“My experience is that the teachers we need most are the people we’re living with right now.” ~Byron Katie
I have always been of the opinion that the people around us are our teachers.
Specifically, I have always seen what I perceive to be negative traits in others as opportunities to develop patience or kindness toward them. I see it as a struggle they are going through, and if I can be patient or kind, then that helps them. It also teaches me how to embody those qualities even when I don’t feel like it.
If a colleague, friend, or acquaintance is abrasive or aggressive, I try to mentally extend loving thoughts to them.
I think about what it’s like to be in their shoes and how I can lead by example by being kind to them. I breathe in their perceived negativity and breathe out positivity. I tell myself, this is your opportunity to practice. So I practice.
And I think without realizing it, sometimes I can be smug about it. Subconsciously, despite all my yogic training, my interest in Buddhism, and my general belief that we are all the same, I inadvertently elevate myself in stature compared to others.
I am mentally giving myself yogic brownie points—which, in the very nature of yoga, do not exist!
When you’re on a spiritual path in particular, it can be easy sometimes to fall into the illusion that you’ve made it. You’ve figured it out. You are enlightened and can now teach everybody else how to be just like you.
One morning recently I had an epiphany about my philosophy that everybody is my teacher. I still believe it to be the case, but I realized that by thinking from my ego, I was always seeing other people as teaching me qualities to help deal with them better. I wasn’t really thinking about how I could be better.
It was always about being more patient with grumpiness, being more loving toward animosity, opening my heart to a closed one.
There goes the illusion again, that I have made it—I have learned all I need to learn about my less than desirable qualities, and just need to learn about how to handle other imperfect people. It makes me laugh now as I’m typing it.
In simple terms, I had basically forgotten that I also had the potential to be quite annoying or difficult too. Just like every other human on the planet. I’m not perfect. And it’s something I have to keep remembering.
Then I realized in a moment of genuine clarity that one of my greatest teachers is my partner. He will probably scoff when he reads this, as he won’t see himself in this light, but it’s true.
He loves me for who I am, whether that’s a yogi getting up at 5AM to practice and unwittingly waking him up by chanting quietly in the next room, or someone who proclaims she’s on a vegan diet this week and then sneaks in a bit of cheese in a moment of weakness.
He patiently (most of the time!) catches spiders for me despite it clearly being an irrational fear that I should probably deal with. He laughs at my jokes even when they aren’t funny, which I shamefully never do for him.
He forgives and loves people, again and again, in a much more graceful way than I ever have. He knows he is not perfect and that nobody else is. He doesn’t try to attain perfection. He just lives as well as he can in that moment.
In seeing how he embraces all of me, I realize the goal isn’t merely to learn from other people’s imperfections, but also to accept them—and to accept that I too have room for growth, and that’s perfectly okay. None us will ever have it all figured out, and none of us needs to be perfect.
Instead of looking at how to deal with qualities in others that I perceive negatively, I now look at how to embrace their positive qualities so I can gradually start to embody them more myself. I still aim to lead by example, but I also strive to follow the many positive examples others set.
And this is how we can all teach other—by seeing the best in each other and bringing out the best in each other. We are all on equal footing, human and imperfect. Let’s learn and love together.
Group of meditators image via Shutterstock