Monday, November 29, 2010
I keep thinking about a teaching that Douglas Brooks gave about ashrams. He said that the word "ashram" shares the same verbal root as sramana which refers to those traditions that emphasized self-effort and translates to mean "those who exert themselves." He said, an ashram, far from being a place of calm and relaxation and so forth, is actually a place where one goes to exert themselves, or as he said, "an ashram is a place you go to have your ass kicked."
So, while it has been a lovely visit here, it has been full of opportunities to work and serve and sacrifice some personal comfort and preferences. One fun thing is that we are having some big easts this week and I am leading some of the cooking efforts for those. When I used to live here I spent a lot of time cooking on the ashram and so its fun to be pulled into the kitchen again and serve in that way. So the better part of today, tomorrow and wednesday for me might best be characterized as a "view from the kitchen."
I spent a lot of time yesterday in menu planning and organizing myself for the week's tasks. I did manage to get a walk in with Cheryl Walters, one of Prescott's certified Anusara Yoga teachers and former student of mine. It was great to touch base with her and talk shop a little bit. We talked a lot about the joys and difficulties of being a full-time yoga teacher and how to "hold on to oneself" in the process of teaching and serving and aligning with the very high vision and expectations that go along with representing the Anusara Yoga method as a certified teacher.
Both of us agree that it is amazing work and we are very grateful for the path we have found and yet, it is not an easy way to earn a living nor is it an easy lifestyle to maintain- whether you teach locally, regionally, nationally, in a gym, or on the road or if you own a studio. Not one yoga teacher I know who teaches full time has an abundance of extra time, is getting enough rest and doesn't feel a bit stressed out. Honestly, every full time yoga teacher I know works really hard. Also, as I have had the opportunity to travel and talk to people allover the country who do this work, it is clear to me that yoga teachers everywhere are feeling a bit at the mercy and negative affect of what I call "the celebrity yoga teacher syndrome."
The more popular yoga becomes and the more we are all inundated with social media and so forth, yoga teachers everywhere are feeling less and less satisfied and validated by their very important contributions to the conversation of yoga. The standard of success seems no longer to be "teaching great yoga and serving who is in front of you to the best of your ability and making a contribution." The standard measure for success is moving more towards "having huge classes, making lots of money, having a "tour schedule" and being famous and acknowledged in bigger and bigger arenas.
Don't get me wrong- Every yoga teacher I know does take great satisfaction in "making a difference in the lives of who is right in front of them. " They really do. Their Best Self is content and satisfied with that. But the climate out there is insidiously planting seeds of insecurity and discontent within even the most centered people and feeding many folks a set of expectations that are often unrealistic, sometime grandiose and many times down right diminishing because of the comparisons that come along with it. Awesome teachers I know, who 5 years ago felt satisfied with their public classes, are coming to me feeling unrecognized and undervalued by the larger community.
I think these are growing pains within the method and within the heart of teachers who sincerely want to make a difference but have samskaras and patterns of looking for validation externally from the world and not so much from the deep personal recognition of their contribution. It is big work to do, to validate ourselves and to stand strong in our offering and our unique dharmic expression even if it is not externally recognized the way we see it happening for other people. The game of comparing ourselves to others is insidious and down right poisonous. I am pretty sure that the outside pressure that feed the comparisons samskaras are not going to change or improve. each one of us is going to have to do the work of recognizing our own goodness, validating it for ourselves and standing tall in truth of our own contribution. We cannot wait for society- even yoga society- to give us what we are not giving to ourselves.
My teacher called this seeing the world through the eyes of the Work rather than seeing the Work through the eyes of the world. The world will always say that bigger is better, that popular means valuable and that famous means worthy. The Work functions according to different laws altogether and is not bound by such limited notions of value. What truly serves may be small, intimate, intense, difficult, challenging, highly uncomfortable and inconvenient and not popular at all. Of course, for some people, their dharmic role is bigger an their sphere of influence is broader. My teacher always said he was working with us relative to Grace and relative to our karmas with him.
So that is the thing. When we compare ourselves to others, we are often forgetting that each one of us has a unique role to play relative to our karmas and while we may not be privy to all the information about what exactly that is, the best way to grow in our unique dharma is to serve fully and vibrantly where we are planted and then follow the Universe's invitations for more as they come. We do not have to worry and we do not have to push but we do need to stand strong in our faith that we are making a difference.
All right. More later.
Keep the faith.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
One thing that this break from teaching yoga has given me is some time to really anchor myself in my own studentship, practice and connection to spiritual community. I have had lots of time for reflection about how I want to move forward in these domains in the coming year. A big theme for me has to do with what it means to have an adult spirituality and a relationship to my own dharma and work from that place as well.
I began 2010 with a theme for myself of "shine brightly and let go of what is in the way". It has been great to have a theme for the year to return to as I worked in various domains because, just as a theme for an asana practice can bring meaning to the hard work, a theme for a year can bring context to the various ups and downs and inevitable challenges that arise as we go about the tasks of living. As 2010 is coming to a close I am reviewing the many ways that theme served me and the many ways it manifested throughout the year.
