I came across the concept of living curriculum in a book about Bikram Yoga (Hell-Bent, Benjamin Lorr) and it resonated with me immediately. Like Piaget’s theories of learning as individual meaning making, the concept of the living curriculum is that once you commit to a spiritual path, life itself presents you with exactly the lessons you are meant to learn day by day. The job of the student is to recognize these as lessons, they may be disguised as difficult people or challenging situations!
I felt myself living this process very strongly a year ago as I came off the anti-depressant medication I had been taking daily for almost five years. Despite challenges, including my doctor’s stated belief that I was statistically unlikely to succeed, I felt supported through the process, becoming more and more confident that it was the right action at the right time. One of my major supports was a Monday-morning Buddhist study group. It amazed me how, each week the dharma or teachings would deliver exactly the message I needed to continue. It was as if an all-seeing teacher had spent hours designing a perfectly timed curriculum, tailored to my needs.
One Monday I arrived feeling shaky, unable to let go of an image from a dream the night before. In the dream I had been on a bicycle journey, descending to cross a stream, carrying my bike over my shoulder. However as I descended the rocky steps they began to shift and move under my feet and I felt afraid. Convinced there was a better, less dangerous route I turned and ascended, finding myself standing by a bitumen road. As cars whizzed by I realized that while I could hitch a ride to my destination, I would have to abandon my bike by the roadside. It was the sensation of the shifting stepping stones underfoot that stayed with me as I woke in an uneasy mood and headed off to class.
The course we were doing was called Fearlessness in Everyday Life and through it we were learning to change our relationship to fear by acknowledging and making friends it. This particular Monday, sitting cross-legged on my cushion, listening to the recorded talk some words jumped out at me “…fear is the stepping stone to fearlessness..” Suddenly I knew why backing out from the stream crossing in my dream hadn’t produced a happy ending. The busy road (efficient, modern, flat) wasn’t an alternative to being brave enough to face the watery depths (emotion). Not unless I was prepared to leave a part of my self (freedom, balance) by the wayside.