“The wise prefer the good to the pleasant.” – Katha Upanishad, 2.1
I love my class of teenagers. Although, they present challenges not seen in most “paying adult” yoga classes, they are probably my best teachers.
They are not afraid to ask questions: “Should I feel a stabbing pain in my knee?”
When holding Wheel pose for a length of time, one asked, “Can I come down now?”
“Do we have to do all these planks?”
Hmm. That is a good question.
Our little practice room is a very long, tiny, skinny rectangle. I’m often stuck up at the front and hoping the kids 5 rows back can hear me or aren’t just hanging out in Ragdoll hoping I don’t notice. There isn’t a lot of room for me to move or look around. Also, the kids who have the least experience or feel the least confident always hide in the back. Yesterday, I asked them to set up in two rows of seven facing each other which left a little space in the middle where I could freely walk all the way to the back of the room. My students’ eyes widened, the questions began: “Why are we doing this?” “Which way is the front?” “Where will you stand?”
There was no where to hide.
Earlier this week, I talked a little bit about our attachment to our identities and the resulting suffering, but you really can’t address attachment without talking about attachment’s uglier brother: aversion. While attachment is the identification of pleasurable experiences, aversion is identifying with displeasing experiences. We all have things that we believe make us unhappy and should be avoided. Maybe you aren’t a crowd person, don’t like speaking in front of a group of people, have proclaimed yourself someone who can’t pull off horizontal stripes. All in all, it isn’t a horrible life strategy to seek out the nice experiences and say goodbye to all the things that cause pain…but this limits us in two ways.
In Carerra’s, Inside the Yoga Sutras, he explains that the seek pleasure, avoid pain mindset can plant the seed of disregard for the welfare of others. When we see a person in need of help, we may begin to weigh whether the act of helping another will feel good for us first. (For example, I know you need help changing your tire, but…What’s in it for me? I will get muddy. I have something else I would rather do. Nah, I’ll just be up on the couch watching Netflix. Let me know how that works out for you.)
Aversion can cause miss out on experiences that are good for our own well-being and cause us to grow. Before I was even old enough to be able to ride a bike, I was in two bicycle accidents (while in a seat attached to the back.) When I finally set out to learn, I was terrified of the bike. My family quite possibly had an aversion to teaching me because I was so frightened. I never learned until I had to confront my own aversion. I had panic attacks, and cried like a baby. Confronting my fear caused a lot of suffering, but I was able to conquer my fear and haphazardly pedal my way through it. Suffering, pain, and fear aren’t to be necessarily avoided. We can seek them out, confront them, and grow as people.
My students wanted to hide. They wanted the comfort of sitting in the back of the room, unable to be seen by me or their peers. I could have coddled them, but I recognized that by supporting their hiding meant that I was going to have to hide myself too. I would be complacent in them fostering their own insecurity.
While, it’s always uncomfortable as a teacher when your students challenge you, I had to be the leader here. I had to set the standard. I welcomed their questions of the new room arrangement. I noticed my own aversion to being questioned, and I proceeded with a pretty normal, everyday class. I would like to have said that they all had revelations about vulnerability, but that’s not how this “challenging the status quo” thing usually pans out. We get uncomfortable and feel awkward, and we think, “Oh that wasn’t so bad, but I’m glad it’s over.” Tomorrow, I will likely hear more questioning: a lot of “do we have to’s?” peppered with some, “Can we do this instead?” And student and teacher alike will stand in their aversion to being seen, to being questioned, and we will practice again together on letting it go.