The Formless Teacher

The late great yogi Ram Dass, wrote in BE HERE NOW, “when you know how to listen everybody is the guru”. Tweaking that piece of wisdom. I would add “everything” has the potential to be a guru as well. 

My introduction to Yoga happened in 1991. Back then Yoga wasn’t a “thing”. I didn’t know anyone who practiced. There weren’t teachers or studios in every town.  Or even the internet. If you wanted to look something up you went to the library or bookstore. In a very unexpected way, I was given an old used paperback, Richard Hittleman’s Yoga- 28 Day Exercise Plan. I didn’t know anything about yoga other than what I knew from The Beatles, but the title intrigued me. I wanted to get into shape and I liked the idea of having a 28 day plan that I could do at home, since I was a single working mom with a toddler to raise. Funds were short and time to myself even shorter. So I began my plan, when my daughter slept, each day I studied and learned a new set of daily postures,  reading and rereading every detail of technique, how to breath, how to concentrate my mind, and the “Thoughts for the Day” like Day 11-Awakening: Two major objectives of Hatha Yoga is to awaken a great power that lies dormant and utilize it for developing one’s own unique, individual potential, that is to achieve self realization.” There was a lot more to this yoga plan than I thought. I was hooked. I loved all of it and I followed the plan to a T. Gazing at a candle flame (trataka), breathing through alternate nostrils (nadi shodhana), doing abdominal lifts (Agni Sara), sitting in full lotus. It felt important and engaged me in a way that was completely new. 

Ancient yoga texts talk of the guru as both an embodied person and as a presence in inner life, where you find the light of your own innate wisdom, called upaguru, “the guru within” or “the formless teacher”. “Upa” in sanskrit means- to sit near. And “Gu” means dark and “Ru” is to dispel or destroy, so that which is near to dispel the darkness. Not everyone finds or needs an embodied guru but upa-guru, like its literal meaning, is always within us or close by. It’s guidance coming in the form of coincidence, serendipity or synchronicity.  Or a flash of intuition, a dream, a hunch, and those aha type of moments both big and small. We’ve all had those experiences. It’s an uncanny feeling when it happens. 

Sometimes our mind needs answers, sometimes our heart, and sometimes it’s our soul searching. Whether unconsciously or consciously, we ask for upaguru’s clarity and guidance. Though I didn’t speak it out loud or want to admit it to myself then, that young version of me was looking to find the bigger answers to life, how I belonged and what my purpose was. Yoga was the answer that came to me through that book. Though it took ten more years to actually find a living teacher (thank you, Sally) to really mentor and teach me. And another ten years after that before I took my first teachers training. Upaguru was always near gently nudging and sometimes giving me a good hard shove forward when I wasn’t listening. 

My original copy of the book is long since gone, passed on to another who I hope found the treasures I did. I recently purchased a new copy because I wanted a revisit where it all began. 

Here’s what Day 28 had to say….

“Thoughts for the Day” Evaluating your Accomplishments: 

From these first 28 days you have begun to experience an unparalleled sense of well being and an elevated state of consciousness that has a strong, positive influence on all aspects of your life. This will continue to grow through your future practice” 

Indeed it has upaguru. 

Take a moment, close your eyes, still your mind and listen. Maybe you will hear your formless teacher also speaking to you. 

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