Updated: Jan 18
At its core, being an effective teacher means devoting one's life to being a student. And I am a total dork, so I love that. I think maybe that was the selling point for me - once I started teaching, I realized there was always a very easily justifiable reason to keep investing, both in time and energy and other resources, to live in a way that aligns with my core values. That includes sharing it with others. For me, going on retreat is like going to the best, most challenging but awesome summer camp. I don't do it because there is some requirement or gold star system, and it certainly isn't rewarding in a lot of ways our culture on the whole values. Like all other yoga students, I keep showing up because it's genuinely how I love to spend my time. Several years ago when I started going two or sometimes three times a year, having easier access to IMS and the many dharma centers in the northeast became pretty intriguing to me. It's one of the reasons why we live where we live.
This past week, I received the news that the my first in-person Vipassana retreat since the beginning of Covid (and first in-person retreat for me in two years) was cancelled, which was such a gut punch. Having lived through a brief period of suicidal ideation during that interlude I also had to interview for this particularly longer-format retreat. So, while feeling very sorry for myself, and feeling like life is very unfair and very sad, manically looking at other possible retreats all over the country happening soon (all of which now have waitlists of 50-70 people), it just became so obvious that the timing of this was the way it was.
There was nothing to do about it, and that fact started to become ok. It is a reflection of this practice that I could come to that point.
I reflected on why I wanted to go on this retreat in the first place. Over the past two years I've had so many ups and downs, swings of anxiety and swells of depression. It has been a lot of holding on, figuring it out, trying to put things into place and exert some control in a wild and uncertain time. The all too familiar patterns of "as soon as I do ____ I can relax" have been all too prevalent recently - and we all know that there is always more to do, more to manage, more to give. And as relatively healthy as I feel now, I was looking forward to letting that drop away and to feel the innevitable peace and ease of stepping away from all of it in such a supported way. Almost as soon as I consciously understood what I was hoping to gain from the retreat, I remembered the truth of the situation, and the overarching reassurance that always seems to come - the spaciousness, the calm, the ease that I yearn for is always available.
We always have a choice in how we respond to life. In each moment, we can continue to grip, to try to hold on, to try to exert control of the uncontrollable, to try and make things bend to our will and our hopes for how it "should" be, or we can choose to loosen the grip. We can choose to soften our hands, our jaws, the intensity of our gaze. We can choose to take a few deep breaths. Whether we are here or there, working or at home, silent or speaking, teaching or studying, interacting with friends or strangers, the opportunity to relax and let life unfold in its own way is always there. We can rest in the comfort that while we're doing our best, we can't control all of the factors and forces that mean it sometimes doesn't work out the way we want.
There's a Rumi saying that has stuck with me over the past few months -"life is a balance of holding on and letting go." This is the flow of life, the flow of practice, and one of those lessons I keep being reminded of again and again throughout life - and, yeah - probably the central theme of what I end up teaching. We can choose to let go. We can rest here and now. This is what I call (upon the moment of discovery) another f*cking learning opportunity. They are the worst. They are the best. And this is practice. Practice isn't just here on the mat, it's not getting to do the next big pose or having the shape of body you find desirable or even always about feeling good - it's always. It's choosing to let go into the spaciousness of each moment. It's riding the wave. It's opening to your heart's compassion for your own disappointment, sadness, loneliness and misery, and remembering that this opening to and holding space for what's hard and downright sucks sometimes actually is the bliss-filled yoga experience we hope to find along the way.