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Karen Faith: Research, Strategy & Creative

The Entry Where I Try Not To Talk About BDSM

 

Originally posted on the blog "Yoga, for the Moment" (RIP) on 3/24/2011.

The entry where I try really hard not to talk about BDSM

 

 


Hey guys, I have been trying to write to you on the serious about teaching. The thing that interests me is how to know how much strictitude is enough. I haven't figured it out, of course, but having no idea about a thing has never stopped me from sharing my thoughts. Why start stopping now? Here's my deal. I want to be nice to everyone. I want my students to feel good all the time. But, as some of you may have noticed, yoga practice feels best when you stop doing it, because most of yoga is spent feeling at least a little bit uneasy. That's the whole deal. We practice staying a bit out of our range of comfort in order to be more comfortable with more things, so while the goal is to be more at ease, we won't get there by taking it easy all the time. 

I had a great History teacher in 8th grade. Mr. Driscoll. He was a complete asshole. Example: if he asked you a question, and you didn't know theanswer, he would not ask someone else to answer. He forced the entire class to wait, even the entire class period, until you produced an answer, however ridiculous or crazy sounding, because he wasn't teaching us to spew information back at him, he was teaching us to think, he said. He was strict, did not pat anyone on the back, and came close to humiliating us lots of the time. I got a teacher crush on Mr. Driscoll, maybe like a regular pre-teen gets a teacher crush, but maybe more like the way an affection-starved, aggressively-reprimanded and subsequently over-achieving pre-teen gets a teacher crush, which I think is what we call an obsession. The trouble with obsession is that very often the subject of the obsession, and for argument's sake let's say the subject of my obsession (almost always a teacher), was given the power to heal or destroy me, which is not what teaching is about, really.

Even so, the result was not all bad. I did my very best work for Mr. Driscoll, had my first major breakthrough as a young thinker while under his tutelage. It was in his class - it's a great story I should tell you one day - but it was in his class that I first realized that everything I believed to be real was actually only perceived through the filter of my senses and upbringing, that there was no possible way to be absolutely sure that ultimate truth existed. That was a moment, let me tell you. Ok, screw it, I'm going to tell you the story, even though it's going to mess up my outline on pedagogical severity. Here's what happened.

We were discussing truth in the media. Mr. Driscoll pointed out that what we hear on the "news" is filtered by innumerable variables, and gave a demonstration of how an event could be spun to imply something entirely untrue without stating any "false" information. He then gave us examples from our history books of events that may have gone down very differently from the way the read on the page. We were all with our jaws on the floor, for real. Like, not only is the TV maybe not true, but BOOKS are also maybe not true??? Then he hit us with this, he asked, "What if the land we know as America were discovered from the west side first rather than from the east side? What would life be like then?" And we came to realize that if, say, "easterners" would have settled in the Americas, they might have made friends with the Native Americans, who knows. They certainly wouldn't have called them "Indians," and if they got along better, which all of us dreamy eyed kids seemed to think they may have, then what we know as the USA would probably not be made up of mostly black and white Christian-ish people, and nothing in US History would have happened. There would be no USA, and no way to know what would have taken its place. This made me feel very fragile.

I had just learned that information was subject to countless mistranslations, including the limits of language and its built-in prejudices (the way calling America and Asia the "west" and the "east," respectively, is based on a western-centric flat map of the Earth, for example), and then found out that everything that existed, if it existed, was the result of such infinite and complex causal chains, that everything was both hugely significant and also laughably trivial, nothing, cosmic throw up. At this point, the worst thing that could happen happened. Mr. Driscoll asked me a question. It was this: "Karen. Tell me something you know for certain to be a true fact."

On the outside, I bet I looked like I'd just seen been slapped in a game of freeze tag after seeing the face of bloody mary on the girlsroom mirror. Inside, though, I was spinning through data like one of those demon-possessed rolodexes in the movies. There were two problems. One was that I'd been asked a question that I couldn't answer, and the other was that I was discovering that there was nothing in this world that I could believe, nothing I could be sure was not false, nothing I could lean on at all. The class waited. The more time passed, the harder it was to discern how much time had passed. My tiny little mind cracked open and started leaking out of my nose holes and eye holes. Salty tasting, brains are. A regular teacher would have invited me to step outside and talk it out. Mr. Driscoll asked the class to step outside. They thought he was kidding. He was not.

