The woman who led the yoga teacher training that I took in 2013 emailed all of her former students a few days ago. She was checking in to send her love and to let us know that she's moved to another state to pursue things outside of yoga. As I read her note, I was transported to the moment in time when the teacher training sparked a shift in me. This morning, I sat down to write her back; to thank her for the huge impact the training had on my life, and to wish her well as she moves to a new path.
While I didn't become a full-time yoga teacher afterwards, the teacher training was a series of revelations. I had been going to yoga classes for about 10 years when I decided to enroll in the course, since I was just a teenager, but I had never studied the underpinnings of yoga. I had attended class after class, letting teachers' words wash over me and enjoying the physical relaxation and high that happened afterwards. Attending class was an opportunity to disengage from my mind through challenging myself physically. I was a passive participant. At the beginning of the teacher training, my attitude toward my own life was similar; I experienced my life as happening to me instead of taking an active role in making things happen. Mostly, anyway. I was beginning to crawl out of that headspace after reading The Artist's Way, and the teacher training was like a trail of jelly beans that a better version of myself was leaving for me to lead me the rest of the way out of the forest. Through studying the philosophy of yoga, reading new books and old books, talking and laughing with my fellow students, I began bringing purpose to the physical expression of yoga, and living my life on purpose again.
One of the texts we were assigned to read in the teacher training was Pema Chodron's The Wisdom of No Escape, which is a collection of transcribed lectures about meditation. I still think about it all the time. Chodron is a Buddhist nun who runs an abbey in Nova Scotia. The book is such a clear and attainable avenue into understanding meditation. "Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better," she says. "It's about befriending who we are already." Throughout the book, Chodron relays a bunch of fables and old traditional stories that demonstrate her points about cultivating a more precise and gentle outlook when learning different meditation techniques. One of my favorites is about the difference between heaven and hell.
"A big burly samurai comes to the wise man and says, 'Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.' And the roshi looks at him in the face and says: 'Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?' The samurai starts to get purple in the face, his hair starts to stand up, but the roshi wont stop, he keeps saying, 'A miserable worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?' Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, and he's just about to cut off the head of the roshi. Then the roshi says, 'That's hell.' The samurai, who is in fact a sensitive person, instantly gets it, that he just created his own hell. It was black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger and resentment, so much that he was going to kill this man. Tears fill his eyes and he starts to cry and he puts his palms together and the roshi says, 'That's heaven.'"
I love how the samurai, "is in fact a sensitive person." I love that he cries, I love that he's just trying to figure things out like all of us, even though he's this violent ball of muscle. Hell of the mind, heaven of the mind; we've all had versions of both.
I wrote my old teacher the email thanking her, wishing her well. I wrote, "Although I didn't go the route of becoming a teacher like some of my fellow students, the lessons from the training have resonated with me since then. Your classes, the readings, the conversations and the community helped bring me to the more peaceful and focused place that I've come to now. It brought me out of depression and taught me tools for staying out. It inspired me to stay connected to my dreams and creative aspirations."
When I hit send, the email bounced. She closed the account---the address no longer exists. She's moved to a new chapter, just like I have, just like she helped me to do through her course.