NOVEMBER 6, 2023
What the heck was I doing the training for if I didn’t want to teach?
Good question. Some of the answers are terribly cliche: I was desperately seeking an escape from my career, depressed, unsure of where I was going, and angry with the world (oh, the quintessential tells of a self-loathing teen who grew up in the 90s).
To be honest, while all of these reasons were — and still are to some degree – true, I’m still not entirely sure I know why I chose to do the training, only that I was going to do it.
It wasn’t until a few years later, while studying more yoga and philosophy, that I learned Buddhists have a word for this inexplicable, more profound kind of urge that is impossible to ignore. They called it samvega.
In Sanskrit, samvega describes an underlying dismay arising when a person’s current way of making sense of the world — their particular culture, beliefs, or ideas — ceases to explain it. Etymologically, the root verb of samvega means ‘to tremble’ or ‘be moved by force or agitation.’
This feeling is disarming, sure, but also motivating. Many yogic philosophers believed it was the feeling of samvega alone that could inspire us, sometimes unwillingly so, to seek spiritual liberation.
But what do we mean when we say spiritual liberation?
Personally, I find the term slippery, a bit misleading and overused. Mainly because it’s often used to convey the idea we’ve attained or are trying to achieve something — be it new insights into ourselves or some kind of arcane knowledge about the world.
But what’s especially unique about samvega is that it motivates us to turn towards the unknown instead of away from it.
The difference is subtle but essential. The more one traipses into the realm of spiritual inquiry, the more one must get comfortable with the notion that the unknown is not a problem to be solved but rather a place to inhabit. After all, who doesn’t like to wrap themselves up in a cozy blanket of the unknown when they sleep at night?
This distinction, however, is precisely what makes real spiritual change transcendental — meaning that it takes us beyond what we already know. In other words, how can a new endeavour reveal anything if you already know your reasons for doing it?
Despite our inclinations to want to know the meaning behind everything happening, there doesn’t need to be answers to every question or reasons behind every motivation — even seemingly important ones like choosing to change your career and take a yoga teacher training.
Our inability to comprehend the ‘why’ of things doesn’t render them meaningless, as we might initially suspect. It allows the deeper meaning of the unknown to endure without our intervening in what makes it meaningful: the very fact that it is beyond us.
I’ve been teaching yoga for about 15 years now, and I still don’t know why I teach. Some days, I feel inspired and privileged to help people improve their health and well-being. I revel in how powerful the practice is and what a difference it can make in people’s lives.
On other days, it can be like any other job — a bit of a slog (no offence ;).
Curran is member of the Yoga Santosha Teacher Training faculty. Learn More…