By Elisabeth Almerini
It’s a privilege, a delight, a feast of anxiety-inducing moments; a mirror to every type of transference you possess; an opportunity to wonder if you’ve made any sort of ‘spiritual progress’ at all and a chance to see that you have; a tremendous amount of behind the scenes work; understanding what ‘emotionally exhausted’ really means; realizing that all of us, including teachers, are imperfect human beings; an occasion to watch this work we love transform the lives of people; a responsibility, and a joy. I can never give a short or concise answer when asked “What’s it like to be an apprentice?” It’s impossible.
I knew after my first year of class that this school and this work would be my path. The thought of participating in passing it on didn’t start to seem even a remote possibility until I gave a graduate presentation at the 2011 All School Meeting. Despite feeling that I was somehow ‘not good enough’ or ‘not spiritual enough’ or ‘not something enough,' I started talking about my longing. Being unsure of myself and a generally quiet type, the amount of talking I did was rather seriously limited, and I spent a lot of time hoping someone in charge would figure it out and pick me. It wasn’t until I actually said clearly and unequivocally “I want to be a teacher” that things started to happen. The first thing that happened was that somebody else was chosen to be an apprentice for Brenda’s next class and I got to wrestle with anger, jealousy, disappointment, feeling inadequate and a host of other feelings I would rather have avoided. It was important and necessary, because how can you be with students you’re asking to allow all of themselves to be present if you can’t be present to your own emotions - I’m still not going to say it was something I relished.
When the opportunity arose to apprentice in Jeff and Eileen’s class in New York, I felt humbled and grateful and when I heard the second apprentice was going to be my dear friend Kerry, everything seemed perfect. I thought I had realized it wasn’t all going to be some sort of ecstatic spiritual experience all the time, but I was fooling myself. There was a lot of work plain old un-ecstatic work before the class even started: accompanying Jeff and Eileen to various workshops and public lectures to get the word out that the class was being offered, setting things up, taking things down, smiling and talking to lots of people while my feet were hurting from the high heeled shoes I thought I should wear to look “professional,” trying to figure out how best to help Eileen and Jeff. There’s so many practical things involved in the day to day running of the class - things like making sure there are enough handouts, making sure there’s plenty of water for tea, arranging tables for practicing healings, writing words to the niggun on big sheets of paper which inevitably fall down at some point, making sure everyone is back in the room after breaks and lunch, getting (non-smelly) flowers so the room looks nice and whatever else needs doing. Not exactly the stuff of spiritual ecstasy.
Sitting in the front of the class felt very strange. I was never sure where to look or who to look at and, sadly, spent some time worrying if I looked presentable - was my clothing ok? Was I slouching? Did my face have the appropriate expression? Was my hair weird? Did I look as tired as I felt? I did, mostly, get over that once we started getting into the material - hearing it again was exciting and comforting, because it felt both new and familiar. Getting to know the students, hearing their stories, and watching them wrestle with the material - that’s where the feeling of joy and responsibility started. Being an
apprentice, I’m not teaching the material directly, as are Jeff and Eileen, but by holding the class with Kerry, helping create a container for them, and being absolutely present to them, I also help transmit the material. As is true with all of our work, teaching and healing go both ways. In supporting the class, I’m not alone. I am also supported - by Kerry, by Jeff and Eileen, by all who have gone before us. And, again, as is always true with this work, everything gets included: unhelpful things I may have said to a student, feeling frustrated, being annoyed at myself or Kerry or even at Jeff or Eileen, feeling happy, feeling like I’m an important part of the class - all of it gets to be there and becomes a part of our shared experience.
I will be privileged to have two more years to be with this class co-creating something unforgettable, learning more about how to share our work in a way that reaches our students and learning more about myself in the process. Where I’ll end up after that isn’t exactly clear to me - will I be ready to do justice to Jason’s work with a class of my own? Is anyone ever ready for that? I don’t know, but I’ll let you know then.