There is a story in the yoga writings. The university professor goes to visit the zen master to learn about zen buddhism. When he arrives, the zen master makes them tea. As he is pouring the tea, he fills the cup and keeps pouring. As the cup overflows, the professor blurts out, "Stop! It's full! No more will go in!" The zen master says, “Like you. You have come here filled with your ideas and until you empty your cup, you will not be able to learn what I have to teach. You need to empty your cup.”
We call it the Beginner's Mind. I love this story and wholeheartedly agree and share these teachings. The more we know, the more we limit ourselves. We want to have this approach, not only in our yoga practice, but in everything in life. We want to remain open to the experience no matter what the experience. Then we have limitless possibilities. When we become more of an expert, we become closed and limited and this blocks us, in a way, from receiving the brilliant ideas or the new creative solutions, or just learning something new from the moment. So the yogis believe that we are born our smartest and the more we educate ourselves and study, the more it dumbs us down and puts us in a box. She's the sporty one or the creative one or I NEVER do her class, I ONLY do his class. The opposite of how we think. As one of my students says, “Will Rogers said I never met a man I didn’t like. I say, I never met a man I didn’t learn from. Even if we don’t like something about the person, it helps us to learn what we do like or how to act another way.” Truth.
If we can also use that Beginner's Mind approach when we are around people we don't like that much or that annoy us, and we imagine we are meeting them for the first time, even if it's a family member, that helps us to not bring all of the baggage to the situation, to remain open; that this time, it can be different. Once again, remaining open to the experience. Or at least not prejudging it before it turns out.
One of my students is a ballerina. Sadly, as we know, no one is going to the ballet at this time, including the dancers. She turned me on to the daily live Instagram classes of Tiler Peck who is a superstar ballerina of the New York City Ballet. Or is it in? Or at the NYCB? In any case, Tiler has gone back home to somewhere out west and every day she teaches an online ballet lesson. Hundreds of ballerinas tune in to her class. She brings on special guests from her ballet inspirations and peers to Broadway singers who sing while they dance, to young dancers to whom she's a role model. And if you ask me, Tiler is an excellent role model.
I watched it! Turn It Out With Tiler, with a hashtag. I've never taken a ballet class in my life. My student had tried to show me a couple of moves on occasion and I realized that ballet is very strict. It's not easy (not that I thought it was) and even the way you do your hair, well, it's a specific way. Often young dancers move away from ballet for this reason to something like hip hop dance.
Having never taken a ballet class in my life, and I DO use my body professionally for my living, it was a very interesting experience. I learned a lot. Not only about ballet, but about myself and life. As a ballet neophyte, I am open. I didn't know what to expect, nor did I have many expectations of the lesson or of myself. It’s just for fun.
Every Saturday, Tiler brings on a “Saturday Soloist” who, I guess, is someone that sends her pics, videos etc. Not sure how she chooses these young, inspiring and aspiring ballerinas to split the screen with her but it’s a huge thrill for them to say the least. Yesterday, she had a nine year old, Lexi, learning and dancing with her. Lexi would do a move and I thought it looked really good and Tiler would say something about her arms higher or head this way. Then Lexi did another turn which again I thought was amazing and Tiler gave another small pointer and a “good girl!” Tiler is adorable I have to say. So because I don't know anything about ballet, I don’t see these tiny errors and I think what they are doing is just incredible. I’m even wearing a sock bun. Yes, a sock in my hair.
On the other hand, with yoga, as I scroll through instagram and look at what the yogis are doing, because I - a lot of emphasis on this I - am a master, a Yogiraj, teaching for over 30 years (mocking myself), it often angers me to see something that can be injurious or is misaligned. I have to even restrain from commenting or schooling people because, well, I don’t want to be that presence online, but mainly for myself. It doesn’t feel good to be critical or judgy. With ballet, since I don’t know and don’t really care, it all looks beautiful to me. So I see that I am limitling myself because I think I know so much. It was a lesson for me that, wow, I don’t come to yoga with an empty cup. I am not practicing what I am preaching. It was eye opening.
Another thing I noticed about myself is that Tiler gives a beginner version and a more advanced version and I thought I could take the advanced version knowing zero about ballet. I see this in yoga too where students go to the power class having never taken a yoga class and yoga is different as is ballet. It was humbling to start at the beginning, to not be good at it, to not get it, but to remain open to something new and to have it not go according to the plan, or not even have a plan of what it should be, or how it’s going to feel, or how I’m going to feel.
I was talking to my friend who is a musician and his whole instagram feed is music. Social media almost becomes a trade publication of our interests. I started to grow an avocado pit so was googling how to which led me again to social media to see photos. And of course there is a whole world of people that love plants, teach about plants, draw plants, collect plants and they are plant experts. They post about plants and follow and tag other plant people and they are immersed in that. It’s limiting.
So I decided to branch out of the yoga world and into the ballet, music, plants and other worlds, did someone say FOOD, because it empties the cup to open us up to something new, something different, beyond our micro world, our echo chamber, and beyond the limits and expectations of what we believe we are capable...especially at this time where we are not going out to the museums, concerts, or the ballet, or anywhere for that matter. Our lives are being limited now not only individually but collectively.
An empty cup or Beginner's Mind opens us up to something beyond what we know, and who we are, and who we think we are. WHO do we think we are?! Who do we THINK we are?! Who do we think we ARE?!