I write this from the vantage point of 37,000 feet above our earth, looking both up at the bluest of blue skies and down at cloud patterns of marshmallow fluff, and am seized with a sense of gratitude for the supreme beauty of our planet, and all that is in my life since I embarked on a spiritual path over 30 years ago.
I am especially grateful for my teachers, past and present. My teachers have been a big part of my spiritual path as important guides for me in numerous different ways. It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. This has been absolutely true for me. At different points in my life I've needed different kinds of teachers for different reasons. When the longing was great enough and I asked, they appeared. Sometimes they were there even before I asked.
This was the case with both my current teachers, John Friend and ShantiMayi. They feel especially close to me right now, as we have been so fortunate to have them both at Willow Street this past Fall. John Friend is the founder and developer of Anusara Yoga, now in its 11th year. John was here in September to lead a Teacher Training and workshops for our Willow Street community. Just two weeks later we were graced with ShantiMayi's visit to our area for much of the month of October.
I find it difficult to put into words what these two particular teachers have given me and the influence they have each had in my teaching, my personal growth, and my understanding of my relationship with the Universe. I wrote in the last newsletter on becoming a teacher of yoga. I said that to be a good teacher of yoga, one must first become a good student. Studentship is called "Adhikara" in Sanskrit and is not taken lightly. The student must have a sincere commitment to learn and grow, have the courage to look at themselves, do their own personal growth work and have a strong desire to help others. John Friend writes, "Being a yoga teacher is like being an adventure guide leading a courageous group on a challenging journey to a beautiful, secluded place of transformation." Yoga is all about transformation.
I love being a student - a student of Yoga and a student of Life. When I first met John Friend in 1994, and ShantiMayi in India in 2000, both were inspirations for me in totally different ways. John inspired me to really stretch my boundaries in my teaching and in my practice. He has an incredible way of blending the technical with the spiritual philosophy of Yoga, of transmitting Shakti, or Divine Energy, to his students with such love, yet still remain totally himself. One of his many gifts has been to translate the knowledge he has learned from all his great teachers and create a new form for understanding asana, making the complex seem simple. John seems plugged in to the "cosmic grid", accepting each moment as it comes. When I leave John's classes, I am not only inspired but somehow feel more completely who I am. I am more aligned with the Supreme Consciousness and able to convey that to my students. I feel "lit up" from the inside. The divine beauty and goodness in myself and in all beings is more readily apparent.
John told me very early on that for every step I took towards him, he would take two towards me. I found that remarkable then and still do today. He consistently emailed me back when I had a question and I felt free to call him about a student or a personal concern. He urged me to teach nationally, reinforcing my strengths, and helping me in areas where I could improve. He helped me through injuries with amazing therapeutic skill and compassion. He always saw the brightest light in me, even when my own vision of it was dimmed. He helped make me the teacher I am today, and I am immensely grateful.
ShantiMayi is a very different teacher, not a teacher of asana, but a teacher of Yoga in the largest sense. She is what is often called an Awakened Spiritual Teacher or Guru who helps others awaken to who they are. As is espoused in our Tantric philosophy of Anusara Yoga, she says that we are also already "awake" and we only need to realize that, to realize the Divine that lives within us as us. Her primary method is through satsangs (Gatherings of Truth) in which she invites students to ask questions, put forth their fears, anxieties and difficulties in life. Through her answers and her discourse, each person has the chance to follow the inner path to their own heart and discover what is most true. Many of you came to these satsangs and experienced her passion, her compassion, her humor, her fire and her immense wisdom. Perhaps you experienced much more, as she also conveys spiritual energy to those who are open and longing for more connection to the Supreme.
The ancient texts and saints and sages tell us that Enlightenment or Awakening is to fully realize who we are. To live our lives from that place is the goal of Yoga. It is to be both the wave and the ocean, where a sense of abiding presence is experienced, opening the compassionate heart to all we encounter. It is to live from a place where we keep our unique individuality while having the direct experience of living in a sea of pure awareness. I know through ShantiMayi's great love for me and her commitment to the awakening of the world that I continue to journey ever closer to this core part of myself.
In very different ways, I would call both ShantiMayi and John Friend Master Teachers. I think mastery occurs when knowledge turns into wisdom - the wisdom of the Heart. Mastery also occurs when a teacher feels and knows through their own direct experience that what they’re conveying is true and in accordance with Universal Law. Mastery occurs when a teacher moves to a plane where he or she is able to convey not only all the knowledge they have learned, but can do so with both spontaneity and creativity, enlivened by an integration of all they have received to that point in time. This integration can't be consciously learned; it is simply and profoundly Grace. A Master teacher somehow has pierced the veil of illusion and makes the difficult appear simple - all while effortlessly showing a unique ability to be completely and totally oneself, to inspire, to engage, to acknowledge and to love one's students unconditionally, while masterfully conveying the essence of Yoga. And all of this without getting caught in the ego-trap that they are special because of this ability.
I feel so blessed to have ShantiMayi and John Friend as my teachers, and to share their teachings with our Willow Street community. If one is inclined to walk the spiritual path, a Master Teacher can point the way to the jewel already hidden in our hearts. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
In deepest gratitude,