Lee had a similar disdain for Western culture, even though he was born in New Jersey and lived his life in America. While it seemed clear to me that he appreciated our liberties, he often remarked that so much of the freedom we enjoyed came at the expense of sacred culture. So, when my Indian teachers made their “you people” comments all month, I felt right at home. They were not saying anything that I hadn’t already heard from my own guru.
Toward the end of the month-long program , I was so moved by the depth of the tradition and the ways that being in India had helped to transmit the context of the teachings as well as the information itself, I found myself scared to go home and resume teaching. I was sure I would mess it up. I asked my teacher how I might, in any way, be able to bridge the gap between what I had found in India and the modern American life I had and the world of teaching yoga in an American yoga studio in which I was ensconced. It seemed a chasm too great to cross.
He told me, “Worry less about being a yoga teacher and put yourself at the feet of the Teachings. Be a student first. And, if, you have a dharma to teach, then teach. But remember to be a student first. Your teaching will follow from your studentship and if yours is a true dharma and not a fantasy, your dharma will take care of itself.”
I had been teaching yoga for 6 years when he gave me that advice. I have been teaching 12 years since. And while I could talk a lot of things from that opening story, I am thinking a lot about what the dharma to teach actually means to me after 18 years of standing in front of groups of people and endeavoring to share the teachings of yoga with them.
One thing I know is that a dharma to teach is not the same thing as a dharma to be famous.
I have a friend who has had several careers, teaching being only one of them. She has been famous in ALL of them. Every. Single. One. She is a good teacher. But it seems to me whether she taught or not, she would be famous. I am not an astrology expert, but my guess is one glance at her stars and it would be obvious— she has a dharma for fame. And lucky for her and lucky for the world, as best as I can tell, she uses her fame for good. Not all famous people do. She does. She has character and integrity. She is a very good famous person.
I have another friend who clearly has a dharma to teach. She has taught varous subjects her whole life—from cooking to bodywork to Chinese Medicine to yoga to parenting to meditation and yoga. One look at her stars and I am sure teacher is there in both big and small print. She happens to live a quiet life of dignity, service, spiritual practice and NO FAME. No fame whatsoever. Her rivers run deep, her insight is profound and her gifts are the kind that take time to show themselves, rewarding only the patient and the committed. She is a true teacher. No doubt. Her students love her, her colleagues respect her and she makes a difference in people’s lives. She is not a famous teacher. And I know her well enough to know she is not expecting to be.
A dharma to teach is also not the same thing as a dharma to be rich. I have another friend who has the Midas touch. He was a millionare before he was thirty. He has bought and sold several businesses since then to great profit to himself and others. And while he mostly likes to surf and snowboard, he can’t seem to keep himself from helping businesses grow and in turn, helping himself financially prosper. He is not famous, nor is he a particularly good teacher. Lucky for him and for the world, he has a conscience and his dharma to be rich does not seems to cross good, ethical boundaries. He is a good rich person.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In all cases, my friends work hard. They are good people. They have expertise. But hard work, expertise and good hearts have taken shape in their lives in different ways. There is simply no guarantee that the circles of teaching, fame and prosperity will all overlap perfectly where we have it all at the same time. And looking at anybody’s life from the outside, it can be easy to assume that one thing present— such as fame— means the other two domains are represented as well, which is not necessarily the case. We just don’t know.
At a recent training, one of the students shared her struggle to establish herself in a new area where her teaching has yet to be well-received. I know from personal experience and from observing many teachers over the years that when one has the dharma to teach and has yet to find the right audience for their offering, that teacher is at a crux point in their work. Many good teachers, failing to feel— or perhaps be— well-received, grow bitter and resentful. And in that bitterness, they inevitably project a toxic energy that poisons their heart and their classroom.
