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Becoming a Teacher

On Becoming a Teacher

When you find out who you are, you find out you are limited: by rules, norms, laws, other people, physically, mentally, psychologically, intellectually. Your mind limits you as does your body; your birth limits you, as does your environment– all that is external to you, nature, and internal, by nature.

Limits are twofold: they can be restraints that save your life and nurture you, or they can be obstacles to overcome.They can preserve your life or keep you from flourishing. Limits can be imposed from the external landscape or from within your own inner landscape. They’re everywhere, always.

Limits are the teachers in your life who will always be ready with lessons. If you approach life as if you were perennial a student, then you will continually learn from limits. This won’t be an easy curriculum, but the more engaged you are with this kind of learning, the more you participate, ask thoughtful and sincere questions, and work hard with honesty and integrity to understand, the more you’ll grow and flourish as a the best you possible. You will be alive and well.

You will be a teacher.

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Like a Flower Petal Blooming

“My book is  a story of the process of self-actualization, me as the central real-life character to whom others might also relate. It’s about how yoga provided me this portal to enter to deeper consciousness of my own life, my self and therefore my purpose, my identity, my existence. It’s also about how this portal is available to all of us, to individuals, to make our lives more meaningful through fostering our own growth, our own individual process of nurturing ourselves and our own vitality, to embark upon the hero’s journey consciously and most deliberately.”

 

I participated in two extensive, insightful, inspiring, and concretely practical and helpful conversations with my fellow Bikram Yoga Teacher Training buddies (a.k.a my “litter mates,”) this week– one by phone and one via FaceTime. Neither one of my fellow teachers are writers or authors, but they are yogis rooting for me to express myself — and are supporting me in my effort to be the change I want to see in the world. After hours of great dialogue with these extraordinarily ordinary wise sages, I am one tiny step nearer to birthing a book. The writing process isn’t only about sitting at the computer and writing as I am doing at this very moment, it’s about listening to other people, connecting with people, connecting with self, and observing and learning more and more and more. In the end, my book will have been a collaborative effort, despite me being its sole author.

Anyway, funny thing was that yesterday I listened to a wild and weirdly interesting conversation between Duncan Trussell and Paul Selig, a well-known “channeler” who hears voices that he calls the “The Guides.”  These Guides speak through him and he has written five books dictating what they say. He called himself, not so much an author of the books but a stenographer or recorder. I have no idea whether or not the guy is a highly-skilled manipulator or a conduit of truth! And I know! I know! — this is a bizarre comparison, but I believe my book will be a similar sort of compilation of wisdom gained from the conversations I’ve been blessed to have with people, whether in person or through engaging with their work (books, videos, podcasts, etc) and all my shared experiences with others. I cannot possibly take all the credit for the final product. I was worried that being a writer would be a lonely endeavour (and although technically I am alone a lot if you don’t count my dog as company) but it’s anything but! I have my Guides to help.

My book, Like a Flower Petal Blooming, is still in its first trimester, I would say, but the seed is a definite being and is growing, slowly but surely. And to feel like you are going forward when creating a work of art is very encouraging, especially when those very few moments of inspiration and confidence are buried beneath loads of self-doubt and resistance, or squished in between days where I am feeling entirely disillusioned by the project, myself, other people, the state of the world.

But, at this point in the book gestation process, I believe I have written all of the words necessary for it to come into complete fullness– all of the content has been created already (I have a gazillion separate Google docs and thousands of journal pages from years of writing). So, I am currently, today, working on a central organizing principle/strategy, a central theme. And, maybe I am procrastinating a little bit by writing this blog post or maybe this is part of the book drafting process.

So, using a tip from one of these friends with whom I spoke with this week, I created the following word wall using post-it notes. Such an English-teachery thing to use a graphic organizer, isn’t it? My son called it “so cliche.”

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After arranging and consciously ordering the various ideas and motifs on my wall, I noticed that the sticky note, “DIALOGUE” landed exactly in the middle. The foundation of my book, it’s central ordering principle and theme, finally, came into clear focus, in a concrete, useful way. I now have an anchor around which I can order all my other ideas. I have a structure into which chapters can live and be strung together– “the beads of a pearl necklace.” I have real, dependable guidance to navigate forward. Now I can work on one chapter at a time, building brick by brick until it’s done– “like a flower petal blooming.”

