June 9, 2013

Learning to Navigate the Ebb and Flow

When Simone and Skype between London and Oakland the conversations are always deep. Often we talk about finding balance in our lives. But in our most recent discussion Simone said, "I don't believe in balance, life is about being able to navigate the ebbs and flows." This struck me as profound, especially because lately I've felt that unexpected twists and turns so easily throw me off balance, despite the centering strength I derive from yoga.

Reflecting on yesterday's see kayaking class, I very much felt frustrated and off balance. Usually I use a kayak with a rudder, which allows me to a tremendous amount of control - to go straight and fast. With the rudder I can concentrate on the basic stroke regardless of the wind and tide. Yesterday, I deliberately went without a rudder - by choice and by requirement of the course. From the moment I got into my kayak and to my final exit five hours later, I was in a constant, frustrating struggle with the boat. No rudder meant I had to learn to control the boat with strokes and edging - leaning to the left or right. It was like being a novice again and I did not like that at all.

After the water portion of the course, Benton sat with us to discuss if we were happy and had fun. I replied that it was not a matter of having fun, but an opportunity to be pushed out of my comfort zone. "I'm always going to use a rudder" I proclaimed. His response was that you can certainly use a rudder but your navigation of the boat, through strokes that respond to the conditions, may never improve. I was taken aback. He was correct, I was using a helpful crutch but was not developing my skills.

During the course I watched how Benton delicately held his paddle. He never gripped it. He did not struggle and forcefully push against the water. Rather, he read the water, played with it, moved with it, and used simple, intuitive strokes to go in his intended direction. Practicing yoga today I tried to use the same approach - flowing, moving into the pose, relaxing, not struggling, pushing and forcing to find strength and balance.

As an Instructor, this teaching quarter I have let go of trying to direct my classes using brute force and strength. Instead, I stepped back, quite far, and let the tide of the students move the course forward. I offered a bit of guidance and assistance, but mostly gave them the opportunity to find their own stroke. It was a very different teaching experience. Next quarter I will step closer to the middle and give them clearer directives and feedback while still allowing room for each student, and team, to learn to navigate the ebb and flow of the coursework. I see their frustration and lack of focus - so easily distracted by the scenery of cell phones and Facebook, but they have to learn without me as their rudder.