Sunday, December 31, 2006

Studenting a Teacher

My Sunday evenings usually start with a 5:00 p.m. yoga practice, taught by a teacher – Lara – who is impossibly stronger and more flexible than anyone I’ve ever worked with. She is an inordinately demanding teacher, one who perpetually calls for sequences of more poses, deeper poses, harder poses than the class can possibly achieve; and she does it with a laughing tone, sometimes a bit of teasing, sometimes shaded with mockery, daring us to do things we know we can’t do. I’ve had my issues with her class in the past (see the 11/28/05 entry on this thread – I haven’t figured out how to link to specific posts mid-way through a page), but I keep coming back.

One of her usual instructions is that everything you experience on your mat is already there inside of you, whether it’s joy or frustration or anger. And every kind of strength and expression you embody in a pose is also already there inside you, too. She usually says this sort of thing when most or all of the class has wilted into child’s pose, unable to deliver the pose she has called. At times, I’ve made use of that instruction in a more limited sense –whatever emotion arises on my mat is something to experience – including the frustration and anger that occur to me frequently in her class. Last night was no different, though I suppose the return to strength and flexibility of my repaired shoulder made a few more things possible than have been available to me previously. Lara still managed to call, cajole, drive, annoy, and pester us into more than we thought we could do, and then into trying and failing at more than we could actually do.

So why write this up? Because last night, I finally got her point, and it happened in a distinctly yogic sort of way. As I said, she drove the class beyond my capacities, as usual. But for whatever reason, last night, I was finally ready to see my resentful and sometimes grudging response to her calls as a function of the artifice of ego. The discovery occurred exactly when I realized that not only was the anger and resentment and frustration I felt on the mat all inside me before I walked into the room – so, too, was the extraordinary effort I make in response to such a teacher, in the very fact of my continued return to her class. And it was at that moment that I perceived the interlocked identity of teacher and student, and the existence of the teacher inside the student, of the student inside the teacher. She was right –everything I experienced on the mat was there inside of me – including her, including her style, including the extraordinary efforts I make in response to her style, including the beauty of the poses and sequences that happen only when I’m in her class.

Our language and grammar – locked into notions of subjects and objects – lack good forms for conveying such a sense, but the experience felt profound and spiritual. Last night’s experience helped me make a little sense of Patanjali’s instruction of ishvara pranidhana – that surrender to God enables a soul’s opening and awakening. I stopped resisting Lara, let go of my emotional defense of Self. And once I’d let go, the boundary line in the sand that I’d fought for all year just disappeared. And without it, I found only love.

There is in the union of such devotion – such unprotected connectedness between a teacher and a student, between a god and a disciple – something beautiful and divine that seems inconceivable (or only inconceived?) in the ego context of “me” and “thee.”