“You cannot help anyone – you can only serve”.
You’ve heard the expression, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. It is absolutely true. In yoga, or on the spiritual path, many of us spend time and resources looking for the ‘right’ teacher, always searching for the one who can offer us something better. The better approach is to make yourself a better student, teachable. Remain open to what is around you. The irony is that unless we are teachable, we won’t be able to recognize the teacher when they present themselves. How to make yourself teachable? Good question. I read an article on education some time ago that suggested that as a society we are no longer teachable. We don’t know how to listen and we all think we know everything.
The best plan of action in entering any class situation or new situation is to let go of expectations. That can be expectations for yourself, your practice, or for the class itself. If we are mentally ‘in the moment’ instead of a state of memory (which is both past and future) this is a good start. We also need to constantly forget what we have learned. I think this goes against very deep cultural conditioning that we have. We see learning as cramming in more and more on top of what we already know. We have a fear of losing what we already know. Instead, it is more an integration and the process of learning is not instantaneous. We take in something new, without judging whether it is of use of not and slowly let it percolate. In a sense, it becomes part of us. Initially it may just seem “interesting” or our intuition can be strong that there is value it in, however, In time, we can better understand if it is of use or not. And finally to ask the question, “Am I here to learn or to show how much I know?” It’s a tough one!
It is also important to understand that even the best teacher really has nothing to teach. By being around them, the environment and conditions may make it possible for us to learn, but they have nothing to ‘show’ or teach us.
The prayer that we say at the beginning of the class is about the student and teacher, recognizing that the two are interchangeable but also that the roles each plays are important:
Om Saha Navavatu
Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Saha Viryam Karavavahai
Tejasvi Navadhitam Astu
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih
Accept us both together
Protect us both together
May our knowledge and strength increase
May we not resent each other
Om Peace Peace Peace
A good yoga class is difficult to define, because while it should be “kind” and leave you feeling mentally relaxed (and thus better able to look at yourself clearly), it should also push your buttons a little. I’ve observed this most excellently accomplished by David Life (of Jivamukti Yoga in NYC) when he asked workshop participants to find some space against the wall. He observed everyone claiming space without awareness or concern for the others in the room. He used this as an opportunity to remind the class that we are all in this together. If we all don’t find space, it’s not going to work. The mistakes in our thinking need to be looked at right away. And this is yoga, simply put.