Not having meditated for more than 30 minutes at a time in the last year, the experience was uncomfortable, to say the least. As much as I wanted to sit with strong determination, my determination was nowhere to be found. I was distracted and I felt all sorts of aches and pains and itches in my body. Anger came up. Frustration came up. At one point, I felt that this must be what people feel like if they wanted to attack someone, because you absolutely cannot stand what is arising from within yourself. But I sat. And sat. And sat for what seemed like forever but was only one hour in reality. We experience in meditation that to be uncomfortable is the practice.
Coincidentally, I received feedback this evening that some students were uncomfortable with a dharma talk that I gave back in April's "To Bury or To Burn" focus of the month. The vegan message was clear and direct in that talk, and yes, it brought up feelings of discomfort in some. It gave me something to think about. What is my role as a yoga teacher, to be specific, as a Jivamukti yoga teacher? As a Yogeeks T-shirt humorously says: What would Sharon do?
Sharon-ji teaches us to speak to the highest in each student. David-ji teaches us to teach with the assumption that students who walk into class want enlightenment. Given this framework, where is the line I draw between doing my job as a Jivamukti yoga teacher and making students become receptive to the compassionate message? The agenda of Jivamukti to promote veganism, animal rights, environmentalism and social activism are not hidden. In fact, it is printed boldly and loudly in Jivamukti merchandise. A Jivamukti canvas bag that I own has the print "The most important part of your yoga practice is a strict adherence to a vegetarian diet". The path of Jivamukti is clear: enlightenment through compassion for all beings.
I will continue to speak in behalf of animals in Jivamukti yoga classes no matter what. But of course, I want to be as effective as I can be. I strive to have a voice that is more relatable, but at the same time, I think: Isn't being uncomfortable part of the practice? If we always stayed comfortable, how would we grow? If we hung out in paschimottanasana without lengthening our spine to reach out or folding down to surrender, how can we go deeper into the pose? If we stayed exactly where we are because we do not want to be challenged, how can we attain yoga?
I feel that if I have provoked students to think critically about their choices, or even just to feel uncomfortable, then I have done my job as a Jivamukti yoga teacher. Perhaps the manner in which the job is done is the debatable point. I am always striving to be better at what I do, but I also cannot please everyone, nor is it my aim to. I give students savasana massages to relax the body, but I refuse to massage the ego- that is the furthest thing that I want to do, and that quite frankly, misses the whole point of the yoga practice.
I am grateful for the feedback, because it is also a test of my own discomfort. Can I sit with others' discomfort? For as long as the world is disconnected, a bold message about disconnection will always rock someone's boat. Can I live with the discomfort of others seeing me as the messenger of bad news? Can I let go of my own ego?
Where is the boundary between the teacher's responsibility and the student's work? During my discomfort in Vipassana meditation, should I have asked for additional cushions to ease me into it? As a meditation student, does it make a difference that the discomfort is coming from my own reactions rather than what the teacher is asking me to do? In the case of the Jivamukti yoga class that I taught, does it make a difference if the student finds discomfort coming into an unfamiliar pose or hearing a truth that is unwelcome? Are we accountable for our message or are others accountable for their reactions? I leave the question open.
I am grateful for the inspiration that Jivamukti yoga has given me. I am inspired by my teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life, and all of the teachers in this lineage. Whenever I see fellow Jivamukti teachers promoting their classes with a compassionate and enlightening message, I smile. Here we are, a small group of fighters spread all over the world, speaking the same language of compassion, causing a little trouble, creating ripples, and hopefully saving some animals.
Yes, Jivas are peace warriors and some are not going to like it. But we continue to fight with our powerful weapons- the yoga mat and the mantra Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of MY own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for ALL.