I know nothing
Maintaining a beginner’s mindset can be healthy for your practice, writes Victoria Jackson
Socrates was supposed to have said: “I know that I know nothing” – proving that even the greatest minds in Greek philosophy weren’t immune from a little imposter syndrome (although, coming from Socrates, it’s possible this was actually a humble-brag, or whatever the ancient Greeks
would have called it).
In any case, I thought of this line recently when a friend told me about a class she’d taught a while ago. Back then she thought it was her best offering, infused with her understanding from personal experience, but now all she feels is embarrassment! Not that it was a bad class, not because she’d taught poorly, simply because she’s come to a new level of awareness that reveals how limited her previous understanding was.
Like Socrates, she now knows how little she knew.
I often feel the same way in my own practice. With every small step forward, I feel I take several larger ones backwards. I realise over and again that the things I thought I understood have much deeper layers. Sometimes the sense of being endlessly at the beginning is so overwhelming I wonder if I have the tenacity to continue. How many times will I think I’ve finally nailed chaturanga only to find each time that there’s so much more to it – never mind the eternal quest for enlightenment!
But teaching a group of actual yoga beginners recently, who really do know nothing, puts into perspective any confidence-wobbles or uncertainties I might have about my own understanding. Of course I don’t have all the answers for them, but I have sufficient experience to lead them as they set out on their own yoga adventures. And I learn much from them. I watch them begin so full of uncertainty yet with excited expectation. They jump in with both feet (metaphorically, that is!) eager to explore each weekly lesson. They do their practice at home and come back to class ready for more, sharing experiences and asking questions. Quite rightly, they have no hang-ups about feeling like beginners.
In fact they’re just doing what one of my wise teachers often advises me – to enjoy g etting l ost in the not knowing. And I am finding that jumping again and again into deep waters with no idea what I might encounter is actually the very inspiration that fuels my teaching and keeps me returning to the mat for my own practice. To feel a beginner is to have an ocean of discoveries still ahead, all the possibilities and no risk of failure. It’s a great exploration and what could be more exciting than that? Now where’s that list of 84,000 asanas? It’s time for me to begin again.
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher