Saturday, October 10, 2015

Don't be surprised when it shows up

If I have been quiet on this forum, it is because this past year I dove deep in relationship with my local students, in two different towns, fifteen of them at a time, in an intensive format. It was my first year attempting this, and I experimented with it in several different settings: some 6 week courses focusing on fundamentals, and a 6 month course where one-on-one meetings were a large part of the experience. What I learned was this (again): Yoga is relationship.

Yoga happens when we are vulnerable, afraid, angry, devastated; Yoga shows up when we reframe the experience, and rather than flaming the fires of self-pity, indulgence, or castigation, we open the lens to include EVERYTHING into the experience. Yoga is SHOWING UP to look at it all.

I spent the past year tending the roots of my tribe: each morning, driving the winding roadway bleary-eyed, the moon of the previous night hanging low on my left and the redwoods abound, peaking the summit of the hill with the caffeine buzz slowly waking up my senses. The descent down toward the mysore room still stirs me awake; soon, I will be there. The butterflies in my belly have not yet stopped their beating wings. The room feels at once like a precious cocoon, holding many people's tender hearts in its soft folds, and a cauldron where we are cooked and transformed, somedays, even burned.

What is my role here? Why me? 

I ask myself these questions often. Who am I to teach these people? What do I know? How can I rise to meet their particular needs, their particular sorrows and pains, on the mornings when I have an unspeakable sadness in my heart, crippling anxiety in my belly, and my own afflictions galore? 

Yet, unfailingly, walking into the room transforms me and my experience: the 'I' gets smaller until it merges with the 'They'. My breath synchs with theirs, my movements slow down to match their pace. My heart rate speeds up when the energy of the room builds to a crescendo; my spine finds a subtle arch when they bend their backs. I find myself grinning on the particularly potent days, thinking: I will be happy if I spend the rest of my life in mysore rooms. I get in the car and ascend the green hill, in the bright morning light, exhausted. On the other side of the highway, people are taking furtive sips out of their coffee mugs, checking their rearview mirrors and thumbing their phones, heading into work in slow-moving clusters of metallic pods. My work for the day is mostly done, save for my own practice, and a second teaching session in the evening, closer to home. Soon, it will be me and my mat, working out the kinks of lifting and shifting 40+ bodies, all the while staying open to what may arise: pain, sorrow, joy, heartbreak, loss, love; the whole lovely mess of human-ness.


My teacher came to town this past week to teach me and 40 of my students. How strange to walk into that room and roll out my mat, stand at the top, and draw my attention inward! How strange to be a student alongside my students! The first day, the excitement in the room was so intense that by the second sun salute, I was pouring sweat. The vulnerability of exposing my practice to my students was a big catalyst for change. Here I was, sweating, suffering, struggling with them, and here was my teacher, seeing my weaknesses and counting them out loud. That first day, I felt turned inside out, as if I was wearing my organs on the outside of my body, skinless, unbordered, unhinged; it was difficult to make eye-contact with the people I love, including my teacher. Day two, intensified this nakedness, and by three, I was tempted to turn the car around at the summit, make up an improbable story about why I couldn't be there that morning, and hide under the covers till the dust settled, until he left, until, until... Fight or flight, you say? Ha! I recalled all the times I have reminded my students of the role of the nervous system in the asana practice, the importance of working with our shadow side, the potency of practice when things get difficult. The importance of doing things that are particularly challenging for you. I wanted to go back and tell myself to shut the fuck up. What the hell do I know?


But slowly, slowly, the runner, the avoider, and the controller sat quietly and observed the process. Slowly, the hungry student emerged to accept the love, the gifts, the trust. The perfectionist and the realist had a meeting, and somewhere along the way, some form of integration had taken shape; some innate intelligence was rising up. Would this have happened without the external 'stressor' of a teacher as the seer? I highly doubt it. Does the teacher have to be perfect? I sure hope not. David often talks about the 'allies', these checklists that we must run through when we're practicing in order to orient ourselves: ground in foundation, breath, mudra, and the central axis, the senses drawn inward. I think the biggest ally is a skillful, honest, and compassionate teacher, somebody who has a healthy interest in your growth and wellbeing. Someone who gives a shit. The very thing that the 'avoider' in me (and possibly you) wants nothing to do with for fear of dissolution. The person who knows exactly when to turn over the stones, and which ones, to reveal the truth.

David's dharma talks in the afternoons followed an intense guided pranayama sequence. He spoke about how he believes the yogi to be a shaman, a conjurer who stirs up energy, induces an altered state, and embarks on a journey of 'truth-making'. He spoke about Yoga as the conscious decision to look, to interact. He told us that anything that is honest, reveals the true nature of suffering. As if reading my mind, he said: coming into the moment despite wanting to escape it is a form of tapas. He spoke of halahala, the poison of conditioned existence; he said that we are asking for it by practicing, so don't be surprised when it shows up!

He followed these talks with chanting so haunting that at times the entire room was sobbing. I'm still trying to decipher what exactly happened in those moments; I know enough to know that the thinking mind cannot make sense of it. The best way I can describe the experience of the week is this: my students and I walked through fire together, guided by a fiercely loving teacher. For the moment, the answer to the question of why me is this: because I've been fortunate enough to have received the teaching from my teacher, and because there is nowhere else I'd rather be than in the space of truth-seeking, with people who are courageously showing up to see.