There’s a saying I love:
A finger pointing at the moon
is not the moon.
I would add, if you meet a finger
who thinks she’s the moon,
walk the other way.
And don’t expect
from the finger what you imagine
about the moon.
The finger spent a long time searching
before she looked up.
She’s marked by time and illness.
She lost interest in her cuticles
But if you meet a finger
pointing at the moon
be glad. Curl into her rough palm
and follow her gaze. Like her,
you are not the moon,
but moonlight brought you to her
and moonlight has blessed you both.
I wrote this poem in a moment of deep feeling and I want to share it here with some thoughts. The poem is a response to a comment made by a yoga teacher on a yoga teacher Facebook group page. The thread was discussing Yoga Alliance, a yoga teacher registering body, and whether or not the minimum 200-hour training is sufficient to equip people to teach. A generous paraphrase of her comment is that she knows of yoga teachers who medicate for mental health issues while teaching yoga practices meant to relieve these same issues. The implication of her comment was that yoga teachers should be using yoga to address their mental health challenges and not relying on medication, and that reliance on medication is evidence that they have not sufficiently mastered yoga and therefore shouldn’t be teaching.
Reading this comment brought up a lot of feeling for me. I spent some time drafting a response within the thread, summoning my imperfect mastery of ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (speaking my truth) to guide me. By morning, she had deleted her comment and my response with it.
I’m a yoga teacher who relies on medication for mental health issues and I’ve written about this in the past. I’m not ashamed or afraid to speak openly about living with anxiety and depression, and I know that others have found a lot of comfort in it when I do. The fact that she chose to single out those who medicate for mental health issues rather than those who medicate for other reasons (yoga has practices for pretty much everything that ails you) underscores the deep stigma felt by people living with mental health challenges.
If she were unique in holding this attitude, it wouldn’t warrant a blog post and I would have dismissed it on the spot. But this attitude is all too prevalent within spiritual communities. The tragic death of prominent yoga and Buddhism teacher Michael Stone in 2017 brought to light his struggles with bipolar disorder and his reluctance to share these struggles with his community for this very reason.
So, to borrow from poetry and put into prose: I am not the moon. I am not the teachings of yoga. I am only an imperfect finger, marked by time and illness, here to say “look up!”. Do not expect from me what you imagine about the moon. Do not expect a perfect embodiment of all that yoga is and can offer. If you require perfect mastery from your teacher, move along, I’m not your teacher. But if you’re tired from searching and something between us resonates, curl into my rough palm and we’ll gaze at the moon together.
Image © 2018 Shamit Tushakiran