Only Connect—Our practice and each other

Posted by on Mar 24, 2016

I’ve been thinking about how we learn and how we sustain our learning. And eventually, how our learning sustains us.

For many of us our first experience of formal study takes place in school classrooms crowded with our peers. For some this association is positive, even nostalgic. For others, classroom memories can be fraught and anxiety producing. For most of us, it’s a bit of both.

I had thought that I was done with formal study and surprised even myself when I returned to the classroom ten years ago to get a yoga teaching certificate. My study of yoga had begun in the early 90s . I was attracted to the wisdom that this time didn’t come from books, but was anchored in direct felt experience. Under the guidance of my favorite teachers I was encouraged to listen with fresh awareness and deep attention to what was described as “the greatest teacher of all,” always present, though often unheard, within ourselves. In the context of a group class, this self awareness can be a tall order and in fact pretty darn elusive, but the potential was intriguing enough that I persevered.

And eventually the books did get cracked, both ancient and modern. Practice and study became deeply intertwined. I understood why they were called “the two wings of the bird.” By the time I became a teacher myself, my curiosity had deepened further. I sat meditation retreats, took advanced certifications, and studied some more. Almost naturally this work became more solitary. I read on my own, meditated in the mornings, explored poses in my daughter’s vacated bedroom. And finally one day, the word practice suddenly made sense; I felt like a musician doing her solitary scales, honing my technique, and navigating the path of expression from difficulty toward ease. During that time I could very confidently say that I had found what had been described in Teacher Training as yoga’s holy grail; HOME PRACTICE.

I think that this route is common, not only for yogis and musicians, but actually for so much of what begins in the classroom; if we love what is offered we eventually want to make it our own. For example, once we know how to read, we begin to retreat from the shared experience of reading with parents and teachers, and develop our own tastes and interests. We choose our own books and move into a very personal experience and relationship. The same with writing. If there is a passion, it inevitably seems to become private. We sit, we struggle, we persist; pushing the limitations of known words to describe the indescribable. And with any of it, if we are truly mindful, and also very fortunate, the skills we have been offered by our teachers become a vehicle for self study: What is it that we uniquely want to express? What is our most authentic manner of doing so? The skills we first learned in the classroom, that maybe had seemed formal, referring to nothing more than themselves, they eventually sustain our lives.

But then what?

At home in my yoga practice I felt blessed. I had learned how to be present in my body, how to be aware of my thoughts and feelings as they arose and changed, and how to settle my attention into each moment as it unfolded. But I noticed too that the delight, and even the challenge, of these discoveries eventually stalls if never practiced beyond the privacy of our own mat or cushion.  I remembered Jack Kornfield once saying: If you think you are enlightened, spend a week with your family. Hmmm.

While I may never be sufficiently enlightened to try that particular exercise, these days you can find me more often back at the studio. With the teacher-within-myself now quite spunky and outspoken, I am also curious and grateful to return to the community of the shared classroom. It is a delicious gift to experience another teacher’s practice, sequences and themes, to walk in another teacher’s shoes (barefoot as we always are), to experience the questions her body asks, and to wink at the person on the mat next door, as we fall, laugh and grimace.

The pleasure that I find now in group classes reminds me why an affinity for solitary reading, might eventually become a passion for book clubs or poetry nights. Or why after years of journal keeping, we might suddenly join a writing group, share our words on the web or, heaven help us, hope to publish in print. It seems that all that investigation —deep into the heart of the self—ultimately comes out the other side, where all we have is each other.

A few weeks ago, when I taught my regular Tuesday morning Beginners class, along with our usual varied group of bodies in varied states of neglect or disrepair, there was a woman sitting quietly with tell-tale good posture. When I asked if she had much yoga experience, she replied that she was a teacher. She said that she was finding herself increasingly drawn back to group classes.

Chatting afterwards, we agreed that we can only polish our own practice for so long and then we have to get back into the thick of it. I watched as the students piled out of the studio that slushy winter morning. They looked taller, more self-possessed, but also more open. Many were chatting and heading out for shared coffees or grabbing rides. There was laughter and complaints. It felt like our shared practice had done what it is really designed to do, connect us more deeply to each other.

 

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2 Comments

  1. I am so with you. Home practice is lovely but I much prefer to be in the company of yogis and let a good teacher that I trust, guide me along. To me, that is bliss. Thanks for this, Captain K.

    • Yes. It is a conversation that i often now find myself longing to have. And that conversation also continues in my head with many of my teachers even when I’m not physically with them. BTW, and along those lines…have been using some YBBM wisdom on “dynamic equanimity” in my classes this week. Always grateful, Captain K

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