Summer vacation for a schoolteacher is a sacred time. I plan, in fairly great detail, how I will spend those days. I’m going to do yoga ‘x’ number of times a week, read more books, eat healthier, etc. But it’s not just my summers that I plan; I try to plan most everything. It’s my way of controlling the future. You can probably tell where this is going.
During these summer months, I had plans of spending as much time with my teacher as possible. It’s more challenging to maintain a good spiritual focus during the school year as working lends it’s own brand of distractions, and since I’ve never really been good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, I’ve always looked to my work breaks as opportunities to place and keep my focus on more spiritual pursuits. That was the plan. The first week into my summer, the plan got flushed. My teacher’s ill health is preventing him from seeing students and this state of things will probably continue for a while. You get what you need in sadhana – and usually what you need is not what you want.
So, during these past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the time before I moved here. Living in New Jersey early on in my process with no teacher or fellow students nearby, I had to work to keep my practice front and center. Being physically close to your teacher is not required, but it does help. It has also given me some insight as to how the teacher/student relationship changes over time, which I will address in part 2. Basically, all this has made me realize that I needed to take more responsibility for my sadhana, much like that time in New Jersey.
Lately though, I’ve been more worried that my teacher may not be here much longer. I have no reason to think this, he should be fine, but during these past weeks without him, I’ve been wondering what it’s going to be like when he does leave his body. He’s been preparing us for this inevitability, giving us the tools to make it easier to continue on our path without his physical presence. After the death of her guru, Irina Tweedie, author of Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master, began to realize that even though her beloved guru was gone he was still with her, and that she could have contact with him whenever she wanted. Oddly, in some ways, she felt that her real spiritual training began after her teacher’s death.
Sadhana is a conspiracy. It peels back the layers of the personality and forces you to know who you are. Not who you are as an ego, a character in this play, but the ‘You’ as the Immortal Self. That is no small task and, if you’re paying attention, you will understand that everything that happens is just another step in the long journey leading back to Yourself.
Photo credit: Red bench near Kilt Rock, on Skye Island (Scotland, United Kingdom). By Two Wings (own work)