Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, my teacher’s teacher.
Maybe it was the person who first taught you to read. Or perhaps that teacher who saw something special in you and urged you to push just beyond what you thought were your limits. It could have been a friend or family member who extended him or herself for you, showing you how to be a better person in the process. Or an artist, a writer, an athlete who ignited something inside you that made you want to dance or paint or write or run as brilliantly and as beautifully as you ever had before. That person on some level was a guru – a spiritual guide in your life.
The word guru comes fraught with all sorts of associations in our culture – there is an implication of a submissive worshipfulness that is anathema to many independent and free-thinking people, myself included. There are stories of gurus with fleets of Rolls-Royces and/or dubious behavior in their personal lives. For many people I know, it is a term that evokes a certain uneasy feeling. None of my teachers will allow this term to be applied to them. We dance around it, embracing its true meaning, but not its sometimes unfortunate associations.
Let’s make this simple: Gu can be defined as darkness. Ru can be defined as illumination. The Sanskrit word guru means the one who draws you from darkness to light. That would be a teacher. But here’s where it gets interesting for those of you who aren’t into geeking out over Sanskrit grammar: a guru can be anyone or anything that offers you an illuminating experience. I think about the dazzling brilliance of my college art history professor but I also think about the beauty and tenacity of a blade of grass popping up through the NYC concrete. Both sweetly and ferociously affirm life. Both take the role of guru in a particular manner.
This past Sunday, July 25 was Guru Purnima, which, for yogis, is the annual celebration of our teachers. It always falls at this time of year on the full moon (purnima = Sanskrit for full moon). A flurry of yogi messages criss-crossed on Facebook, as so many of us in the Anusara Yoga and the Rajanaka Yoga communities thanked our teachers and each other. So to my teachers, my gurus, to all of you who inspire me, push me, encourage me, and coach me through life…Thank you!
Ask yourself this:
Who are my teachers?
To whom am I a teacher?
Thank them…via phone, email, letter, or face-to-face conversation.
With this gesture, you become the teacher too.