Ever have an experience that was so crazy, disorienting, discombobulating, or challenging that you immediately felt inadequate? Something that seems beyond your ability to comprehend and deal with? That moment where you realize it’s real, and that you have absolutely no idea what to do with it or about it?
Welcome to life eh? I believe these moments happen to each of us, and sometimes on a regular basis. And these are the moments that ignite our tapas (the inner fire of transformation) as they take us outside our comfort zone and encourage us to expand ourselves on many levels.
The other facet to this growth is that there tends to be a lot of discomfort, even to the point of physical, energetic, emotional or mental pain. These types of events bring up our stuff and plunk it right in our face – no avoiding or ignoring it. I notice in myself that I have tried a lot of things to not have to feel the discomfort, especially if it’s of an emotional nature. I’ve used food (especially chocolate – anything with sugar), alcohol, cigarettes, TV, people and activities (including yoga) to distract me from the discomfort.
Yet the only thing that allows the discomfort to pass, is to acknowledge it, feel it, and in a way, welcome it in as part of my experience. This is hard work and takes a lot of courage. As long as parts of ourselves are ignored, suppressed or repressed, they will fight to stay and been seen.
A few years back I was teaching yoga and at the end of a class a gentleman approached me and shared some really harsh feedback. It included the words “you are by far the worst yoga teacher I’ve ever had”. Ouch.
As this was unfolding I remember it feeling like time slowed down. I remember my entire body-mind going numb as he went from talking to me, to yelling at me. I remember thinking to myself “don’t cry”. I also remembered to remind myself to breathe, and reassuring myself that I was OK (thank goodness for Yoga!).
This event catalyzed the first big shift in my relationship to Yoga. I was no longer honeymooning with teaching Yoga… Yoga suddenly had a side to it that wasn’t ideal and warm and soft and cushy and safe. I had not felt that vulnerable in a long time – very raw and exposed. Yoga had become like the rest of life… filled with amazing things, and big challenges.
I remember that after he was done yelling at me, (I assumed he was done when he made the comment that I should be fired so I could never teach again) I calmly thanked him for his honesty. I told him where my manager’s office was so he could lodge a formal complaint in person and get refunded his money for the class/session. Then I packed up my stuff, got in my car, and cried all the way home.
Looking back on this I can see a few things. The first is that I used to happily teach away without really connecting to my students to see how the practice was landing for them. I was so involved in my part of the practice (the planning, the sequence, the demonstration), that I didn’t realize they had a part in the practice too… a really big one. I learned to watch more, and from this I learned to ask questions and make changes from the “plan” as I noticed changes needed to be made. I became more present and aware, and in doing so, became a teacher instead of an asana leader.
Interestingly this lesson had two sides. As much as I had something to learn from this man’s outburst, I also learned that most peoples’ actions are about them. I was teaching from my ego, and he was reacting from his. A lot of his anger and frustration was not about me, but about him. Here I started to learn not to take on other peoples’ stuff as my own. My stuff is mine to deal with, sort out, figure out; and their stuff is theirs to deal with.
The second was that I had a lot of subconscious stuff that was running the show… I wanted to be loved and adored by my students. I wanted to be successful at yoga. I wanted to be a perfect yoga teacher. I was very egoic, yet not on purpose… I had no idea that my core belief of “I’m not enough” (and by enough, I mean good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, yogic enough, capable enough…) was running the show.
Years of work and self-inquiry later (big props to Christina B – thanks for the help and I love you!) now I can see when those energies are surfacing. I have practiced feeling “not enough” so that it doesn’t undermine my life, my confidence and my classes. Just because I feel that I’m not enough, doesn’t mean that I’m not enough. Feeling it, allows it to exist and then dissolve with less struggle and resistance.
When I’m teaching a class and there’s something a student needs to hear, I sometimes still feel that part of me that wants to be loved saying, “tell them what they want to hear because then they will love you”. Yet I know that my role as a teacher does not involve being loved by my students – being loved is something I need to figure out on my own time, and is not a requirement I can put on my students. I need to learn to love myself enough all by myself (this is probably something for another newsletter altogether!).
The third was that I would try to find all the answers outside myself. This sense of “not enough-ness” was so strong that it either did not occur to me that I could figure it out, or I did not trust myself enough to try (or both). I would talk to so and so, then email such and such, then read a book about it, and then assume I needed to take a course on it. In trying to take in all sorts of information from every source possible, my thoughts actually got cloudier… my head got too full, and this stuffed headedness made settling and finding answers harder. Sometimes I do this because I want to be distracted actually… it’s a way of tuning out from feeling what is going on inside.
Sometimes I forget one of the quintessential teachings of Yoga – that the answers I seek all exist within me. The question is, can I be in the discomfort long enough to quiet down and hear what my highest Self has to share?
I didn’t need a book, a conversation or more training to become a better teacher, I needed to practice teaching with more attention to my students. I needed to deepen my personal practice by adding more self-inquiry, like journaling and constructive dialoguing, to get a clearer sense of what was arising for me. Most importantly, I needed to get quiet… quiet enough to hear my inner voice. My ability to hear my high Self has gotten better and better as my meditation practice has deepened through consistency and dedication.
The idea that what we need is outside of us is prevalent in our culture. I believe we come by it very honestly. The media constantly telling us that we will feel complete once we buy a new car/house/food/clothing/watch. We will have the fulfillment we seek if go out and get . The education system I was raised in did not tell me that I had the answers; it trained me to seek answers outside myself, through books and teachers.
I believe there is an appropriate time and place to seek help. I know I’ve been there and I’ve sought a lot of help on my path to wholeness. Yet every great healer on my journey has always emphasized that although they are happy to assist me on my path, the answers I seek are within me
I write this newsletter to remind you, the answers you seek are within you. No one knows you better than you know yourself, which means you are the ideal person to figure out the answers to your questions. The first step to progress on the path is owning your path – your choices, actions, and the consequences that go with it. Then find a way to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because it’s going to happen (it’s inevitable). Then trust yourself – you know all you need to. And if the answer does not arise immediately, then it is an opportunity to practice patience until you can get quiet enough, or become ready, to hear the answer.
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),
Mona L. Warner, ERYT500
Janati Yoga School, RYS500