In my previous post, I talked about different aspects of finding a spiritual mentor: what to look for and what to avoid with stories and opinions.
I promised you that I would talk a bit about how I met my teacher and how my relationship to her has changed and evolved during these more than twenty years. This is mostly a story of my personal development, as much as of my development as a Karma Killer Yoga instructor at Anamé Program.
It all began when I was a university student, but earlier than my first yoga class. I had a calling towards spirituality but at first it was completely unconscious. Books about Buddhism, Hinduism, the Tao, religions and traditions came across my path. I remember reading the Bible, too, mostly the New Testament. The stories seemed to be too naive to be applicable to what I saw around myself, sometimes they felt downright ridiculous, like the one with the prodigal son. I was quick to make my judgement: religion was for those who lacked real strength and were unambitious. But no matter how critical I became, the subject didn’t let me rest.
My boyfriend at the time was an Aikido instructor, and that was another thing which pushed me in the direction of spirituality: I loved the way he talked about that path, it was exciting and inspiring. So when looking for some new way of exercise, instead of an aerobics class, I chose yoga.
Today I’d most likely search the net to find a studio or a teacher, but then I just assumed that if I tried the Buddhist College in Budapest, I’d surely find a course. And I did. In my very first yoga class, I met Anamé Valéria Balázs. At that time, she used the exercises of Karma Killer Yoga mostly in her one on one sessions, and so in class, we practised some traditional yoga asanas as well, together with meditation.
She was unlike anyone I’d known before. She had the calm and cheerful manner of someone who keeps her focus off the problems of everyday life. Not because they’d be too much to handle, that type of attitude always has an uneasy lightness to it. Hers was stable, like someone who does have the strength to face them all, yet doesn’t let herself be dragged down by them. It has made a big impact on me; I wanted that strength and focus and composure for myself as well.
I loved the classes, too. They were freeing and energizing but also relaxing. I loved them so much that, after a break when Anamé’s son was born and the classes were only available outside of Budapest, I’d rather travel almost two hours than go to a different type of yoga class.
I had an experience with that, too, and the difference was huge. Any other type of yoga class I went to felt good physically and mentally, but nowhere else did I have the experience of that deeply transformative force than with Karma Killer Yoga by Anamé Program.
Years went by, my daughter was born, too, and for a period of time, I didn’t have the time nor the opportunity to go to yoga classes. Then one day in 2007, Anamé called me.
She told me that she was planning an instructor course program with only about 7-8 people whom she personally invited. She asked me if I was interested… and I replied YES even without thinking it through. Something inside told me that this was what I’d been waiting for, though I had absolutely no clue how I was going to make it.
I was alone with a two and a half year old without much help and had financial difficulties. The situation didn’t seem to be ideal at all, but the calling was huge. I had to do it, that’s what I felt, I had to do it somehow.
The course was hard but inspiring beyond words. For me, talking in public (and by public I mean in front of more than two people😁) was torturous. The fear that suffused me on such occasions was inexplicable: I could freeze any time, unable to think or talk. I guess you can imagine how I felt when we began to put the instructing part into action and had to lead classes among one another. I had no clue then how it was only the beginning of the endless challenges that come with working as a Karma Killer Yoga instructor at Anamé Program.
The real stuff begins
Two years passed with lots of learning and challenges (like how do you squeeze 2-2.5 hours of practice into your day when you have no idea whether or not your toddler will sleep. Ah, AND she decides to wake up earlier and earlier each day, in direct proportion to the amount of time you have to spend with practice. When she reaches 5 o’clock in the morning, you have no choice but to consider it funny in order to survive🙂).
During these courses, Anamé seemed to have one thing in mind: to help our best possible versions enfold by challenging our weakest spots. Looking at it in a superficial way, what she said or did sometimes seemed illogical, but only because she kept her eyes on the invisible, just as much as on the visible.
There was this guy, for instance, who knew and understood the exercises well, was confident in instructing, and had an air of someone who knows what he’s doing. He already had some experience with teaching a kind of martial art, I don’t remember what it was, but it definitely helped him move and talk in a self-assured way. You’d think (well, I would for sure🙂) that it’s a perfect combination and a good basis for becoming an instructor. Anamé didn’t. She told him that he wouldn’t be an instructor here at Anamé Program.
There was nothing personal about it, absolutely nothing. It felt as if she simply stated something obvious: something that was an unquestionable truth that everybody knew deep inside, only somehow didn’t realize or didn’t know how to put it in words. It was one of those occasions, among many others, when what she said or did was coming from a clean source of knowledge instead of her personal thoughts, feelings or preferences.
To this day, I’m highly impressed, whenever I see and hear her speak like that. I always have a feeling that this is the purest and the only truly sensible way to look at things and to act on them.
So, after these two years of evolution and challenges, another apprentice and me were asked to take over Anamé’s classes for the summer. I was so anxious in those first classes that I could hardly pay attention to anything else than keeping my voice close to normal and controlling its trembling (and that of my whole body, actually😬).
From September the same year, we had our own classes once a week. Anamé was always available: supporting, challenging, reassuring or harsh, whatever our development required. I remember once she told me to watch Robbie Williams on the stage at a concert: how he owns the space as he moves around and what the energy of his presence is like. What she was talking about then, I finally found in Freddy Mercury, who became a huge inspiration for me.
This story is a significant one for me. Not because I got to see more Freddy Mercury videos and listen to Queen, although it wasn’t an unpleasant side effect🙂, but rather because to me, her method became a model for teaching: the method of no method.
