Here’s a peak into our newsletter to the Moksha Modo teaching community sent monthly. It’s a note from yoga teacher Jess Robertson about – Sharing our Complex and Perfect Wholeness
Jeremie Saunders is co host of the SickBoy Podcast. On the show Jeremie, who has Cystic Fibrosis, talks with candid humour about living with terminal illness, a generally not-so-hilarious subject. Before SickBoy fame, Jeremie worked alongside his lovely wife Bryde with us at team Moksha/Modo International. Both Bryde, a talented actor, and Jeremie are Halifax-based Moksha yoga teachers.
Jeremy recently came to teach for the first time at the 500 hour teacher teaching. He and I were chatting in the lecture space after Ted’s early morning class awaiting morning lecture announcements. I said in a silly voice, “Soooo, are you nervous to teach asana this afternoon?”. He responded, deadpan – “I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous about anything.” When I talk to funny people I always start silly, but this was no joke. My tone changed. “Well,” I asked hoping to ease the nerves “what are you planning to address or focus on?” He said that he had thought about this question for weeks. He had finally landed on a great theme. BUT, what he learned just minutes earlier from chatting with Ted, the morning’s asana teacher, was that his intended theme was, coincidentally, exactly what Ted had focused on just hours earlier! Great minds think alike. And, damn!
There were a few of us chatting. The conversation shifted to nervousness and how despite years of teaching we all still get nervous – even though we’re sharing a practice to help with nerves! Ah, the complex human condition.
A few days before this chat, I was leading “Teaching Fundamentals” – a look at the yamas and niyamas (yoga philosophy) at the start of the training. I shared this quote from philosopher Seneca in the discussion of Aparigraha or non hoarding/non attachment:
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
For me the quote is reminiscent of the felt sense of peace after a couple days of camping, or any chance to live simply. There is a deep calm that floats up from knowing we need much less than we think to live with great solace and contentment.
I mentioned that I kept the quote in the presentation despite the debate around Seneca’s own real life experience, a debate outlined in The Man to Know in Ancient Rome, a New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Kolbert I read a while back. Kolbert questions Seneca’s teachings because his life involved less “coarse or rough dress” and more fine dress and fine wine. I told the training group about the article and one trainee said vehemently with distain, “Why include this quote? I mean, I just find that this is so often the case, teachers saying things that they aren’t doing/living themselves.” Fantastic comment and I had thought the same.
I chose to leave the quote because we humans are complex by nature. The thought had meant something to me for many years before reading the article. It is a real teaching, even if Seneca said the words as an aspiration rather than an empirical description.
We can resist our own contradictory and complex nature, or we can embrace it as inherent to our humanity. Seneca was a great philosopher. The debate about his gluttonous environs just leads me to think that he certain wasn’t a perfect philosopher. I think I’m ok with that.
In The Courage to Teach, Parker J Palmer writes: “By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.” In life – this is difficult stuff! Holy *&%^ is it difficult! Do yoga teachers drink beer, coffee, scotch?! Do they work in <dramatic hush> the corporate world?! Do yoga teachers eat meat? Do yoga teachers get angry? Yoga teachers are always happy right? And my goodness, yoga teachers have just figured it all out, full stop. We don’t get sick, or deal with chronic pain. Certainly, we do not get nervous! And by the way, no presh!
It takes courage to be our whole selves in a world that asks us to curate a presentation of our disparate parts. It’s a no-joke-call-to-arms to be vulnerable, while still feeling our own power and drive for inner and outer change.
In the same book Palmer also wrote, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”
It is important to know the techniques – the origin and insertion of muscles, the cues that guide students into ever-more specificity in body awareness. And – I would argue, that presenting our fully-flawed selves is as important as any body cue. It allows individuals in our communities to do the same. Yoga doesn’t have to be our everything in order for it to be the core of our everything! This is the work that expands the fruits of our practice without needing to move with the stream of needing to nail an advanced asana for an instagram post. This is the work that asks us to discover – what truth lies beneath my practice today. What truth lies beneath my contradictions. Which contradictions can I ethically tolerate, and which push me to change in order to live in a practice of satya (living in truth).
Teaching and showing up as our rebel selves is our second pillar, Be Accessible, defined. It calls to a diverse student community to do the same. Feeling into our contradictory and perfect selves is a call to embrace the first and fundamental limbs of this practice while at the same time opening a new potential for embodying the 7 pillars.
To finish the anecdote, Jeremie, who so freely shared that moment of raw vulnerability, knocked their socks off in the 2:45pm class and the other classes he led. No one felt a hint of nervousness in any of his classes. What was felt was the root of the nervousness – a raw and infectious connection to authenticity and care for the budding sangha bravely embracing wholeness, individually and in community.
Let’s do this together, community-wide. Let’s feel into who we are with as much bravery as we can possibly muster up and let’s share our authenticity with all the yoga we’ve got. Go community, go yoga.
Photo courtesy of Jon Wiley