Saturday, October 31, 2009

Intentions and Imperfections

A short time ago, Marguerite from the blog Mind Deep left the following thoughtful take on my post of yesterday:

May I share a different take on your story? How about accepting the yoga teacher with all his imperfections, "wrongs" and all? It's interesting I did not get same feeling from your story about him. I saw him more as a man concerned with helping his students attain correct posture, which in yoga is important for maximal benefits. Maybe his tone was wrong, maybe not, given the job at stake. I have heard similar stories about Mr. Iyengar. And also reputed zen teachers. Most important is to discern person's intentions. Lots of your friends' reactions seemed to come from an 'I', wounded place.

Instead of responding in the comments section, I thought a new post would be more helpful for those who read the initial post.

In terms of my view of the yoga teacher in question, what's interesting is that after the initial emotional "jolt", I didn't really have a clear sense of either accepting the yoga teacher or rejecting him. I honestly didn't know, so I just tried to keep listening. The one comment I made towards the end was that, too often, yoga is reduced to a superficial focus on physical posture and physical benefits. Even if the teacher doesn't intend this, that can be the outcome for many students if there is too heavy a focus on posture "correctness." Since I don't know this teacher's work firsthand, I couldn't say much about him in the original post. If what I said came off as outright rejection, I apologize to him, as I didn't mean to imply a rejection of him and his work.

I do think, however, that we can both accept someone completely and comment on things being done or said which may be causing trouble in the world. It reminds me of Suzuki Roshi's statement "All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement." If we just go about accepting people as they are, and never comment on "problem areas," then how will any of us ever learn to live more healthy, integrated lives?

From my own life, a series of people commenting on the anger I was displaying a few years ago led me to closely examine the way anger manifests in my life. It's an examination that continues to go on today, and I feel grateful to everyone who kindly, if sometimes firmly, pointed out these issues to me initially. At the same time, one of the main reasons these comments were such catalysts in the first place was that they came from people who knew me fairly well. Thus, they had enough insight about me to approach the issue of anger in ways that illuminated the problem, and didn't simply shut me down or create defensiveness. Odds are a stranger, or even a teacher who wasn't familiar with my life, wouldn't have had such luck.

There's a very interesting recent podcast from the Buddhist Geeks interviewing Insight Meditation teacher Rodney Smith that is influencing some of my comments in the post. Specifically, Rodney speaks about the ways in which the dharma is presented in North American sanghas, and how some of these ways might actually be hindering people, even if there is no intention to do so. You can check it out here if you're interested.

I'm a strong believer in being intentional, and yet sometimes, the best intentions still bring about messy results. This is definitely a teaching that calls for acceptance on a deep level, and a letting go of thoughts about perfection. And yet, it also requires of us that we see intentions as only one part of our work in the world.

On the other hand, it can also be true that different teaching styles will meet the needs of different groups of people. The fellow practitioner at my center spoke of how he felt the group was connected to this teacher, and thus didn't have an issue with the tone of the teaching. So, I really couldn't simply dismiss the guy's work, given that kind of comment.

As for woundedness, we all have some. It's important for each of us to work through those places, and to not put that work on the plate of anyone else. At the same time, those who are in teaching positions need to do their best to recognize these wounded places in their students and themselves, and incorporate skillful means into their teaching methods. When it comes to powerful, charismatic teachers, I think this is especially important, as they can easily be working the edge between being a liberating agent for people, and being a cause of serious damage.

1 comment:

spldbch said...

I think your post says it all!