A teacher is not forever, but their teachings can last forever. The individuals or lessons come and go in your life. Some of them have a greater impact than others and impart infinite wisdom and kindness onto you, while others may never even directly communicate with you. Teachers are everywhere, and I’m grateful for each and every one.
This past Sunday I took an Anusara-inspired yoga class at the Landing, my home base studio, from Joe Taft, an Asheville instructor. He infused his class with allegory, exciting and loving energy, expert physical cues and pacing. It made me feel so vibrant and alive, and it reminded me of my dear teachers in Miami, Carol Garabedian and Peter Barber. I left glowing, excitedly telling my manfriend Charles that it was so similar to my Miami teachings!
The week earlier I felt a calling to more meditation and learning about Buddhist practices, also inspired by Peter. I connected with that urge in Yong’s meditation class. The insights Peter brought to each of his classes—that all beings may be happy, and free from suffering and to move and act with loving kindness—paired with heart-centered asana echoed through me last Wednesday.
During meditation, it occurred to me to send Peter a note—email or written? I thought—but I didn’t do it yet. I wanted to tell him about my Joe Taft experience, and how I’ve been working to incorporate the loving kindness that he sought into my own practice, asana, pranayama and meditation. I wanted to tell him the guidance he gave me through the immersion with Carol still rings true and resonates in my own heart and through my movements on and off the mat. I wanted to tell him that Anusara, his classes and in particular that immersion was a turning point in my life when I realized I could embrace loving practices and a gracious heart as the connection between yoga in practice and life in practice.
Peter was 68. He was a tall, thin-framed man. A former attorney with a lingering New York accent who drove his black BMW like a bat outta hell. He focused on therapeutics and his physical abilities amazed me. He said until recently he did his age in sun salutes for his birthday every year.
Among other things, his humor and intelligent instruction delivered a safe and beautiful practice to those around him. He loved jazz, and he gave an amazing amount of love to his students and peers. He sometimes snored in savasana, farted on occasion when he was teaching, and his OM-ing pitch was often hard for me to match. He was the first teacher I knew who would guide us through a vigorous asana practice—unheated and perfect—with a cup of coffee in hand. He was the FIRST teacher I encountered in Miami, though I only met him before I went into a different class. Little did I know then what a wonderful experience I would end up having with the Anusara community.
Peter died over the past weekend, likely hours before I practiced with Joe and joyfully moved through that Anusara-inspired class. I mentioned him to Joe that morning, who said he’d practiced with Peter before.
I didn’t know Peter extremely well outside of practice, but in the interaction I did have with him, he reassured me that I was moving on my own path, in my own way. He encouraged me to push my physical asana practice forward when I joined his advanced class on Saturday mornings. He told me I would be no doubt an excellent teacher.
What is most significant about Peter and Carol, my other Miami teacher who can’t be overlooked, is that even though I looked up to them so much, and I loved them so much, they are real. Authentic. They have their quirks and oddities, but their hearts and their experience shines so brightly to me. That made the lessons I received from them all the more impactful.
While my heart is heavy for the loss of a wonderful teacher in my life and the lives of so many others, I can’t help but honor his memory with a shiny heart and bright smile today. I can’t help but move with lightness and loving kindness, because that’s what I would imagine Peter would do. That…being able to move forward with dedication and loving kindness no matter the circumstances or suffering in your midst… is what I learned from him.
Peter, you are dearly missed, but your heart still shines.