Still Learning

I am still learning.

I love that feeling…the feeling of ‘still learning’.

Like sitting in class on the first day of school and looking through the syllabus at all that will be discovered. Like stepping onto my mat for a power yoga class and feeling forgotten muscles that need awakening. Like looking at a situation with clarity and confidence then hearing a comment or reading an email and seeing that there is new information that enhances my understanding. Like meeting someone new and noticing that they are kind and compassionate in ways I have yet to master. It’s liberating to grow beyond myself in these small ways.

And that’s why I love to teach. Sure, I know some stuff and it feels good to share what I know with folks. But, mostly I teach because I love learning.

Plus I find myself constantly bumping up against what I don’t know. The size of what I don’t know far exceeds the size of what I know.

The challenge is accessing that not-knowing mind set. Finding a beginner’s mind is not easy. Because even though I know that I don’t know it all, I’ve got an inner ‘know it all’ that would love to run my show. However, this is what I do know:

When I find myself in that place of not-knowing, I’m fully present, inspired and alive.

I’m living the path of the seeker that way. There is a story that has been passed from yogi to yogi over many, many years. Perhaps you've heard it. It goes like this: 

The seeker left home and traveled far and long. He arrived at the door of the guru and knocked. The guru answered the door and heard the seeker’s request. “Please, sir. I’ve traveled far. I’ve studied the texts. I’ve learned from the masters of my community. Accept me as your student. “  

The guru welcomed the aspiring student, sat with him and set to pour him a cup of tea. The seeker told of his studies all the while watching the guru pour the tea. The tea rose to the rim of the tea cup. The tea spilled over the rim, filled the saucer and flowed onto the table. At yet, the guru continued pouring.

Finally, the seeker interrupted, “Whoa! What are you doing? The cup is past full!” The guru relied, “As are you, my friend. You come her wanting to learn from me but it is clear that your cup is already full. One must empty ones cup in order to learn. How might I teach you if your head is already so full of knowledge? Perhaps you come back when your cup is empty.” 

It’s not easy to empty one's tea cup. But recently, I was blessed with such an experience.

I had spent the weekend in another city for a family celebration. And it was a celebration! The fun and festivities definitely took a toll on me. The following morning, I was grateful to find a yoga class. I arrived super early and had time on my mat to settle. In the quiet, I was able to observe the folks coming into the studio and getting themselves set up.

Clearly, this was a community. The gals all knew each other. I assumed many of them to be teachers as the conversation was full of ‘my class on Tuesday night’ and ‘practice with me’ and ‘when are you teaching?’ and ‘it’s been crazy’. There was surely a little self-importance. Their tea cups were full!

Now I'll admit. If it had been my home studio, I would have been a part of the same dialogue. I, too, am full of knowing.

During the practice that morning, I struggled with the out-of-whack-ness from travel and celebration. I felt disconnected from my typical practice.

My body was tight. I had lost my habitual asana shapes. I had to listen to my body and work the shapes accordingly. I assembled warrior I one leg and one arm at a time. Same with warrior II…and so on.  And this teacher, she was new to me. I worked mentally to trust her cues and to stay with her rather than insisting on my own ways.

Even as I attempted to surrender, there were uncomfortable moments and times of downright ‘wrong-ness’. It was unnerving to be so out-of-sorts. It’s not easy to find that place of not-knowing.

And then, I felt it! The shift in perspective had emptied my cup. I felt the magic of beginner’s mind.

In my peripheral vision, I noticed that the teachers who were practicing around me were full of personality in their movements. Hands shaped lovely but dramatic like dancers and swirling arms taking on extra fancy expressions. These are all of the things I usually do when I’m practicing and feeling fine. It’s an expression of love for the practice really. It’s developed over years of showing up and enjoying the practice.

However, practicing like an expert is not beginner’s mind. And I was so deep in beginner’s mind that I’d lost the personality. There was a freshness and a realness to my experience. I was learning.  

In that moment, I was blessed with full presence and vitality. It was inspiring. 

If you’d like to access that blessing and become a learner and a seeker, consider the following:

  • I’m always surprised to hear people say that they only practice with this teacher or at that studio. Try something new! Step into a new studio, try a new teacher AND take a different style of yoga…like yin yoga or buti yoga.
  • Consider yoga teacher training. Yoga teacher training is a wonderful way to learn more about the history, philosophy and physicality of yoga. It’s a transformative journey guaranteed to enhance your relationship with yourself. Plus, you will gain a positive support system of like-minded people. Even if you never intend to teach….it’s a worthwhile experience.
  • If you are a yoga teacher, expand your horizons! Taking an advanced teacher training program (or even a weekend immersion) undoubtedly will bump up your game. I often hear teachers complain that additional training is too expensive when teaching yoga pays so little. However, once you invest your time, energy and intention into being an exceptional yoga teacher, your professional opportunities increase.  Your sense of self as a yoga teacher expands. Your offerings improve in quality. And through a variety of avenues (some unexpected), the financial investment returns.
  • This one is BIG! If you really want to empty your cup, take a retreat! There is no better way to drain the brain, rejuvenate the body and stimulate enthusiasm for a healthy, yogic lifestyle than getting away for retreat. When we get out of our gravitational set-point, we see things differently. We can release the trapped past and old habits. We find fresh insight and a burst of energy. Daily yoga, a little sunshine and healthy food…maybe even a massage! You will certainly go home as your best self.

Look for little ways or big ways, but do something back-to-school this September. Empty your tea cup. Live life still learning.