To Be Thankful Without Grasping and Real Without Apologizing
To Be Thankful Without Grasping
And Real Without Apologizing
by Sam Jacobs
Gratitude is a remarkable sentiment to incorporate into our lives every day. With Thanksgiving, a day of graciousness and gluttony fast-approaching, now is a fitting time of year to reflect on how we as teachers hold space for giving thanks. During the holiday season, it is easy to get complacent and teach from obvious, well-intentioned metaphors that are beautiful to say, but more complicated to present authentically. I cannot help but reflect on the many Thanksgiving-themed classes have I attended wherein the teacher tells me to open my palms to the world, to give and receive, and then follows with a practice seeped in heart-openers. Yes, I get it, and perhaps I am just contrarian, but I honestly do not remember the last time I took a holiday-themed class that was not a cookie-cutter presentation of the unique and messy process of being grateful. As I prepare my classes for the week, here are a few of the themes and ideas I will wrestle with as I try and hold space for gratitude, for my students, and for my honest self.
Returning to Foundational Texts with Fresh Eyes
Rather than reading someone else’s take on the yoga sutras, I will be returning to the original text again this week, reading and interpreting the language for myself. It sounds obvious, but I can get lazy and rather than giving myself the space to think original thoughts born from my present circumstances, I am often tempted to use a catchy quote about gratitude that substitutes for my own work analyzing and acknowledging how I am putting into practice the Yamas and Niyamas (I started this post with a now-deleted quote from William Blake, that while beautiful, was not at all reflective of what I mean as I sit and write about gratitude). This week, I will dust off my book of sutras and spend time reconciling my own relationship with contentment (Santosha) and non-grasping (Aparigraha). Currently, I am wrestling with my ability to honor and recognize everything in my life for which I am grateful and my ability to let go of things that do not belong to me, those fleeting gifts that are not mine to possess but only to witness. Holding close what it is to honor and what it is to release is part of my process of being grateful, and it’s the personal struggle that I can most authentically share with my students.
I will not be complacent and allow my occupation as a yoga teacher to suffice as the sole means through which I show my thanks or offer a contribution to the world around me this week. There are times when, mentally and physically spent, I let myself off the hook with the rationalization that my yoga classes suffice as my contribution to the greater good. While teaching yoga is a form of giving, it is also how I pay my bills. While I am so lucky (and grateful) that teaching is enough to sustain me economically, and that I believe that my occupation can and does change lives for the better, I want always to be giving when there is nothing I get in return. I will do the real work of renewing my commitment to give back to the community where I live and teach. This week, I will be volunteering, and visiting friends, acquaintances, and total strangers who are in need, and providing meals and company. When I hold space for others, I will not need to talk about what it is to give in the abstract; I will be teaching from concrete examples as a way to inspire generosity in others.
Teaching Strength Not Guilt
How many times have I also heard after a pre-Thanksgiving class: Now go enjoy your turkey or tofurkey, you’ve earned it! Yoga is not a karma credit for gluttony. With the body consciousness that accompanies holiday season and soon-to-follow New Year’s Resolutions, I will not contribute to what I perceive to be a potentially unhealthy, guilt-inducing, dessert-shaming culture of trading exercise for self-permission to eat a celebratory meal. I understand that a Thanksgiving of beers, pumpkin pies, and backyard football may not be every hard-core yogi’s idealized notion of a holiday of gratitude. But surrounded by people I love, it’s mine. Rather than my yoga classes being a get-out-of-jail-free card for unbridled calorie-consumption, I want my classes to invite mindfulness and strength, but most importantly, joy and celebration. It is my intention to teach classes that will challenge my students. We will sweat. We will do core work followed by more core work. We will steep in long, deserved savasanas. I will ask students to practice not as a preemptive penance for whatever might follow, but as an act of gratitude for the moment, and an act of thanks to the wonders of the body itself.
The Holiday Class
I will not take the easy road this week, and teach about gratitude that I do not feel, or that does not stem from the hard-earned emotions of my own experiences. Especially during the holidays, students come to the mat seeking solace from the pressure and frenetic energy of the holidays. Do not feed them from the cornucopia of well-meaning but trite generic teachings on gratitude. Keep digging deep. Keep showing up for yourself. Teach from your place of messy truths and contradictions. That’s where I will be, teaching from mine, and sending you gratitude that we are in this together.