Confidence is Overrated

I fell off the emailing this past few weeks because we had the good fortune to graduate one group of students and then start right away working with another. It has been a whirlwind turn around, but it is worth it. As our sangha grows we become increasingly blessed with more and more wonderful, talented and exceptional people.

Working with aspiring teachers is a lot like working with new yoga students; there is a palatable tension, a heightened level of self consciousness. They are both vulnerable and scared. It is not often as adults that we put ourselves in new situations, ask ourselves to move outside our comfort zone, or force ourselves to learn a new skill. And entering a room of “others” is a daunting task at the best of times. We hope it’s going to go OK, that we won’t be judged harshly, that we’ll make friends. Add to that the fact that you are going to be forced to do some public speaking and try to instruct others and - truly, it is  enough to make any grown-up cry. Anyone who gets up in front of people and tries to teach them is, to me, a superhero. It is a courageous act.

Even if they are bad at it.

When getting feedback, teacher trainees often get this one one piece of advice, “be more confident.” Yet, asking someone to be “more confident” in this situation is like asking a blade of grass to be more like a tree. A blade of grass has no more knowledge of how to be a tree than a new teacher knows how to “be more confident” (whatever that means).

Your lack of confidence isn’t the problem. The advice is. Like many well meaning mentors, teachers will often fall back on old tropes like “be more confident.” But, that advice is not helpful. How can you be more of something you are not?

It is OK to not be confident. It is OK. You do not have to be more than you are. Be nervous and jittery. It is OK.

Confidence comes with competence. The more I understand, the better equipped I feel. The better equipped I am, the more I can offer. I gain confidence as my competence improves. My competence improves through study and practice. You know… yoga.  

So truly, the best advice is; get comfy with being bad. Because, doing something well is not a matter of doing it right. It is about allowing yourself to be bad. Truly it is.

In each new training cycle I tell our students, “Get up here and fail spectacularly, please. This is the best place to be really, really bad at what you do, so jump in with both feet and blow it!” Because, you will find that, despite your discomfort, you will live to see another day. And you are teaching yourself a vital skill; how to try again.

If you are not confident. That is OK. You are here and you are trying. That will be enough for today.

This is loving kindness.

And isn’t this what we want for our students? You can’t teach what you don’t know. Accepting your discomfort and doing it anyway will help you help you find the tools to help others do the same.

That way, when that very new, adult, student comes to you and says, “I’m no good at yoga,” instead of falling back on, “that’s OK, yoga is for everyone!” you can confidently say, “that’s OK, I’m learning too.”

Welcome back to school yogis.

Thinking like a Tween

I am going out on a limb here, but stick with me. I often hear people say that we should be more “childlike.” The reason being that children are pure of heart. If we connect to our inner child, we too will become pure of heart. This has always irritated me. Yes, children are blissfully, wonderfully, naïve. They are pure of heart. They often speak little pearls of wisdom. When they are happy and full of wonder, it is a joy. This is true. 

Children are also needy. They need. They need adults to guide them. They need a world that protects and provides for them. They are dependent on outside forces to create the conditions for their bliss. And this is why this analogy annoys me. The work of coming into consciousness isn’t about living in a blissfully unaware state that depends upon the world to take care of us. Consciousness demands action. Consciousness demands that we become aware of ourselves in the world. It is accepting that, should we desire transcendence, we have to do the work of transcending our “self.” 

That is why, I think we should all try to be more like middle schoolers. 

Middle school is a liminal age. It is a great ball of hormonal fire hurtling towards adolescence at a snail’s pace. It is slow and awkward and often painful being a tween. They are awakening to adulthood, yet still comfortably nestled in the safety net of childhood. Tweendom is the bridge between Christmas Past and Christmas Yet to Come. They are more aware of themselves, but they are still so goofy. As they struggle to come understand life’s limitations, they are open to possibilities. They struggle with being sentient, with self-identity, and yet they are still very playful. They have amazing insight and are not afraid; but, they are also extremely self-conscious and totally afraid. 

Tweens are, in many ways, the embodiment of present mindedness. They are becoming more aware of themselves, they are interested in the possibilities of an awakened life, but they still want to be tucked in at night. They still believe in fantasy, but are also weirdly practical. Funny, goofy, stinky, emotionally all over the place; middle schoolers are basically every one of our internal lives living outside our bodies. The other day my middle schooler turned to me and said, “being alive is so hard!”

Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

And this is not to say that little kids aren’t their own emotional wrecking balls, they are. But, toddlers have little to no control over their emotional lives. They are basically the Id in small shoes, daring you to try and make them feel better. A tween’s awareness, however, is dawning. They are trying to get comfortable with their burgeoning consciousness. They struggle every day with how to accept that they are small, insignificant, different; yet, they remain confident that a fantastic journey is just around the corner.

That is why I recommend that we be more like a tween. Don’t give up the thrill of make believe, hang on to the beauty of imagination, but channel it through the angst. Our angst is our longing. Longing is our consciousness’s urge to connect to something greater than ourselves. It’s the twitchy, itchy nerve that is only satisfied when we are truly connected to the beautiful. Our separateness creates the longing for connection. Longing, when directed and focused, draws us into the experience of beauty, into Pure Consciousness, Jiva, God. This experience teaches us how to be a good friend, a good neighbor, a good, global citizen. It moves us beyond the self and into the Self. 

I know this may be way out there, but I stand by it. Tweens for the win! What about you? Do you remember what it was like to be a tween? Do you have a tween in your life now? If you had the chance to do it all again, would you?