“I began to learn to trust in something bigger than myself.” –Michael Fukumura is an attorney and master yoga teacher.
What does guru mean to me? In the traditional sense, guru means there is a master, or someone who is perceived, or even perceives himself, as enlightened. That was the way that I understood the term before studying yoga, before studying philosophy, before practicing and before really having a sense of the whole culture of yoga and the spiritual arts of awakening.
I associated guru with someone who is almost an enlightened being. Someone who is far removed from me. An unattainable position. It was someone other than, certainly, of myself. And it is certainly someone who has an elevated position of authority that people who are striving for and seeking, will go to for knowledge and for cultivating awareness.
The more I got into, and started practicing yoga, and studying myself I began to recognize, first and foremost, that this was the whole practice of a svadhyaya. Meaning the study of the self…the bigger Self.
I learned about all the different aspects of myself; strengths and weaknesses, all my quirks and foibles and so forth. Slowly, I delved deeper and deeper, and did more inner study, self-reflection, meditation and many different ways of going deeper inwards. I began to learn to trust in something bigger than myself.
I also found teachers. Not gurus, but teachers who had sincerely devoted themselves to a certain path. They were steadfast, and had developed a level of mastery where it wasn’t just knowledge and skill, but they also had devotion and love. They had an ability to teach what comes from the heart.
I saw that certain teachers were in their mind, but not in their heart. I tended to gravitate to those who were balanced because I needed that. I craved inner balance and so I sought that from others. I gravitated toward those teachers who I felt resonated with me because they were balanced inside, integrated, at a very, very high level.
I was fortunate to be able to study with teachers both nationally and internationally. Once I had a passion for learning, I would go wherever these teachers were. For many years, I went to trainings and workshops and traveled just to be in the same presence with these teachers. Inside and outside of the classroom. I got to see how the things they did in the classroom applied to their relationships and daily life.
The aspect of community is really important. We start with the inner self and the teacher, then the relationship with the teacher, and then into community. It could be the small local community, the yoga community, a spiritual community or just your own neighborhood. These are checks and balances. If you focus exclusively on yourself, you won’t really have a reference. If you only study with a teacher, and you don’t really balance that with an inward direction, then you may become dependent on the teacher. All three, community, self and teacher, are really important. That’s how my perception of guru changed. See it inside, see it through the teacher, and see it in the community.
In the community, kids are our teachers. We learn from the qualities of the their heart-like enthusiasm, wonder and that fresh beginner’s mind. We see the opposite in ourselves. People often get clouded in their vision, so it’s great to have kids to remind us. Limiting periods of perception are inevitable. When we can’t see, we need to ask who and what in our life will enable us to open the door? To open the screens and let the light come in? That’s what the guru is to me. It comes from inside, a teacher, or from someone else.
My wife is my guru all the time, again, again, and again. She grounds me and she allows me to be. She laughs at the same time and says, “Okay. Did you consider this?” It’s great to be in long-term relationships where a person really knows you and you’re not in this fantasy all the time. If you’re always in short-term relationships, you’re going to forever be in the honeymoon phase.
We’ve been together since she was 16 and I was 18. I’m now 53. You see everything through that lens. That’s a true guru. A long-term partner who really knows you inside and out. Who’s seen you at the highs and lows. That’s what life is. It’s not just awe.
If someone says they’re in a long-term relationship, they may say, “Oh, it’s all good.” Come on. Either they’re lying or they haven’t really truly lived it. When you are really heavy in who you are, heavy where you are grounded and so embodied in what you authentically are, you become anchored. That anchoring is real connection. When you’re anchored, you’re connected to something bigger than just yourself.
1st part of The Yoga Blog in-person interview series with Michael Fukumura in Cardiff by the Sea, CA. Interviewed by Hung Tran and Dawn Morningstar. Edited by Jack Greene and Hung Tran.
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