I had never really wanted to teach. Does that surprise you?
When I was a horseback rider, I never wanted to teach. Though I had to at times. I lacked the patience. I wanted to ride. So I trained horses and I rode. As a rock climber, I never wanted to teach, I wanted to climb and become one with the rock! When I finished graduate school and was a young actor stomping the pavement in NYC, my dad begged me to become a teacher. But I didn’t want to teach. I wanted to act. I steered clear of any and all teaching gigs because I didn’t want to get too close.
When I fell in love with yoga, it was different. I wanted to teach. Oh, I wanted to teach so badly. Many people go into teacher training to deepen their practice. They don’t want to teach (it always changes). That wasn’t me. I wanted to teach. I really wanted to teach. Something about it. Everything about it! Including but not limited to my bare feet out in the open becoming a whole new navigation system, getting to feel the world and the people in it through my hands again, as I had learned in grad school. But what really captivated me, what really drew me in was the opportunity, the responsibility and the honor of giving something back. To you. Would it be possible for me to inspire someone, motivate someone and make a difference in someone’s day in the way that my great teachers had inspired and changed me? The day I taught my first yoga class, I got up really early. It was late July. I walked through the farmer’s market in Union Square and bought these beautiful yellow tiny roses to put in a vase on the altar. It felt like I was going to get to do something sacred, intimate and special. I still feel that way… every time.
My first acting teacher at the University of Utah, a phenomenal man- Kenneth Washington- passed away last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. That same morning I got a text from my best friend from childhood, telling me she was in the hospital and baby Jasper was coming. Death and life side by side. Dynamic tension. Kali(destruction)/Bramha(creation). Here we go…
Kenneth’s passing was a shock to our acting community as he was young- 68. He was an incredible, inventive, and unique teacher, some would say the best in the country, and he intimidated the shit out of me. As I sat with the news and began to see our old community resurface and rally around his passing, I became so moved by the amount of lives that this one, single man had touched. He shaped so many young actors in this country or had a hand in their success. I mean, his legacy is humbling.
I was so young when I met him. Seventeen. And a complete nut. I had just moved away from Colombia, and was living on my own for the first time in Slat Lake City, Utah. Exactly. What? I had no idea what was happening on the planet and was having an extraordinary time figuring it out. Everything to me seemed like a great adventure, because it was. I had never imagined being able to study to become an artist/actor. That wasn’t really a huge option in Bogota. So every second felt like a stolen gem. I had never dreamt I could rehearse in big, hard wood floored studios with large windows and a wall with mirrors and ballet bars, or that I could take singing lessons or that I could learn to clown. These were things I only saw in films. So yes, I was young when I met him. So young, in fact, that I don’t think I was able to integrate much of what he was trying to teach me till recently. I’m a slow learner.
We all teach. If you are alive, you teach. You can’t not teach. Some of us teach more intentionally than others… All those years I spent running away from teaching were only to run back into it- hard. And fall in love! A huge, gigantic, surprising, devastating, enriching, satisfying, chaotic love!!! The Buddha talked about treating every single person you meet as your teacher. Not just those who love you and fill life with ease and with pleasure. But also those who are challenging- the tough ones (I call these my YOGA). They hold some deep lessons. Sometimes lessons are not easy, in fact, most times, they are not. Adversity and difficulty, resistance and friction are very direct teachers. And sometimes, Kali-style, you have to die or kill a version of yourself off in order to be able to move into the new butterfly phase. Destruction is a part of birth and vice versa. As one of my teachers used to say, “don’t be afraid of your shit, shit is fertilizer!” Not poetic, but it drives the point across. The world is held together by opposites and extremes.
Classical asana sadhana (yoga practice) always starts with a prayer to the teachers. Classical yoga texts also have a prayer to the teachers at the beginning because most of the poems in these texts were passed down by word of mouth. So honoring the teacher was transcribed as part of the text. There are many different ones. Those of you who are astangis use one, at the top of the sutras there is a different one thanking Patanjali(author of the sutras), the formerly know as anusara community used to have their own… Many lineages use them. The one we chant at the top of class is the opening to the Bhagavad Gita.
This practice of thanking those who came before us has become one of my favorites over the years. How can I be a woman and not thank the suffragettes? How can I be a gay person and not thank those brave people that held down the Stonewall Inn back in the day? How can I be human and not thank my parents? How can I be whole and not thank every person I have ever loved? I am who I am because of all of these things. They/You have made me what I am. Giving thanks, every day, sometimes three or four times a day (for me) reminds me to be humble, to stay a student and to continue to be open to ever changing shifts and flows- the vritti(whirlpool).
So… Here’s to Kenneth for his contribution not only in my life, but on a major scale with so many young actors in this country, may you rest in peace! And to baby Jasper, who’s already a teaching and has only been here a few days. May your journey be bright!
om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah
(I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him.)