My Two Teachers
I have many teachers, but the two who are really the great teachers of my life are the ones who, when I first heard them speak, seemed to be voicing the contents of my brain. If you have had this experience, you know exactly what I am talking about. You are surprised, and think – wait – how did you…? but I… and then – yes and yes again. Then the surprise gives way to a magnetic compulsion that makes you want to scrunch your chair or yoga blanket or whatever you happen to be perched on …right…up…close.
It makes you want to travel around the world to study with them and precipitates dramatic shifts in how you order your time and with whom you wish to spend it. Your initial amazement and delight pool into a profound sense of gratitude for this glimpse into the mysterious synchronicity of things. Resonance and Recognition. This is what happened when I met my teachers John Friend and Douglas Brooks.
To Backtrack for a Moment – Paris and Proust
I keep thinking about the first time I read Proust. I was studying in Paris and as I tackled the dense text, I suddenly realized that I was being moved by the quality of the language and by the beauty of the prose. For the first time reading in French – instead of translating in my head, instead of it being about comprehension – I had moved into a place of profound aesthetic appreciation. That was something.
The writing seemed strangely familiar. As I read, it felt as if someone had transcribed the phrases and ideas lining the inside of my brain. I was seeing myself reflected in his words – not just things I had thought about, but patterns of thought – an underlying structure that said – That is me! The differences between myself and a neurotic French writer born in 1871, who closeted himself in a silent cork-lined room so that he could write all 3000-some pages of his book were evident. Yet, the startling sense of recognition triggered a sensation of deep connectivity to the world around me, which is actually what he was writing about. And this experience is what I’m now talking about.
On Recognition and Moving through Things
Many years later, I was going through a challenging period in my life – I had lost 3 people I cared about in 3 months in unrelated violent deaths. I was toughing it out, trying to be there for other people while I just barely kept it together myself. I felt as if I was held in place by lots of little overlapping pieces of psychic tape and messes of determined glue – a shifting collection of pieces.
I had been studying with John Friend for about 5 years, and had already had the above-mentioned recognition experience with him. He was in town teaching a series of workshops in Soho. Usually when I studied with John, I was like an excited puppy – exponentially more bouncy and chatty than I normally am. This time I was in a place where I just wanted to find some peace – to stop grinding my teeth for a few hours and feel happy again. We put down our mats and gathered toward the front of the room.
As John began to speak, something in the tone of his voice shifted something for me, and my carefully taped together self began to come unstuck. I spent most of the morning crying and sweating in the bathroom, finally managing to fit in about 30 sniffling minutes of practice. He came over to me immediately at the break and I recall spilling some incoherent mess about what I was dealing with, as he took it in and held that space for me.
Exhausted, I went back to my apartment, showered, scrubbed everything off of myself, and when I returned for the afternoon session, I was on the other side of it – clear, clean, and actually slightly happy for the first time in months. The tone of recognition and acceptance within his voice had triggered a profound alchemical shift within me. He had invited me more deeply into a particular part of myself so that I could process what I needed to move through.
Great teachers speak to you from where you are. They don’t try to yank or push or pull you into where they want you to be. They remind you to move into the fullness of your experience, to embrace whatever rasa, or flavor of experience, you are in so that you can best figure out how to align with your current reality.
On Reflection and Thatness
I was in upstate New York studying with Douglas this past week. Near the beginning of a meditation practice that Douglas was guiding, there was a moment near the beginning when one thanks one’s teachers. He let us know that this was what he was doing and that we were welcome to do the same.
Look way back – he suggested – go to 2nd grade. I decided to really go for it, and it was amazing how many people I genuinely wanted to thank. I tried to pare it down to my parents, my high school English and Art teachers, my college Art History professor, several of my Anusara mentors, and Douglas and John. But then I thought about all of my teachers’ teachers, and that kept multiplying as well – lines and lines of them extending in every direction. It was endless.
I met Douglas when he was invited by Amy Ippoliti to kick off our Anusara® Teacher Training in January 2002. I have extremely vivid memories of being floored at every single thing he said. It was brilliant. And totally new. And yet utterly familiar. To conclude one evening, we were asked to give one word or phrase summarizing our experience. People said, inspired – intrigued – exhausted – perplexed – blown away, and more. The one thing that I could truly say, was Yes…THAT. I am that. That I am.
You know in a minute flat when someone is going to be a great teacher in your life. You can learn from many, but the great ones – that is always clear. And there it was again and again, and here it still is again and again: the vimarsha shakti, which can be loosely defined as the energy of you being reflected back to you. Being around my teachers makes me a better person because of this endless mirroring and self-reflection, this sense of recognition, the inescapable resonance, the sweet invitation to that.
Saying Thank You
I was away traveling for much of this summer – Vermont-India-Paris–Boston-upstate NY, and had intended to write something like this for Gurupurnima, the traditional time of year to honor one’s teachers, so this is slightly late. But I honestly think about my teachers every day, which somehow blended with the nostalgia or longing that kicks in for me at the end of summer and the fading august light, so I felt compelled to write this belated thank-you note.
So here it goes – thank you to Mom and Dad for being the most ridiculously fabulous parents anyone could wish for, to my sister Jen for being a model of integrity, thank you to my academic teachers who believed in my creativity and my skills – thank you to my yoga mentors and inspirations – Sianna Sherman, Elena Brower Amy Ippoliti, Lois Nesbitt, Vishali Varga, Ellen Saltonstall, and Sue Elkind. You have all given me so much.
And thank you John. Thank you Douglas. I thank you all for offering me myself.
Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. ~ Marcel Proust