Wherever You Go, There You Are

08/11/2012 21:32


We have arrived at Samahita retreats. Stephen meets me at the front desk for a brief tour of what he calls “your home for the next month”. We stop at the Ganesha shala and he instructs me on how we are going to be working together on this teacher training. Among other things, he explains to me I am going to be in charge of closing the shala after everyone leaves. “Paul is very particular about how the room is closed, about what incense is lit and so on. Elonne will instrunct you”, he says. I can't help laughing out loud. It is no coincidence that these chores are falling to me.


Let me digress for a moment. I recently lost one of my yoga gigs at a studio where I had been teaching only a few months. When asked for a reason, the owner told me she didn't appreciate how I was not mindful around the studio, that I hadn't washed the tea cups a few times etc.

I remember when I started there, I was meticulously instructed on how the studio was to be cleaned and tidied up. When I saw the long list of chores, truth be told, my instinctive reaction was: “Oh, come on...”. (Rolling my eyes on the inside). Now, while I am certainly reliable and precise, I am not obsessive about how i keep my things. Even as I child, I was always the one that couldn't keep her books from getting dog-ears and her clean sweater from getting stained. I try when I have to, but sometimes I just can't be bothered. And yes, even though that may not be a reason to take a class off the schedule, it is not very mindful of me. And more importantly, it is not necessarily respectful and compassionate towards others.


Is it the first time I hear this criticism? Of course not. I've been in very similar situations before. So how long can you pretend it's other people's problem and not yours?

I distinctly remember being in a workshop with Ross Rayburn once, when he said: “Life is going to present you with the same physical injury, the same stupid boyfriend, the same issues at work... until you finally realize you need to take a look at your pattern.” For me personally, this is the biggest life-changing lesson yoga has taught me, to this day: It's not them, it's you.


How easy and much more convenient would it be to just dismiss my ex-boss at the yoga studio as a compulsive cleaner and make a few sarcastic jokes about the whole story? But wherever you go, there you are: I have just gotten here and already I am presented with yet another opportunity to clean. And this time, I do not think “Oh come on...” (and I don't even roll my eyes on the inside). This time I realize this is my chance to change the pattern. This time, I will take it seriously, do it as a devotional practice and as a service to others. Without thinking I have to hurry to get on, to get out, and already be some place else.


Like Stephen said in his opening speech tonight: Trust that the teaching is in what presents itself right in front of you. The teaching is everywhere around you, what we call, the Guru Sakshat. This is actually my all-time favorite quote from Stephen's manual (p. 5):

We are always given exactly what we can handle to grow. Trust that what keeps appearing in front of you as an obstacle is the very thing that can liberate you.” Like Stephen said earlier today, it is hard to jump without the ground to push off from. So often we need something to push against in order to grow, or even just in order to understand.


Funny though, how we trust a formal teacher to guide us even though we might only have known him a few years. Life has been with us since day one – why don't we trust life lessons the same way?


If you can see beyond the formal training, this is also one of the many things happening on a teacher training. There will be moments when you get frustrated and you feel you've been going in circles. There will be times when other people push your buttons here, just like everywhere else you go. Guru Sakshat all around. And then it is up to us... We will stand at the exact same crossroads between habitual reations and actually seeing beyond them. And maybe... maybe this time, we will decide not to go down that same old road.


PS: This is what happens when you stop opposing resistance to life's teaching: Turns out “closing the space” is nothing more than lighting 7 incense sticks and placing them on different altars while reciting a mantra. (And checking doors and props).


Feeling Separate

04/11/2012 18:07

During my first Vipassana retreat in a beautiful place in the Bernese mountains, we were asked to meet in groups once a day, to discuss our experience. I was convinced everyone else was an experienced meditator (is that even a word?) and reluctant to share how my mind just wouldn't stop babbling. However, as we sat down with the Buddhist nun leading the retreat and people started to relate their experience, I was surprised: We all had the same problem! Of course, everyone has a monkey mind, everyone has trouble sitting still. We are all afraid of that moment when everything goes quiet and whatever needs to bubble to the surface starts flooding your whole nicely arranged harbor. Worst of all, we are all reluctant to admit to that, we are afraid of not being good enough.

Isn't it funny how we always think we are the only ones with a specific weakness or problem? How we always think everyone else has it so easy and they have never even had to think about the things we struggle with. It also works the other way around. Often we think that we are the only ones who got it right, that our judgment of a person or a situation is the only one that makes sense and is admissible. Either way, whether self-confident or insecure, we always feel separate. Both inclinations nourish the impression that we are alone and separate from everyone else. This is nothing other than an excellent trick of our ego, so it can make sure it stays in charge. 

We may not be the same, but I do believe we all have the same two elementary fears in common: The fear of death or of loss and the fear of not being loved or needed. If you stop long enough to think about this, you realize that it's true. All of our negative actions and emotions like anger, jealousy, pride, aggression, greed, grasping etc., they all stem from the fear of being deprived of something or of someone's affection. The problem is, we believe in the illusion. Because we see ourselves separate, we also believe the fear is real, that our partner is actually giving us reason to be jealous or that we actually have reason to be angry at being wronged by a friend. But it's all in the mind. The mind tricks us into believing it's happening outside of us, when it's all our own paranoia being projected on the outside - like shadows playing on the wall. 

The Eastern philosophies all agree that the tool to rip the ego, the I-shaper, of its power is to use our higher, discriminative intelligence. Once we sit down and observe what goes on with the greatest honesty possible, we have the ability to uncover the mechanisms by which we are played. I agree that this is one antidote. A very hard one at that, because who likes to watch all this go down.

Then there is another one, in my opinion. Sharing and exchanging with honesty. Like it happened to me on that meditation retreat with total strangers. If you find it in you to speak about your experience without embellishing or concealing, you realize that we are all the same. We are all trapped in this vicious circle, we are all afraid to lose what we hold dear and to be alone. Inevitably, that recognition creates a sense of union and a deeper understanding for others. Also called, compassion.

A teacher training is an intense period of time because you see yourself from very up close. You are in a position to observe with awareness what goes on within, every day. In this context... Could it be that trainees are afraid to show what they think are shortcomings because the ego wants everything to be shiny and bright? Could it be that when we talk about such transformative periods of time we smooth things over because the truth sounds to intense? Could it be that people not involved in a teacher training think they could never qualify because they are not good enough (yet)? Could it be that, also in this context, we feel separate?

If so, then now you know what this blog is for.



<< 1 | 2 | 3