About twenty years ago, I read a book on writing fiction, Danse Macabre, by American author Stephen King. While I’ve long forgot the details of the text, there is one portion that stuck with me throughout the years. He was talking about the notions of commercial writer (aka hack) versus the professional writer (le artiste). King, of course, has oft been dismissed as a hack and has laughed his way to the bank over it. He said something along the lines that regardless of style, you’re a professional writer the minute someone pays you money for something you’ve written, you’ve cashed the cheque and paid the power bill with the proceeds. The amount doesn’t matter. Five dollars or a $500 000 advance isn’t the point. The point is someone valued your work enough to give you money for it. And in that act, a writer is born. The years of trying to become a writer have passed. It doesn’t mean the journey is over or that the craft has been mastered. It doesn’t even mean it’s safe to give up your day job but let’s recognize that “turning pro” is an important milestone in professional development. It’s a boundary point.
It’s a standard I’ve carried with me throughout the years. I became a textile artist when the first person plunked down the coin of the realm for one of my shawls. And tonight, after much study, I became a yoga teacher when strangers gave me money for the sole purpose of guiding them through a practice.
Yes, I know it’s dreadfully shallow of me to equate remuneration with some sense of having arrived, but there you have it. I live in a culture where the value of something is often connected to what it costs. Whether I like it or not, in my culture “free” = “costs nothing” = “is worth nothing” = “worthless”. And my yoga is a lot of things but “worthless” isn’t one of them, but I digress… back to the issue at hand.
Last night went well. I was nervous as all get out and my asthma kicked up. It had been rumbling all day – just sheer nerves. I decided against medicating it. First of all, it was far from the wheezing or banging stage. I could just feel that moderate tightness in my chest. I opted to let my body express its upset that way, as I was reasonably confident the asthma would lay itself down as soon as the students got up from savasana. It did.
My crew from yoga teacher’s training showed up as well as a couple of friends. They were familiar faces to talk to when I got lost or out of sorts. The only ‘ego pricking” moment was when I recognized a fairly senior teacher from another tradition in the crowd. I had a brief moment when my whole self-imposed issues of “will I be good enough – am I enough?” arose. But as the YogaGuide counseled earlier this week, it was time to put all that aside and just be present in my presence. She was right and the paralyzing ego monsters went back to sleep.
All through my teacher’s training, I had this visual metaphor of rivers running through my head. I visualized Yoga, with all of it tributaries, winding itself as a great river of knowledge through continents, cultures and time. What started on the banks of the great Indus River some 5000 years ago (give or take a week or so) ended up on the banks of the Nashwaak River in New Brunswick, where my fellow students and I were learning of its wisdom, so we could add to its flow with our little drops. Last night it was very fitting in my mind that my ‘professional debut’ should take place on the banks of yet another river – the St John River was the backdrop of our practice last night.
In some respects, it felt like a Confirmation. For me, it was certainly one of those moments in time that mark clear boundaries between stages of development. In the last year, I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort to ground myself in the theoretical basics of yoga. There were posture labs and learning teaching techniques, and finding my voice. There was an apprenticeship and examinations and projects with due dates. I wrote a dozen practices that were signed “Kate MacKay, student teacher” at the bottom. A hundred times I answered the question “What are you doing?” with “I’m studying to become a yoga teacher”. There was even a graduation with friends and family that somehow marked a transition between the ‘becoming’ and the ‘being’.
In the ensuing months, I’ve plotted and planned and wrote practices and prepped lectures and done business plans. I’ve interview accountants and negotiated contracts for teaching space. I’ve read and thought and worked on what kind of teacher I want to become. But the word teacher implies students. Teaching is a very public act, not one that can exist within the privacy of my mind. I can be a student forever in the safety of my comfort zone but the act of teaching means stepping out and engaging the wider world. It means standing up in a very public proclamation of self-belief.
Last night was when all of that came together, converging and then crystallized into that moment when I stood on the mat in front of group of people I’ve never met, deeply breathed in the breezes coming off the river and said, “Good evening. My name is Kate MacKay. I’m a teacher in the Viniyoga tradition and I’ll be leading tonight’s practice… “
I’ve still got a lot to learn. Miles and miles to go before I sleep, as the poet once said. But from hereon in, it’s no longer teacher’s training. It’s professional development.
So there you have it. My name is Kate MacKay and I teach yoga.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,