I don’t like being told off. “Don’t shout at me” I often say to my husband. “I’m not shouting” he usually retorts and at some volume. He’s from a more adversarial family than I am, whereas when I was a child, we never raised our voices. Ever. Well, I did as a teenager…. But I was always the family odd one out 🙂
My instinctive reaction if I’m “told off” to any degree is to feel upset, abused almost, ashamed certainly. I’ve been caught doing The Wrong Thing; an adult is displeased by me.
But yoga teaches me to re-examine all my reactions.
Now I am finding that when my teachers call me out, even though it feels at first like a shouty telling-off, and despite the initial, habitual reaction of stiffening and withdrawing into my protective shelter…. I actually enjoy the attention!! Well, kind of…
In class today there was a lot of initial faffing. This teacher is very picky about how we sit for pranayama and chanting. Plus she was encouraging interoception and she wanted our posture just so. Personally I love this attention to detail. But the guy in front of me wasn’t listening to her instructions and she took extra time to repeat super-slowly with simpler words and lots of hand gestures, as though talking to the proverbial village idiot, eventually crouching down and sorting him out manually. I might have sighed quietly, I certainly must have allowed my frustration to show on my face because she called me out by name in front of the whole class, telling me not to allow myself to feel impatient or get distracted. Oops! But although I felt a bit like a bad student, not cultivating yogic composure and allowing my feelings to surface so obviously, I also felt rather loved. This teacher knows me, sees me, cares that I practise well. She is a good teacher who takes every opportunity to teach; she encourages me in all the ways at her command to be a good student. I smiled. This small telling off genuinely felt for my own good.
Later in class she assisted me in headstand, coming over at the precise moment I was about to give up on the posture and retreat into the comfort of Balasana. Instead she encouraged me to lift up and she supported me in my precarious balance, talking me through a bunch of refinements that I felt were beyond me, yet I explored as best I could as she patiently held me. There was no censure at my lack of proficiency, there was simply my exploration. And in those moments I trusted her absolutely. I resisted the temptation to pull out before time, I managed the panicking thoughts that raced through my mind as I felt the unsteadiness in my body. She would not let me fall.
The experience made me reflect a little on an email I have sitting unanswered in my inbox. It’s from my regular teacher, my home teacher, so to speak. I don’t know if it needs a written answer to him, but it feels unresolved to me, in the way I receive it. He too called me out on a detail I had let slip, a reaction or an attitude I hadn’t meant to betray. I have dwelt on his observation for more than a week now, turning it over in my mind and drawing it into my thoughts during my times of quiet reflection or meditation. Why did it provoke such an initial reaction of anger and frustration, surfacing so many feelings of victimisation? I wanted to rage at him, tell him this criticism wasn’t fair, that he should know I was doing my best, to enumerate all the petty past-life reasons why it would be impossible for me to be otherwise.
But today, after class, I can now see this simply as a helpful offering from him, a teacher’s effort to encourage me to greater awareness and observation. It’s a opportunity for self-study, svadhyaya. It’s not a criticism of a failing student but a sign that I can — and should — explore more deeply. And suddenly I feel much more encouraged than censured, more embraced than shouted at. I realise over again that what I value most about him as my teacher is his steadiness. He doesn’t fluctuate with my dramas and my highs and lows, he receives everything in the same way. My small triumphs and what feel like massive calamities are all one to him. He will always ask me to look again and explore more deeply. There’s no telling off, there’s just a gentle, steady reminder to continue to practise. I feel humble and happy. It doesn’t matter if I’m unsteady. He too will not let me fall.
I have been teaching my own students recently on a theme of equanimity (samatva). I thought I’d taught all I could on this. Now I’m reminded: look more deeply. All these recent experiences with my teachers are nothing but an extended lesson in equanimity.