I am heading back to Colorado, after almost two weeks teaching in San Marcos, Texas. As so often happens after an intensive at the San Marcos School of Yoga, I am tired, inspired and grateful. On the final day of the ten-day teaching streak, two of our Alchemy of Flow and Form students graduated. I told the group that I was brought up in the yogic guru paradigm and feel like, for all of its problems and pitfalls, I benefitted from the structure. I am grateful for the education I received; however, I do not want to serve my students according to that paradigm.
When I resigned my license to teach Anusara yoga and looked at an open road of Possibility, I knew I did not want to reside at the top of a pyramid in such a way that implied I had all the answers, that I had some awakening, some special knowledge, or even some new insight about yoga. Plenty of people I know personally are more studied in philosophy, more accomplished in asana, and spend a whole lot more time meditating than me. I didn't feel like I had some new take on yoga or could offer a unique iteration on the tradition that I could honestly sell to others as a thing. And believe me, I had more than a few "what's your mission, vision, etc." types of sessions with more than a few experts along the way.
Ninety percent of what I teach in terms of asana I learned from my my Iyengar yoga teachers, Manouso Manos, Patricia Walden, Laurie Blakeney, George Purvis and John Schumacher. Not one class goes by that I am not drawing on the wealth of information and insight I got from John Friend. I stand solidly on the shoulders of the great and ever-creative Desiree Rumbaugh, who I consider my Big Sister in Yoga, and the quirky, yet always on-the-money perspectives of my gurubai and long-time teaching partner, Darren Rhodes. My sister, Anne Schultz, and I have spent more hours than I can count hashing over sequences, techniques and teachings from our studies and practice together, and my friend Gioconda Parker and I have explored both the meeting points between vinyasa and form-based practice as well as their points of divergence. I consider myself fortunate to have spent time with the exemplar Afton Carraway, Kathy Durham, Gianna Purcell and Mardy Chen whose clarity, expertise and passion for teaching and practice stand as ongoing, shining examples of what is possible in and through Bikram yoga's often-times difficult and misunderstood points of entry. In short, very little of what I teach is my own. (In fact, ten percent may be a generous estimation of things I teach that I have actually made up.
I love teaching a lot. More than teaching, I love being a student of a great teacher and I love learning. Teaching first and foremost calls me into the sphere of learning and continually asks me to grow and refine—not only my knowledge—but myself, so that I can actually help people. I am continually amazed how much inner work has been, and continues to be, required to exhibit anywhere close to how I want to be as a teacher. I am grateful for the path that teaching keeps me on, although sometimes the lessons are tough to swallow. Of course, I am also happy to report that the lessons also come in pretty lovely packages.
So at some point, I realized I could not make a method, nor did I want to lock everything down in such a way it could be packaged, sold and commodified. And close to that realization was the recognition that about the only thing I felt qualified to do was to facilitate and nurture a community of learning. I can stand in front of a room and play a leadership role only in so far as that role does not require me to have all the answers, to be the best in the room, or to be beholden to the same truths tomorrow that seem true to me today. And for the last few years, that approach has been deepening within me and I am finding that, for a handful of students, it seems to be a viable strategy.
By viable, I mean that enough people have been interested in learning this way that my business is sustainable. And more importantly, than that, I say viable because I am watching people who are willing to repeatedly put themselves in an 800-sq ft room and practice asana, mantra, pranayama and other various means of self-inquiry in a small group setting: These individuals grow and deepen—not just as asana practitioner and teachers—but as human beings living soulful lives with honesty and passion.
I do not mean to imply that my students are all really happy. They aren't. Some are, of course. And none of them all of the time, that is for sure. They are struggling to make ends meet, to parent with integrity, to crawl out of depression, to heal from trauma, to overcome addictions, to love fully, to forgive themselves and each other, and to have faith and hope. We are a very imperfect bunch, truth be told.
And yet, it seems there is no better ground to find compassion for oneself than in the aftermath of our greatest mistakes. No better teacher of forgiveness exists than betrayal. No better way to find love than in the broken shards of the heart that have carved the deep cuts of self-hatred. As time goes by and I learn more of the details of my students' stories, I find their beauty heart-breaking at times. There is not one person in the room without wounds and yet no one is without resilience, depth and longing for something Real. I do not think I could find finer company.
Years ago, one of my teachers spoke about the Grace of the teacher. I have known this Grace as a living and breathing force, with many manifestations. Today, I am reminded of the second part of the teaching he gave that day: The Grace of the Student. For as much as we are held in the grace of our teachers, the teachers also are held in the Grace of their students. We exist in one other, held in this field of grace, participating in what to me is nothing short of a blessing.
Fine company indeed.
At the end of the summer, Kelly and I started making arrangements to move to Buena Vista, Colorado. We bought an awesome house that looks out over the Collegiate Peaks mountain range and invited my parents to move out of their assisted living community in Austin, TX and into the house with us. So, in the midst of the elections, the Thanksgiving holidays and so on, I have been somewhat absorbed in this major family transition.
