I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Sanskrit word “guru.” Most of us know it as “teacher” but the Sanskrit breakdown is a little different. See here from the Upanishads:
The syllable gu means shadows
The syllable ru, he who disperses them,
Because of the power to disperse darkness
the guru is thus named.
— ADVAYATARAKA UPANISHAD 14—18, VERSE 5
A friend of mine was recently listening to me talk about how I was upset about this thing and feeling things about that thing, and blah blah, and he stopped me and said, “Go do some yoga! You’ve gotta remove your gu!”
It made me laugh (still using that joke in all my classes) but it’s so true. We can get kind of caught up in our own shadows, and sometimes what we need to do is shake them out, remove that gu.
What I love about this translation is that the guru is not someone who knows more than you. It’s not a higher being. It’s not even a bringer of the light–it’s someone who can remove the darkness. And you can’t remove darkness unless you have some understanding of darkness. You can’t help yourself or anyone else through tough stuff if you refuse to acknowledge its existence. You can’t be a warrior without a broken heart.
A lot of us come to the yoga mat to feel better. To shake out the cobwebs, put things in perspective, forget for awhile, and remove the gu. And it works! But it takes us to a place that involves a few shadows. In my previous post, I talked a lot about how those shadows can sometimes arise through moving the body, and how brave we sometimes have to be to deal with that.
I was recently telling my Hakomi therapist about my fears of repeating the mistakes I made with my ex with my new partner. I don’t want it to go the same way, I said. I’m afraid. I want to do it right this time. She looked me in the eye and said, “Honey, you WILL make the same mistakes again! That’s your pattern! It’s what you do!”
There is a very important “BUT” at the end of that sentence, but I let it sink in. I’m not brand new every time I enter into a new relationship. I can’t just decide to drop my baggage and not have any. If I ignore it, pretend that it’s gone, decide it’s all about the person I’m with and our problems have nothing to do with me, then, yes, it will look exactly like it has, many times before. If I refuse to look at my shadows, how can I remove them? I am not my own Guru then because there’s no Ru, I’m just a covered in sticky, gross, blinding, love-killing Gu!
So here is, of course, the “but”: But I am trying. I am making myself more aware of these tendencies all the time. I want to do better and I am doing better. I am facing my shadows so I can understand them, and when they come back, I will be so much more able to handle them. This is the ever-elusive quality of mindfulness. Sunshine and flowers are great, but let’s be honest, life isn’t like that all the time. We only know sunshine and flowers because we’ve seen the rain. And I live in Vancouver, so. You know. It rains here a lot.
So we are all, already, the most intelligent and best gurus, to ourselves, our best friends, our colleagues, and whoever else in the world we can find the courage to be honest with, because we’ve all seen darkness—it’s one thing we all really have in common. We don’t even need a yoga mat to do this, just a willingness to pay attention and humble yourself to your mistakes and failures. Accepting and learning from our shadows means we can always find the light. That way, we become our own best teachers: masters of the darkness, bringers of the light.