Tuesday morning dawned wet and overcast – a perfect day to solve the occasional writer’s block I am prone to. Usually I am just putting the final touches on an article by this time…not still trying to figure out what to write; but as it turned out, the subject of this article was already waiting in my email inbox.
We’ve discussed teaching, and what it means to be a great teacher – of Yoga or otherwise; but what makes a good student? Life is a classroom – and there are some general guidelines that apply to all facets of our existence, as well as some amazing help along the journey. Think of these guidelines as a student handbook given on your first day of school, except this school is lifetime enrollment – and its motto is too funny (forgive my warped sense of humor): “Graduation ceremonies held as required at the local funeral home.”
It has been over thirty years (gulp) since I attended grade three, and to be honest most of those memories are dim, shadowy remnants hiding in dark corners; but in a moment of Life’s curious synchronicity a light has been lit. I received an email from a reader who recognized a reference to an amazing teacher during my third grade year – and as it turns out, we not only shared the classroom, but we both were influenced by this person at critical times in our existence…and so begins lesson one of life’s student handbook.
The First Lesson
Open up the student’s handbook to Life and you will find two words under lesson one: “Don’t Panic.” There is more wisdom hidden within these two simple words than I have room to write – which is probably why only these words are used. Another way of saying “don’t panic” is instead to say “cultivate peace.” When we keep centered within ourselves with a clear mind, the answers to life’s problems can be seen. Clouded by fear and panic, we often fail to see what is right in front of us and instead make poor choices that can negatively impact our lives. Learning not to panic and how to remain calm and focused in any situation is the most valuable lesson we can learn. Both Yoga and meditation help to build this centeredness…
As a good student of any sort, absorbing the material is a must. On the second page of the student’s handbook to Life is lesson two. Lesson two states, again, very simply: “You have help.” As with the grade three teacher who was there for not only myself, but at least one other (my heart tells me many), we all have help. When we look back at our lives, it is easy to see in retrospect those who mysteriously entered our lives at a time we needed them, and then vanished almost as mysteriously when the time was past.
Not all the help we receive is easy to recognize, but as a good student, we should be aware of it. The partner you angrily argue with over a trivial matter, a loud and obnoxious neighbor, or a loved one you feel more like strangling…all these people too are in our lives to help us along our way. The help we receive does not have to be asked for – it is a natural part of Life’s University; but it is more effective when as a good student you come to recognize it in your daily life. This help extends beyond our encounters with other people and into our environment as well. A spectacular sunset watched in solitude can dispel a miserable day at the office more effectively than any medication – and with no harmful side effects!
Lesson three comprises four words: “Pay attention in class.” A good student listens to the teacher, asks questions when confused, and pays attention to what is being taught. Sadly, the majority of Life’s students pay very little attention at all in class. We can get so wrapped up in work, bills, possessions…and then we stop listening in the classroom. Paying attention can be as simple as stopping to notice roses on your way to work, or more importantly, learning to recognize the signs around the class pointing you in the right direction.
Learning to pay attention is a way of recognizing the sanctity of each moment and giving it the respect it deserves. On a more physical level, our bodies give us many signs as things slowly begin to go wrong due to stress, disease, misuse, poor nutrition, and many other reasons. Being aware of the subtle shifts in your health can give indicators that can save your life in some cases – as in the case of someone who begins to experience minor chest pains on occasion and rather than shrug them off, sees a doctor for tests and makes lifestyle changes to prevent a major attack.
Lesson four in the handbook of what makes a good student is also straightforward: “Lessons are repeated until learned.” In life, a good student sees the lesson the first time it is being taught, and absorbs its teachings. Our Teacher is a kind and loving sort – giving lessons that are easy and cause us little upheaval in our lives. It is only when we fail to understand or absorb the lesson that they slowly become more and more intrusive – until we are forced to face what it is we must learn in this life.
No wonder this handbook is not available in published form – six pages and less than a few dozen words…but it would be worth a fortune. Lesson five is just as short and to the point: “Nobody fails.” That’s right. You cannot possibly fail. As a student, this means just a little more than receiving a passing grade at the end of your days; it also means that you should remain unattached from the results of your efforts. Do the work in your life to the best of your ability and creativity, and let it go. When we set all these expectations on ourselves and what we are trying to accomplish, we are setting ourselves up for failure instead of remaining open to the way we need to go.
A student’s point of view
Boy, there are days that class can really suck. Too much homework or you think the Teacher is mad at you, or you just can’t seem to get it…That is where the final three words of our student handbook help. On page six is written not a lesson, but a reminder: “I love you.” When you take a moment to realize how many events, people and situations are created for the sole purpose of teaching you what you need to learn, how can you not feel loved? When you see the sun shining down upon you in the morning, remember that it shines for you too. As children of The Creator, we are always loved, never abandoned, and never lost…
Namaste, my friends.