Teaching is a vulnerable profession. Each week my soul pours into the work, I stand up naked in front of a room full and then proceed to lay my heart out on the floor. There are times I go home wondering if any of it makes sense. Mostly I’ve learned, in my own makeshift teacher’s classroom, not to go there…just to put it out there and then let it go. But then the random email arrives, the heart felt phone call, a question from the aftermath and I’m clear this is what I am meant to be doing. And I wake up and do it again.
This week a student called after Thursday with a question we all come to eventually. Big crisis right before class, you know the story, we have them with regularity: heart ripped open, head spinning, body numb. The big debate commences: should I go to class? Maybe I’ll go and work with this craziness in my head, find brilliant answers on the dance floor, on the yoga mat. And, of course, when I get there, big surprise, the teacher is asking me to place my attention elsewhere. What’s a student to do? Honor my own needs for personal exploration in this moment or ignore what I need and do the drill?
We have all been there and I would venture to say that occasionally the personal exploration takes front and center, whether we want it to or not. I am offering this in the most gentle way I can here: if this is what happens all the time, if we allow our story- spinning heads to take the lead whenever it is time to practice, we are missing the point. The point being that we are learning to meditate. The point being that we are asking ourselves to consciously make a transition whenever we sit on the cushion, each time we roll out our mat, the instant we step over the threshold onto the dance floor.
Pema Chodron reminds us we can, indeed we must, “just drop it.…The world opens up and suddenly we’re there for what’s happening…We have the ability to drop the story line, to rouse ourselves…it’s a very advanced practice if you can do it when you don’t happen to feel like it. If everything is solid and intense and you’re wallowing in self-pity or something else, if someone says to you at that point, ‘Just drop it’, even in the sweetest, kindest, most gentle voice, you want to punch that person in the nose.”
And I am willing to be that metaphorical punching bag as I do whatever it takes to seduce us back home. Remind us that center has nothing to do with the story in our head. And, if in fact we give it a break for an hour or two, guess what? Things might feel really different when we walk out the door. Check this out…a mini-break from story-ville: take a full and complete breath in and then let it go. B.K.S. Iyengar said that an incomplete exhalation is “the soil, or base, for thoughts to arise”. So go ahead and really let all of the out breath go. Enjoy three more breaths like this following the last bit of exhale right into your center, somewhere in that territory between breast bone and pelvic bone, right in the very middle of you. Pause there with all the air gone and rest at home base, the quiet still point, the opinion-less place. This is what we practice for, touching into this calm nucleus. It is always there. It is more accessible with practice.