Betty

Yesterday, the world lost a great treasure, and I lost a friend and mentor.

Betty Kalister was a true shining star of our little Knoxville yoga community. When I first moved to Knoxville a decade ago, she was teaching at the Rush, and her classes stood out as exemplary there in that gym setting where the expectations are a bit different than in most dedicated yoga studios. There were only two yoga studios in Knoxville then, and opportunities for studio teaching were limited.  Her classes weren't just about getting a workout and taking care of yourself. They were an exploration of yoga. She travelled around the state and the country, gathering yogic wisdom, and then brought it back to us students. She brought us new poses and new ways to enter and to experience old poses. She wasn't just about the yoga when she was in the room. She was exploring all the time.

Betty was a brilliant mentor. Without pride, she was always willing to explore your questions with you. When I was going through my teacher training, she was my external mentor in that program -- the person whom I observed and assisted in her normal classes. She really went above and beyond, even typing up guidelines for assisting students during class.  In later years, I was lucky enough to co-teach some workshops with her. I deeply enjoyed the repartee as we presented our sometimes competing viewpoints and hashed out the complexities of yoga together.

She also drew people together. It often seemed as though Betty knew everyone. If it weren't for Betty, I wouldn't have known about the Glowing Body opening up in 2008 or Aravinda in 2010, and so, even though Aravinda has since closed, I wouldn't have a practice teaching in Bearden or at the Glowing Body. Who knows what I'd be doing instead? Would I have even gone through teacher training without Betty's example and  encouragement?  To anyone who has been positively affected in the least bit by my yoga classes, you've got Betty to thank for it -- not just for the wisdom I've gained from her and passed to you, but for the fact that there was a class there at all.

Betty was able and willing to tell me when I was full of it, too. I didn't always listen, because I can be pretty stubborn, but I valued her insights. I wish I had told her more often how very important she is to me. It's too late to make up for that now, but I write this anyway.

Thank you, Betty, for your wisdom, intelligence, insight, caring, intuition, hard work, compassion, wit, energy, humility, and love. They were and are appreciated.

Thank you, Jackie, for sharing her with us. I'm so sorry for your losses.

--judson, 2015-06-29

 

Imitation and Being

I was just reading a bit of Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart. He mentions that imitating our inspirations -- trying to walk like them, talk like them, act like them -- causes problems with our practice. Because we're not them. And so our wise selves aren't going to look like their wise selves.

I've known this for a while. But this comes at it from another direction that lets me integrate it more. I've long held that there's no point in trying to pretend that I'm someone I'm not, because I'm me, and I'm only as wise as I am -- trying to act wiser isn't helpful.  That was from an era of intense spiritual community when we undergrads were all trying to map our intellectual, ethical, moral, and spiritual progress -- and comparing ourselves with others. The only way out of that trap was to say that it didn't matter -- that I was me, and while I was tempted to compare, and still envious and jealous and so on, that being sincere was better than trying to be something I wasn't.

But Kornfield's paragraph hits me from another angle, one which lets me integrate that message a bit more. In my practice of teaching yoga, I encourage my students to do the poses which are appropriate for their bodies. All our bodies are different. Our bones are different. Our proportions are different. Healthy, mindful yoga isn't about looking like a Yoga Journal cover model. It's about doing the right thing for your body as it is.

You see the connection, of course. It's not just our bodies that are different -- our minds are different too. And so my actions and words are going to be different from yours, even if we're embodying the same wisdom -- because we're different people, at different times in our lives, dealing with different situations.

Humorously, this is about the same point in the book that Kornfield gives the reader a guided visualization to practice listening to their inner wisdom by imagining one of the reader's wisdom figures taking over their body and handling a situation. It seems contradictory and inconsistent, but it isn't. The point of the exercise is that the wisdom that your wisdom figure portrays came from inside you. It was inside you all along. Doing the guided visualization just lets you access your intuition.

Letting your intuition channel your wisdom figures to give yourself advice and perspective is not the same thing as raw imitation of those same wisdom figures. Your intuition filters it and transforms it and then you give it your voice. And that's what we do in yoga. We do the pose, and it comes out looking like us, not like anyone else. How great is that!

Day 1

The time has come to start writing things! Just not right now. Tomorrow seems good. I'll see you tomorrow.

