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Being a Student

It’s my feeling that we should strive to always be a student. Life is full of lessons and stories unfolding that can teach us a great deal. One of the biggest lessons that we can learn from is the idea of always being a student.

As children we are more than a sponge for information. We soak up everything with no labels and no hard set ideas about them. Many people of different religions believe that a child is closer to God, as they are untouched by the poisons of humanity. Jealousy and rage and strong associations of race or religion are unformed.

Being able to soak information up without labels, this may really be what it means to be a student. As we get older this becomes physically harder. Our nervous system literally begins to hardwire itself. This is a physical hardcoding of memories and learned experiences.

As a child we look at that object which has no label, and as we continue looking at it, our mind compares it to other objects and takes in the surrounding stimulus and creates associations. We may be hearing a sound like red, apple, manzana, fruit... We may also be feeling or tasting sensations like smooth, sweet, or grainy. We are given words to correspond to this and then all these nerves that are firing together become wired together and what we see when we look at that object suddenly becomes full of labels. One round and red apple that is very sweet and delicious. Our mind holds this information and associations are made that have a hard time being unmade, thus our attachments are formed. For every word in our language we are bound by all the associations that have come with it. These associations might be true, they may also be an illusion.

It’s hard to stay a student. As we get older more of our nervous system holds stronger and stronger associations. One of our biggest lessons is to hold space in our associations and our attachments. Keep things loose and our associations free to change, a sense of playful connection to everything so that we are always free to learn something new. To break old attachments and to uncover more truths, this might be one of our hardest lessons. Our life is short. We have 100 years, if we are lucky, to stay free to learn, free to live a good and full life and soak up everything we can from this experience.

As I travel and listen to the words of others from around the world, I hear different perspectives on the same journey. Different religions show just how wildly different our associations can be, and if you’re really willing to engage with this you see the similarities, too. Even more wild are the many different languages, each of them showing how our perceptions shape our associations. It is easy to get caught up in the words we use or the beliefs we have, but this only holds us back from remaining a student of life.

Some things I try to do to help me is to keep my mind inquisitive and ask questions. Even if it’s something I have been “taught” before, I will periodically look at it again. With fresh eyes I will re-investigate and see if the object in question still holds the same associations to me. While I will never get my mind to completely unwind it’s associations, I will continue to put in effort to break my associations. Studying new languages and cultures is a really great way to help this.

This is also another really important reason to notice when you are in a comfort zone and remove yourself from it. A comfort zone is a place full of associations and attachments. Comfort zones are a place where the mind no longer needs to be a student. It is harder to be a student when the mind fills itself with these attachments. It takes real work to remove yourself from a comfort zone and put yourself where you may physically feel a sense of unease.

The yoga is in controlling your mind. Putting yourself in a place outside of your comfort zone and letting your mind find ease in this experience is where the yoga is at. There is nothing easy about this and it often forces us to be a student of our discomforts and fears. What a dedicated yoga practice asks of you is to wake up every morning and spend a set amount of time everyday dedicated to the idea of being a student.

Set yourself up outside your comfort zone and learn as much as you can in that time. Not just asana or pranayama, but reading, too. Read things that may not be in your normal scope. Study a new language, a new philosophy, or even a different religion. Take a few hours everyday to study life and all it has. This is no easy task and it's usually easier to give into a few extra hours of sleep or a few extra hours of staying up late with your friends. In yoga we call this Sadhana, it refers to having a diligent practice, unwavering and committed for a long time. It is not an easy thing to ask any of you to take this journey, but the fruits are worth the experience.

Through practice we may never break all of our attachments or associations, however, we can, with great work and diligence, uncover the ones that hold illusions and those that hold truth. This can help us to uncover as much truth of the world as possible. We must work to understand our strengths, weaknesses, our own limitations, and the way we may hold information without letting go of it. There is great strength in learning to let go.

Photography by Emily O'Brien @emily.obrien

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