I admit this was the very most best thing that could possibly happen to an attention-hungry teacher-lover, but I wasn't in any shape to appreciate it. He pulled a chair over to my chair in the evacuated classroom and asked me to say something. I told him in barely decipherable snotspeak that I could not see any reason to keep living, that I didn't know how anyone could bear the ache of consciousness, and that it was pointless to endure it at all. Two of his hands took one of mine and swallowed it up. He said, "the only problem I see with what you are saying is that you are absolutely right. Tell me this. How old are you?" 

"13, if you count using the Gregorian calendar, which I just found out is complete bullshit anyway." (He laughed and then unlaughed.)

"Ok. I want to make you a solemn vow, and I want you to make me one. I want you to give it 7 years. Promise you'll call me when you are 20, and if you still want to die, you and I will both kill ourselves. We can do hanging or overdose or guns, your choice. Deal?"

I made the deal. Oddly, just before I turned 20, I was admitted to a partial hospitalization program for the wickedly depressed, and had already begun taking razor blades to my wrists with some regularity. I didn't call him, though, mostly because I didn't want to let him down, but also because I didn't want to stop living as much as I wanted to stop wanting to die. This got worse and then better and then worse and then better for years, and although I can't say for sure it won't get bad again, I can say that Mr. Driscoll gave me one good tool in my belt for dealing with it, and that is to wait. I've gotten good at waiting. Too good, maybe. But let's see if I can bring this back around to my original thought.

Great teaching is both radically strict and radically compassionate. I tend to prefer overly rigid teachers for two reasons that I can name. One is that if much is demanded, much is produced*, but the other is that if I give over my will entirely, I can trick myself into believing that I am no longer accountable for my actions or their outcome, which makes me both dependent on my teacher for instruction, and irresponsible for myself. [Flash red caution lights here.] This is why, as a teacher, I often feel unsure of how much to push. I want to bring my students to a level they may not have reached on their own, but I want them to learn to bring themselves to that level. If a student doesn't take responsibility for her own practice, she will have no practice as soon as said teacher moves to Costa Rica. Mr. Driscoll was harsh with me (he had the nerve to NOT give me the History award that year, in spite of my undying devotion and flawless GPA), but that was because, I think, he was less interested in my love for him and more interested in empowering me to manage myself. As much as I wanted to be his devotee, he never allowed me to depend on him, nor did he allow me to control him with recurrent emotional outbursts, because (believe me, after that major win?) there were more.

I've been pondering how strict is too strict. How much adjusting is energizing and how much is exasperating? I want to give my students the benefit of the doubt that they are monitoring their own level of effort and challenging themselves appropriately, but the fact is that no matter how much they push themselves, my job is to push them differently, maybe more, maybe less, to encourage them to do the one and only thing they would never willingly do on their own, which means, guys, for real, that if it doesn't make you a little mad at me, I'm not doing my job. I think I err on both ends, depending on theday. It makes me feel schizo. I'll be on top of you, pressing your limbs into unnatural shapes while assuring you that we are breathing together and that the pain is rising out of a kind of love we are both giving to your body, and then on the days I want to give everybody a yummy dessert class they all feel cozy about, folks start, like, checking their phones or chatting up their mat-neighbor, and then suddenly I'm all, "wtf guys, seriously, like, try to give a shit for a minute will you?" 

I know. It's weird, right? But here is the deal about balanced cooperation: You stand on the teeter totter, wherever you want is fine. My job is to stand exactly opposite you, to be on the side you are not on, to do the thing you are not doing, in order to achieve balance. You say to me, "hey, that's too different from where I am, come closer." And I say, "If I walk toward you, you'll fall down. I can't come closer until you come closer." And you say, "you first." And I say, "no, you first." And here is when we both decide to trust one another and pick up our feet in unison. You work harder and I'll be softer. You be gentle with yourself and I'll challenge you more. (Or, in today's rhetorical example, you wait 7 years and I'll kill myself, too.) Once we find the center, it'll be great because then we'll have no idea who's teaching whom, which is my idea of a good time.





*barring the havoc that is wreaked by abuse, in which case way too much is demanded, usually with threats, and far less is produced due to a debilitated and/or demoralized student.