To Sir, With Love
by Ali Valdez
On some level, looking at the heap of spoils stuffed in red
and violet colored Tinkerbell bags, the originally-slated ‘Karma &
Accumulation’ article could be appropriate and timely, but it will have to
wait. After all, it IS Valentines’ Day.
In the midst of controversy confronting Westernized yoga on
every level, safety, competency, morality, the ethics and business of yoga, I
wanted to write a lovely, little Valentine as a thank you to my teachers: the
good ones. Teachers take all shapes and sizes, often times the best ones don’t
walk around with the moniker of ‘TEACHER’ around their necks. But sometimes,
When I was in high school, I spent a good portion of my time
living with my father. He was obsessed with films, back then beta and VHS. We
had a full wall of bookcases with movies. All types of movies. Bootlegs, you name
it, we had our own Cineplex in the comfort of the living room with a TV that
would make a little trembling Carol-Anne come to the light.
One evening he brought home with curious excitement an old British film (1967 was ‘old’ to me) starring Sidney Poitier and the “most amazing vocals” on the cover track by a British pop-phenom named Lulu. To Sir, With Love, film and song remain on the top of my favorites’ list. In this drama, Poitier is assigned to teach in the troubled East End slums of London, taking on an unwelcoming and savory lot of thugs and tarts, young men and women, a lost generation making all the wrong choices and likely to go Nowhere Fast (still love you, Morrissey!).
Poitier maintains his cool although they taunt him and test his resolve at every turn. His job is to stay the course and not let them break him. As a teacher, he is wise and adaptable enough to know that the lessons they most needed to learn are those about human dignity and respect, and that this starts with self-respect. In the
end, they see him as a teacher who touched their heart and their lives by his conviction, staying true to his values. Poitier does not succumb, he stays firm. His values uncompromised even when tested. He knows when to emphasize and when to refrain. His art of teaching was the art of observation and timely reaction. Above all
else, appropriate action, something the yoga community has been scratching
their head on of late.
I have been blessed with excellent teachers in my life, the
lovers of my mind, the seers of my heart, and the believers in my potential.
The delivery of their message, the push for excellence was at times extreme, but
only because of their desire to offer me everything that they could to make me
the best that I am. Teachers are the true prophets, they peer through the worldly
veneer of flesh and bones with the lens of God, not seeing the world with human
eyes, instead knowing deep within the journey of the hero, their student, and
aiding them in their development and awakening to their dharma, or life
purpose. True teachers don’t drive their own agenda, overt or surreptitiously
which is why I am always a bit leery of the Kool-Aid crowd insisting against
the vehicle of their own critical thinking that what ‘guruji’ said MUST be a
truth on the level of absolutism. So seldom is this the case.
Instead the true teacher understands the tender clay in their
hands, can see the final product before pressing into its side, remains
committed and impassioned to see the project through. The true teacher
profoundly takes care to handle it with the highest level of accountability.
The teacher or guru of old accepts the student as a give/take. The student
comes bearing everything they have, mind, body, spirit and means. In turn, the
teacher must commit to care and provide for their student with unconditional
love and servitude, providing for their every need throughout the course of
their life. The burden of responsibility resides on balanced scales. Serve and
be served. Love and be loved. Teach so others may be taught. This is the wish
from my heart for my own teaching, and to all those teachers who are making the
leap to live in humble service to others.
Imagine devoting your life selflessly to the service and development of others? I did and although my path is still a bit bumpy, there are bills to pay, a child to care for, politics of yoga studio owners, the incessant need for chocolate chip cookies when I am on deadline, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
So this year, I want my Valentine’s Day wish to be a simple gratitude to those beautiful souls that have been my teachers in all their forms, each reaching me at the time when I needed their gifts the most.
Alma Hannah, Michael Takagi, the beloved and now deceased John Hoge, Janaki Severy, Steve Cook, Shirley Mullen, Heather Spears, thank you so much for the interactions, the lessons of advocacy, the removal of the ‘blonde wig’, and ignition of fire into my belly.
Dear Valentines of the yoga world, sincere gratitude to the lovely and virtually perfected Kathleen Hunt, the extraordinary and insightful Edward Clark, my sweet and so missed Vincent Tam, and to universally brilliant Andrey Lappa, the dear yantra-clad Ukrainian teddy bear that works you like a Romanian gymnast in the 70s, but knows you are worth the reprimand because the results are found in the post-effect.
Wishing you all a day of light, love, and acknowledgement of those that inspired you on your journeys.
Love never reasons but profusely gives; gives, like a thoughtless prodigal, its all, and trembles lest it has done too little. ~Hannah More