Photo by Cléa Owens
The theme of this year’s Teachers’ Retreat was emptiness. I had been chewing on this idea for a while, both in my teaching and my life. More and more, I’ve been asking myself: How do I get the heck out of the way so my students can have their own experience? Where do I impose my ideas and expectations on my students? In my life and practice: When do I stop listening to myself and follow instead the influence of outside voices? Is my practice inspired from within or is it (consciously or unconsciously) constructed out of an external ideal?
As far as developing a theme, I don’t plan my teaching in advance—it crystalizes in the classroom. I’ve learned to trust what comes through me. After all, I’m just the conduit, or at least I try to be. That said, our personal practice will inevitably influence our students’ practice. Even if we strive to show up without agenda, we can only teach from our own direct experience. My musings on emptiness found their way into the yoga room at Heathen Hill, first through an exploration of the hollows of the body and then as an invitation to abide in that negative space during pranayama and meditation.
One of the teachers on our retreat asked about the difference between space and emptiness. It was such a good question, and a great opportunity for me to articulate what I had been grappling with in my life. For me, they’re intimately related but also separate ideas. As I understand it, space denotes potential whereas emptiness is more about letting go of that which impedes potential.
I love the Teachers’ Retreat because it’s such a gift to be able to connect as educators. Teaching can feel lonely sometimes. There’s so much value in sharing our experiences, struggles, and inspiration. We explored some important questions together. Can we experience ourselves in the emptiness of a shape rather than trying to construct ourselves in the execution of a pose? Can we let go of *doing* the pose and simply let ourselves take shape? Can we get really quiet and listen to the teacher within instead of looking for an external benchmark to tell us where and who we are? As teachers, how do we empty our teaching of ourselves so that our intuition, knowledge, and wisdom can come through unfiltered by bias or insecurity? How do we get out of the way so that our teaching comes through us in service of our students?
I’ll turn it to you: What does emptiness mean to you? What can you let go of that might free you to experience yourself as you are? I hope this inspires you to strip away what stands between you and the infinite source within you. It’s all there, inside.