Monday, October 22, 2012

The Dangerous Intersection

Okay, well, here I am on a flight home from two weeks on the road. First, was a few days in California doing some filming at Yogaglo and second was a weekend workshop in Tempe, Arizona. Then I took a day to visit the ashram in Prescott and then I taught a teacher training with Darren down in Tucson at Yoga Oasis. In a lot of ways, the trip was wonderful and in a lot of ways the trip was difficult interiorly.

I am thinking a lot these days about something I read in Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach. In the book he writes about how teaching happens at the “dangerous intersection beween private and public life.” He gives an example about those who work privately like therapists and those who might work publicly like certain kinds of lawyers or policy makers. He speaks about how educators walk a fine line between a kind of vulnerability that is required to teach not only a subject but the people who are learning the subject. He also writes about how that fine line exists in a dynamic tension with professional boundaries and the parameters of any given classroom. While each educator will ride that tension slightly differently relative to their temperament, disposition and teaching environment, the fact remains that we teach both the subject and the people learning the subject. We are in both an objective and a subjective experience as educators, regardless of the discipline we are teaching.

So, for today, I see those as the “terms” of teaching yoga in a way.  And from my vantage point today I see those terms as Parker Palmer suggests, as a somewhat dangerous intersection. Lean too far to the side of the objective subject matter and the teaching is cold, theoretical, removed from its human element and too esoteric for most students to relate to. Dive too far into the personal and not only does the teaching become  an “overshare” or TMI (too much information) but it can actually be somewhat dangerous to the inner life of the teacher, in my opinion and experience. When so much interior work is offerred up for public consumption, we run the risk of having nothing left over for ourselves or of  becoming identified with  public opinion and living  at the mercy of the rise and fall of our popularity polls.

Like with  so many “razor’s edge” kind of situations, I often feel at the mercy of a “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” dynamic.  I am a firm believer in the idea that “there is always a third option” and yet, I am finding that the third option is not always obvious, popular, understood by others or validated in the marketplace these days. The last few weeks I have felt like  Tom Cruise’s character in that movie Jerry McQuire. In the movie he is an agent for sports stars and he stays up really late at night reflecting about the flaws in the business he is and  writing a missive of sorts about how he wants to reform the system. Before dawn, after a late night of inspiration he sends out this vision statement to his clients and colleagues. The next morning they all applaud his sincerity, courage, idealism and so forth. And then, of course, he  proceeds to lose everything. I feel on the brink of writing a missive just like his about all kinds of things I find distasteful and unfortunate. And  yet, I am stopped- not for fear of losing everything but by the stark recognition that I am not convinced voicing my thoughts in their raw form would actualy help.

So this sounds a bit dramatic but I feel a bit like this character these days looking out at the yoga industry and even at my own participation in its culture. I want desperately to find a healthy way to relate with and respond to what I see and yet I find myself increasingly worried about the tone, tenor and overall thrust of this particular time in the  marketplace. And, I find myself increasingly less interested in and unable to explain my thoughts about it to others because the climate is often volatile and charged. I kind of hit a bottom last week and I have to find my best way through it.

In last week’s blog entry I promised to think and write more about the outcome of my comments and I have thought a lot about it. I thought a lot about what would be the best response to share publicly largely because of this “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” scenario I feel is very present relative to the entire Anusara saga. Truth be told this particular situation feels like a very dangerous intersection for me between public and private, between personal and professional, between secrecy and discretion, between skillful means and playing politics. What I do know is that entering in the public discussion has tended to be enervating, exhausting, upsetting and depleting for me personally.  For me- this is just me- I can not process my own feelings and be present to other people’s feelings at the rate and speed that social media makes possible. 

I think understanding happens slowly. I believe this is true for  both self-understanding and the understanding of others. For me it  requires tremendous inner work, self-observation and great tenacity to stay present to myself in the face of the conflicting feelings, stories, perspectives and thoughts of others. I recently worked through some conflict with one of my best friends and it tooks us-- very good friends who love each other- several hours of talking to get to real understanding about a misunderstanding we had. At some point in the few hours,  somewhere in all of it there was this opening. There was a moment when I truly heard him and saw his side and felt the magnitude of his experience. I heard him loud and clear, my friend,  tell me that I had hurt him. It was a moment in which I was able to let my own story go for a moment. I  still had the things that I was upset about, the narrative about the ways that I was hurt and the ways our conflict had affected me and yet, there was this moment when I saw my part and could honestly give that seeing to him and, as a result, own up to my shortcomings, their consequences and then ask for his forgiveness. All in all, it was great but my point in sharing all of that is that this is someone I know very well and it took us several hours after several months to reach a few moments of real and true understanding.

I think it has to do with the senses, honestly. I am not slamming social media, I am not running an agenda on that, I am not masking some big statement with a personal share. (I am a bit tentative/defensive and wanting to be clear about this  as people read that into my last entry and it was not my intention.  I am someone who participates in the social media experiment and can see its great uses and also its downsides. Okay, just so we are clear....) So, I think that intimacy and what it takes to truly connect with people at the level of the nooks and crannies of our humanity- not at the level of humor, social chit-chat, a rant, an opinion or an inspirational quote- but at the level of where we live in our tender places, in our wounds, in our most sacred places of meaning- is  calibrated at the speed of nature, the speed of the senses and requires more time and space than what most social media forums can provide.

