Next week, I’m flying 5000 miles to meet someone I’ve never met before – but who has played an important role in my life for over 7 years. He’s my teacher. He’s a martial artist, who lives and works in the American desert.
Any reference I make to him tends to elicit the question, ‘Lilley, how on earth did you end up with your teacher – an American martial artist? How did that happen?’ Well now seems as good a moment as any to tell you…
It was autumn 2009, Daniel and I had just come back from six months in India and we were living in London (with our friend Timothy Newton Crum, who owned a penthouse around the corner from the British Museum and a tin bath on the roof, but I digress . . .) and in terms of my yoga teaching career I was wondering what to do next.
No such thing as coincidence?
I had been teaching and assisting for Rob Leadley and Hayley Del Harrison for a few years in York but here I was in London starting again. I had a ‘to do’ list which ran to 36 pages of A4, and was experiencing ‘overwhelm freeze.’ So naturally, instead of doing anything constructive, I was messing about on the internet – where I stumbled across a link which said, ‘Don’t open a yoga school before you read this’. Intrigued, I clicked.
Several pieces of really good advice followed. I was hooked. I’d never seen information on how to be a good teacher or how to run a strong school. I had had plenty of teachers who were great at the asanas (the yoga postures), but no-one who inspired me to commit and no-one who was putting yogic principles into business and life. Looking around, no-one seemed to know much more than me in terms of how to organise and inspire their students. But this organisation did.
So I did a programme with them – ‘How to be a successful independent practitioner’ – and it was informative, stimulating, logical and strong. I learned an enormous amount very quickly.
Then my world changed again. Daniel had gone back to India and I had gone to live with my (late) sister-in-law, to look after her and my niece and nephew. So the mentoring programme I’d been offered after the initial programme I undertook was shelved as ‘something for the future’.
Be light, be playful, be present – and take care of business!
By 2011, we were back in York, and a year into Peacock Tree, I realised I was ready. I wanted a teacher, I really did. I didn’t want to learn from mistakes, I didn’t want to waste time figuring out how to do it; I just wanted someone to show me, right from the start how to design things well. So I contacted them again.
To say I was keen to study the art of ‘Zen Business’, under the guidance of the man at the helm of this organisation, Jason Campbell, would be an understatement. Jason had already established several retreat centres under the name Zen Wellness and I loved his line, ‘Be light, be playful, be present and take care of business.’ There was just one problem: I couldn’t afford it.
So I wrote him an ambitious email, reminding him who I was and explaining myself: I was ‘creative and European and would work really hard’ – and if he’d just let me have a couple of trial months then I’d be up and running. He found my email entertaining and admired my chutzpah, he then redefined the terms and here we are all these years later. We speak on Skype 2 or 3 times a month, he’s helped shape my business (and me, to some extent!), but we’ve never actually physically met. It’s an extra-ordinary relationship.
The Yoga of Life
Everything we have ever done has worked. I feel that hiring him to effectively be my teacher, mentor and boss was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. He keeps me bright and accountable. He offers me great advice on the myriad things that come up when you run a yoga school. He offers wisdom and balance and when I’m off track, he helps me to recognise it and to get back on. He helps me to navigate.
The most important thing he taught me was how to prioritise – something I’ve become so adept at that I now have my own mentoring clients, and my teacher would like me to take on more. Jason has taught me to be aware of how I use my resources – where I spend my time, money and energy.
Why do we need a teacher?
We need teachers to guide us, motivate us, excite us and help us to craft our vision. For me, it was important to have a teacher who was a leader in their field, and who I could emulate. I wanted it for me and also for my school. I wanted someone to teach me how to condition myself to be the best I could be – and to constantly strive for that.
Yoga is a special subject, we’re not selling a product we don’t believe in, what we’re offering is life transformation (in small, do-able chunks). The great thing about a skilled teacher is that they know what you need next without overwhelming you. Just building things, changing things, a little bit at a time.
Teachers never really stop teaching either. Yoga isn’t my job, there’s no separation between work and life. I never plan on retiring. This is my cultivation, we’re all in this life to learn and grow and we need strong teachers to help us do that. And they need strong teachers behind them, to guide them.
An American Adventure
So next week I’m going to Phoenix Arizona to meet my teacher, Jason Campbell, and his students – my contemporaries and colleagues. I’m going to be studying two days of Zen Business with other studio owners from all over the US, and then I’m embarking on a new teacher training course, Medical Chi Gung, which I’ll be doing be studying over the next couple of years. It will give me an additional depth to my teaching, and keep me bright and motivated and learning.
I’ll also be buying a pair of cowboy boots.