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Discomfort as a Teacher

December 17, 2012

In class recently I was next to a fidgeter, a grunting fidgerter.  Throughout the class this person twitched, squirmed and fiddled at nearly every opportunity; all of this was punctuated by dramatic groaning, moaning and sighing.  The person was clearly uncomfortable.  And so was I. 111957159

I was so distracted by all this I was hardly present for my own yoga practice.  I got through the class but afterward wondered how to handle this and what its meaning was.

When one goes on a sacred pilgrimage, a journey to a place like Lourdes, Bali or the Western Wall, and frames the journey itself as sacred, one common idea is that everything that comes up along the way of part of the holy learning.  In this way, inconveniences, missteps and  hassles are reframed from “problem” to “opportunity”.

Buddhism teaches this notion beautifully – the idea that we have some occurrence of discomfort, inconvenience or uneasiness and we tend to create a story, a narrative, about its wrongness.  The work of meditation is, in part, to learnt to meet these moments with compassion, equanimity and non-reactivity.  In some forms of meditation practice, even an itch can be teacher, you might say.

So I left class contemplating the experience of being annoyed and preoccupied by The Fidgeter.  Was this person an annoyance to be discussed with my teacher (is it her job to make everything all right? To ensure a non-twitchy, grunt free zone?)? Or was this person also a teacher – sent from beyond to help me learn non-reactivity and patience?

Once upon a time, in Eastern Europe, a holy man, a rebbe, and his student were walking from one village to the next. Suddenly they saw a huge cloud of dust rising in the distance. They stood and stared at a grand carriage, pulled by six horses approaching at a full gallop. Riding on top were two liveries dressed in red, each holding a rein.

The Rebbe and the young student soon realized that the carriage was not going to slow down or move to the side to avoid hitting them. The carriage was coming at such a speed that they had to throw themselves from the road and jump into a ditch to save themselves. Covered with dirt and grass, the two men got up. They looked after the carriage as it sped away into the distance.

The student was first to respond. He began to call out and curse the drivers. But the Rebbe ran ahead of him, cupped his hands over his mouth, and called to the carriage: “May all of your deepest desires be satisfied!”

The student stared at his teacher and asked, “Why would you wish that their deepest desires be satisfied? Those men nearly killed us!”  The old rebbe replied, “Do you think all their deepest desires are satisfied or do you think that they are discontent? If they were content, would they be so thoughtless and cruel as to nearly run down an old man and his student?”

The difference between the rebbe and his student is that the rebbe, even when wronged, inconvenienced or hurt, remembers the big picture.  To him, everything is a teacher, every moment holds the seeds of enlightenment, liberation, God consciousness.  When we see life in this way, we turn and return constantly back to the center, to what matters, to what is infinite.  And further, we find that steadiness of heart that allows to bless even in our difficulties.  And that is called grace.

So yes The Fidgeter was my teacher that day – even though I struggled through the lesson.

Also next time we were in the same class, I found a different spot, not next to this holy teacher!

-Chava Bahle

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