I tied my first mala recently. I was feeling fragile. I didn’t want to move, but I also didn’t want to sit silently with my thoughts. What could I do to soothe myself? Somehow making a mala seemed like a good answer. Yoga practice is weird that way. Unexpected answers to questions I never used to have.
I mentioned this to my teacher who asked if he could see it. Hmm, I thought you weren’t supposed to let anyone handle your mala? Presumably the rules don’t apply to one’s teacher! 🙂 Anyway, he’s not the traditional type.
He eyed it critically. “Yes, I see what you mean about having difficulty with getting the knots even”. His attention had been drawn instantly to the part I’d done first, where the knots were most irregular. That’s a teacher’s eye, able to spot the mis-takes you’re hoping to gloss over! Because it turns out knotting a mala is more difficult that I imagined. The tiny knots are hard to land in the right place, keeping the beads nice and evenly spaced. Plus, although I followed some written instructions, I totally ran out of thread and had to tie an additional length on. So it wasn’t a perfect first attempt by any means. What first attempts are?
So far, so funny I thought. Standing by the teacher’s side before class having my handiwork inspected amused me. It was so reminiscent of taking my work up to the teacher’s desk in school, waiting to be told if my efforts were good enough or if I’d be sent back to my place to do the work again.
But my amusement was cut short when my teacher asked if I was going to untie it and re-do it. Oh no! Untie it? Is it really so bad? I had been quite proud of my first attempt, despite its obvious imperfections. It had been fun learning this new skill and making something with my hands. I joked with him that although I was happy with this string, I’d give one to him only when I could tie it perfectly. “Whatever perfect is”, he inevitably quipped. Yoga teacher jokes are so predictable!
The old version of me would have felt really indignant that he judged my mala so poor that I should undo it all. Again a school memory of inadequate work being torn up! Current me, a bit more evolved, remained more detached. And perhaps I would feel better by self-righteously telling myself his reaction says more about his perfectionism than my dexterity? But then a second thought: that if this was his attitude to the spacing of my mala bead knots, he must have strong criticism of my asana practice and my uneven breaths, even though in that context he very rarely comments so directly!
Of course in my mala-making, like my asana practice, I go away and reflect a while on my teacher’s attitude and his comments. I know he’ll never praise my asana practice, that it will always and for ever be a work in progress, just always more refinement. That’s the deal, I know. But I wonder if in something more material like tying a mala, I will ever feel I have something complete and finished enough to offer to him? Meantime, there’s just more practice here too. My technique is improving and I have some lovely-looking strings now, with the beads tied much more carefully and evenly. Now I pay better attention, I work with more concentration. But always the question in my mind — are any of them good enough for him? Not yet, not yet…