It’s guru purnima this weekend and I always use the date as a prompt to spend some time reflecting on the learning of the past year and the teachings and teachers that have guided me. My immediate thoughts always turn to my yoga teachers, but I also try to expand out to other influences of different sorts.
My reflections are poignant this year as I have just read a newspaper obituary of one of the big influences in my pre-yoga career, the woman who in small but significant ways scooped me out of a bit a trough during my doctorate. The obituary described her as feisty, fierce and intimidating — but always good fun to be with. She was known to be uncompromising in her standards and ruthless in her evaluation of people’s work, but to me she was supportive enough to set me back on my feet and encourage me to finally get the damn thesis finished. I will always remember the service she did me, I can still almost hear her laugh, and I have tears rising in my eyes as I write. She would not have welcomed my sentimentality!
My yoga teachers would likely not welcome the attention I give them at this time of year either, however privately it’s done. I might write to them and share some of my thoughts (or something from my heart, rather), but definitely none of the insta-gratulatory posts I see from others. I think they have less patience with the idea of guru than I do, but for me, in the absence of any direct experience (to my knowledge!) of any truly enlightened being, the word guru has its plainest meaning, simply as a teacher. And while I might not like the traditional idea of transferral of grace from guru to student, I do love the secondary meaning of guru as ‘weighty’. My teachers are this for me. They are substantial, they have dug deep to do their own work. This gives them authority enough for my needs — they are weighty in my perception, and that keeps me feeling safe and reassured, allows me to trust them for reasons based on experience not faith. Although I’m not expecting to receive darshan, being under their eye (even on zoom), being in their presence, or savouring their words when they write to me — all these things are precious.
I learned from my Sanskrit teacher lately that prasad literally means ‘to sit facing someone, a teacher, for example’. From this comes the idea of blessing and contentment, as how could one feel otherwise in the presence of one’s teacher and receiving their teaching? I’m pretty sure my teachers would pull a face at this idea, but I think they’d all still recognise how it feels to be content in the presence of one’s teacher. Contentment coming not from divine transferral of grace but from mutual trust, from honesty and commitment, from receiving help, from showing up even when it’s uncomfortable, from being seen fully without judgement.
I know I work hard on my own and that this is my path to follow (or to create) and it often feels that the journey is a lonely one with many obstacles. But knowing these teachers have walked their own path and gone so much further than me yet are still willing to watch me and help me as I move slowly forward for myself — for this I have gratitude beyond words.
They are the eyes when I can’t see ahead, they are the energy when I want to give up, they are the steadiness when I fall.
[featured image https://alessandraolanow.shop — I have a copy of this in my yoga space, it’s so beautiful!]