Sitting cross-legged on a hardwood floor, I listened to my teacher’s voice as he instructed me and the other students surrounding me in a specific method of breathing in and breathing out. The method took great concentration, especially for a beginner, which I was.
When he said we would practice some breathing exercises, my first thought was, “Ah, this will be easy.” I had already been practicing some Indian-style hatha yoga and pranayama for many years at that point and thought my experience would just transfer over to this new system.
Not so. Really, the only similarity was breathing in and out through the nostrils. And, of course, concentrating on working with the breath.
I started over, as instructed, each time I lost focus in trying to reach a count of nine complete breaths. At some point in my series of attempts, one of my fellow students proudly asked, “What should we do when we get to nine?”
My teacher’s answer: “Do it again.”
Either way – whether we completed the work or failed over and over – we simply started again, at the very beginning.
While this was not so encouraging for me in the moment, and even a bit frustrating, over the years of being a student and now a teacher, I have come to see this as an invaluable lesson and opportunity to be applied in virtually any circumstance.
There have been many times when my teachers have taught me something I already learned. I understand the difficulty of cultivating a beginner’s mind when I see impatience in my own classroom. There is so much to learn with limited time and resources.
Now, even when hearing something for what seems like the 100th time, I still hang on every word my teachers say. I may focus on listening or visualizing their words rather than writing things down. If nothing more, it is an opportunity to confirm I have correct understanding.
But more often, it is much more. It is a chance at developing mastery in an essential concept of my discipline and deepening my skill at applying that concept to more advanced practices.
Doing it again – and again and again – has given me a base I can build onto and upon! Again and again.