I still have trainings on the books at The San Marcos School of Yoga through June and so I will be back and forth between Texas and Colorado over the next few months. I am in Texas now, with a few moments to sit and write before 10 days of teaching begin tomorrow with the Asana Junkies Winter Intensive which will be followed by the annual intensive I teach with my friend, Mari Young. I am looking forward to both events.
Mom and Dad arrived in Buena Vista on November 16 and the settling in process seems to be going pretty well for all of us. In preparation for their move, I made contact with the local United Methodist church, Grace Church, hoping to create a connection for them to have when they got here. Of course, it didn't surprise me one bit that, while I went to church "for them" I found a lot of strength and support for myself there as well. I have been playing this game of growing up long enough to know that many times I do something for one reason on the surface, only to find that there are often much deeper reasons driving my choices. I always feel a bit like God is winking at me in those moments.
I loved Jesus as a kid and had a pretty rich prayer life as long as I can remember. I never felt "at home" in church, however, but in retrospect, that may have had more to do with southern culture which was never a great fit for me as a strong-willed, opinionated, outspoken child who asked a lot of questions and had a somewhat difficult relationship to authority. But I digress. My exploration of spirituality beyond Christianity wasn't so much based on anything bad that happened for me as a result of my Christian upbringing, but had more to do with a desire for the experience of God and the experience of community to be authentic, inspiring and alive in action. I found that in the practical work of the 12-steps of OA and in my exploration of yoga and in my relationship with my spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick, None of those avenues felt like a rejection of my early religious upbringing, but instead, felt more like an expansion thereof.
Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent and the minister gave a lovely sermon about how Advent is not the preparation for the birth of Christ as much as it is a preparation for the "Second Coming of Christ." And just in case your hackles go up when you hear that term here on a yoga blog, don't worry. She went on to say that the "Second Coming of Christ" happens when Jesus comes alive within us and when, in that awakening, each one of us brings forth our truest and deepest talents in creative, authentic ways that serve others in awakening to that same understanding within themselves.
I know writing about religion is about as dicey as posting something politically-oriented on Facebook these days. I know this rendering of scripture might not be for everyone. (So, as always, take what you can use and leave the rest.) I loved her message and found the essence of her teaching reminiscent of what I believe is possible in and through yoga. Am I saying that yoga will turn me into Jesus? Not so much. But I have, like many of you have who are reading this post now, had moments where my Heart rises, where wisdom awakens, and where clarity dawns from the clouds of confusion. I have found courage to step up, to speak out and even to shut up, when that is needed. I have developed the muscle of recognition, which helps me notice those moments that feed me spiritually and point me in the direction of my growth. I don't work with definitive set of rules, protocols or guarantees on the path, but I have faith in the process of self-study, self-inquiry, service and action.
I certainly don't have a faith that "things will work out" because I think the human timetable of "things working out" may not match up to the larger story of evolution and, while my personal life seems lovely now, things can change on a dime. And it goes without saying-- but I am going to say it here anyway-- there are many privileges and luxuries I enjoy that others do not and so it seems absurd to match up a good phase in my life with some notion of a more universal trust in positive outcomes.
And in the midst of a heated Presidential election and in the presence of fears for the future, many people have told me that their faith has gone a bit dormant, that they feel disconnected from hope. I get that. The state of current events has been divisive, vitriolic and even abusive for many people. I certainly don't think a better back bend is going to make a big difference in public policy or foreign relations. I do, however, think that those moments when we bend over backwards and face ourselves on the mat-- the good, bad, and ugly-- can help carve out a pathway to the Heart so that it can rise within us and empower our action off the mat. I do not think asana will do the job for us. I do, however, think it can help us grow sensitive, flexible and strong enough to respond to the uncertainty of our circumstance with some measure of consciousness.
It can. Of course, it might not. There is enough evidence to suggest both possibilities are true, but I can not go down the road of "what is wrong with yoga" today.
Anyway-- sitting there in church, seeing the familiar symbols of the faith tradition of my childhood and participating in the ritual of shared worship, felt nourishing to me. I heard the same scriptures with new ears and with different eyes and saw the message of redemption through Love that has always been there with the gratitude of an adult who needs it, as opposed to the petulance of a child who wanted it delivered according to my own ideas. I experienced retuning to church like a homecoming that didn't take away all that I have learned in my studies and practice, but instead gave me a place to integrate my who I am now with the roots of who I have always been.
And in this day and age, I will take inspiration wherever I can find it.
Anyway, lots more could be said but I needed to get back in the game of posting blog entries and this is what was on my mind today. At some point, I will write more about helping Mom and Dad during this phase of our lives but for now, all I can say about that is that it is precious.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."