This week, my husband and I are leaving on a big adventure: a month in Costa Rica. For 16 years we’ve talked about this and right up until this past week my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea we are actually going.
Now here it is, just days before we fly off for a month, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I’m excited, definitely. We have piles of clothes and gear and snacks (of course) on the dresser and the bed. We have lists of things to bring and things that have to get done before we go. There are colorful books of birds and beaches and monkeys and bats laid out on the coffee table.
I am excited … and I also feel anxious.
But it’s not the traveling that’s got me. (Frank and I could have fun together anywhere — as long as we have Scrabble and Frank’s willingness to repeatedly remind me that I don’t actually have control over anything.) No, as long as I remember to breathe and relax, I’m okay traveling.
I’m anxious about leaving my teachers and my students.
My normal life is so full of great good fortune that part of me is reluctant to leave it, even for a month. The instructors who lead my yoga classes and the students who I have the privilege to guide in movement each week are what I don’t want to leave behind.
But then I have to laugh at myself, since if I pay attention, teachers and students are everywhere. I’ve learned hugely from and been inspired deeply by the people who come to my classes and from my fellow yogis and yoginis who I get to practice with. All around me, a sea of teachers! I also know that the choices I make affect the people around me whether I know it or not. Everywhere I go, there are “students” taking in what I say and do.
So ask yourself, in this life, what do you want to learn? Are you willing to entertain the possibility that all of the following (and much more!) can be your teacher?
Your body and sensation ~ When I pay attention and listen to my body, I can learn to simultaneously challenge and heal it. I can learn when I can do more than I thought and what my body truly needs.
A beloved or admired person ~ Notice the people you admire, the ones you love to be around, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to emulate. Recognize that no matter how magnificent the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use admired people to remind yourself to cultivate those qualities in yourself.
An avoided or annoying person ~ Notice the people you avoid, the ones who annoy you, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to curtail in yourself. Recognize that no matter how horrendous the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use annoying people to remind yourself not to feed those qualities in yourself.
Nature ~ The wisest of teachers, Nature’s cycles and processes reveal the dharma of life (the way things are). If we pay attention, Nature shows us the many faces of beauty, life, and death.
Your self ~ Observing yourself with neutral, compassionate eyes can throw light on habits and tendencies that may be hurting you or getting in your way. See if you can loosen any defensive stance about the way you do things and simply witness yourself.
Your practice ~ Notice what’s happening in your practice (whatever that may be) and consider that your practice is a metaphor for your life. Consider the possibility that how you do anything is how you do everything.
Your life ~ as Pema Chödrön says, “Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment.” Whether I’m balancing in Tree Pose or waiting in a serpentine TSA line or walking through a dripping rain forest, I have the opportunity to see it all as a teaching me something and leading me a little further along the path.
And how about your students? As you fly through a yellow-light-almost-turning-red, what are you teaching the teen-aged driver who sees you? As you interact with a gate representative at the airport, everyone around you is learning from and affected by how you choose to speak to her. We are all teachers offering guidance and modeling choices to the people around us. So, what do you want to teach?
Teachers are not always the ones at the front of the room. Explore the possibility that you are a student surrounded by teachers and that you are a teacher yourself surrounded by students. What do you want to learn? What do you want to teach? If we pay attention our life can be our practice and our practice can be our life.