I have a student. Let’s call her Mary. I don’t know her very well but I was thinking about her this morning during my practice. Mary comes to my pranayama and meditation classes regularly. She doesn’t say much, but she keeps coming so she must get something out of it, which makes me happy. I’m even more happy that she comes because when she is in the class, I am a better teacher. Not just a better teacher, but I’m a better human—I’m more interesting and more thoughtful, I slow down and tune into my students in a deeper way. Because I’m paying closer attention to them, they pay closer attention to themselves and when they do that, they get more out of our practice. Then they start paying more attention to me because they are listening with greater sensitivity and I feel that and so I do even more listening. It goes on like this for an hour or so and by the end of class we are feelin’ real good. We say goodbye and we carry some of that feeling with us and into the world. You can probably tell we have a special thing going in this class.
How does this happen? How does one student help a whole classroom of folks to be better people?
It’s simple, really. Mary smiles at things I say that are sincere and she laughs at the things that I say that are funny, which means she’s listening to what I say. She looks at me when I’m talking. She pays close attention to what I try to teach and she pays attention to her own body and then she participates in our practice with a sincere effort. All of this, together, means that I feel valued as a teacher. But that alone doesn’t capture what’s really going on. There’s more to it. Beyond any role I play, I feel like she sees something good in me that’s just there. I don’t have to work for it. I get the sense that if I were sitting there doing nothing, she’d look at me the same way. It’s like she sees the special in there and responds to that. She’s not responding to my outfit or my mascara, that day’s sequence or my tone of voice. She is responding to special. When I’m in her presence she sees the special so I act special. This has the beautiful effect of reminding me that I actually am special. Because I am behaving with special as my starting place, because I am attune to special, it is easier for me to see that in the people around me. I listen more closely and sincerely to the people who are in class, who in turn, do the same for me and each other. By the end of class, not only have we practiced yoga together but we all leave with the sense that we are special. I can see it in how we hold our necks and shoulders as we leave. Special is moving all through these necks and shoulders. It doesn’t wear off for at least an hour.
There are times when I do my practice at home and it feels like a chore. I don’t really want to go to my mat but I do because I know that I’ll feel better after I’m done and I’ll be able to focus and remember things and be a better mama, friend, and teacher so, like flossing my teeth, I yoga my body. But today, I sat down to practice and remembered Mary. It occurred to me that sitting still with myself isn’t just about working out the kinks and popping my back or practicing for practicing-sake. It actually has the potential to be time spent in the presence of the specialness inside of me. What if I looked at myself like Mary does? What if I appreciated my sense of humor and my efforts to learn and practice? What if I listened to the things going on with myself like I was the most interesting person I could be with in that moment and not because I did anything but because that’s just my starting place. I look right past the other stuff to my special. This could result in some split-personality thing or maybe I could recreate that thing that Mary does for me and I’d start my morning not just feeling good in my body, but feeling special. And if I practice and allow myself to feel special every time I come to my mat, then maybe I’d be able to feel it for more than an hour, once a week. Maybe special could be my new normal.
And as we’ve seen, special is contagious. So if I apply my specialness recognition technology and it works, you might be getting some of it, too. This could be my simple way of contributing to humanity. Sounds nice, right?