We were taught at Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training that students choose teachers but teachers do not get to choose students, and in that regard never to refer to students in the possessive (i.e. never to say "my students"). I deeply value this intention because it places so much humility in the individual teacher. The simple choice of words reminds the teacher to move away from rajasic tendencies and move towards a more sattvic approach to teaching. Students are students of yoga. They are not "mine". They are never "mine". And because they are not mine, I am less inclined to people-please and more motivated to teach yoga in the most authentic and effective way that I can.
A teacher of yoga does not necessarily do things or say things that students like. A teacher of yoga does and says things that are helpful in inspiring a state of yoga. Because of this, Jivamukti teachers routinely talk about animal rights and veganism. Some students might not like to hear it. But as David Life, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, says: "By giving a student what they want, rather than what they need, a teacher serves avidya, raga and dvesha – all obstacles to Yoga. By providing consistent structure the teacher allows the student to step aside from these desires and confusion and rest in the sublime dispassion of repetition. If yoga is taught on the level of entertainment, then...it is like trying to raise a child by satisfying their endless desires rather than by establishing good habits of temperance and self-control."
Whether one is a yoga teacher or not, the practice of non-possession can be very helpful. Imagine if we started to act as though we owned no one, not our families, not our partners, not our friends, not our employees, not other beings. Would we not feel more grateful for their presence- that they chose to be in our lives for as long as they did? And for whatever reason- death or separation or growing apart- that they leave our lives, it will not paralyze us because we understand very well their free will or the works of the universe or the temporal nature of all things. When people choose to leave our lives or if we choose to leave other people out of our lives, it will make us sad, no doubt, and we will mourn the loss. Grieving does not necessarily mean that we meant to possess. What we choose to do with this sense of loss is what defines our non-possession. If we insist we must have control, if we rack our brains trying to change things that cannot be changed, we are trapped in our prison of possession. If we sit through our discomfort and pain and try our best to accept things as they are, then we let go of our need to own. We let go even of our need to possess a predictable and desirable outcome.
To approach life not owning others is a necessary life skill if we want Yoga. If we feel and act as though we own others, I think it is the exact opposite of Yoga. Owning someone would mean that we are more important than the other, that the other is subject to my will and my desires and even my whims. Owning, simply put, is objectification. If yoga teachers act as if they own students, it will be all too easy for teachers to abuse their power. If people act as if they own their partners, they will negate the feelings of the other person and prioritize their own. If societies act as if they own animals, they will find nothing wrong with the routine use, abuse, rape, and murder of sentient beings that is commonplace today.
If we go through our lives with a mindset of possession, we can never be free. We will continuously want things to go our way, according to our plan, and we will suffer every time we do not get what we want. With actions that are rooted from possession, we will enslave others and cause suffering to others. And simply put, as long as we hurt others, we will never be free, we will never find Yoga.
How then to live life without possession? I think it is to live with sensitivity. I borrow the words of J. Krishnamurti: "Do you know what it means to be sensitive? It means, surely, to have a tender feeling for things: to see an animal suffering and do something about it, to remove a stone from the path because so many bare feet walk there, to pick up a nail on the road because somebody's car might get a puncture. To be sensitive is to feel for people, for birds, for flowers, for trees - not because they are yours, but just because you are awake to the extraordinary beauty of things."
To live without acting as if we own anything is the way of love- to choose to appreciate rather than demand, to observe rather than change, to be present rather than own. Because others are never mine, and because I never own, I acknolwledge that I am free, and you are free, and all beings are free. None of us own the other, and yet all of us are teachers to each other in the name of liberation.
Think On These Things