For me, “Dialogue” has multiple literal and symbolic meanings as will be revealed and discussed throughout my memoir (I can’t give it all away here), but it’s primary meaning is a reference to  Bikram Yoga and how it’s taught, that is, through delivery of a Dialogue which is the yoga series’ foundation, its organizing principle, and most honest expression.  It is the thing that differentiates it from other forms of yoga. It is what makes Bikram yoga, Bikram yoga.

Actualizing one’s possibilities and potential as a human being is an ongoing process, and  the degree of actualizing that is possible through becoming more flexible and strong by doing what is HARD and doing what is RIGHT/HONEST defines what it means to be fully alive— it’s dealing with suffering—and this is what is written in the Dialogue. In my small, insignificant opinion, I believe this so happens to be the meaning of life.

The purpose of Bikram yoga, what gets expressed in individuals who act out the dialogue, or who actualize, is: Vitality. It is a process of continual death and rebirth. A constant coming-into-being or becoming. It is blossoming. Hence, my book title, “Like a Flower Petal Blooming.” My book is  a story of the process of self-actualization, me as the central real-life character to whom others might also relate. It’s about how yoga provided me this portal to enter to deeper consciousness of my own life, my self and therefore my purpose, my identity, my existence. It’s also about how this portal is available to all of us, to individuals, to make our lives more meaningful through fostering our own growth, our own individual process of nurturing ourselves and our own vitality, to embark upon the hero’s journey consciously and most deliberately. My landscapes for learning blog is about creating conversation, a dialogue, in the realm of education about this process of self-actualization, the hero’s journey, and how to help young people (and their parents) develop skills to embark upon such a journey early in life rather than later.

The practice of Bikram yoga is meant to be physically and psychologically hard; it is difficult, challenging. It requires “tremendous focus and concentration.” It is a discipline requiring you to be still, focusing on oneself in a mirror, concentrating and meditating. It requires honesty and it demands commitment to self— it’s about trying, honestly, to discover your limitations and push beyond them (“beyond your flexibility”) and realize your strengths in order to fully actualize as an individual person. But ultimately YOU decide whether or not you want to make that commitment to yourself and to do  what is hard. You decide to try. You have all the responsibility to try or not try, to do or not do, to cheat and cut corners or give your honest effort, whether that means you end up doing 1% of the posture or 99% on any given day. Only YOU can hold yourself accountable. The yoga isn’t about the postures– the yoga is about YOU.

This is why Bikram teaches his teachers to emphasize trying the right way, the hard way. There is no other way. It’s this philosophy that is rooted in the words of the Dialogue. And it’s also what makes this yoga less appealing, to some people, who don’t want to be uncomfortable or have to face themselves and their limitations. The truth can be difficult.

This yoga was designed and written to be forceful-–a force for good—a force for healing and growth and self-actualization. It was not intended to invite people to merely go through the motions to get a little workout and go home unchanged as the same limited, sick, and crazy person they were when they walked into the studio (and we are all these things to some degree or another because we are human). As Bikram says, “We don’t sell cheesecake.”

Growth is change. Change is hard. There is no other way—- and this is the truth.  You are born alone and you die alone, so it’s a solo mission to become stronger, wiser, reach your untapped potential, find your limits, explore possibilities that are uncertain, and to face your fear and to face yourself and what you might learn about yourself– it is the unknown and the unknown is scary. The unknown about yourself is unchartered territory and you might not think you are capable of handling it. But you just might find what you’re made of and your strengths and capabilities also can become clear. It’s up to you how you want to be you– how you want to be in this world, how you want to live and be alive. Nobody can be you. Nobody can make you healthy. Nobody can make you come try Bikram Yoga. Nobody can make you stay. The yoga cannot cure you without your voluntary entry into the conversation and your honest participation in the Dialogue. Only you can do that, and you must do it alone through your own honest effort. Your teachers will be there to invite you into the discussion, the conversation, to Dialogue.

If you were to analyze the Teacher’s Dialogue as a text, that is, closely examining the diction, syntax, and tone, you would discover its meaning and the Bikram Yoga philosophy becomes crystal clear. Bolded words or phrases are almost entirely adjectives, adverbs, and verbs— all of which are terms of either ACTION or refer to QUALITY AND DEGREE.  This is about you and how you are– the degree and quality of how you act, behave, do, or do not. You can see yourself for who you are or you can continue to avoid or lie to yourself usually in the form of excuses and justifications and elaborate, well-spun stories, or through blaming. As I said, it’s a forceful practice, most times a hard, healing process of slow and difficult transformation.

