Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day Off in Tucson

I always laugh at the words "day off". My spiritual teacher hated that expression. He was always like, "Day off from what? From paying attention? From being kind, generous and compassionate? From serving the Great Work? From what matters the most to you as though this Life is some kind of prison sentence and you are going to get "time off" for good behavior? What exactly do you want a day off from and how exactly do you plan to manage that?" (not that he said all of that every time he heard the expression, mind you. That was more like a compilation of his words, and sentiments over the course of the time I have known him.)

John Friend said something simliar to a friend of mine even more succinctly. He had been teaching all day long, they were out for dinner and he was heading back to the hotel to continue with  some of his work. And she asked him, "John, when do you take time off?" She told me that he looked very kindly at her and said with a smile, "There is no such thing as time off, only time." He is such an impressive, embodied example of that principle in my opinion. Just recently in Miami, he had taught all day long, was making his way through the very long line of people who wanted/needed his individual attention afterwards and, as he was working on someone's psoas, he looked at me and Sue, smiled,  and said, "I am headed home tonight to work on some really exciting projects."

Keep in mind, I am not talking about rest. I believe in rest. I think we need renewal and I am all in favor of providing ourselves with what we need, emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. So ignoring our needs is not what I am talking about here. Not at all. I am just very interested in this notion of "time off" as it relates to the yoga path, which is an invitation to tune in, not out... to paying attention, not to spacing out... to being "on" in a very deep and Real way and not "off."

I think that one key for me has to do with the level of authenticity I am living at in any given teaching endeavor. I find the further I am away from my true self when I teach, the more tiring it is to me, the more drained I feel and the more "time off" I need after. As teachers, we are absolutely charged with the responsibility of containing ourselves to some degree when we take the seat of the teacher. It is appropriate to have boundaries when we take the seat. Good boundaries, relative to our function, help us to be effective.

Depending on the situation we are in, the skill and experience of the group, the rapport we have with the group, our willingness to expose ourselves, our own personal baggage/issues at the time, this containment is considerable or not-so-much. Believe me, I have had more than one conflict over the years from being too casual and saying too much about what I really thought without censoring myself with  groups/individuals who did not know where I was coming from and who took my words negatively and were very hurt by what I said. So, I have learned about this the hard way and have some wreckage behind me. We have to be real, but we have to temper ourselves as well. I have learned the very hard way about the need to be more formal and reserved as a teacher.

My spiritual teacher used to talk about the time in a relationship with his students where he became freed up to really teach. He talked a lot about how initially, as we were just building trust in a student-teacher relationship, he had to be more careful, more PC and more sensitive to our feelings and issues as new students. He also said that during this time, he was not really free to teach the Teaching, because he had to be so careful about our feelings. He was always really excited when we took over that job and managed our own feelings and self-esteem and he could get down to the business of actually teaching us, not just sparing us hurt feelings or bolstering our self-esteem.

Its a tough nugget to chew on at times-that perspective- because as well all know, the teacher can easily hold a lot of psychic power over us and one comment from our beloved  teacher can sting in a way the same comment doesn't even register when coming from a trusted friend.  But be that as it may, Lee's point and the way he trained us was to take responsibility for why those comments stung and to not blame him for the sting. And, he didn't expect it right away, but it was his vision for us over time. He wanted us to grow up as his students and personal responsibility in this way was seen as a very real sign of our maturation.

John talked about this a bit in slightly different terms at the Advanced Intensive in Miami.  He talked about what it meant to develop our relationship with him, the method and to really learn to trust him. He gave examples of how he has different relationships with different students depending on our history, temperament, rapport, intimacy, dedication and karmas with him. He said it can be very easy to watch him be fierce with someone else and then to consciously or unconsciously, use that as a reason to doubt him even though he has  never been that was with us. John has been fierce with me over the years- also amazingly loving, spacious, kind, expansive and sweet- but honestly, his fierceness has never felt mean to me. In fact, I always feel a bit relieved when he is giving it to me straight because when he does that then  I know that he trusts me enough to not candy-coat his teaching with me. I know, in some way, he is free to teach me from his heart in the moment, even if its not uber "nice". Its a full spectrum, this life of Grace, after all. Why would the teaching only come wrapped in the sweet stuff?

So, my point in that little digression and story telling is to say that as students we influence the field of the teacher and The Teaching and as teachers we need to be sensitive to what the students can handle and what they are ready for. It may be that with some groups we do have to hold a lot of ourselves back because they are not ready for the full force of what we have to offer. That kind of holding back is skillful means and is much different than holding back out of our fears of being rejected or the idea that we need to put on a false "new and improved version" of ourselves when we teach that complies with our projections and ideas about how a yoga teacher should be.  If we are doing that, then we are going to get tired quick and need a lot of "time off" to recover!

I also think  this time off thing has to do with capacity. I have watched John grow his capacity to serve over the years that I have known him. And as his capacity increased, so did the opportunities Grace gave him to serve. He got more work, not less. More ways to help, more people to see, more projects to create. It is so wild- we get rewarded for a job well done with more work, not with more time off. This yoga is not the 40-hour-work-for-the-weekend-so-you-can-do-somethng-you-really-like kind of paradigm that most of us were raised in. No, this is an exercise in meeting the very expanding nature of Grace as it is, on its terms and letting it carry us beyond our limits, beyond our ideas of time on and time off, and into its rapid, loving currents of demand. And remember the teaching says that if we bring our efforts, Grace will carry us. If we work, Grace will  make us able to do what it requires of us.

That being said, I have a "day off" today- which mostly means that it is a day where I do not stand in front of a group and tell them what to do with their arm bones and thigh bones. And I do have some plans for some delightfully nourishing activities. (think: long asana practice pretty toenails, a facial and some acupuncture.)

No comments: