The Art of Teaching
Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai tejasvi navadhitam astu ma vidvishavahai om shantih shantih shantih Accept us both together. Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase. May we not resent one another.
Before I started practicing yoga, I had various people in my life whom I called teachers. I have fond memories of my school days, and have come to realize that each one of the teachers that left an impression on me did so because they shined a light on some aspect of relationship. I suppose I can see these teachers as my first yoga teachers; each one helped me get a better understanding of myself.
When I first started practicing yoga, I was fascinated with the idea of having a Guru. I studied about the importance of the teacher, and was determined to find mine. I searched near and far, and at some point I even felt a little bit like the duckling from the very popular 1979’s children’s book, Are You My Mother? With each new teacher I encountered, I waited for a magical moment, the moment I knew I’d found “the one”. Years went by and I attended many classes, workshops and retreats with many renowned and wonderful teachers. I went through at least one life crisis, and eventually I found myself at the Jivamukti teacher training in 2007. I embraced this method of yoga and its founders, Sharon Gannon and David Life, whom I had never met until the training. My head wanted me to feel an electric current drawing me ever closer to these masterful yogis, but my heart was conflicted. While I certainly felt vulnerable in their presence in a weird and wonderful way, I was confused, scared and uncertain. How could I know for sure?
In addition to my own uncertainties, there was almost a cult-like encircling around the teachers that I had never seen before. I was dumbstruck by the reverence and devotion other teacher trainees bestowed upon Sharon and David. Part celebrity-styled idolizing, part deep-admiration and love, it was sometimes difficult to discern the difference between the two, and hence my understanding of the complexity of relationship between student and teacher grew. Perhaps I was simply not far enough along on my path at that time to understand the nature of teacher-disciple relationship, or perhaps I understood the word Guru to be something so revered that I would only bring myself to use it only when a most divine bond had been cemented. Whatever the case may be, by the end of the training, I had come to realize that the relationship in question was as much about the teacher nourishing the student as the other way around. I left the training with unanswered questions. Is the student chosen by the teacher, or the teacher chosen by the student? How can a student see them self in the teacher without the teacher seeing them self in the student? As long as there is a divide, is it yoga? Is there a difference between a teacher and a guru?
For many years, I carried these questions around like extra baggage, being naively let down by teachers who showed their ego at times I deemed to be inappropriate; disenchanted by others due to my own narrow-minded expectations.
Still and forever on my journey, I have come to realize a few things.
First, to refer to the quote above: “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”
We all have a variety of teachers in our lives that become our teachers when we are ready to see them as such; ourselves included. Friends, family, loved ones and nemesis are not to be overlooked. When a time rich in potential for transformation unveils itself, you can be assured, the right teacher in that moment will be there to guide the way. It is our choice, or course, to be open the form in which they will appear. It may not be what we are expecting.
Then, the mantra: Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai tejasvi navadhitam astu ma vidvishavahai om shantih shantih shantih Accept us both together. Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase. May we not resent one another.
In times when I have been in the presence of a great teacher, I have learned over time that it is always up to me to embrace the relationship. I am in the presence of magnificent teachers every day, and my biggest obstacle is my own ego, filled with judgement, preferences, and avidya (ignorance). The moment I see a teacher as human, flawed, capable of using their power to harm or manipulate, embarking in selfish actions, I succumb to fear, and miss out on the opportunity of learning, of growing. In these instances I fail to see clearly from a state of love. I create a separation.
Of course, we all have insecurities, and sometimes in the presence of a master, those insecurities can feel like they are being unmasked and magnified for the world to behold. This is in equal parts terrifying, diminishing and enlightening. The teacher who holds this power is a Guru, as they are lifting the veil of darkness, or avidya. We see ourselves as we are; all the beauty and potential, all the flaws. The challenge and work at hand is to accept this, and understand our responsibility to oneself. The Guru is not necessarily there to hold our hand and cater to our every need and weakness. Far from it.
It may seem for some that the remover of darkness, the Guru, is there to deliver the disciple into a field of rose petals at the dawn of a new day, with nothing but peace and freedom from the word ‘go’. In my experience, this ain’t how it works. In reality, the Guru may lead us to see great suffering and pain before finding enlightenment. Darkness can take many forms, including believing that happiness comes solely from material gain or physical appearance. Imagine you have spent your life amassing fortune in torturous, harmful conditions….or starving your body to an incurable state of illness in the hopes of finding happiness, only to be told it was all for naught. Not a field of rose petals at dawn, I can tell you.
I have my own unique views when it comes to the guru principle. I hold my teachers in my heart always; they come to me in dreams even when I am not able to be physically near them. Their words resonate within me and I aspire to be near them, to be with them. Ultimately, however, I have come to believe that the Guru exists in its purest state, within. It is something ignitable in each of us that can be turned on by tuning in. Sometimes it takes an exceptional teacher to help us find the switch, but when we do, we become powerful beyond our imagination. We become an instrument for divine will.
The true art of teaching then, comes from learning to tune in long enough to find our own ‘guru’ switch, and then empowering others to do the same. We can only do that when we embrace, accept and protect each other, and that takes a lot of letting go of fear, resentment and anger. The master will appear, it’s just a question of time.
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