The purpose and meaning– the forcefulness and the healing, growth process of self-actualization gets muted and nullified if teachers merely parrot the words of the Dialogue to students.  If a reader dispassionately read the words and repeated them aloud without proper emphasis– that is louder for bolded terms— or without the proper tone (Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject) or without inflection and clear articulation of the specific words given, in their intended order, the philosophy and the meaning of Bikram Yoga gets lost, compromised, lessened, improperly applied, and weakened and watered-down.  It loses its force. Fewer people change, fewer flower petals blooming, less vitality.

The meaning of Bikram Yoga is the Dialogue and a teacher’s role is integral, essential to its delivery.  A Bikram yoga teacher must be an experienced student of the Bikram yoga practice rooted in Dialogue and its inherent philosophy to properly understand the degree and quality of energy required to implement it effectively with students.

Proper understanding of the meaning of the Dialogue with all of its emphasis on action words as well as the essential nature of its energetic delivery– including tone– and not just tone of voice but the teacher’s attitude toward the subject and Bikram’s original intent as the author–is essential to its integrity, to its existence and its essence. The text is alive and a teacher’s proper understanding and delivery are crucial to its continued existence, degree of liveliness, its effectiveness for students, and its potentcy to foster individual change, growth, and self-actualization. Teachers must embody the Bikram philosophy, which IS the Dialogue, to maintain their own integrity as well as the integrity of the yoga and to preserve it for the future.

It’s hard to care about the details in life– the seemingly little things that take effort to preserve and care for. It’s hard to preserve integrity (your own or something that matters ) when many people think what you care about is insignificant or unimportant, or they are passive due to fear or ignorance or apathy. It is hard to stand up for what matters. It is so much easier not to care or be honest or stand up and do what’s hard, what’s right. It’s easier to stay home on the couch and zone out eating Twinkies than it is to go practice yoga or do something that is hard. It’s also so very easy to become nihilistic, as I sometimes do. I have moments and days when I wonder why I even care about yoga at all, or writing, or people (all of which are full of complexity and details and challenge!)– and I begin to slide down the slope of “nothing really matters” (I actually start humming Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody). But then I know that doing something hard makes me feel more alive. I come alive when I move and breathe and exert my energy with purposeful focus and concentration to nurture my own growth. And I am here, so why not try to be as alive as possible— be vital rather than just take up space, and do what is honest and difficult to the highest degree and quality possible?  Why not do my yoga? I know it will make me better, stronger, and that will certainly improve the quality of my life now and in the future and more likely the lives of everyone around me.

My friends who I spoke with this week told me how inspired they feel each time they step onto the podium to teach a Bikram Yoga Class– to lead people through their practice, and I share those feelings of inspiration. It’s overwhelming to be part of people’s individual journeys. It is actually a physical rush of energy in my body that arises when I acknowledge the individual energy of each body in the room and their honest commitment and effort. This is what I witness as I ask people to look into the mirror to begin the Pranayama Breathing.  It is not coincidental that the definition of “inspiration” means the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative, and the drawing in of breath; inhalation. We are literally, intentionally, filling our lungs, our bodies, our inner worlds, with life and the life force. Each person’s individual promise, their commitment to themselves, the sacrifices they make on behalf of themselves, their willingness to enter into the space of discomfort that is necessary for change, and to participate, honestly, in the yoga— which is a Dialogue– is a good faith conversation— an entryway into themselves to become more alive, to blossom–just like a flower petal blooming.

 

 

 

 

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The Call to Insecurity

“It turns out that when you stop clinging to the safety and security that you think you have found in a particular lifestyle, other people, your carefully constructed identities, or material things, you find your way home to your truth.”

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The original title for this piece was “Meta: Choosing or Clinging.” I wrote it more than a year ago, but only now finding the courage to share it. This content includes a central theme of the book I am currently writing about life and learning called, Like a Flower Petal Blooming.

I was too afraid to post this reflection last year, probably because the content was far too personal, I doubted myself, and I was uncertain about my writing abilities. I am certain I shamed myself for being an idealist rather than practical (I have always been accused of being too idealistic!). I was at the very beginning of what would be a major change, so naturally, I felt insecure, vulnerable, uncomfortable. But, now, one year later, because I trusted my inner voice rather than trying to control my own destiny through pure logic, the world looks like an entirely new and amazing place.

