It's always easy to discover what you expect from others. What I haven't thought about much is what I expect from myself as a student-if yoga and its teachers have duties to their pupils, do I have any responsibilities to ensure sincerity in my practice?
The answer is, as always, "It depends." If I'm following something for simple enjoyment and interest, then I may not feel the need for in depth study, or even to take that topic very seriously. Long ago, I may have been content to go to a yoga class and simply practice asanas. Moving my body, stretching and making the effort to stay healthy are fine things just on their own. As I've continued to practice, I've discovered that I'm hoping to accomplish something more with my yoga/meditation and fibre arts. If I want to incorporate something as a life practice, or spiritual pursuit, then it's reasonable to expect that my efforts will go a little deeper.
With that in mind, I'd like to offer some ideas on what a student should bring to her studies. (Note to my students: Do not be afraid. I do not have these expectations for anyone else. I'm grateful just to have you attend classes!)
- A serious student owes it to herself and her teacher to take responsibility for the choices she makes. Before I jump into something, I might do some preliminary research on my subject and its instructors. Do these courses and their teachers seem to fit my interests and learning style? Will they do me more harm than good? This is a very practical consideration: I can get physically, or less commonly, mentally or emotionally hurt in a yoga class if the teacher doesn't consider individual capabilities, pushes too hard or doesn't listen, but the same thing can happen if I don't listen to my body, know my strengths and weaknesses and pay attention. Teachers are not mind readers. I need to tell them what they need to know. Physical limits are not as serious in a fibre class, but they are there. If a particular spinning technique hurts, then I need to let that be known. A good teacher will find a modification, but I need to tell her that modifications are necessary. I also need to remember that one teacher does not fit all. Sometimes, I'm the wrong student for a particular instructor; sometimes, I will have to move on.
- Conversely, I don't need to cover all bases before taking a chance. Once in a while,it's good just to grab that lifeline and jump. If something crosses my path, I tend to take that as a sign to go for it. As a student, I need to have some sense of adventure.
- As a serious student, I should be open to the possibility that I have much to learn. This is a particular problem if I've been studying something for any length of time: I may not recognize just how little I know. Sometimes, I do know more than my teacher, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have something to teach me. I thought I knew something about yoga; taking this university class taught me how little I do know, which is the most valuable lesson I've taken from the class (and there are many lessons I took from the class). If I thought I knew everything there is to know about spinning or knitting, I'd never be able to take another fibre class. Where's the fun in that?
- Along with admitting my lack of knowledge, I need to listen. I have a problem with listening well-I tend to anticipate answers; I want to let people know what I know about a topic and I fail to hear what others say. If I don't practice listening attention, I miss out on what others have to offer.
- Most importantly, if I want to develop a genuine practice, I need to do the work. No excuses. Yes, life gets in the way of my goals sometimes. When it does, I have to find a way around or through the obstacles. If I want to go below the surface of a subject, I must do what is asked of me, as best I can. I need to work to my capacity or safely beyond it. So, I do that reading, those papers, that particular knitting technique or drafting style. Then, I do more. Being a serious student doesn't just mean doing the work asked. It means I must do that work and then whatever else I need to do to satisfy my curiosity. If I'm lucky, I'll never solve all the mysteries or find all the answers to my questions.
Openheartedness is the sprouting seed. Once we open our hearts, we allow roots to grow, nourishing our interests and providing multiple branches to support those interests. If we do that, our practice will be strong, sincere and genuine.