I feel like such an idiot. I thought that if I did my best to live an exemplary life, others would see it and want to follow that life. For many years I have openly modeled a life that is informed by the yamas and the niyamas, the restraints and observances in all religious traditions that lead a person down the path to Love and God. That path may have different cultural trappings but the Truth is the Truth. The qualities of kindness, compassion, non-attachment, non-injury, transparency, responsibility, and discernment lead us down a very different path than do passion, anger, greed, delusion, attachment, cruelty, selfishness, and lying. And yet, I have met people who believe these two ways will take us down the same path, that they are just different approaches to the same goal of happiness. In truth, one takes us toward Love for All; the other takes us to separateness, and to indulgence for the individual.
Growing up, I always watched very carefully. My parents, my teachers, even my friends; I watched them all. There is a reason our teachers should be in the front as we watch them; it is because they are supposed to be the only experts in the room, the ones each of us should learn from. Our learning is only as good as the expert who should oversee and determine the validity of our conclusions; our peers or fellow students do not qualify. Going to good public schools allowed me to have a great variety of teachers, teachers with different styles of sharing their knowledge. And as I grew, the styles also changed. But the teacher remained the one arbiter. Whether I liked that teacher or not, at least I knew where I stood.
My sixth-grade teacher was an ex-Marine. He was young and barked orders as though we were in his platoon; he never spoke in any other tone. It was abrasive. Finally, one day I said to him, “I have had enough,” walked out of class, and went to the principal’s office for guidance on how to handle the situation. The teacher and I talked, and came to a place where we could work together. It was not that I did not do well in his class. He even liked me, and would tease me a bit. Many years later, I went to visit him, and he told me I had been the most independent student he had ever taught. Still later, I met a man who had been in that class; he said, “I remember you as the smartest in the class”. I had never thought that of myself. I had just concentrated on learning all I could.
But teachers were never just people who passed on information about a given subject. A good teacher is a model, embodying and living what it means to be a learner, with the goal of becoming an expert.
Over my many years of dance training, I always watched my dance teachers, as they were the perfect models of what I wanted to achieve. In Alicia Langford’s classes in Boston, I was one of two girls eight years younger than the other students; we would watch the older dancers as they worked, because they embodied where we saw ourselves heading. At WashU, Annelise Mertz tore us down again and again, yet she modeled what I was looking for in a creative dancer.
I watched all my various teachers as I proceeded each step down the road, not sure of my final destination but only of where I was at any given moment. Leslie Laskey, Nelson Wu, T.R. Chung, Frank Pierce Jones, James Tin Yau So: I was always watching and learning and moving until I met Muktananda, and that is where I found my home.
Muktananda was the ultimate model through and through. He embodied the goal. Watching, feeling, sensing, thinking, and imbibing him was a gift beyond belief. I only wanted to be with him, to learn from him, because everything he said or did was informed by the Truth. I understood that in the core of my being. What Baba modeled was never about lifestyle or manners or habits; it was about his essence and how it informed every fiber of his individual manifestation. Baba did not manifest as his Guru had, and he did not want me to live as he did. He wanted for me what he wanted for everyone: to live resting in the Heart and being truly who I am.
Each of my models was an expert who wanted what was best for me. Baba was the final and Perfect expert. He embodied all the qualities needed to take us to Love, because he was Love: in him, the qualities that take us away from Love were burnt seeds no longer able to sprout. What a great model.
And yet I know people who did not see as I saw. Because I was so close to Baba for such a long time, I was clear in my assessment. So many years had been spent watching so many people and teachers; I had been determined to learn all I could from others, so by the time I got to Baba my learning skills were honed. Blind faith was never my way. There was always conscious and unconscious testing, checking, making sure, listening, watching. I was so lucky to see Baba relate with so many people. He taught me not only discernment in relation to others, but also in relation to him. He amazed me. He never failed. Even when his responses seemed strange, he was always right on the money in ways I would not have seen before. Why? Because Baba was motivated by Love and possessed of supreme discernment, so even when they turned people’s lives upside down his instructions always led to Love. Such a great model.
And yet we are not interested in spiritual masters or models anymore—certainly not as part of our own educations. We do not have the humility or the rigor to practice this kind of learning. Today we regard learning from these models as giving up our precious individuality. We also, if we are honest with ourselves, find it too much work.
So few are willing to do the work to Love within and then without. So we either ignore these important models, or we set them on abstract pedestals and learn nothing. We have lost the will to dig, to reflect, to truly and respectfully question. We are all now “experts”. “It’s my life”, we think, “so I know better than anyone else how to live it”.
So when I have openly shared my life as a way to model and therefore a way for my students to learn, I know some people have missed the point. If I called my mother during satsang, these people did not see me as instructing through modeling; instead, they always wondered why I was talking to my mother on their time.
I thank those people for modeling for me, so that I could be reminded that not everyone sees the way I do. After all, Baba did once say to me, “You are naïve. You think everyone is here for spiritual practice. People are here for hiding, business connections, to find a spouse.” Thank you, Baba, yet again, for being such a great role model; for seeing things as they really are and not being angry or upset but just accepting the human condition as it is. I will work to live up to your modeling.
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