After teacher training and posture clinics are over, how does a Bikram yoga teacher improve? Practice, practice, practice - and feedback. When you have another teacher take your class, and afterwards she tells you what you did well and what you can improve, that's called feedback. When it's done well, it's really lovely, a good collaborative process.
My favorite poet, Billy Collins, just published a new collection called Horoscopes for the Dead. It's fantastic and you should read it. One of the poems is entitled "Hell" and starts with the lines "I have a feeling that it is much worse/ than shopping for a mattress at a mall." Oh Billy Collins, this is why you are my favorite. There's another poem called "Feedback" which I adore. It's very short, so I will present it to you here:
Feedback (by Billy Collins)
The woman who wrote from Phoenix
after my reading there
to tell me they were all still talking about it
just wrote again
to tell me that they had stopped.
I love this poem more than I can explain. It's so sparse, it's practically haiku, but it tells a whole story, and that story is wry, self-deprecating, and hilarious. And in a way, it says it all. Sometimes people pay attention to you, sometimes they forget. Sometimes you're the pigeon, sometimes you're the statue. And some people - some of whom apparently reside in Phoenix - are refreshingly honest and can tell you "yep, that's working" and "nope, that's not working" in the exact same tone. How lovely!
I mostly do my own feedback these days - all those little tweaks and adjustments - so I have to be really honest with myself about what is or isn't working.
I've been pondering the concept of "perfection." Years ago - probably in 2008 - I heard this question for the first time: "Do you want to be perfect or do you want to be great?" (That's what Diane says.) And I absolutely did not get it. I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay - but I do want to be perfect!" I'd always classified myself as a perfectionist and I had no idea how to change that. I've been tossing that question around my brain for the last three years, and if I'm honest, it probably started to make sense sometimes last summer, after I started teaching.
Here's one thing about perfect: you have no place to go. You can't get any feedback. You're dead in the water, no place to swim.
Saint Augustine says: "If thou shouldst say, 'It is enough, I have reached perfection,' all is lost. For it is the function of perfection to make one know one's imperfection." (Yes, I'm quoting a saint - he is in my little Zen quote book!)
Here's another one (found in the same book) from George Bernard Shaw: "I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one's business on earth, like the male spider, who is killed by the female the moment he has succeeded in his courtship. I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind." That one's a little bit more gory (which entertains me), but that last bit is really nice - "continual becoming" is nice.
I had a brilliant conversation with one of my students last week. Actually, she conversed and I listened. (That's just one of the things that was brilliant about it.) She's been coming to the yoga for just about two months and she is absolutely transformed. I mean it, completely different person - body changed, personality changed, attitude changed, everything changed. It blows me away. Anyway, she said some great things. She said - I've realized that I don't have to prepare to practice, I just have to come in and practice. She said - I am just keeping myself open to feedback, just listen, adjust, and change. (I am paraphrasing here, but I'm not making up a single word.) She said - if you think you're "perfect," if you're always "doing it right," then you can't learn, but if you're just "practicing," then you can keep adjusting and taking in new information.
Yes. Gorgeous. Couldn't have put it better myself.