be the temperature in the room, it may the music, the not-music, the sequence, etc. But chasing around the outside trigger is not where true transformational possibility exists. True possibility for transformation exists when we examine why the trigger bothered us so much.

See, it is almost always (I would say ALWAYS but perhaps there is some exception) the case that the trigger does just that- it triggers a feeling that is best described as "historical" rather than current.

So, someone says or does something. The event is just what it is. Let's say someone looks at us and there is no smile on their face. Within a blink of an eye, we can have a whole story wrapped around that one look- that person is a bitch, that person doesn't care about us, that person is judgmental, etc. But really, that smile-less look triggered us back into our childhood where someone looked at us without smiling and we felt unloved. Even if they, at the time, were loving us, the key here is that we felt unloved. That historical feeling is now transferred to the current situation and fuels a whole storyline that rarely has our best interests in mind.

For instance, how many times do we assume, "Oh that person so respects my capacity to mange my own emotional reality that they do not even think they have to smile at me and reassure me. They know I am strong and self-confident and they are probably relieved to not have to cater to my insecurities." No, we almost always think something more along the lines of "They hate me." I mean really, the person might have been spaced out in lala land when they looked at us and deep in their own world and we were the furthest thing from their minds! And yet, we go home fuming for days about how rude so-and-so was.

This happens all the time as a teacher. I am fully aware of all the teachings we give and get as teachers about "the power of our words in the classroom to uplift or destroy" and I do totally get that. I really do. And I have worked really hard in this domain as a teacher. And for a long time. (I often think I may not be nice enough to be an Anusara Yoga teacher!) I am way outside my natural inclinations when I teach. Me, if you have not noticed-I am fiery, sassy, sarcastic, outspoken, opinionated, arrogant, terse and direct. And yes I am also loving, insightful, compassionate and so on, but that is not my point here. The other stuff is very much a part of my personality. Believe it or not- in the classroom I am highly censored. Seriously, what you get in the classroom is me very reigned in. So I get that domain. As teachers, we have a responsibility to be working on what comes out of our mouths. I am into it. I really am. I have grown a lot from this work and it never fails to provide me with insight, transformation and growth.

I also want to chime in that as students, we have a responsibility to be accountable for the storyline we wrap around our teacher's words. Recently I upset a student in class because I made a comment that I meant as a compliment and she heard it 100% differently. In my attempt to be uplifting and affirming, I said something that triggered a deep hurt in her. Get this. It is very important. Everything I was saying for the 5 minutes that upset her was an attempt to affirm her and her situation. And yet, it had the direct opposite effect.

So that is what I mean that community is bound to be a bit messy. I really can't say that I could do it differently or better the next time because in that moment, I was seriously trying super hard to be non uplifting! My sincere effort met her psychology in direct opposition. And so while I can listen to her as her teacher and say validating things like "That was not my intention," or "I did not mean that", etc. it is actually her work to do to trace the trigger to sort out where the historical wound is for her. And I have to do my work about "being misunderstood."

I mean we have to think about this- teachers cannot spend all of their time prior to speaking sorting our what might or might not offend. And case in point, even trying to do that did not work!

Seriously, 30 people in one room and 30 different things are gonna be offensive, hurtful and so forth, depending. What I find inspiring, may not be what you find inspiring. While we all agree that we want an uplifting community of which to be part, the truth is the particulars of what that means and what that looks like for each of us is a bit different. So, I say the words, "We have a heart-based community" and that may mean something to you that it does not mean to me even though we both nod our heads in agreement about the concept.

And while there is a certain measure of work in relationships we have to do to communicate our feelings and ask for our needs externally, the real freedom comes when we do the inner work to discharge the triggers so that fewer and fewer comments take us down the road of "I am not worthy, " "I don't belong, " and "I am unable." (remember the malas?)

I was pondering this the other day and it is really obvious to me that if all we do is tell people our feelings every time we get hurt without tracing the trigger, we then have to depend on those people to change their behavior before we begin to feel better. I know how hard it is for me to change my own behaviors and so I just cannot wait for someone else to "behave better" before I can feel okay about myself. I don't have that kind of time. I may sounds silly and I absolutely do not mean it at all harshly. I am serious about this though. It is very seductive to wait for apologies before we forgive, or to wait for validation from someone else for our hurt feelings before we validate ourselves. The real freedom comes when we trace the trigger back to its source, give ourselves our loving attention and validation and communicate to someone else to assist in forgiveness and moving forward together, rather than in accusation or blame.

So anyway- that is a little bit about what I mean by our community vision being both impossible and totally worthwhile. Every single one of us comes to the plate with triggers just waiting to get pulled. We have them as students, we have them as teachers, we have them as friends, lovers, mates, parents, and so forth. Add to that, as members of a yoga community we are in business together or even working in competing studios, and the whole exchange of money creates a perfect storm of expectations for everyone, etc. Rest assured, we are going to rub up against one another in ways that are pleasant and in ways that are quite unpleasant and NONE of that means it is not working. None of it.

The real question is can we make use of the conflict as it happens. Can we work with our upsets in such a way that we grow and change and evolve and disarm ourselves so that we grow toward a vision of harmony. There is no "there" to get to. A community will never be 100% harmonious. Like Douglas Brooks taught us -- There is a goddess who is worshiped in Southern India whose name means "She who is never not broken." Always broken. Always somewhat crooked. Always perfectly flawed. Always paradoxical.

OH! AND REMEMBER- group practice at Breath and Body tomorrow afternoon. 4:30-6:30. $20 suggested donation.

So enough for now.


texclamatory said...

Great post, Christina. So many nuggets of wisdom to chew on in here. I appreciate you taking the time to write this out. Miss you! Meredith P.

Josie said...

Thankyou for this incredible posting! I agree, working on finding the internal source for external triggers is what it's all about! Helping us to alter the samskara cycle, so that one time in the future, that blank, non-smiling face can be as beautiful as a smiling one to us! As a teacher and a student I am continuously reminded about this. Oh and by the way, I adore your sassy, fiery ways and how they're super balanced with a strong desire to serve and to love, much pranams to you my sweet teacher!

Josie :)

Anne-Marie Bowery said...

Geeta talked a lot about this today. So many things...

Leslie Salmon said...

The perfect post for my day -- one of just such a misunderstanding.

Thank you for helping me recognize it's a two-sided dialogue.

Amy said...

Yes! (By the way, you should really consider writing a book...or two).

Marcia Tullous said...

Hello Christina,

Thank your for this post. I told my husband that you are a 'firecracker of delight.'

I so appreciate your real ability to be you, to be honest, and to ask the same of us as members of this family.

I find over and over again that this whole Anusara path that I am traveling both as the student and the teacher constantly brings up what I need to learn. The practice and the path is such a therapeutic process. Sometimes the work is difficult and uncomfortable but at the same time it is also so damn rewarding. There is much to be said for digging deep and for being willing to work.

I could go on. Instead, I will take this with me to my mat and into the class and see what happens.

Love to you,