Photo: Maldita la hora
Lessons in Humility
I am awakened by the sunlight streaming through the gap between the curtains, warming my face and turning the world deep red behind my closed eyelids. Our south-facing windows offer a perpetual daily dose of vitamin D from the moment the sun rises up over Denver to the time it heads West, down towards Moab. I roll out of the dazzling light over to my boyfriend’s side, he left long ago for work, and I stretch lazily.
Then, I consider sleepily how bright it is for so early in the morning. An unsettling sense of dread begins to wash over me, akin to the one you get upon waking up to the sound of dripping water hitting the carpet. My alarm hasn’t gone off yet, which logically means it must be earlier than 7:00 a.m. It’s mid-January, so why is it so bright? Reluctantly I open one eye and squint at the clock. Oh, shit. It’s 8:10 a.m. It’s definitely Friday. And on Fridays I teach yoga at 8:15 a.m. In a studio 20 minutes away. Do we have a guest teacher today? No, that’s next week. Why am I here and not there?
Let me interject here to say that this is honestly, literally how slow my mind is working. In almost 30 years, I have never, ever slept through an alarm, or otherwise failed to wake up on time. Upon eliminating all possibilities that might culminate into my emerging from this scenario smelling of roses, I predictably begin to waste even more time by grabbing my phone, trying to figure out why my alarm clock hasn’t gone off. I curse at it a few times and throw it across the room. Then, of course, I have to go and retrieve it so I can call the studio and let them know I’m going to be, ah, a tad late.
Less than five minutes later my old Jeep gets an even uglier start to the day than me, and I’m on the road, teeth un-brushed, in a state of mild shock. I know there are probably some yoga teachers who commonly roll out of bed and teach, but I typically leave enough time to practice yoga, shower, write in my journal and eat breakfast before I teach. On a bad day I’ll abbreviate the morning ritual, but I still never skip practice or breakfast. I love to have time to myself in the morning before I start my day. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the first hour when it’s quiet and I’m alone is my favorite time of all.
Yet here I am, not even sure how I look but I’m sure it’s not pretty, belly rumbling and body stiff, barreling down the highway on my way to invite my students to feel precisely nothing like this. Determined not to speed in the lightly falling snow and make a bad morning any worse, I clench the steering wheel, keep one eye on the racing clock, and out loud in my most gown up voice remind myself that it’s just a yoga class. No one will die if they have to wait a few minutes.
Internally I wish I had a desk job. Something really mind-numbing, involving statistics or census numbers or some such thing of which I know nothing, in a cubicle (one of 200 cubicles) where no one would even notice if I were 20 minutes late. At worst I might get a warning e-mail from someone named Pam in HR whom I’d never actually met. All I really want is for someone else to hold me accountable so I don’t have to do it this time.
I spend at least a couple of minutes alternating between admonishing myself and considering how awful it will be when I actually do arrive and have to teach a group of people who are pissed off at me. Then out of nowhere I have a vision. It’s of myself, dressed all in white, walking down an aisle. I’m surrounded by friends and everyone is smiling and laughing. Am I actually considering marrying money so I don’t have to work anymore and worry about being late? Then I realize it’s not a vision at all but a memory. It’s my graduation from yoga teacher training, and I’m dressed in white because my school was very traditional. All teachers had to dress in white (yes, even white yoga pants), we began and ended every class with rather extensive chanting and we received Sanskrit names upon graduation, if we chose.
I didn’t necessarily want a Sanskrit name, I rather like Julia, but of course I opted in just to see what they would choose for me. We had just spent four straight, intense months with our teachers, so I was intrigued to find out what kind of impression I had made. Would I receive the name Kali, owing to my warrior-like prowess? Or Lakshmi, due to my creative ability to transform scarcity into abundance? I have been known to get 28 cupcakes out of one box of cupcake mix, and I do make a mean mountain out of a molehill. One thing I knew for sure was I didn’t want the name Jagadamba, too much like an extraterrestrial slug-like creature created by George Lucas. Secretly, I’m fairly sure every girl in our training was hoping to be chosen as Shakti (as was I), and I’d bet the two men were torn between Shiva, Vishnu or Brahma.
Of course, none of us received any of those names. In fact, I’d never heard of most of the names given out to my fellow teachers, and when I opened the small envelope containing my chosen name, I saw that I wasn’t even to be a Goddess at all. I was just a word I’d never seen before: Adambha. Underneath was the translation: humility.
Well, at first I felt quite miffed. Clearly my super-human strength, unearthly mystique and godlike self-will had gone quite unnoticed. Plus, I had a pretty good idea what humility meant and I wasn’t sure whether it was all that good. So I went home and looked it up. My Oxford dictionary described it as “having or showing low self-esteem.” I didn’t like this at all, trust the English to put a damper on things. Good old Wikipedia was a little more life-affirming: “the quality of being modest, reverential, even politely submissive, and never being arrogant, contemptuous, rude.” I liked this a lot better, with the slight exception of the politely submissive part. Furthermore, it said humility “is widely seen as a virtue in many religious and philosophical traditions, being connected with notions of transcendent unity with the universe or the divine, and of egolessness.” Now this I could get down with!
Feeling a little better, I was then faced with the task of trying to figure out whether my teachers were saying humility was a quality I possessed, or needed to cultivate. Or, in the moments of submissiveness, was it something I was going to struggle with? I meditated on the term a lot, and over time I grew to love the idea of humility. While I love a strong, commanding teacher, I find myself naturally gravitating towards the ones who can laugh at themselves, sometimes screw up and don’t take it too seriously when they do. I began to aspire to the name. I realized if nothing else, I am humble, even reverential to the teachings of yoga. I think of Shiva and Shakti and the rest of them as my friends, I see Nataraja’s cosmic dance in every snow storm, and truly consider every woman I meet a goddess. Over the past couple of years I have realized it is something I both have and need. I have been humbled many, many times. Needless to say I never actually used my Sanskrit name. Adambha Clarke just doesn’t quite have a ring to it.
And yet here it was again, Adambha, following me over time and space to I-70 in Colorado, keeping me fallibly human and giving me really bad morning breath. I hear the words my boyfriend always says when I get wound up about teaching: “Just do what you always do, teach yoga.” And all of a sudden, I realize I can do this. I have literally hundreds of hours of teaching under my belt, and not only that, I have a kick ass theme for class–one that people can relate to.
I call the studio again to give them an update, only to find out a fellow teacher has shown up for my class and has started things off for me. There is some fist pumping. I thank Shiva for destroying a potentially rocky morning for my students, and Lakshmi for creating an abundance of yoga teachers in my community. I settle back, release my grip on the wheel, turn the radio up and begin to look forward to class and the myriad of ways we can practice humility on the mat.
A few minutes later I walk into the studio. About fifteen students I know well are being led through the opening sun salutations, not bothered in the slightest by the surprise teacher. I hang out in the back of the room until my friend finds an appropriate place to pause, and then I pick up where she left off without the slightest clue as to what the students have done so far. So I do what I always do; I teach yoga. I make fun of myself for being late. I’m even politely submissive to these amazing students who show up on time every day when I don’t. I find myself in all of my imperfection, perfectly connected to the divine. And I try not to breathe on my students. And even though I don’t tell anyone, I am Adambha.
As one of my fellow teachers is fond of saying, “Some days you’re a rock star, some days you’re just a rock.”