“OMG it burns!” The pain shot up through my right nostril and landed squarely an inch above my right eye. I wiped the water off my face and with only my left eye open, peered around to see what was happening nearby.
Sure enough, I was not alone. Others were having similar bad experiences to this exercise that we’d all practiced many times before without incident.
We started speculating. Was it because there was no salt in the water? There had been none available and we’d been without fresh water all week and running off the tap. Theories abounded.
And then came, “Shhhhhhhh. May I remind you that this exercise is to be practiced with no talking. Observe your sensations and keep them to yourselves.”
By this time the pain had subsided, but there was no way I was going to attempt the left nostril. While I recovered from my sinuses being unpleasantly rinsed, a new shock set in. My concerns were being dismissed. I was being silenced.
My focus and trust wavered.
Growing up, I often felt that I lead a double life. There was the life at school or when I stayed with my grandparents during summers on the lake, and there was life at home. Life at home was full of secrets. Things that we didn’t talk about with everyone. Hardly anyone for that matter, certainly not with my teachers or my grandparents.
I found this out the hard way once when I recorded an incident that I’d witnessed at home (adult things) onto a piece of paper, which I then placed in a big, pink three-ring binder. I took the binder to school, hoping on no conscience level that someone would inquire about it and I’d have no choice but to show it and share my secret.
I so desperately wanted to share my secrets. What’s more, I quite desperately wanted to not have secrets, to discover that whatever was going on at my house was actually quite normal.
I would of course later learn that normal is relative. But that’s another story.
On top of the secrets—or possibly the cause of them—my folks seemed to lack a sense of communication. At least this is how I experienced it. I suspect that in fact most of this came from my father, that my mother was actually a great communicator, and that I took a bit more after my dad. Oh poor mom how we must have driven you nuts, may you rest in peace.
But these are only things you understand once you’re grown up. As a kid you wonder what the fuck is going on and why nobody’s talking about anything and where all the tension is coming from and why you always have to pretend that shit’s alright when it’s not.
The moral of this story is that as an adult I now rail against this. As an adult moving through this discovery of self and finally having confidence in my person I WANT TO TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING. I have a deep disdain for secrets, opacity and things left unsaid.
On the final day of yoga camp we had a psychology class on the subject of, of all things, transference and counter-transference. If you weren’t familiar with these terms before, I imagine you’re getting a sense for them now (if not, go google, interesting stuff).
The most important point the psychologist giving the class made was that they are not illnesses. They are not a disorder. Everybody does this, absolutely everyone.
We all have shit—good or bad—from our past that colors how we perceive the world, and which can trigger certain kinds of reactions from us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but understanding it and recognizing it when it happens makes all the difference to our encounters, relationships and even our world view.
When the nose rinsing torture exercise was over, we gathered in a circle for a new exercise. I lingered just on the outside of it, not feeling ready to be a part of the group. The teacher who had banished us to silence asked everyone if they were okay and I shook my head. She inquired and I said, “je ne suis pas contente.” And then I asked if I could elaborate or if I should keep it to myself and she said, “yeah, keep it to yourself.”
It took me at least an hour to work through everything I was feeling (and whom I was feeling it toward). Once I finally realized what it was and just let go of it, I created room for some new and much more interesting stuff.
The student and the teacher
When you are a teacher in training you are both student and future teacher. This might seem obvious, but I assure you that in practice it is not.
As a student you have certain expectations. You expect your teachers to be available to you and to be able to answer your questions. You expect them to be role models for what they are teaching, practicing what they preach. One could reasonably hope them to be good both at what they are teaching and the teaching of it. Just as one could reasonably expect that among the different teachers there was a method and consensus around the subject matter being taught.
As the student, if (and inevitably when) your expectations aren’t met, it would be natural to doubt your teacher’s abilities. You might at times call into question their professionalism. Their actions might anger you, leave you feeling frustrated, cheated or mislead. You might even fear for your safety.
The future teacher, however, sees that there are choices to be made, sometimes in the moment. As a future teacher you can look at a situation and decide what you might do differently. You can see that teachers make mistakes, and that they don’t always agree. The student may want to rail against the failed expectation, but the future teacher recognizes that therein also lies an opportunity to learn.
Like the teacher, the future teacher begins to understand the difference between what can be taught and what must be learned.
And what’s really interesting is when we realize that we are all students and teachers, all of us, all the time.
You’ll be happy to know that on the last day of yoga camp, that guy and that gal hugged it out.
This text is originally from my newsletter, Making Connections, and may have been modified for publication here.