A recent online discount for a $19.99 yoga teacher certification program came at a fortuitous time because the topic for this week is an often glossed over aspect of most wisdom traditions in the West; the teacher-student or guru-sisya relationship. Like most folks, when I initially started to dive into the yoga tradition with vigor and enthusiasm, I was disheartened by an abundance of resistance to having a teacher. When investigating many yoga lineages there are numerous cases of abuses of authority, scandal, and no shortage of "drama" or intrigue. What follows is not a condemnation of anyone's behavior, or moral scruples, nor is this making the claim for what makes a teacher/Guru legitimate. Frankly, all resistance to a teacher/teaching, all judgement, and all claims about legitimacy are all rooted in arrogance, egotism, and ignorance. The reality of the teacher-student, guru-disciple, relationship is that both parts are integral to the whole of a movement in the nature of human experience. Neither teacher nor student is incomplete in themselves, but there is a critical exchange that creates the sense of purpose in the lives of both participants, and human life is meaningless without duty or purpose. Rather than extol the virtues of what an ideal teacher ought to be, we would profit from asking ourselves, "Am I a good student?"
I am reminded of a beautiful experience with Bernadette Duthu; an amazing student of Sri Dharma, and one of my mentors during the 500 and 800hr teacher trainings. She left a deep impression on my life in such simple and clear ways, and I am so grateful I was able to be in her presence in the last portion of her life. You can read about her on the Dharma Yoga Center's web page. Among the beautiful things I remember about her was an experience during one of Dharma's afternoon class where he was getting frustrated because no one was following his instructions. She later told our small group that she was watching how kind and loving Dharma was with the students despite his frustration because he understands that, "No one wants to be corrected." She was so, so, so right. Not only is Sri Dharma even more compassionate with us because he understands that the mind has no desire to realize that it is not 100% correct about everything, but also that it is extremely rare that anyone would go out of their way to be corrected. Such an exceptional person is the ideal student. Someone who is willing to see everything in life as an opportunity to realize truth, however inconvenient, unpleasant, or un-gratifying (humiliating) it might be is surely in a supreme condition to learn.
The greatest of all teachers is our life. It is not something outside of us but is expressed in our interactions with the world in which we live. The activities we choose to engage in, the relationships we choose (consciously or unconsciously), and our world-view are all reflections of a deep inner relationship with our own life. The value we place on things, people, places, etc. are all outward expressions of our value for our own life. Seen this way, everything is teaching us constantly; what is seen as the tiniest joy or the greatest inconvenience, from the person who gives us a sideways glance to our closest relationships, the teacher is in everyone everywhere if we are willing to listen. At the same time there are inexplicable forces in life that silently move things in and out of our lives that reveal all the places where we hide from ourselves. Another incredible student I met during those trainings, Alan Haras/Bhakta Das, says it takes real courage to learn from life. He writes:
Life communicates to us through our entire being, as well as through the entire creation. Our ability to learn the language of life awakens to a deeper degree when we develop the ability to listen not only to our thoughts, but also to our body, feelings, impulses/desires, imagination and intuition.
It should also be said that as a society, we have largely forgotten what the learning process is. There is a stigma around learning that has made it uncomfortable, and the expectation that we should know everything already needs to be addressed.
1. be aware that there is something unknown
2. pay attention to the lesson
3. make friends with the unknown (the shift between unknown or unfamiliar, to familiar or known)
4. reflect on the experience so the lesson is not repeated
5. have fun
Gratefully, we have a whole life (or more) to live and learn from life. My wise friend Amanda once told me that Led Zeppelin is the cure for everything, especially when things get heavy, and I'm inclined to agree. Stairway to Heaven is one of my favorite songs:
"Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run,
There's still time to change the road you're on."