Category Archives: Your Turn Challenge

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Seven, Day of Rest

poudreblackriversnowtilopaA little over a year ago, I posted this image and quote. It was also a Sunday, also winter, also a Day of Rest. This morning, I watched the most recent Daily Dharma Gathering video and Lodro Rinzler referenced the same quote. The origins are a teaching Tilopa gave Naropa called the “Six Words of Advice.” Tilopa shared six words, which translated to:

  1. Don’t recall.
  2. Don’t imagine.
  3. Don’t think.
  4. Don’t examine.
  5. Don’t control.
  6. Rest.

Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it, kind and gentle reader? But as Lodro also shared, the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg recently said the practice of meditation is “very simple, but not easy.” I find this to be true of all practice (which for me is meditation, writing, yoga, and dog), and of life in general.

Today’s Your Turn Challenge prompt, the final one, is: “What are you taking with you from this Challenge?” For me, the Your Turn Challenge, seven days of prompted blog posts, wasn’t as big of a deal as it may have been for others. I practice writing every day, whether I publish a blog post or not. Every morning, one of the first things I do is sit down and write, unprompted. I sit, and even if I don’t know what to say, I start writing, and keep writing until I’ve filled at least three pages, or until I’ve run out of things to say, which sometimes fills much more than three pages. This practice is essential to me. I feel “off” if I don’t do it, in fact it feels so wrong to not write first thing I haven’t started a day without it in years.

I’ve done a series of 30 day blog challenges that included a prompt for each day, so a seven day challenge wasn’t so hard. But it also wasn’t easy to to show up and keep at it during the first week of a new semester that included other commitments beyond my CSU work — four classes, daily practice and some teaching. There were days it would have been easier to skip it. I didn’t because I’d committed to it, it was good practice, it was a group effort, and it wasn’t really so hard.

It was good practice in equanimity, which is “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Especially in a difficult situation. Continuing to practice even when it’s hard. The seven day blogging challenge was a good way to contemplate letting go of expectations — the goal was a daily post in response to a prompt. It didn’t have to be perfect or even good.

I wasn’t so successful in sticking with other recent daily challenges. I signed up for 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene, but only made it to Day Three before I got sidetracked by my own yoga teaching and attending classes with other teachers, and too busy on the days I wasn’t to find an extra half hour. The Daily Dharma Gathering happens, not surprisingly, every day, but during this first week of it, I’ve only been able to watch two of the videos. I was so busy with other things, I kept missing it, couldn’t find a spare 30 minutes. That made me sad, made me feel like I was missing out, and yet it was okay. I was able to apply gentleness and maintain a sense of humor, qualities essential to any practice.

We can get lost in fixed expectations and it’s not helpful. We “should” all over ourselves. It’s difficult to maintain a practice when we are caught up in our expectations of it, that it should look and feel a certain way, that there’s some sort of guaranteed outcome if we just do it right, that if we don’t do it right it means we have failed.

What I’m taking with me from the Your Turn Challenge is this: Practice is simply showing up with an open heart, allowing whatever might arise, without an agenda. There is no way to do it right, and no way to do it wrong. Relax. I’m so grateful for the reminder, for the opportunity to practice.

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Six

writingdateYour Turn Challenge prompt: “Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.”

I was terrified when I first started teaching. My very first experience — getting up in front of a classroom full of students, leading a session based on a lesson plan I’d drafted — was during my Senior year as an English major doing my undergraduate degree at Oregon State University. I was completing an internship at a local high school, working with a class of Junior and Senior honors students. I believed the myth that as an English major, your only career options were to teach or to write, and even though what I really wanted was to write, I thought the smart, practical thing would be to get a teaching degree.

I took the internship at the high school to see if that was the grade level I wanted to work with. I wasn’t actually supposed to be teaching, was supposed to be doing things to help, like making copies and grading spelling quizzes and helping students with their homework, but the teacher really liked me, told me I could teach whenever I wanted.

After giving my first lesson, a short session about writing short stories, she told me “You are a natural.” I really wanted to believe her. I couldn’t judge for myself because every time I got up in front of the class, I freaked out. It took all of my self control to keep from running out of the room.

I didn’t end up teaching high school, but went on to get an M.A. in English instead. I taught writing at Colorado State University, first as a graduate student while completing my degree, then as an adjunct, and then as non-tenure track faculty. I was so freaked out by my first semester teaching, I took a year off and worked in the Writing Center as a tutor instead before I could get the confidence to try again. For the first five years or so, I would make myself physically sick before each class session. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I had panic attacks. I felt like I couldn’t breath and I was sure my students thought I was the worst teacher ever, or at least one of the weirdest.

I heard someone recently say that for an introvert, teaching is an extreme sport. I’d have to agree with that. But I’ve surprised myself. Once I started teaching a Writing for the Web composition course, a topic I felt like I knew something about, a subject I was interested in, something shifted. I was able to connect with my students from a place of real engagement. I started to enjoy facilitating their learning, discovering their specific interests and skills. I still got anxious at the beginning of each semester — it’s nerve wracking meeting 24 new people all at once, not being able to just sit in the back corner of the room and observe — but I started to enjoy the experience.

staceysyogaspaceEven so, I worried that when I started teaching yoga, I’d revert to freaking out. It was an entirely different subject, style of teaching. I was a complete beginner. Being the body at the front of a class so focused on what it means to be a body, move a body, and my relationship with my body was so complicated, I expected the panic to return.

But it didn’t. Rather than being an indicator of what would go wrong, my past teaching experience helped me. I knew what to expect. I understood that if I showed up, just as I was, whatever happened would be okay. That if I stayed present, in touch with my innate wisdom and compassion, I could adapt to whatever might arise. It was totally okay to fail, to make mistakes, to screw up sometimes. As my friend Aramati says, “teaching is part preparation and part letting go.” I can trust myself.