I taught yoga last week at a meditation retreat with my meditation teacher, Sally Kempton. When Sally asked me to assist her by teaching yoga, I was absolutely elated and honored and immediately sent back a simple and direct email: “YES!” It was only after I hit “send” that I began to worry. What was I thinking? Was I really qualified and prepared to teach alongside my teacher? The insecurity started to get even worse when the only plane tickets that could get me from rural Idaho to sassy Big Sur cost close to $1000 - was this really meant to be?
Well, I forked out the cash, made all my connections, arrived at Esalen, and had a very direct conversation with myself. “Karen,” I said, “You are not the world’s greatest yoga teacher.” There was a long pause. “Also, Karen,” I continued, “You do not have the world’s best “let it slide” attitude, especially in the midst of a week of meditation and transformation.” I paused to allow these strikes against me to sink in. Just as my critical inner being was ready to continue, that other part of me that I greatly appreciate and always want by my side perked up. “The theme for this week is “Like Water Off a Duck’s Back.” Some utterly hilarious and creative people in middle school used to call me LaDuck so now was the time to live up to the name.
On the first night, I did not sleep. I had the anxiety-filled kind of night I have before running a big race or a long trail run. Just sitting in my bed, feeling tired and knowing that I was absolutely not going to fall asleep, thereby provided with numerous, uninterrupted hours in which to replay every step of every yoga class good, bad, and otherwise that I have ever taught, attended or heard about. The first day of teaching yoga went extremely well and, with the help of my new ultra soft pajamas my friend Sarah bought for me as a “Sursee” (surprise gift or love gift, in case you didn’t know), I slept like a dead rock. I mistakenly thought to myself that the first day would be indicative of the entire week. Not so.
On the second day, I mixed up left and right while giving instructions, which resulted in about 20 seconds of chaos. 20 seconds of chaos is a Really Long Time, by the way, when you are the one supposed to be teaching and your beloved teacher is amongst the folks spread out on yoga mats trying to figure out if they should really be trying to get that hand to that leg or if the other, much easier option is what the crazy teacher is talking about. The next day, I tried to eat dinner alone and my teacher sat down right next to me. I didn't have the wherewithal to explain to her how low blood sugar and fatigue make it hard for me to make sentences, make sense, and initiate conversation. I said something very dull and lame. Then I went to bed. It didn't end there, the next day, a cute, bubbly little 20-something-year-old girl came up and told me that she is a yoga teacher who teaches 6 classes a week in North Carolina and that she would be happy to “screen” my yoga classes for the following days since the previous days had been just, well, um, like simple.
It is amazing what happens when one becomes so full of information, effort, fatigue, and desire to do a great job in the face of her own beloved teacher. Falling apart was just not an option. Holding it together and letting all seemingly negative responses and mistakes slide away became my way. The day I fully decided to do that, one woman randomly walked up to me and said in that slow and highly articulated way only someone 4 days into a meditation retreat can say, “I appreciate you.” My massage therapist held my hand after she worked on me and had tears in her glitter-encrusted eyes as she thanked me for the opportunity to be in my presence. My roommate professed her undying love to me loudly on the deck of the cafeteria. Two longtime meditators offered a friendly, “Thank you, yoga finally felt accessible!” And, not once did a creepy naked guy hit on me or stare too long at me in the clothing optional hot springs. Boo-yah!
On the last day of the retreat, our teacher did what all good teachers do; she reviewed the week. As she spoke of the things we did, I remembered them all, but the linear form of time was not accessible. All things felt to have happened simultaneously within a big golden bubble of clarity. Even sleep and wake, night and day, bathing and walking did not have clear beginning and ending points. The snafus that I did not put any energy into were so distant that they were laughable and insignificant. Sure, some people did not love my teaching. But you know what? My teacher did. And she invited me to do it again despite my droll dinnertime conversational abilities and my need to play a Jerry song each morning before teaching yoga.
Looking back at my week, my biggest lesson learned was to Let Go. This is not something that comes easily for me, but something that yielded great returns in the end. Try it and see how letting go of small stuff makes the big stuff that much sweeter!