One of the most important teachers in my life recently passed away. I received an email from her son to let me know. The news was like the punctuation on her most powerful teaching: that I didn't need her and that I had everything I needed to live my happiest life.
I met Anne on a beautiful November day in Bali. I was going through a rough time and a friend recommended her to me. It seems that it is always within our darkest hour that the greatest light comes. As I pulled up to the dragon-laden gate on my motorbike, I had no idea what to expect. What I got was so beyond what my imagination could ever have conjured. An absolutely stunning 80-year-old woman with bright red hair, white Crocs and big dangly earrings came out to greet me with a gravely voice. I knew I was in for an adventure.
We sat in a small room and she lit a cigarette. She asked what I was there for and why I was seeking her help. What surprised me were how little my answers mattered and how little of my story she needed to hear. I would learn that the story wasn't relevant. She only needed the most basic of information to help me reconstruct and reframe what I thought I knew so that I could move past it. Actually, so that I could live without it.
At the end of our first session together, I asked if I should come back twice a week or once a week while I was on the island. She responded with the best answer ever.
She said, "You should only come back if you feel you need it. I want to get you to the point where you don't need me anymore."
I walked away stunned. It reminded me of something that another teacher of mine said long ago: "A good yoga teacher hopes to put himself out of business." As teachers, we hope to empower and enliven our students so much that they are able to stand fully on their own two feet, imbued with the wisdom that they've taken on as their own.
Now I'd found a teacher who was actually doing this. Of course I went back.
During our next session, I described how hard it was sometimes to be a teacher -- to be someone that people relied upon to set an example -- and how exhausting it was to uphold that example sometimes. Sometimes I just wanted a break, where I could relax and be the "real me."
"That's ridiculous," she said. I knew I could count on Anne. She went on to ask me a series of questions.
"When you're teaching, do you feel connected to source?"
"Well, absolutely. Sometimes the teachings just flow through me and something magical happens." I replied.
"And, when you feel that connection, do you feel good, like you have all the energy in the world?" She peered at me through her cigarette smoke.
"Yeah, actually I do. I generally feel more energetic just after I teach." I thought for a moment about what she might be getting at.
"Then, that's the real you! Not this other person who hides and tries not to be her best self, who isn't available to people, who wants to stay out of the limelight. The real you is your most connected, your most energetic self. That's who I want you to be all the time. Are you ready for that?"
You're goddamn right I was. Suddenly, what she was saying made SO much sense. I felt like I'd been walking this fine line of teacher/other person for so long and now I was about to be fully integrated. It really didn't take much. She had me do some visualization and see what I would be like as my most effulgent self, and then, yeah, just like the cliché, "poof!" it was all aligned. And now, every day, I wake up and know exactly who I am -- the one who is ever connected to source.
I went back a few times and at our last session, Anne remarked, "You learn fast." "Well, Anne, I don't have any time to waste." "I'm glad you understand that," she said.
During that last session, she basically taught me how completely irrelevant my story is in determining who I am. She taught me that my story can be relevant to others if it helps them be more fully who they are, and then it's appropriate to share it. But, truly, so many of us are held and compelled by our history and we let it hold us hostage as we walk into the future based on the same steps we took in the past. She removed the blindfold and let me walk with eyes open, unhindered and unfettered knowing that what was before me was endless potential.
Before we ended, she asked me if I thought I would ever need her again. "No." I said confidently. "Good," she said, " Then my job is done."
Indeed, it is. She was a perfect teacher. The kind who holds and teaches students only to set them free. The kind that allows the student to take that great U-turn into themselves and stand firmly on their own two feet. The kind that is honored by the students' independence and confidence in themselves.
In her memory, I strive to be that same kind of teacher. Because the best way to honor a teacher like her is not to rely on her wisdom, but to pay it forward to others who may benefit from it.
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