Archive for October, 2009

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Why Teach?

October 27, 2009

Before I began training my belief in yoga and my practice was so clear.   I did yoga, it made me feel better. Good, better, whatever. In a way it just made me feel at all; struggling with anxiety and depression for years prior there were a number of barriers I had erected to keep myself from the apparent physiological danger of emotion. Once you start to open the lines of the body that hold tension, you can’t really help but feel.

I bought it all. I bought chakras, I bought energy lines, I bought the existence of a subtle body. I was all up on yoga.  Upon REALLY studying the subject with the intent to teach, though, is where my openness began to hit a brick wall.

Part of it was beginning to see hypocrisy in the system – in what it preaches versus how it’s manifested in the west – with teachers’ words versus deeds, with guru focus and quiet misogyny. In general, the idols had clay feet and were beginning to crumble.

Having recently seen the new release of Where The Wild Things are, my best friend made an astute point about things which purport to be “magical” and transporting: they never quite live up to what the experience of magic is in our heads.  The movie’s never quite as good as the trailer.

I guess in a way  my 2+ years of practice which lead to my initial teacher training last June was the trailer.  Now I’m in the movie theater and I’m not sure I buy the narrative framework.  In particular, I’ve discovered I’m not a big fan of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika – an ancient text formative to the physical practice of Asana we know today.  I won’t go into my specific struggles with the text here, but in general, its insistence on “the divine,” its claims of absolute “scientific” knowledge of the benefits of and requirements for yoga (including but not limited to swallowing 20 feet of gauze, or distending the rectum out of the body to cleanse….) and its overriding dogma just don’t fly with me.

So if I don’t buy the basis of the system, and I shirk from the spiritual elements, why exactly do I want to teach this particular form of movement?  At the moment, I’m not convinced I have an answer. I know these things to be true: yoga makes me feel good, better than any other form of exercise; I am a good teacher; I take to teaching naturally; I believe everyone would benefit from yoga.  But why, I’m not sure I know just yet.

A larger issue has stemmed from this investigation, though.  I’ve realized in my enthusiasm for the Buddhist world view – which believes we ultimately don’t know anything, that no “fact” is ever perceived objectively – that I’ve become certain about uncertainty.  I’ve become attached to the idea of unattachment, leaving my heart and mind closed to that which purports anything other than uncertainty.  It’s an interesting Koan to struggle with – how do you become unattached so much so that you’re not even attached to unattachment?

Figure that one out.

Right now I’m just trying to find apertures where I can, and compassion for myself where I can’t.  As I learned in AA, ‘take what you want and leave the rest.’

“Why I Teach” could very well become a journey that never ends; I guess I’ll just cash the (small and infrequent) pay checks in the meantime…

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Forgiveness

October 9, 2009

I’m not sure when exactly it happened. I always think of an experience like forgiveness as something that occurs at a notable place and time, when you suddenly feel a weight release.  But it’s really never like that, is it?  The awareness of it may be sudden, but the actual act of forgiving happens so subtly you never really experience it.  Or, maybe it’s that you just don’t care any more; other experiences have crowded into your brain and you just don’t have the neural space and energy to waste.

I lost my virginity to a guy who was raised a Jehovah’s Witness.  I note this not because it matters, but because the list of the first 3 men I slept with always makes me laugh, like the set up to a bad joke: “So a Jehovah’s Witness, a black guy and a bisexual walk into my vagina…”

We were coworkers and friends for over a year before our attraction to one another became apparent.  Once it did, it wasn’t long until one drunken night, I made a decision, and he trekked down 6 flights of stairs into a cold rain to buy condoms.

In retrospect, the issue was never that we slept together, but rather ill-communication between a naïve late-bloomer craving her first taste of physical intimacy, and a male unable to resist sexual opportunity when presented to him.

The hurt came from subsequent weeks of thinking something was “happening” between us, working together with frustrating vacillation between awkwardness and affection, ultimately culminating in him, instead, bringing his new girlfriend to my house for a small party I was hosting.

To my house.

There was a lot of emailing that happened after that: from me calculated and biting; from him, defensive and confused.  And then silence. I stopped speaking to him for about 6 months, until we had to start working together again the following season, and my manager insisted we get together to make sure we could still function as coworkers.

We could. It wasn’t fun, per say, and the total lack of flirtation and affection felt uncomfortable, but at least neither of us lost our jobs.  But I was still bullshit.  I was bullshit at his insensitivity to flaunt this woman in my territory, hurt at my perceived rejection, and, probably more than anything, mad at myself for expecting this situation with this particular guy would turn out any way other than it had.  I managed to not regret losing my virginity – I was 24, it was high time – but, upon looking back, I was angry with myself that I had wasted my time and energy on a non-functional situation.

Years went by once we finished that particular job, where I had little to no contact with him, until one day I realized I missed him.  Not in that want-to-sleep-with-an-ex sort of way, I just missed him.  I guess that meant I forgave him, and myself.

Forgiveness, I guess, is a slow, barely perceptible process of letting go of our beliefs.  To grasp on to a feeling of right-ness – of having been wronged – is to believe that any action is ever actually about us.  It isn’t.  Nothing is about one person. It’s about millions of events which have occurred over years of time, and at some point two lives intersect, along with those millions of events.  To forgive a particular event is to acknowledge that nothing is static, that everything changes constantly and nothing happens in a vacuum.

In the movie Shortbus, an NC-17 rated art film about the sexual lives of a handful of New Yorkers, one particular sage-like character expounds, “People come to New York to seek forgiveness.”  The first time (and the next 10 times…) I heard this line, I began weeping.  I’m not exactly sure why – I don’t know precisely for what it is I still feel I need forgiveness – but it obviously had a huge impact on me.  I came to New York to perform; I can’t say when I moved into my first apartment I ever dreamed of teaching yoga or being a Buddhist, but where the emphasis in both schools of thought is of a constantly renewed effort of letting go, I’d say the quote has some serious merit…