I am not judging. I know this reality myself. The dharma to teach can feel so urgent, so important, so necessary and so personal that when it does not have an outlet, despair, depresson, anger and blame are often nearby. Unfortunately, that bitterness and resentment create such a toxic energy field that the teacher often fails to see the few good students that are around them and often repels any future candidates for studentship away.
I have been there. I have done it. I have hurt myself. I have hurt others.
In many ways, it is easier to teach yoga now than it was when I first started. There are more training courses and there are more places to learn and practice. There are online resources to turn to for inspiration, education and community. Bookstores are jam-packed with manuals and books to help us out. There are more jobs and doing yoga is not as weird as it used to be so it is a more socially accpetable endeavor.
But in other ways, I think that it might be harder to find heart of teaching because the expectations of fame and fortune lurk closer to the task. It can be difficult to tease out the dharma to teach from the desire for acknowledgement—be that acknowledgement fame and/or fortune. And now with social media as part of the formula, the likelihood of comparing the inner experience of one’s Heart’s calling to the the highlight reels of someone’s outer life is higher than ever and a surefire formula for dissatisfaction. You might have actually feel great about serving your local comunity of 8 dedicated yogis on Tuesday morning until you see someone else from your teacher training class leading a retreat to Panama, Bali, or Costa Rica or presenting at a festival or high-profile event. The opportunites for comparison are endless and therefore so are the chances for misery.
And look, by all means, fame and fortune do not need to be at odds with teaching yoga. I have no problem with prosperity, living wages and marketing a learning opportunity so that people know where to find a good thing. I am all for it. A girl’s gotta eat, after all. And like I said previously, I do believe the importance being well-received is not to underestimated. Teaching is a reciprocal endeavor. An unreceived offering is only half of the formula.
For me, the value in outlining the different domains of teaching, fame and fortune is to be clear that each domain has its own reward and the reward of “good teaching” is best found in its own domain and not the others. After 18 years of teaching, one of the most rewarding aspects of my work is that I am still in relationship with some of my first yoga students. We have grown together through the many cycles of our personal and shared lives and born witness to the transformational demands of births, deaths, divorces, miscarriages, abortions, adoptions, illnesses, natural disasters, sobriety, relapse, new jobs, lay offs, economic collapse and recovery. One reward of teaching is the opportunity to witness the ups and downs of life and to have a shared experience of exploring the teachings throughout the varying circumstances in which we find ourselves. Being there over time is a reward. But it takes a long time to see it and feel it. (Obvious right? Time takes time.)
Another reward of teaching for me has been that because of these long-standing relationships with my students, I have had to continue to grow and evolve my teaching so as to respond to their needs as they mature in their studentship. As I watch students who began with me become amazing teachers and teacher trainers in the their own right, I am invited to new levels of clarity and focus in my own work. Helping someone over a long period of time calls forth a different quality of inquiry and practice than getting a student from the opening OM to the closing OM in a single yoga class. My student’s growth calls me to grow and asks me to dig deeper than I might were I not on the dharmic path of teaching.
Teaching and learning is a long-term process and the fruits of labor may take a long time to become evident. In the short term the hustle to procure teaching work, to market oneself, to stay afloat in a changing sea of the industry can be so consuming and even soul-sucking that it is easy to lose sight of the long term vision of what it means to live into the dharma of teaching. Self-obsession, competition, financial fears and expectations are all part of the game these days and the struggle is real.
That being said, I have long since stopped expecting the struggles to go away and instead work to engage them in productive ways. Teaching as a dharma means that those struggles are placed on my path for my own benefit, as small and large obstacles for my growth. The struggles are not something going wrong with me, with my students or with yoga or the industry although plenty could be said about all of those things. Teaching as a dharma returns me to my practice, to self-inquiry and to my studentship as I am called to continually clarify my values and anchor myself in the interior rewards of the work itself.
More could be said about all of this but this is long enough. And given that this is a life’s work, I simply don’t have a tidy ending that sums it all up.
Anyway— keep the faith.
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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."