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Vulnerability: Facing Down The Real Dragon

vulnerability and practice

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing as frequently this year. Partly, I think it’s because I’ve been busier, and partly it’s because I haven’t fully recovered from losing Michael. I’m not very good at vulnerability. I don’t share emotions easily, particularly grief. These days I don’t even feel emotions easily. Having witnessed so much tragedy and suffering through my years in healthcare, and in personal relationships and family,  I’ve always been aware that my problems are small compared to those of so many others. But also, that is ungenerous.

My method of coping has always been to get busy, to take on more work, to volunteer, to sign up for another course, to smile until my teeth hurt. Michael used to tease me about this in a gentle way. He used to say “don’t be afraid of the real dragon.” Meeting a dragon refers to confronting your own fears and obstacles, and they are seldom what they appear to be. It also means letting go of your ideas about things and just getting on with practice. Of course dragons are also guardians, symbols of enlightenment, and sometimes goddesses in disguise. Anyway, he used to tell me I needed to be more generous with myself, which was exactly the same character flaw that he often exhibited.

As I write this I’m also keenly aware that no two people ever know someone in the same way, and that the things I treasure and remember about my relationship with him say far more about me than they do him. He was well aware of his flaws, and he was fond of teaching Norman Fisher’s Eight Stages of Monastic Practice, especially when he was feeling criticized or had made an unpopular decision.  I found it endearing. (The essay includes the fact that we elevate our teachers initially, and then when they turn out to be human we often turn on them). He always seemed aware of the vulnerability of standing at the front of the room, and there were parts of himself he just wasn’t willing to risk sharing. I understood. I understand.

Michael once told Carina, his wife, that what he most wanted his students to feel was consoled and ignited. Consoled, because life is hard, and ignited because there is so much work to be done. The environment is in crisis, the political landscape is the worst I’ve ever witnessed, and we still have so many social problems to tackle. What drew me to Michael was his belief that we need to clear our own house first and be aware of our own faults and blindspots, and also we need to go help. We can’t wait until we’re perfect. We just have to work on both things concurrently and do the best we can. We all fail, constantly, and then we get back up and try to fail better the next time. If yoga becomes about transcendence it can be just another form of self-interest and privilege. The balance between caring for self and caring for others is where the practice happens.

From my tightrope to yours,

Elaine

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Yoga and meditation teacher, writer, reader, cat-momma, environmental warrior, friend

6 Comments

    • So nice to hear from you Shannon. Will miss being your roommate this New Year’s, but maybe will see you in the spring. xoxo

      Reply

  1. Your posts are always insightful and well timed. We are lucky that you give us so many opportunities to learn…being a teacher of your integrity is an ongoing act of bravery and vulnerability. Deepest condolences as you transition into this New Year in a different way. We need more teachers like you and Michael who work so hard and give so generously without using your own humanity as an excuse for inaction. You make the rest of us a little braver and we are better for it. Now please give your poor teeth a rest!

    Reply

    • Erin, you are so kind. I hope you get a good rest over the holidays so you can continue the amazing work that you do. xoxo

      Reply

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