The method of no method and the importance of spontaneity
The only form of teaching I’d known was based on methods, processes. This thing is taught with method A, the other one with method B, through predetermined steps. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using methods when you’re at school, learning a language or learning how to drive, when it comes to spirituality and personal development, the role of spontaneity becomes more important.
How can such spontaneity be described?
As spontaneity may be described simply through the lack of planning or of giving a thought, it’s good to clarify what I mean by it in this case.
Spontaneous actions in this sense go hand in hand with creativity. They are connected organically with the situation and the people involved in it. Therefore, there are no prewritten scenarios involved.
Another great spiritual teacher, Adyashanti has a cute story about how it works. I’m sorry if I don’t remember the details well, but still, I think I can convey its message. It happened between him and a woman he used to work with. There were only the two of them in the office, doing some paperwork, when the woman suddenly began to cry. When he asked what was wrong, she replied that she didn’t feel his respect or appreciation for the work she’s doing. Adya got surprised at first as he recalled all the occasions when he expressed his true gratitude and appreciation toward his coworkers. He was sure he regularly gave that type of positive feedback to her as well.
But after that first sequence of thoughts, the real meaning, the truth of the situation hit him, and when he saw it, he told the woman that he really loved her as a person. And, as it turned out, it was exactly that expression of love that was needed and it helped them both to connect heart to heart. What would have happened without this spontaneity and without him seeing the truth of the situation? Well, we can only guess, of course, but we can have a pretty good idea about how he could have reminded her of all those occasions when he’d expressed his appreciation and he could have done it again, on the spot, and she could’ve accepted it with some lingering hollowness in her heart. It wouldn’t have been a bad thing, of course not. But what happened instead had a power and a meaning and a depth that can only be born from these perceptions of the truth of a situation.
The dead end
About three years passed since I started working at Anamé Program when a growing sense of uneasiness settled upon me. Somewhat similar to impostor syndrome, I had a feeling that I had no clue what this method, the exercises of Karma Killer Yoga and Anamé Program, was truly based on. I felt that I didn’t understand in depth how the energy works in our energy system and what the exercises actually do. I felt small and incompetent, like someone who has no idea what they are doing. I had a fear of misleading people and/or making a mistake.
Anamé asked me to decide whether or not I wanted to stay and she gave me a two weeks deadline. She was objective, almost detached. I felt close to her and I regarded this as a sign of her being inattentive. Only years later, after I came back to teach again, did she tell me how sorry she was when I left and how much she waited for my return. But at that time, she knew there was nothing she could’ve done to hold me back… not yet. So she let me go.
This was another thing I greatly admired about Anamé. She always knew when to fight for someone, like a lion, and when to withdraw and let them go. In my case, I had to make this loop in my life: to leave Anamé Program in order to truly commit myself to it, and find my place in it later.
My leaving happened without much ado and rather officially: just signing the necessary papers. I wished Anamé would try to hold me back and ask me to stay. But she didn’t, so we simply agreed that I wouldn’t quit practicing. I could see that she wasn’t convinced I would.
The fight of a spiritual teacher and the dilemma of true support
During the early years I had an illusion I had to say goodbye to: that your relationship with your spiritual teacher should always be smooth. I based it on the idea that a love is always kind and supportive. And in a sense, I was right, but in a whole different way than I reckoned earlier.
Love is supportive, that’s not the question. What is, then? Well, the real question is what does love support? What is the love of a spiritual teacher (or a friend, a lover, relative, etc) supportive of?
You don’t need to go as far as deep spiritual teachings to see the dilemma here. Suppose your friend had a fight with their partner/spouse. She expects you to support her by agreeing with her and encouraging her by saying that she’s right and by justifying her feelings and point of view. She may feel that that’s the best and most supportive way for you to stand by her in that hard situation.
You want to make sure that she feels safe in your company and sees that you understand her pain. On the other hand, you may see that she cannot look at the situation in an unbiased way and that she lets her judgments be stronger than her love for her partner, thus drawing incorrect, hasty conclusions.
To simplify the situation (only for the sake of making a point out of our example) you have to make a decision whether you want to truly support her and maybe take on the chance of conflict or confrontation, or you support whatever it is in her that’s making judgements and letting her come to false conclusions, possibly dragging her away from someone she loves.
And although you know which one would be better for her, the choice is still not easy.
A spiritual teacher doesn’t really have a choice here. They always have to choose whatever is best for the apprentice, and not what serves the apprentice’s energy blocks (old programming, points of view, pain, etc) and their ego.
Anamé has always told us, the instructors, that as long as she’s challenging us and fighting with us, everything is OK. She said we should only begin to worry when she’s kind🙂. She was joking of course, as she is a kind person. But still, we understood well what she meant by this: the way she fought for us in many cases felt like she was fighting against us. It took time for us to see that she was fighting against all our blocks, against whatever was keeping us from evolving and going further on the path.
What seems to be freedom
My first couple of months without Anamé Program was spent in almost ecstatic freedom. I felt as if an enormous burden fell off of my shoulders. Because I had thought earlier that I didn’t really know what I had been doing or that I wasn’t fully competent. And without that burden it felt easier to move, to breathe, to be in general. I took dancing classes and concentrated on enjoying myself.
I was not aware, not yet, where this feeling of freedom came. I didn’t know how little time I had to enjoy it. And I definitely didn’t expect what was about to come.
If you’re interested in the outcome, come back next week and you’ll get to know how the story goes on. To be continued…🙂