I spent a lot of time this year exploring some samskaras and patterns that were limiting me and consciously allowing new options to govern my choices. And throughout the year I have found that certain relationships have been revealed as false and have fallen away. I have also found myself going deeper in some relationships in profound and meaningful ways as blocks to intimacy have been removed. Most importantly, I have had a deepening in my relationship with myself this year, finding ways to make room for more of me to be present and to come through.
And what is coming up now is a deeper recognition of the boundaries I need to function effectively. I know my 2011 theme is going to be borrowed from some of Douglas Brooks teachings: "no limits, clear boundaries". My Teacher also said there was "no top end" and yet he was emphatic that we make clear distinctions for ourselves about what served us and our Work as we moved in the world.
So boundaries are really about managing our energy so that we don't unconsciously spend it all on what matters least. It's like so many of the things that get my attention are exactly like a National Enquirer Magazine at the grocery store. What does that mean? Well, have you ever found yourself waiting in line at the grocery store and without even realizing how it happened, you are reading the tabloids? Quite unconsciously, there we are, giving our attention to something completely false, that we do not even believe and that is without any substance whatsoever! So many of these outdated samskaras are the same way I am finding. Without even realizing it I can be swept into their story of drama and heartbreak and be giving my precious energy and attention to something completely devoid of Real Value.
And that is the thing.... Our energy and attention is precious. It is the primary commodity of the yogi, in fact because what is it we are actually cultivating in practice but our energy and our attention. And prana, Life Force, follows attention. Do I want my attention on the tabloid stories of my childhood patterns or do I want it on the deeper truths of my Heart? Do I want keep reading the story of blame and shame or do I want to pick up a different magazine with reliable reporting?
Anyway, in order to keep my attention placed on what matters most I need a certain kind of energy that is cultivated through boundaries and through my practices and through my studentship. In a lot of ways these are internal restraints although I already know cation exterior changes will be coming along as well. I have had some very serious and painful lessons lately about the need for clearer boundaries as a mentor and teacher. It is clear to me that I need to be much more clear about who I am as a teacher and who I am not as a teacher and what people can and cannot expect from me in this relationship. As much as we share deep personal intimacies in this endeavor, I have had some good training these last few months about serving that intimacy more effectively and less casually.
John has taught us for many years to use this time of year, as the night gets longer and the year draws to a closes to review what has passed and to get clear about the intentions we have for the upcoming year. In this time of darkness, we can plant the seeds of our intention for ourselves, just like a seed get planted in the dark rich soil of the earth. In that darkness the seed can germinate and prepare for it's time of growth. And just like a seed can grow no faster than it's natural trajectory, each one of our intentions needs time to be planted, allowed to germinate, sprout and grow into itself. None of this can be rushed.
So, have a great thanksgiving. More soon.
Sent from my iPad
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I left what I was affectionately calling The Harvest Tour (think about it...Northern California harvest time meant grapes, marijuana and mushrooms-- none of which we actually consumed but all of which were being harvested in the various regions we visited. Ours was more of a "view from the car" or a "view from the yoga studio" but it was kind of an ongoing joke as we travelled our way up the northern california coast.) and headed to Arizona. Volumes could be written about the time in California as it was quite profound and interesting and varied. I met so many awesome folks and glimpsed into so many different people's lives and lifestyles. Such a joy.
But like I said, I headed out to Arizona and into the world of the ashram there. I had dinner on the ashram on Monday, went to a talk with my teacher and then spent the night. After morning meditation on Tuesday I got my things packed up and went on retreat. Our community has a retreat property outside of town and I spent 9 days alone in a cabin doing practices and so forth. It was a wonderful experience. No cell phones, no people, no computer, no electricity. I was unplugged on one level, yet I felt truly plugged into something much greater.
On the 8th morning of my retreat, I received a note from my caretakers that my Teacher had passed, ( this was not sudden or unexpected, he had been sick with cancer for a while and this is a lot of why I chose to spend the month in Arizona in the first place.) So, although I felt a moment of grief, I must say that my general feeling about his passing was one of relief ( for him since he had been suffering physically) and also a deep abiding sense of joy and connection.
I finished the retreat and returned to the ashram where celebration arrangements were being made for him. We have been in the throes of that for the last 5 days and only now am I finding a moment to check in and return to some of my cyber-life.
It has been a truly ecstatic time here in the midst of what, on one level, is sad. As a community we have received som amazing outpourings of blessings and support from some of the most incredible spiritual teachers and communities and one thing is clear to me- when the Master passes their body, they are not gone. Not at all. The bhava or mood of Grace has been at it's zenith this week and it has probably been the most joyful time in the history of our community.
Anyway, more could be said, but that's enough for now. Those of you who have written me, please be patient, as it's gonna take me some time to get through two weeks of email!
