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The Role of the Teacher

I'm writing this post from England.

Specifically, from Southampton. A small, southern British town where the Yoga Sanctuary has its home.

If you've followed me for any time, you may have heard about my time here, and my yoga teacher Steve Harrison, the founder of the Yoga Sanctuary.

I write this post as a way to reflect and to honor the role of the teacher, and also share some of the golden nuggets that have been, for me, essential components of my path.

When I first started out -- as in, when my own authentic spiritual search began -- I was initially on a healing journey. I had to seek alternative methods to correct the deep misalignments in my being that had manifested as physical dis-ease. The truth was that I was spiritually sick, and I needed to discover a way to heal myself of this illness.

I discovered yoga in 2014 after a few years of dilly-dallying with meditation and other lukewarm practices such as journaling, positive affirmations, and visualization techniques. Not than any of these methods are bad -- indeed, they certainly helped me for a time. But they just weren't comprehensive enough to take me where I needed to go.

I didn't know it at the time, but what I needed was a good dose of shakti.

I needed to uncork the lid on my life-force. I was sick because I was living in a repressed state of being, an inauthentic and limited lifestyle. I was not honoring my truest truth and I was out of alignment with my soul. My conditions -- the way I was brought up and the way culture had created me to be -- were creating obstructions to the flow of my heart. There was/is nothing wrong with my parents or upbringing. I had just learned that there was a way I was "supposed" to be in the world to be accepted. This included all sorts of judgments and labels around what I needed to do to fit into society, to be "successful", even to be healthy!

I built my life around a lie at an early age and when I started to "wake up", I began to realize how sick this was making me.

Instead of blaming all the things around me, as is the nature of the mind when there is a problem, I began to take a closer look at my situation. Instead of being a victim, I started to take ownership. When I began to take ownership, it allowed me to be vulnerable enough to admit that I needed help. In addition to this, it wasn't only that I needed help, but that I needed to listen to the help that was bound to come as soon as I opened up my heart to ask.

This is a very important point that bares repeating, so I will state it again. As I started out, I realized I needed help to get where I was going... which led to me asking questions, and seeking help. What was most important about this process was that I was willing to receive the help and listen to it. Basically, I needed to heed the advice that started to come. This was step one on my spiritual journey.

As I opened myself further, it was like Life started to get the hint -- "oh, this guy is serious... okay... give him more!". More in the form of spiritual nourishment. More in the form of guidance. More in the form of instructions and subtle nudges along the path about where to go, what to do, how to proceed. All of this was feeding me on levels that were deeper than anything I could comprehend with my mind.

I was "waking up" to the realization that my life was built on a lie, and if I wanted to live an authentic, deeply fulfilling, meaningful existence, I had to be willing to do the work necessary to dismantle my own illusions and rebuild a life based on my deepest inner truths, which were largely different than what my conditioned mind believed. It was hard work. Terrifying at first, to be honest. It meant going completely against the grain.

The initial stages of this were, of course, quite difficult and uncomfortable. I felt like no one understood me. I felt my circle of friends dwindling. I felt myself pulling away from my parents idea of me, my society's idea of me, and even my own idea of "me". I felt myself dying to who I thought I was supposed to be.

In this death process, I somehow became wise enough to know that I needed a teacher. I needed someone who had crossed over to the other side, or at least had gone far enough that they knew what I was going through. I needed someone who knew what it was like to die to the mind's illusion.

This wasn't going to be some ordinary person. This was certainly someone who had done some hard graft on the ego. The ego is a deceptive little bugger. We can dress him/her/it up all we want with all the intellectual knowing desired. Even legitimate spiritual attainment can become captured by the ego and used for its benefit. I had no way of knowing all of this, but something deep inside of me knew that this sort of "high caliber" guide would be a requirement for me.

Another thing that I didn't know at that time was that, as a yoga practitioner, this didn't just mean I would be doing some stretching and breathing exercises and going on with my day. Even though I started a daily practice in 2014, what I was really doing was becoming devoted to the path of yoga. A path that, when taken seriously, could become a complete system for total spiritual transformation.

I was walking myself into a total re-haul.

So from 2014 to 2016 I practiced, hard. I met some incredible teachers early on. They had to match the level of devotion and (most likely) urgency that I was creating in my system. I was a bit of a nut. This is probably because around the time of my initial awakening, I was so ambitiously oriented towards succeeding in the material world that, when I found out the things I could achieve wouldn't ultimately matter much (if I wasn't enriched from within), I turned all this energy inward. And because I had already dilly-dallied with meditation and other "lukewarm" practices (as I had called them), discovering the yogic path as a system of down-to-earth, practical methods to purify my body and mind really helped me commit the daily sadhana. Yeah, like I said, I was a bit of a nut, and I needed something to "uncork the lid on my life-force". Authentic Hatha Yoga sadhana is precisely this tool, and I must have had the right karma for it, because I dove straight in, no holding back.

Which leads me to my main point of "the role of the teacher". As I started to dive in, I saw that there was a general lack of serious practitioners in my area. Not that there weren't great teachers, but just that I didn't see the example I was looking for. I sensed that was something more to the practices that I was only scratching the surface on... and I sensed that there was more to it than I was being exposed to in my yoga studios, classes, and workshops.

Because of this, there were a few processes I had to undergo. The first was to retreat. To completely immerse myself in the practice and cut myself off from the outside world. I had to see what would happen when ALL the energy that is normally going outward went inward for a time.

