Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why I Give A Sh*&%t...

This last weekend, my birthday weekend, we celebrated the conclusion of the teacher training in San Francisco as well as my last public classes until the fall.

After my open class ended, some of the trainees had secretly created a "cheer" and handed out little slips of papers for everyone. The entire class participated, all 70 students cheered loudly:

Give me a:

for Kickass/Kaliesque/Karuna/Kidney Loop/Kindness
for Activist/Ananda/Amazing Grace/Awesome
for Teacher/Transformation/Tenderness/Truth/

for Compassion/Chanting/Comedy/Chocolate
for Harmonium/Hanuman/Heart-Opener/Hip-Opener/
Hot Stuff

for Integrity/Intelligence/Illumination/ 
for Eclectic/Extraordinary/Energy/Equality/
EVOLUTE!!!  (what I said in class one day when I forgot the real word, evolve, and made up "evolute" instead.)

I was literally moved to tears, feeling how deeply my students care, and how deeply I care about them.

I have been thinking a lot about the teacher/student relationship lately.

One of my students put it simply "Katchie, you actually give a shit!"

It's true - even to my detriment sometimes. I would love to live up to the enlightened, detached teacher image but that is just not what's happening. I invest in my students. I care. So if someone studies with me in that intense and personal way for some years, and then they just up and leave, which just happened to me recently, I hurt. I feel confusion and pain.

Having had this scenario happen to me more than once, I finally realized that we don't have any decent guidelines in the yoga world at all! No wonder all the confusion and a reinforcement of what Chogyam Trungpa called "Spiritual Materialism." For many people the spiritual teachings are but an endless buffet from which to sample; without making any deeper commitment. It's all so convenient for the modern, Western practitioner.

As a matter of fact, often when we come up against difficulty with the teachings or the teachers, we simply move onto another system and teacher. In some of the ancient stories, this is called "digging a well to look for water." But instead of digging the same well and going deep until we do find water, we end up making many shallow holes - none of which produce water in the end.

So I searched, thinking there has to be some decent guidelines for the student/teacher relationship somewhere. I found it in the Martial Arts world. It is actually quite simple:

  • The Student is expected to study with one particular teacher/system for a period of time exclusively (whatever period of time has been determined).
  • After that period of time has passed, if the student wants to simultaneously study with another teacher, he/she has to go and ask permission from both teachers. If both say yes, there will be an assumption of more excellence expected by both teachers to their respective systems.
  • If the original teacher says no (because he/she doesn't feel that the new systems/teacher are compatible or right for that student) there will be a closing ritual and the student is free to go study with the new teacher (but no longer will study with the original one). 
  • If the student wants to leave the original teacher, it's expected from the student to go to the teacher and tell him why he wants to move on so there can be proper closure and blessings for both of them.

If we had these simple guidelines in the yoga world, how much confusion and suffering we could avoid!

As the teacher, here is my commitment to my students - to show up with all that I have to offer. If you are interested, come for teachings and stories, packaged with whimsical humor, some tears, and a bit of uncomfortable truth for all of us to contemplate. That is what I do, and I will ruthlessly use whatever is at my disposal, including my own vulnerability and imperfection, to make a difference.