Letting Go

Two nights ago I commented over on Carrie's Cultural Commentary about letting go. She does a very nice reading of Guy Ritchie's Revolver around the concept of letting go of the ego.

When I teach yoga, I talk a lot about letting go. When I live my life, I think a lot about letting go. It's one of those lifelong processes for me.

I'm not talking about the classic Freudian id/ego/superego kind of ego. I'm talking about 'Latin translation of ego is I' kind of ego. The sense of self. Everything that you identify with. Whatever concepts that you defend and feel possessive about as though they were your self. As if taking them away would be a lessening of or a threat to yourself.  Your body is often a good start. Your mind. Then your thoughts and actions. Loved ones. Friends. The ways others see you. Your plans for the future. Your memories of the past. Interpretations of past events. Being able to express your love in certain ways. Hobbies. Souveniers. A standard of living. A job title. All these things can be wrapped in 'who I am.'

Say I post something online. Then someone comes along and criticizes what I wrote. Do I assess it from an objective point of view, or does my fight-or-flight response get triggered? If the latter, then I'm probably seeing my writing as part of myself.  That happens to me a lot!!! Immediately my hackles rise! And I start to think up clever ways of defending my words. It doesn't even matter if they have a good point! That's my Fight response. But sometimes I just don't want to fight. So I begin to emotionally or verbally distance myself from what I wrote. I say it doesn't matter; I disown it. That's my Flight response.  Neither response is a good way to have a conversation. Internet trolls count on the fight response when they try to start flame wars.

(My heart is beating fast just remembering some of these past events.)

But my response to criticism doesn't have to be fight-or-flight. What I said was in the moment. It was an action taken then, but that's not who I am now. Our words are part of the flow of our existence, but they don't define it. Life is like a highway, and just because there's a burnt-out building on mile 23, it doesn't mean there's not a beautiful botanical garden down at mile 49. Even though we think of our lives as one giant chain of cause-and-effect, life is so complex and interacts with so many things, it's impossible to predict what your life will be like ten years down the road. Who you are now doesn't determine who you'll be. Who you were doesn't limit you can be.

Whatever 'you' is.

There's a Wei Wu Wei quote that I printed out a decade ago and put in a little picture frame. Put into prose, it says, "Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9% of everything you think, and everything you do is for yourself, and there isn't one." To an intuitive, that can be quite a zinger, but practically speaking, it's difficult to simply DENY that there's a self there.  So, for now, let's assume that there's a You in there and an I in here.

But whatever that You is, and whatever this I is, those things aren't threatened by a lot of the things we feel threatened by.

Tigers chasing you through the woods. That, my friend, is an existential threat. If the tiger catches you, you get eaten and die. Fight-or-flight is completely reasonable.

Getting a phone call from someone you're trying to avoid -- not an existential threat, but it produces much the same response. The mere fact that you're *trying to avoid* them already indicates that your flight response has kicked in.  What is it that you identify as your Self that you're trying to preserve?

A recurring struggle for me is with the need to be seen as reliable. Part of that is very practical -- I'm self-employed both as a computer programmer and as a yoga teacher. Getting a reputation as the type to flake out on customers and clients isn't very helpful. But there are other, perfectly practical things, that I do without all that stress - I keep my checkbook balanced; I pay my bills on time. But with being reliable, there's a lot of sturm und drang about it. Paying my bills on time is just something I do. "Being seen as reliable" is something that is a part of "me." It's wrapped up with my sense of self. Threatening it is a threat to me.

It's very difficult to 'let go' of something that serves a very practical purpose. Alcoholics can try to go cold turkey. Over-eaters, however, still have to eat.

Around five years ago, I finally realized that when someone says they like a bad movie, I no longer need to tell them that I didn't like it. Not only don't I have to be that kind of buzzkill, but it's unnecessary. Hey, they had a good experience! That's awesome! That's the kind of thing I let go of and leave behind.

But I still get so wrapped up in presenting myself as 'reliable' that it's hard to actually *be reliable* sometimes. And that's counter productive. Like when you're so concerned with being right that you forget to stop defending what you said and start looking at what the truth is.

And so I practice. Practice noticing when I get stressed out. Noticing what causes it. Letting go of what I don't need. And it's not anything to be embarrassed about. We all cling to things we don't need, bits that aren't us. It's never easy to let go. So the next time someone is acting a little crazy, it might just be because they're being human.