So I got my first taste of this in 2015 when I went on a 3-week Yoga Teacher Training immersion in Costa Rica. I also got my first taste of Costa Rica and the transformative affect that nature has on our system, but this is a story for another time. But I got to dedicate virtually every hour of my waking life to focusing solely on practicing and living as a yogi for three weeks and man, what a difference that made. It was during this first retreat experience that I got to see WHY it was so important to unplug from the matrix from time to time and dip ourselves into the infinite well of possibilities; to completely erase who-we-think-we-are for a time and just go through a spiritual process by which we could be reborn. The retreat experience was my first teacher -- a container in which I could be held accountable to go through a deep enough process to undo and then re-do myself.

The second main process was actually MEETING a physical teacher that I could perceive some level of attainment in. I had to see someone who set a good example of a yogi. Not just someone who appeared (on the outside) to have all the things, but someone whom I felt could vibrate with a level of truth and authenticity that it was impossible to deny. So my first meeting of a yoga teacher that carried the lineage within them strong enough to do this was my meeting with Naga, who transmitted to me the practice of fire worship and mantra sadhana during my Costa Rica Yoga Teacher Training back in 2015. Thank you Naga. The gift and blessing I received from this encounter is still rippling through my system.

The third main process that I went through was the eventual pilgrimage that I made in 2016, where I cast everything off and set out with an undetermined destination across an undetermined length of time. It was an open-ended jump into infinity. I was in Costa Rica actually (for my third time now), and instead of going home as I was intending, I canceled my return ticket. I had to go deeper into my path and the only way to do that was to completely wipe my slate clean of all my responsibilities and obligations for long enough to discover something deeper about who I was, what I was doing, and where I was going.

You see, when we are entrenched into our normal lives, we are bound by so many different rules and obligations of simply LIVING that to create entirely new possibilities we have to go through many processes to change the situation around us. It is not so easy to simply quit a job, or leave a relationship, or start a business, let alone do all of these things at once. Starting over completely is a fantasy that many people have, which is why vacations are such a common occurrence in the average adult existence, because of how refreshing it is to simply step away from everything and forget it all for a time. But what if you stepped away and forgot it all.... without returning? What if you were given a chance to actually start it all over? What if every single day had this possibility embedded inside of it....? That we don't need to repeat the past, but that we can forge a new way for ourselves?

This takes shakti. It takes life-force energy. To carve out new pathways in our nervous system, where years of conditioning has our energy flowing along certain ruts... yeah this takes a lot of effort. And, legitimate spiritual attainment, as far as I can tell, comes when an individual has carved out the pathway towards Creation enough times that their shakti is flowing and they a vibrating with pure possibility, pure potential. This doesn't necessarily mean that they have anything on the surface... but that this person has developed a nervous system that is capable of sheer manifestation. Creating something new. The unique combination of willpower, focus, love, and authenticity.

So I left everything on my pilgrimage in 2016 with an attempt to completely undo my life and re-write my script.

This desire for shakti led me to India. It led me to meeting Steve, of the Yoga Sanctuary in the UK, whom I met in Rishikesh. And it led me into a long, intense yogic process where for approximately 2 years I committed to a daily sadhana of asanas, pranayamas and kriyas that completely revamped my entire system.

This was the role of the teacher. I needed someone who understood what I needed. I needed someone who could hold the space for me to go through the process. And I needed someone who could look out for me as I did so. Luckily, Steve was that person, and under his guidance I was able to really, seriously transform myself. Thank you so much, Steve. The blessing of your presence in my life continues to ripple through me.

More than 6 years later I look back at that journey from the couch in his living room, where I am writing this now. Even though I have eased off the intensity of my initial stretch (those 2 years of kriyas that I was talking about), I have dipped in and out of intensity to continue to top up my tank. Nowadays my sadhana looks different than it did back then. I have matured a bit and I have different needs, but the fundamentals are the same. I still need a dose of fresh energy, and I still need to overcome my ego again and again to help me see through to new possibilities and not get locked in some subtle level of self-deception, which is entirely possible on the spiritual path. Which is exactly why having a teacher is so essential. I still need a container that can hold me to expand into. A daily sadhana is this container. Steve is a container. A path is a container.

It's not watered down. It's not made up. It's not fantastical. It's not glorified. It's real, hard work. We need people who understand this, and we give thanks to those who have gone before and carved out pathways for us to find our own understanding.

Nowadays everyone is a spiritual teacher. But the real teachers are hard at work in the background. We are lucky if we meet them. I feel lucky to have met Steve. I had to throw off everything in my life to be in the karmic place to have even met him in the first place. Thank God. I can't imagine what it's like for most people. Meeting someone who can legitimately help when we are in need of help is the biggest blessing -- its an even bigger blessing when we receive the help that comes.

I give thanks to the path for showing me how to open. How to receive the nourishment that is coming when we ask. And I give thanks to where it has led me now. All I have to do, as far as I can tell, is to keep showing up for my practices to keep that nourishment flowing. I know where it comes from. So do you. It comes from within, but we need to learn how to open ourselves to receive it. The yogic practices are a tremendous help for this.

I love being able to write about this and hope that someone out there receives nourishment from it. Let's just keep doing our part. If we value legitimate spiritual progress we will. We know what to do.

I think that is all I want to share for now. I am just inspired and thankful to be where I am today and I hope you feel the same in your own way.

May the guru bless you -- the inner wisdom teacher that is within us all, that leads us to our awakenings at the time and place that we need it most.

With love and prana,

Grant Ifflander

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