The Teacher

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It is generally recommended that a practitioner, whether yogi, meditator, or both, work with a teacher. After my first teacher, who was a another student at the Catholic high school I attended, I practiced for many years on my own, using what I learned from books. This worked–to a point. My asana practice was sloppy and haphazard. My meditation was irregular, with my mind running loose and wild most of the time I sat.

In the meanwhile, I was going to college, nourishing my family, moving back and forth across the country–all the things we do throughout our young adult years. Other than a college course on Eastern Christian Mysticism I hungrily devoured at the Jesuit college I attended in Seattle, when and where would I look for a teacher? Most of the time, I was fairly content using what I had already learned as well as what I continued to study and practice from the books and TV shows here and there along my path. The cover of my Richard Hittelman yoga text was worn away. When yoga videotapes appeared in bookstores, I scooped up a couple and practiced diligently, even daily for an entire year, with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden, two very flexible, and strong yogis.

When I caught an ad for a teacher at the local gym, I immediately signed up even though I’d never belonged to a gym in my life. (see About the Yogini for the story of my second yoga teacher) In addition to seeing an immediate improvement in my poses, the class began short guided meditations after savasana on Thursday evenings.

My home meditation practice grew after reading Herbert Benson’s now classic, The Relaxation Response, just before beginning teacher training in Rochester. My sitting practice became an anticipated, and very important, part of my daily routine.

After a couple of years though, primarily working on my own with my meditation, I grew lax and wondered if I was doing it right. After all, so often, it seemed as if I was just sitting and thinking. My collection of guided meditation cds grew, and I listened diligently, but still felt as if I wasn’t doing it quite right and I longed to go deeper into the practice. I knew I needed a teacher, but where in this little rural town would one ever appear? I couldn’t afford going off to idyllic retreats that promised peace of mind in a weekend. i worked for a short while with someone who’d returned home after living and studying meditation in South Asia, but his partner gave birth to their first child and she really needed him at home, so our classes ended. There was another teacher who occasionally offered classes in a not-so-nearby town, but somehow I was never able to attend those sessions.

Suddenly though, I found someone who would work with me. The first thing he taught me was to RELAX and accept my meditation practice as it was.

The relationship that developed with this teacher was very intense and even though I’d had strong relationships with several of my teachers, this one was in a different class. Perhaps the intensity developed because he only lived a couple of blocks away and we began daily walks, whereas I only saw my other teachers once or twice per week, if that. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable relationship though; it was more like therapy–on steroids! I had constant inner work to do. At one point, when I was more grateful than angry with him, I wrote the following poem:


The teacher already knows
what lies hiding within the student.
The student, blind to her life;
draws others’ natures onto her self
as blankets of warmth and comfort,
as protection from her self–
the student begs for a hand,
seeks the path of least resistance.
The teacher nudges sometimes gently,
sometimes with a hint of harshness.
The student clings as if to life itself —
trying to escape the inescapable,
she looks to become enveloped
by the teacher’s nature or simply by the teachings–
The student cannot imagine life alone;
she cannot envision how she creates life.
The teacher sees wholeness, beauty,
and completion of the task.
The student suffers in the frustration
of the moment with ignorance and
nonacceptance of the nature of all learning.

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