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…….About a year and a half ago, in June, 2015, I returned home from a yoga training in Thailand where I studied Bikram yoga for nine weeks and made more than 175 friends from around the world. Life was never the same after training. Before I attended, I was told the experience would “rock my world,” but I wasn’t sure what that really meant. I suppose I thought that just being there and training for many hours per day and suffering through the intensity would make me stronger physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I knew it would be hard. I also assumed that being immersed in the yoga system I love with its original creator would be a wonderful affair, full immersion. It would be about living out my passion for this yoga and sharing it with so many other enthusiastic people who all had their own stories and reasons for landing at training. And, certainly, it did rock my world in all of these ways while I was there, but the real changes, the real “world-rocking” happened after training.

After the months away in a tropical paradise, returning to previous routines and relationships was a difficult transition, and I slowly realized that I was different–very different from the person who had left months ago. This took more and more time to fully realize. More evident things, like my diet, had changed as well as my tolerance for certain behaviors. My priorities shifted a bit too. But this was only the beginning of a longer, more gradual transformation that is still in progress.

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Do you know that inner voice? Call it your intuition or your authentic, most honest and pure Self? God? Consciousness? Life Force? Well, after training, that voice wouldn’t be ignored like it had been previously. That voice, so faint throughout my life, always there but barely recognizable, had become more prominent when I began practicing yoga, and more recently it has become much louder and clearer.

After I returned from training, it felt like a tidal wave of intuition was rolling through my heart, my soul, and definitely through my body, pushing me in very specific directions that I had no choice but to follow.

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My inner voice was prodding me, quite loudly, to change—- first, my career, which had been perfectly gratifying and financially secure, and also some of my important relationships; basically, I was being told to make one important choice: to focus on a deeper part of myself– a place where I hadn’t had the courage to go to yet.  I had to rescue myself– a deeper part of me that was struggling to be born, and I think that because I had learned self-compassion at training, I was ready to care for myself in a way I had been providing for others for so many years throughout my life. Training prepared me to embrace change, stay with the discomfort and instability that would naturally ensue from change, and trust the unknown and my inner compass.

The inner guide was insisting that I “let go” within the important areas of my life– my job and my relationships– the places where I was putting much of my energy and my heart on a consistent basis– to stop clinging to these identities. (And, by the way, clinging is MUCH different than choosing to be in a job or in a relationship.) I mean, I wasn’t hearing actual voices or anything, but it was just like, I had to do these things, even when my logical mind was screaming, “No!”

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How can you just simply “go with” a feeling or intuition when it doesn’t seem to make any sense?

As it turns out, the big decisions I was being pushed to make weren’t so much about the relationships themselves or the job of teaching per se; they were about the practice of letting go; it was about ME no longer clinging to those pieces of my identity and all the beliefs I had about myself in these roles. It wasn’t about love. It wasn’t about living with dysfunction. It was about how I needed to take time and space to attend to myself. I had to suspend each of them temporarily, to stand outside my conventional life, to take a much deeper look inside. I had to choose that voice, that core— me, and do its bidding.

Maybe THIS was the “rocking my world” part that people talked about who had been to this yoga training before me?

The suffering involved with these changes was real. It scared me. It was destabilizing. To think of myself as anything other than a teacher? Impossible! To not parent? To focus solely on myself and be autonomous and not be in a romantic relationship? I believed for many years that I was born to teach; how could something be telling me that I need to leave teaching behind? What about job security? My income? The students? My colleagues? Who would I be, if not a mom? And, such a directive without any guidance about where I was to go next! It’s not like I had all this passion for a new project or career just waiting to be followed. Why would I quit? I was not heading toward anything, only away from, well… “security.”

It is interesting to look back now, in hindsight, at how I reeled against this flood of intuition, pushed back against that tidal wave that was absolutely relentless. Once the idea of these changes entered into my body, my psyche, my heart, I couldn’t ignore them. They were there to stay, at least until I followed through with making decisions and taking action toward their fulfillment. I literally knew I had no choice, though that did not stop me from whining, complaining, doubting, struggling, and resisting. Did I mention I was scared? How the ego wrestles with itself! How the logic mind battles against the creative heart!  Courage, not confidence, was necessary.

Once I changed my relationships with others by choosing to listen to myself, I knew this voice, this intuition, this tidal wave of change (and what felt a little like tough love), was worth trusting, despite the fact that I was really sad and still a little confused about the decisions I was making.

