I write this post one week after the 2016 Presidential election. I have wanted to be a clear, steady flame in the winds of change and emotion that are blowing, but I admit I’ve been working through my own emotions that keep swirling up. Over the weekend, though, I was given the gift of a teacher training with Andrew McAuley, a gifted and wise teacher. As I sat, honing my listening skills, taking in all he had to offer, I was able to be deeply present with the joy, humor, and thoughtful information he offered my body and brain. Rather than contemplating all that was going on outside of me, I was gifted with the time and attention to contemplate what’s been going on inside of me.
Through the training, Andrew said again and again that a teacher must be a servant to the flow. Of course, I am a teacher when I am in the yoga studio offering asana; however, that role does not somehow stop being when I step into the world. Being a servant to the flow and honoring the role of a teacher means I must be able to be present with the needs of the students in front of me on the mat, but I must also stay awake to what is happening in the world off the mat. There is never a time that the world we’re living in doesn’t enter the classroom with us, so I try to honor that information, be it what it is, as well.
The current flow of things has had me contemplating this week my role as a teacher, but also my role as a student, and how I must be both. I am a perpetual student, my head and heart deeply invested in svadhyaya, the practice of self-study. I know that this is the only way I can remain a teacher, or else I will have nothing more to offer my students. So I continue to evolve and am committed to doing so, so that my students can choose to continue their own evolution. The practice of svadhyaya is meant to generate a kind of internal friction, heat, that can help one to evolve their thinking and being. Think of it like the friction that is created when a lobster must move into a bigger shell so that it may grow and survive. The current friction within the world has me deeply studying myself and I am feeling the poignant heat of that study; within this friction, I can feel the potential for my casing to crack open so that I may expand and grow.
In this expansion, I begin to understand the words that Andrew shared that, although related to the physical yoga practice we explored, were just as relevant to our thoughts and actions in the world. He spoke of “the nobility of knowing when to stop fighting for something and begin tending to and mending what we have.” Of course, this is important when we’re exploring physical postures, but as I deepened my listening this weekend and allowed that idea to settle over me, I was able to consider a few things. The election is over. I did not, in the weeks leading up to it, state who I was voting for, because, in part, I did not want to offend or create division between myself and another. But what I also am realizing is that who I voted for is really far less important than how people connect with one another and treat each other in this world. In the days before the election I quoted a pastor named Max Lucado who said that “our single greatest power is kindness.” I agree, and so if I see wrongs in the world around me and do not address them because I am not willing to speak or act, then I am remaining too tightly compressed in my own casing. The nobility of this for me is knowing what to stop fighting for, and where to focus my attention in the present; how to mend and tend to what we are left with now. What I know is that I have been too tightly engaged in my own life and have not done as much as I could and can to speak when I should or to add more light to an often dark world. For me, this begins with my family and my community, and then to stay awake for ways these actions need to be bigger.
My generous teacher Kim Manfredi shared a Sufi tale about a man named Kahil. Kahil is a kind-hearted and generous man who, each day at noon, sits down with his assistants at the mosque to each lunch. As days pass, the kind-hearted man became more and more disgruntled with his packed lunch, each day a cheese sandwich. He’d say,”I am sick of eating sandwiches” or “I’d give anything for something other than a cheese sandwich.” Eventually, his protests against the cheese sandwiches became so vehement that his fellow lunch mates became worried for his peace and health and suggested that he kindly ask his wife to pack him something else for lunch. Kahil, though, responded, “Why, my dear brothers, it is I who packs my lunch.”
The story made me chuckle, but it also made me think of all the “cheese sandwiches” I feed myself on a daily basis–habits, ideas, ways of being I’ve become sick of, know aren’t nourishing me, yet I keep “packing” into my life. Is there something that you know must change for you to live in a peaceful way? Can you use this understanding in a noble way, to mend and tend what is? Can you look toward being a student, both on and off the mat, and in that way become a deep listener, able to contemplate what is and find a way to let the friction that you feel expand your casing? For me, it’s a practice. One that is difficult and important, and I am working on. So I remain still a student, studying myself and this beautiful world.