I am not saying that some good stuff doesn’t happen, hasn’t happened and will not continue to happen through social media forums. I know great things do happen, did happen and will keep happening. And like so many people said with the Anusara stuff- for better of for worse- it is what was there at the time to work with.  I get that. I am just saying that the speed and the scale was and is too much for me to benefit from and my opinion is- JUST MY OPINION- is that long-term healing may happen for some in that way but for others it may also require a different intervention-- a “next chapter” if you will- than what served to get us to this point. That was the point of my last post.

I suffer these things because my personal values around relationship-that we each  be heard, validated, seen in our struggle to express ourselves honestly and live authentically are beyond what I can manage at the scale of my public life. I believe deeply in dialogue and the process of coming to understanding together through sharing and through risk-taking vulnerablity and fearless accountability for ourselves.  I do my best to operate like this and yet I am increasingly skeptical that it can happen online, in the classroom and/or in a large-scale endeavor. The time alone required is prohibitive. Not everyone is invested at the same level. The boundaries and “guidelines for engagement” are not shared and mutually agreed upon. It is too easy to harm ourselves and one another unconsciously.  

Anyway, without too much more personal sharing its a big question for me that I am living into. The situation is a bit of a dark night of the soul in a way because I am in that state of seeing that the way I have approached this intersection up until now is more on the dangerous side in terms of my own energy. This insight means that I must go about  forging a new way for myself and yet I do not really have that part figured our beyond knowing I need to shift.  

It was one year ago that I resigned from Anusara yoga- to the day. And honestly, I feel a bit  beat up from the year. I have made some big mistakes in judgement that have cost me tremendously and the learning curve has been immense. Be that as it may be, my vision has not faltered. I resigned from what I saw as an increasingly popular yet unsustainable (and for me personally, undesireable) approach to yoga with the vision of teaching yoga in a way that offered people access to traditional teachings and practices in an atmosphere of dignity and nobility. My vision was to create programs and trainings that would help people plant the seeds of yoga in their hearts and lives so that was is good, beautiful and true about the tradition would be  alive inside sincere practitioners and be perserved for generations to come through their lives of integrity and discipline. 

A year ago Darren and I called the project School of Yoga and we recently dropped that name in an attempt to avoid some drama but the vision remains unchanged. We recently changed our minds about some programming as well, but the vision is unchanged. Our commitment to our work together remains unchanged. We could not have foreseen the changes in the larger community and in our friendships but those changes are this year’s changes and next year will bring its own. We can count on that. As far as I can tell, its a bit of a dark age and so I expect some more problems are also coming. And yet, I have to say,  I have a vision of Light. I really do.

In that spirit I may change my involvement with certain aspects of the industry to greater or lesser degrees and hopefully find a way to write my own rules a bit but one thing I know for certain is that I can not offer what I do not have and so, as a teacher, my prana is precious. Yes, one very cool outcome of this most challenging year is that recognition alone: My prana is precious. And following very close on the heels of the insight is my knowledge that only sustained practice culitvates prana. So, it comes back to that. Wouldn’t you know it?


MichelleI said...

I love you Christina. I love this reflection. The razor's edge of being cut off with that of being overexposed. I am in awe of your ongoing self inqury and appreciativr of you willingness to articulate your unfolding inner wisdom.

Jenn said...

I >3 you, too! Ditto what Michelle says. Om, Om, Om, so grateful to read this post and have your wisdom out there.

Kathy O'Rourke said...

I share your sense that something is not right in the larger culture of yoga -- the business of yoga; the fame of yoga; the wanderlust of yoga -- I don't know exactly what it is for me. What has helped me a great deal is the archetype you have transmitted to me through your teachings of PRACTICE. Practice and sadhana. I think some of your unrest or questioning is because you practice as much as you do and sense the 'lack of practice and sadhana' around you on a deep level. Just a thought. I also appreciate your reflections on the space and time required to go deep, trust, reflect and connect on a soul level and to be free of mind/ego stuff in interpersonal conversation. The gross substance of this piece is something I plan to reflect on deeply over time. Thank you for being the thinking/practicing person's yoga teacher, CS.

Anne-Marie Schultz said...

watch People like us. I saw it on the plane last night.

There's a great line in it, one of six rules for life (well actually, getting girls in the context).

rule five is "lean into it."

good or bad, "lean into it."

love, anzy

Melanie Buffett said...

BRAVO. You are a Light in the Dark. Thanks for sharing your precious prana and continuing to show us how to cultivate more of our own. Peace Sister. xoxo

leena miller said...

Thank you so much for this insightful post Christina and for sharing so candidly how you walk and play the edge. I really appreciate your articulation around public and private sharing. I have rarely commented in drama-filled (my judgement) facebook forums, and even feel hesitant to comment on blogs because I am too fearful of being misunderstood. I SO agree that our prana is precious, and I find that my prana is replenished through practice and through living my yoga off the mat in real life, in the flesh, human connections...Those relationships where there's time and space for thoughtful sharing, probing, checking in about assumptions, digging deeper in dialogue. Sometimes because of the magnetism of social media I haven't fully valued that that is true for me, and have undervalued those flesh relationships. Reading your post really helped me pause, and rededicate myself to honoring and maintaining those connections. Thank you, truly thank you!

Love in a Big Nut Shell said...

Loved this blog...thanks for sharing and thanks for being vulnerable and most of all thanks for honoring your 'precious prana'!!!