In our community we have a saying that we learned from the Bauls of Bengal and it is "Jai Guru!" It means, "victory to the guru" and implies that we want the Light of Grace to be victorious over our darkness. It is a prayer that the Teacher who wants the Highest for us, be victorious over those parts of ourselves who remain attracted to what detracts from our Light and our Goodness. It is an affirmation that the power of Grace is already present and victorious within the Heart of who we most truly are.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Then on Monday I fly to Arizona. From the 9th to the 22nd I am on retreat and totally off the grid. I will spend two weeks in Prescott, a week teaching Teacher Training 3 with Darren in Tucson and a week teaching teacher Training 1 with Noah in Los Angeles. By that time its mid December, I come home for a few days, head out to Florida to teach for the weekend and then home until the New Year's extravaganza with me, Noah and Darren in Tucson. Whew.
So-- getting everything together to be away from home that long has been somewhat consuming, especially since my patient but insistent editor needed revisions complete before I go on retreat and today was pretty much the day to get that done! At any rate, that is just the ebb and flow these days. I am definitely looking forward to being on retreat and having some time alone to dive deeper into my practices and to rest and rejuvenate.
I have lots on my mind to share but its getting a bit late at night and my mental clarity is not exactly at its height tonight. I did want to mention that I am starting a new Online Mentor Group in November while I am away. The group begins November 15th and runs through February 28th. Here is some basic information about the course. If you want some more information and an application for admission, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Developing Heart-based themes
- Honing Articulation Skills
- Developing Sequences for introducing the Universal Principles of Alignment
- Sequencing Strategies for teaching Beginning, Mixed-Level and Advanced Classes
- Observation Skills and creative methods for teaching to what you see
- Making effective verbal adjustments
- Preparing videos for assessment and navigating the assessment process
- 108- hour Anusara Yoga Immersion
- 30-hour Anusara Yoga Level 1 Teacher Training
- Must be teaching one asana class weekly
All right, that's about it for tonight. Tomorrow is a day of teaching and finalizing packing and last minute details. Perhaps I will have a moment or two to be a bit more reflective...
Monday, November 1, 2010
When I was practicing asana on Friday morning before I went to pick Noah up, I had a very strong feeling and intention arise that I wanted this weekend to be a time when shifts would happen for the folks who came. I didn't want it to be "just another weekend where we did a few urdhva danurasanas, worked up a good sweat and had a fun time together," all of which I think are awesome things. I really do. I knew though, that I wanted the weekend to be a time when people had ah-hah moments about the asana, about themselves, each other and where a new boundary was created, a new threshold was created.
I went to be last night totally inspired about the weekend and I remembered my initial intention and then got even more inspired because we really did-- as a group-- do exactly what I had wanted to do. I have to say workshop was a lovely mixture of deep work, applied insights and the kind of fun that comes as a result of Supreme efforts. That is the kind of fun I like to have in asana.
Don't get me wrong. I love to play and I love to be silly and I love belly-aching, side-splitting moments of fun. But what is "fun" for me as a yoga practitioner and teacher is generally the result of lots of dedication and hard work. It is that kind of atmosphere and effort that opens a door inside me to a kind of fun that lives underneath the surface definitions of fun. And I think it was that kind of weekend for the people that came. We had fun and we laughed but Noah and I kept a lot of discipline in the classroom and called for lots of very hard work and we set a very high bar for the students in the room. And everyone... every single person in the room rose to the occasion and stepped into flow of what we were offering. It was pretty darn awesome.
I think that's the thing about having strong teachers that ask a lot of us- we get invited to step way beyond our preconceived limits and into our own uncharted territory and previously unrecognized potential. I know I can do a lot of what I can do because I had teachers who asked a lot of me. And sure, it can have a shadow side that touches on our patterns of not ever feeling good enough of having to work hard to get approval and all that stuff. Sure, there is that liability to working with a teacher who demands a lot. Nor do I think that being tough for tough's sake is particularly worthwhile. Nor do I believe being demanding is, in itself, going to open any doors for anyone. But I do think that high standards along with the skillful presentation of what it is going to take to meet that standard is the key to progress on this path. And like my friend Karen is always reminding me, the practice of the practice teaches you how to practice. The more we step into the ring, apply the principles, receive the guidance of our inner and outer teachers, the more the process is training us in how to get better, the more the demands are going to hone us into someone who can meet them.
At one point in the workshop I was helping Brooke get her foot in Natrajasana and I looked around and saw so many of my recent Immersion graduates like Brooke, Gigi, Jason, Meredith, and Sam all rockin' out the pose and I said, "Have you guys noticed how freakin' good you have gotten?" It was really inspiring for me to seem them all lined up next to one another working diligently, persistently and skillfully. It was a lovely moment for me. That, to me, is fun. It was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me.
I also enjoyed having the chance to observe my regular students poses while Noah conducted class. I felt like I saw something things I do not normally see when my mind is on leading a whole class through a sequence. I felt like I was able to give a lot of help and fine-tuning adjustments to people this weekend in ways I don't usually have the opportunity to do. That was fun. I got to see how far so many people have come and some places that will take them to the next level.
So, I guess that's it for now. More could be said, but I have more to get done today.