After the Immersion weekend in Austin, Kelly and I flew to Hawaii. We got here last night and pretty much crashed. Today we took it easy- a long walk, a great asana practice, a wonderful lunch of local produce, a bit of sightseeing and then a swim in the sea, followed by another great meal of fresh local produce. Its now after dinner and I am settling down to do a little work at the computer and I have been wanting to write a blog entry for a while now.
I have been thinking a bit about the thread of comments that came out of my last post on community. I know for me that community has not always been an easy part of this experiment. I have had wonderful, enriching and profoundly rewarding experiences in community. I have had frustrating, maddening, disappointing and painful experiences as well. I have been excluded, misunderstood, misrepresented, and taken for granted. I have been included, welcomed, seen, valued and appreciated as well. It's been a full spectrum experience for sure.
One of the hardest transitions for me was leaving Arizona after having a studio for many years and being at the helm of a very close-knit yoga community and being actively involved in the life of my teacher's ashram and deeply involved in that sangha. When Kelly and I moved to Austin I had to adjust to a completely different ethos all together and it was brutal at times. And not just for me. Some of the most difficult teaching experiences of my entire career came in the months and years following that transition and perhaps some of my greatest mistakes as well. Of course, all of that is a different story for a different day, my point is that while I value community a lot and take great refuge in it, community is a complex thing and it's blessings have not always come easily nor in the ways that I have expected.
I wonder sometimes about how, when as a yoga method, we express and claim high ideals like community we might actually be contributing to some people feeling like they are missing out on something or a feeling of lack regarding community in a way that might otherwise go unnoticed had nothing been said about community at all. Like, now people think they are supposed to have this thing called "community" and if they don't have what they feel like that must mean, they feel disappointed, frustrated and so on. Perhaps, by having community stated as such a high ideal, we exaggerate an expectation for community that is hard to live up to.
And honestly, no one gets through high school without some kind of samskara to deal with about fitting in and belonging even if it is just a strong stance on "none of the BS matters to me" and community can trigger those patterns, reactions and feelings in a heartbeat. I can not tell you how many letters I get in a year from people who feel slightly (or not-so-slightly) on the outside of the "in crowd" of Anusara yoga whether it is in our larger national venues or in their local studios. It seems that community can quickly become code for "clique" and intimacy and familiarity can easily feel exclusive to others. And for a lot of reasons.
And while I am thinking out loud here about the downside of our high ideals, I might as well also confess that I also sometimes wish that we didn't claim, as Anusara teachers to "inspire, uplift and make everyone feel better about themselves" (it is not the exact quote but the teacher manual says something to that effect) because it is impossible to do. I have had more than one student over the years throw that line in my face when they didn't like something I said or did. Truly, while it's a wonderful ideal, it's an impossible standard to live up to. Not every situation we encounter in a yoga class is going to feel empowering and elevating. Sometimes, remorse is required for growth. Sometimes frustration is the fuel we need for moving forward and sometimes, as teachers, we simply can not spare our students from what is difficult.
So, not every class is going to be inspiring and uplifting and not every community is going to be warm and welcoming. (wow- and not every blog entry is going to have good news!)
So, what is my point?
The point is that I think it is important to acknowledge some of the challenges inherent in such a high vision and to get real about the fact that, try as we might, this stuff is not easy and we are not going to get it right all the time. Pretending difficulty doesn't exist is no way to go through life nor will it aid us in creatively working with our challenges as an opportunities for expansion. I also think perspective is huge because what may seem like a roadblock today is tomorrow's breakthrough.
I definitely think that having these high aims is worthwhile, I just think we have to be very refined with high aims to not tip into a expectation-based consciousness that robs us of our joy and base-level acceptance of the way things are and the gifts that come from our current circumstances. I am reminded of some 12-step teaching about how "serenity is inversely proportional to expectations."
I know for me, as I adjusted to my new yoga community after moving, a lot of what I battled were expectations that I brought over from my previous circumstance. It took a long time for me to see the situation as it was without wishing it was different. I began to realize that my community had shifted and instead of seeing where it wasn't, I began (more often) to see where it was. I learned to recognize where the friendships that fed me were and how to focus less on the ones that were draining. I found that I had rich community resources but they weren't where I thought they "should be" and so I was failing to be nourished by them. I think this kind of awareness work is even more difficult if we are living in the hazy, undefined place of "I should somehow have this elusive community that everyone is talking about is so great but I don't think I have that thing they are talking about."
For me, community is not really a big, sprawling thing. Seriously, having a few good friends I can be myself with is major. Life changing. Deeply important. Vital.
And while I do operate in a fairly big sphere of interaction due to my job, and my life is increasingly full of amazing people around the world who practice yoga, the truth is community may not mean that for everyone. I think to say "community is important" is fair but I think each one of us needs to explore what community means for us individually and what we would like it to be and then get clear with ourselves if we are doing what we can to cultivate it, like being vulnerable, available and taking risks. And if we are, and we still don't have what we long for, it may be that seeds we have planted have not had time to germinate and sprout yet and some patience and faith is required.
Again, I do not think any of this is easy but I do think it is worthwhile. And I know experiences vary and so many people experience deep, meaningful community connections where they practice yoga. For me, its a multi-faceted diamond and the process of finding ones way in and through community and its challenges and triumphs is kind of like a treasure hunt of sorts. Some days, you strike out. Other days, you strike gold.