A photographer gets people to pose for him. A yoga instructor gets people to pose for themselves. ~T. Guillemets
I am often amused to note how teachings often come at me from all sides, again and again until I notice them. It is comforting to feel that I will continue to have opportunities to learn until I get it right. For example, I stumbled across the above quote this morning, and I also read this blog entry, and suddenly my mind was off, making connections between recent events and thinking about motivation in teaching.
Sometimes it is hard to take the ego out of teaching. In my day job, I manage a staff of ESL teachers. I believe that a teacher is there to motivate, support and empower students to learn for themselves, whether it be yoga, English, math, or patience that is being taught. A good teacher acts completely in service of something much greater than herself. However, I suspect that a lot of teachers, myself included, are guilty of teaching for themselves, at least some of the time. Sometimes I observe a teacher, and I see ego holding forth in front of a captive audience, enjoying the attention. Sometimes I step back and look at myself and see the same thing. Sometimes we forget the students are even there, except to admire me, me, me. Their successes are there to make us feel good, their failures plunge us into the depths of self-loathing.
Sometimes students say things like, "You are the best teacher I've ever had," and we get that warm feeling inside. There we go again, attaching that comment to our image of ourselves, attaching to that image. Positive feedback is like junk food - once you've had a little, there's that craving eating away at you again. You get one compliment, and then you look for more reinforcement ~ how many students are coming to class, for instance, how do they react when you speak to them? Suddenly, you're teaching just to get more of that, and not for your students at all.
The same thing can happen just in asana practice. Have you ever had someone compliment you on a pose? Then suddenly, you are practicing for the compliment. Suddenly, instead of being in the pose noticing how you feel, you are standing outside trying to see how cool you look.
Or blogging, for instance. Why am I doing this? I am documenting my learning, sure, trying to assimilate teachings I receive from everywhere... but I could do that in a private journal, so why here? Why in a public forum? I am amused to observe how discouraged I become when I don't receive any comments. Suddenly, the little girl in me is stamping her foot, screaming, "Nobody listens to me!" Conversely, when I do receive feedback, I get that glowing feeling. When I see that email in my inbox ___ has commented on your post I feel like a child opening a present.
Of course, it is not all ego. In this public forum, I have the opportunity to inspire others (as the quote and blog I opened with inspired me) to take a new step in their own journeys. And of course, I have witnesses ~ which helps me to stay the path rather than forgetting about my own realizations.
It turns out that teaching, like everything else, is an opportunity to practice. No surprise here. This article is a great opening discussion about the delicate balance of the ego in yoga teaching. I think the concepts here can be extended to other types of teaching, and even beyond into everything we do.
Why am I doing this? This question is worth considering from time to time. Also, one of my teachers always uses the phrase Where can you let go? throughout her classes. In every pose, in every moment, there is something that does not serve us that can be released, there is something that can be given and something that can be given up.
There is of course much, much more that can be said about ego. Swami Krishnananda takes a stab at it here. I particularly like this part:
The ego is trying to practise yoga. Oh, what a pity! The ego cannot practise yoga, because the ego is to be destroyed in yoga. So how can it practise yoga? Here we have a strange difficulty, and it has to be overcome with a strange technique; that is yoga itself. Yogena yogo jñātavya yogo yogātpravartate (Y.B. III.6), says the Yoga Bhashya. Yoga is achieved by yoga itself; there is no other means. This is what yoga tells us.
Ahhhh, you've got me, Swami Krishnananda. What a pity! And back to the practice I go.