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Nothing is ever cut and dry, especially when it comes to difficult decisions– that’s why they are so difficult! I also worked on allowing my title of teacher to change. I dipped my toe into the water of radical career change by applying for a leave of absence which I thought was doable and would buy me some time to  explore new possibilities….but which ones?

I was headed toward nothing in particular! I was merely trusting what that little voice inside was telling me. For all the times I hadn’t listened and been miserable, I figured I ought to really go for it and make the leap this time. I mean, life isn’t really an adventure if there’s no real risk at stake.

As I began to review my finances, my future, retirement, etc…this assessment turned out to be a review of my values and the way I was spending my time. We only have a limited amount of time and I want to be sure I am using it intentionally. All of this ruminating and planning felt a little like making a decision to have a baby…is there really ever a “right time” to begin a whole new life, a new career, new relationships?

So, I decided to see what others did when facing such change and risk. I read all sorts of encouraging articles about quitting and true stories about people leaving their uber-rich lifestyles built on corporate financial success to go live in Fiji or to surf all day in some tropical paradise. Or, humorously and ironically, successful entrepreneurs leaving their millions to go teach– to give back; Where would I, public school teacher, go?  Who would this one-time teacher become instead? I certainly don’t have any ambition to pursue a life of wealth and leisure. I am pretty happy with what I have already earned. So, why couldn’t I just be content with security like everyone else, I asked my inner voice. But, the voice didn’t drop an answer or a new passion to pursue into my lap. That’s the thing with passion and inspiration– you can’t call it; it calls you. You just have to be listening and ready.

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So, months later I found the courage to allow myself to let go of being codependent in all of my relationships (with money, with jobs, with people, with places) and I am learning to let go of defining myself in such limited and limiting ways.

To me, too much security means stagnation.

I had been shutting off all of my potential to be different and to continue to change and grow, and my body and heart could sense this which is why that Voice began to object! As I listen to it and trust it, it is allowing me to redefine myself and to see myself and the world in new ways. To let go of clinging to the particular identities that grew stale and had become prohibitive to growth, I had to embrace change for the sake of change, even if my mind told me it was unreasonable. Sometimes unreasonable is the most reasonable thing to be.

So, since I made this decision, this leap, I have been spending time living as anything but a high-school-teacher-suburban-mom-responsible-for-everyone-else girl. I don’t know yet who I am becoming, but maybe that’s just the point— to “become,” without any expectations, without any specific goals in mind for myself, and without a to-do list for my life. Maybe the “accomplishing” will be not accomplishing anything at all but to follow my inner compass, be true to myself, and take care of me.

END NOTE: It’s humorous to me that some friends and family thought I just needed a vacation  from work and parenting; that I wanted to travel and relax. I know that some people thought I was miserable and merely running away from the burden of my responsibilities. That isn’t the case and never was.  This sabbatical has been an exploration of my inner landscape just as much as I have explored the external and natural landscapes of the world.  I haven’t been taking a break from “real life,” I have been living it more than ever. And for that, I am grateful.

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Teaching and Truth

As I write my memoir-in-progress, working title, “Like a Flower Petal Blooming,” I am going to post excerpts from time to time to keep myself fighting Resistance with the capital “R.” Who knew writing a book is like wrestling with satan? LOL This one is a brief excerpt on the theme of honesty and truth.

“Someone asked me today, “How do you like teaching yoga?” I answered as if she asked, “why do you teach yoga,” because the answer is the same. I teach yoga because I love yoga and I love teaching. Both are ME. I love being part of people’s efforts to be better– to be alive, to learn, to be on their journey of self-discovery– to share a small part of that journey.  I respect the effort of the people who show up in the hot room (or torture chamber, as Bikram refers to it) and do the very best they can. They show up in that room and are forced to get honest– I respect honesty. I respect hard work. (I hate lazy people, as Bikram would say.) I love to see people rise to the occasion to do what sometimes seems impossible, for each individual in their own individual ways. I love seeing them grapple with the worst parts of themselves and the best and accept both with equanimity. I love to see people grapple with their suffering. If they can’t get radically honest in a Bikram yoga class, under the bright lights, in front of those mirrors, then they don’t come back. This yoga is hard. Making excuses is easy, justifiable even. You have to be tough to stick with it. Yes. True, physically, but even truer for trying to get honest with yourself and stay honest, like, forever.  Bikram yoga reminds me that every time I step on the podium to teach or in front of the mirror to face myself and practice, and I give the honest effort it requires to be alive and well, I am living my truth.