Monday, July 25, 2011

Right Sizing the Ego

For years I've been told by authorities in books and by people I know that spiritual growth is dependent on the right sizing of the ego. As someone who has allowed low self-esteem to shape my life, I would listen respectfully to advice to check the ego and politely conclude it didn't apply to me. Because how could it? My problem was not enough ego.

In the home stretch of this phase of yoga teacher training, it's pretty clear that this advice does indeed apply to me. My ego is attached to the fact that I don't have to work on surrendering it because I never really had an ego to begin with. Father Tom at Resurrection University Catholic Parish in Bozeman observed that there were no in betweens for me. I considered myself to be either the best person, or the worst person. I didn't get what he was trying to tell me then. Negotiating those extremes was my idea of balancing. I wish I could say I've steadily advanced toward the Buddha's Middle Way since my mid-twenties. It's only been during the course of the yoga training that I've had to come to terms with just how much I'm getting in my own way, which is, by the way, the very definition of excessive ego involvement.

For instance, my academic training in English and journalism was all about honing inquiry, a great skill to have as a writer and an interviewer. Not so great for a yoga teacher trainee. Experience, not intellectualism, is where it's at. I can get there, if I persist in feeling and experiencing the postures and pranayama and meditation instruction. I've been told repeatedly to stop asking so many questions and to be less verbose in my cueing of the postures. I could resist this advice and hide behind my academic training and the fact that I'm a writer, and that I'm bringing these things to my teaching. That's all well and good and probably true for me. But what do my yoga teachers care about that when I have so much more to learn? Incorporating my life experience into my teaching is something that comes later. I'm not there to get my analytical and writing skills validated. Learning to teach students the postures is much more urgent work. I have other skills to develop, other talents to tap into. That's what I signed up for.

And it's not only the experience I need, I want it. Or I would have gone away a month ago as it became clear to me that I was exasperating three of my five teachers with my resistance to listening and experiencing, rather than speaking and analyzing. This is really what the training is about--abiding with the practice, no matter what comes at me. That's only fair. If I'm going to ask students to abide in the practice, I need to have that foundation myself.

One of my teachers gave me some great advice. As I'm cueing a class into a posture, cue one sentence, and then take a deep breath. Then add one more cue, and take another breath. She also suggested I take a breath before I ask a question or make an observation. Actually, in my case, I need to take three breaths, and if the questions or observation is still there, then it's probably worthwhile to say something. Otherwise, just keep breathing.

So I'm going to do a good deal more breathing than talking from now on. Here's hoping that adds some potency to my thoughts and words.

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