Well, it's sunday morning and I have some time with a cup of tea before my final session of the weekend here in Friendswood, TX begins. It's been a wonderful weekend so far, all in all. I offered a somewhat unique weekend workshop this time based on some of the curriculum that Darren and I taught this year in our Live the Light of Yoga Intensives. In addition to some asana classes I incorporated time practicing mantra and puja as well as an afternoon session dedicated to some introspective work and some practical tools for self-inquiry and self-understanding. It has been fun to break from the usual format of the weekend workshop and take the time to have a little more personal discussion.
One thing that inspired this addition to the programs Darren and I taught was our observation that, after teaching many cycles of Immersions and Teacher Trainings that were full of grand philosophical teachings, our students were struggling, not at the intellectual level of understanding the teachings, but at the more practical level of living the teachings in the face of their emotional patterns and scripts. So, while we are very clear that we are not therapists, we have been attempting- to varying agrees of success and efficacy- to provide some educational experiences and concepts that might be useful for our students to forge an immediate and authentic relationship with themselves and then to apply the yoga teachings to that.
These days I am more interested in teaching people the practices and in helping them mine their own experience than I am in laying out a lot of philosophy or intellectual constructs. Don't get me wrong, I think philosophical and intellectual constructs are super-important, mostly because they function much like a map. And when we have a really good map of the terrain we are traveling, then we can take our bearings and be, as my guru Lee often said, "forewarned and therefore, forearmed." Having a good map is great because when we come face to face with the inevitable difficulties of our growth on the path, placing ourselves on a map is like having a contextual "you are here" marker, which can help a lot.
And still there is the terrain to cover. If philosophy tells us anything, it tells us that the map is not the terrain. Once I place the marker, I still have to do the work. And so that is where the practices come in, which is what I am interested in. As a teacher, I know that I can tell students that they have a great Light inside and that my positive regard, reflection and faith in them can mirror something very important and can be profoundly healing for the student. I know that I have benefitted tremendously over the years from having my teachers and mentors provide me with a positive reflection and a loving mirror. I needed people to see the beauty and goodness inside me when I couldn't see it for myself. So I think that is key, I really do. It is a very real part of the process in my experience.
And, it is also important that the educational environment direct students to the experiential knowledge of their goodness from within. The outside positive reflection that our teachers and friends provide is only one part of the formula and, if we are not clear, that dynamic can keep the student and teacher in a potentially dysfunctional power differential. This is my issue with teachers who say they teach "to empower others" because honestly, I do not believe that such power is not mine to grant. I believe each of us can empower ourselves through education, knowledge, experience and so forth, but I do not believe that people can truly empower or disempower us and I am leery of teachers who think they can. (Okay, small digression there.)
My point is that once we get positive regard from the outside, it can be so wonderful and so alluring that it can actually be a hard habit to break. From what I have seen in myself and in countless others, outside praise can be a bit addictive, if we are not careful. It is easy to forget that outside reflection is a means to an end, not the end itself. Ideally, I believe the yoga is about helping us find that kind of loving regard for ourselves, to find our own positive mirror and our own compassionate gaze for ourselves. If we lose sight of that as the end, we get in a trap of trying to get people to continually "meet our needs" and "live up to our expectations" which is fine, human and understandable and yet, only part of the program, as I see it.
And, if we have learned anything over the years about humanity, it is that each one of us, in our humanity- no matter how lofty and sincere our Aims and Intentions are-- is flawed, fallible, and able to fall. So, don't get me wrong, I think we should have our needs met, I think we should have role models that inspire us and I think there are plenty of people to look up to and admire and I think as teachers we should do our best to provide positive regard and reflections for our students. I just think we can't live in a state of asking the world to meet our needs on our terms only and I think we can not put our self-love eggs in someone else's basket and expect them to be cared for according to our standards. I think that is a trap.
Again, we get to see how important practice is because it is the experiential means of bringing the teachings to life. So, while I can talk all day about Light and Love, I am more interested in having people chant mantra, practice pranayama, move through their asana and and sit in meditation so that they can actually feel their Light and Love rather than preaching a lot or having people, on some level, simply take my word for it. If their Light rests on my shoulders, sooner or later, I am going to fail them. Plain and simple. It's guaranteed. It's a slam dunk.
Due to the human element at play in the teacher-student relationship, I will walk along the road of being me and make a comment, cast a glance, misspeak, misstep and act in perfect integrity with me but out of alignment with what someone wants or expects from me. I guarantee it. I promise it. And as I see it, it has to be that way because (a) I am human (b) it is not right relationship for me to be in charge of someone's Light so my mistakes will be the mechanisms for that person to wake up and reclaim their Light for themselves. It is genius, really.
I have seen this dynamic in my relationships with my teachers over the years and as a teacher with students of my own. I have been on each side of this scenario more than once and while it is not easy, it is so necessary. If I gave my Light or my self-worth to my teacher, I need to get it back. Some times I can just recognize I have projected my Light outward and simply reclaim it. But other times, I need a bigger jolt to see what I have done and that often comes in a more painful package.
(So we are clear, I do not think this "genius" plan excuses my unethical behavior or excludes me from consequences my unconscious behavior might naturally draw to me, legally, professionally, etc.)
At any rate, these days, I am happy to teach and educate people about ways to access their Light through practice and yet, as I see it, the work involved is the student's scared task and responsibility, not mine. Self-love, compassion, forgiveness, awareness, etc is an inside job. And again, its paradoxical because no one can do it for us, we have to remember we can't do it alone either. We are linked in our humanity, in our high aims and in our human shortcomings.
So, that's been the theme and a bit of the backstory of the weekend here in Friendswood. We spent a lot of time in discussion, practice and contemplation so that perhaps, we could catch a glimpse of our Light, validate it in ourselves, praise it in others and bow humbly in recognition of its Source. That's the game of yoga as I see it today.