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“Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.” – Jesus, Matthew 13:16
The power of perspective
At the university where I teach, once a semester a fellow faculty member attends your class and writes up an observation. Looking back over the feedback I’ve received from my colleagues over the years leaves me feeling grateful. Their suggestions have helped greatly to improve both my course and me as an instructor.
Gratitude wasn’t always my initial reaction to these observations. In the beginning, I was mostly hoping for a proverbial thumbs up – affirmation that the class and I were up to snuff. In hindsight I can see that this hope of mine left me feeling somewhat panicked and nauseous as I read the suggestions from my colleagues.
As my confidence in my course and the way I teach it has solidified, my perspective on these in-class observations has changed dramatically. Rather than being fearful of being judged as “needs improvement,” I am now much more comfortable with an idea I picked up from my daughter’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Childs – “the biggest room in every house is the room for improvement.” In fact, because they’ve helped me grow so much, I now find myself quite curious about my colleague’s ideas and perspectives.
Deep seeing leads to better understanding
This shift in perspective is both a gift of “time on the planet [i.e., on the job]” (another favorite Mrs. Childs-ism) and my yoga practice. Because I am now able to see clearly that the point of these in-class observations is not to find a reason that I’m not the right gal for the job, but, in fact, to make me better at my job, my response to the feedback is excitement rather than upset.
First things first, yoga as a practice is designed to help us live in a way that minimizes upset in all its shapes and forms so we can maximize our moments of peace and calm. Yoga philosophy teaches that misunderstanding is the most common cause of human suffering – a rather dramatic label for “upset.”
The Sanskrit word for this is type of suffering is avidya. Sanskrit is filled with compound words, and this is one of them. “A” means “not” and vidya means correct or clear understanding or knowing. When we don’t see or hear clearly, we are at risk of being upset. As a new instructor, my lack of confidence and perfectionist tendencies blinded and deafened me to the generous intentions of my colleagues’ observations. In other words, I was upset (suffering) because of avidya.
Weak spots are hiding places for possibility and potential
My time on the job and steady, long-time practice (see Yoga Sutra 1.14) have combined to give me vidya – clear understanding of both the intention of the observation and the gift of possible growth and improvement contained in the feedback. In Jesus’s words, I now have “eyes that see and ears that hear.” With these eyes and ears, the possibilities and potential for me as a teacher are infinitely greater than they were when I was “blinded and deafened” by my misunderstanding.
Because the causes of suffering identified by yoga are common to all of us, I have no doubt that you, like me, are vulnerable to the limitations of avidya. What awakened me to this specific misunderstanding of mine was the fact that my “upset” felt out of proportion to the situation. This was a clue that I needed to look a little more closely at what was really going on. When I did, I discovered not only one of my weak spots (we all have them and most of us do not enjoy seeing them), but an opportunity for freedom from suffering and, as an added bonus, some really exciting growth.
Perhaps you, like me, could benefit from taking a pause the next time you notice a cycle of upset in yourself. It is my hope that you will find a similar treasure chest of freedom and potential for yourself. It takes some courage to see and hear past our habitual worries, beliefs, and points of view, but when we pull it off, the results are really something to celebrate.
Finding tangible examples of yoga philosophy and spirituality at work in real-life is the bedrock of how I teach. This is one of the practices I will be teaching in my upcoming class, Growing in Grace: A Practice, that will run from mid-September through May 2023. Please reach out for more information.