March 1, 2011

Crossing into Elemental Waters and the Gift of Mentorship.

Anusara Yoga Teacher Training with Sianna Sherman

“Life is a creative, intimate and unpredictable conversation if it is nothing else, spoken or unspoken, and our life and our work are both the result of the particular way we hold that passionate conversation. It is a form a self-knowledge; understood as a result, an outcome, a bounty that came from paying close attention to an astonishing world and the way each of us is made differently and uniquely for that world.” – David Whyte

A long time ago I sat underneath a black canopy emblazoned with thousands and thousands of tiny pinpricks of light. My legs tucked up underneath a blanket that smelled like the stale closet I slipped it from. My fingers were sticky with sap from the tree I brushed groping for a hand-hold in the inky darkness as I made my way in secret communion. In my pocket I carried a small flashlight and a little book I bought at the visitors center called; “Stars. A Guide to the Night Skies.” Opening it, unfolding the center map, I worked with the determined concentration of a child who knows, like children intuitively can, the utmost importance of the moment.

That was the day I announced out-loud what I wanted to be when I grew up.


Astronomer and all it’s imagined romanticisms. Just me and God, working together. I can still call forth the blood-quickening sensation that brought me out in the middle of the night while my family slept. My life – then teeming with possibility, yet innocent to the harsh realities of the world, began unfurling in front of me – asking, calling, inviting me to step into the conversation. Then, as now, welcoming me into the depths of self-inquiry.

But some years later I abandoned the dream of Laura the astronomer as it’s mystery dissolved into algebraic calculations and scientific terminology, machines and line graphs. It wasn’t what I had hoped it was.  Under stars whose light traveled inconceivable distances to participate in the grand artistry of that particular impression on my young mind, I molded the sense of wonder and awe into an imagined adult role that didn’t exist as I thought. How delightful it would be, I mused, to become that feeling? To work within it. To glide on the wings of the profound, the sacred, the mighty.

In the face of the difficult realities of early adulthood, wrought with fear-based decision making and aborted childhood fantasy, a deeper part of my being, my core essence, shouted foul play. The still, small voice drowned out by real-life demands…

At the root of our society today is a cowboy ethic that tells us we will be loved based on our unparalleled ability to know and to do on our own. That rugged individualistic impulse that this country was founded on in all its glory and all its heartache asks us to push vulnerability aside and barrel forward with the ignorance – the ignor – ance – of all the dikshas and doorways, all the thresholds that beckon in whispers, look at me, wake up to me….their sacred essence lost in the race.

But there comes a time for most of us where surrendering to the greater flow of your life is no longer a choice we can ignore. That little voice inside begs for reconciliation of the whole, and you realize that you need help easing into the essential waters of your soul – the bank of the river is just a little too steep, and somehow, somewhere along the way, you got turned around.

David Whyte says in Crossing the Unknown Sea;

“You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown.”

Fresh from the initiatory weekend of John Friend’s Dancing with the Divine tour here in San Francisco, and after my first month apprenticing with the masterful, radiant Sianna Sherman, I further realized that Anusara Yoga is like that for me. A coming home to elemental waters, nourishing and challenging both and no matter my doubts nor the conditions of the slope, the threshold beckons too loudly to ignore.

photo by Mario Covic

And so it is with no small amount of palm-dampening fear, inner pomp and circumstance and a whole heap of self doubt that I step forward on my path as yogini in-the-world to initiate (again) and hone the skills I will need to speak, to work, to express, to discover, to be, my truth. Anusara yoga teacher training with Sianna begins this April and I bow to this primordial calling that terrifies me – necessarily because it is so dear to my heart.

Sianna said once that if we even have one minute of shining as who we are, as a bright star of humanity, it changes us forever.

I will not be the first to say that she is a potent, masterful and very poetic teacher of yoga who gathers seekers of the truth and devotees of the heart into her loom and weaves us brighter, stronger, and more clear because of it. Just being in her presence I, like so many others, feel seen – all parts exposed and celebrated – and indeed one of the first things she taught me, albeit unknown to her, was that it is always more beautiful to be entirely, unapologetically, and brilliantly yourself. For me, I’ve realized, that flowing forth of Self, is the real pith of my terror. A deep, semi-conscious question in finding my own voice as a teacher… “what if who I am isn’t good enough, isn’t real enough, isn’t sacred enough? Who, exactly, am I to become… this?”

Sianna in Barcelona

Now, looking back I can see that there, in my childhood temple that was/is the natural world I tasted the profound and sought alignment with that feeling. Grasping for a title to secure my place as if sacred communion requires an in, a set of credentials.

And it’s taken me this long, in fact, to mend the rift that was formed in that first shocking separation and begin to reconcile, bit by little bit, the mystic, with the career woman, the seeker and the home maker, the yogini with the provider. To see all parts and roles, all faces, as essential to the whole. While my adult self buckles under the weight of frets and fears of potential failure and humiliation, my childhood Self, there under the stars, rejoices at the permission – no, the need – that it come along this time, for the ride.

The role of the mentor here then, the great mastery of our elders, the role of the maha teacher who teaches the teachers, is to see past the limited adult ideas that have crystalized and coated over that childlike purity, who only sought communion, who only knew to be itself, and beckon it, support it, dance it into the light, once again.

And so with a deep sigh of relief I find solace and fall into the arms of grace that take the form of my teacher, my mentor and my friend.

John and Sianna - photo by Mario Covic

Working with Sianna is like getting caught in the most delightful whirlwind of love and community. A swirling sacred flame, a deep bow to the dance. I see in her a devotion to her students in the way of friendship that that goes root deep, mirroring and building upon her childhood story, her dreams and her visions of who she thought she was, and who she is ever-becoming. In the beginning, I know now, she knew fear too, she knew self doubt, but she also heard, as we do, the soul calling, inviting us to stay true, to have courage, to be our brightest. When I forget, she says to me;

Show up however you are, as raw and honest and vulnerable with all the thick forest of emotions and thoughts that come into it, lay it on the table and we will make a feast out of it.

As Douglas Brooks says: yoga is always an invitation. It is never an obligation. My personal invitation is to surrender to that inner voice that feels so utterly childlike. That part of myself that doesn’t know all the answers, that needs the support of the weaver’s web, of community, of sisterhood, and of ancestry.

In Sianna’s eyes I see her Seeing me, past the bog, around the boulders, and down the slippery slope to the waters that promise depth.




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