Recently YogaCity NYC’s Stephen Treffinger, had the opportunity to catch up with highly respected teacher Harshada Wagner who offers training programs for meditation and "awakened living." They discussed sadhana and the student/teacher relationship.
Stephen Treffinger: Harshada, share a little about your experience as a meditation teacher?
Harshada Wagner: Not sure I would define myself as a meditation teacher. I teach and focus on sadhana, not just formal meditation.
In sadhana, we focus on the "whole enchilada." It's a holistic process of transformation and awakening. Meditation is a major focus, but not the only focus.
ST: Tell us about your influences and how you got involved.
HW: As a teenager, I came from a chemically dependent family and was going down that same path as a kid. I wanted to get clean and sober so I went to AA and went through the whole 12 step path. In a way, that’s the foundation of my spiritual practices and what I teach. The eleventh-step says that "through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him...” That's really the heart of spirituality.
In those early days, around the age of 17, someone gave me Be Here Now. That was like a bomb in my heart and life. It got me into Eastern Spirituality. I was in a small town but I read whatever I could get my hands on. When I went to college, I met Gabriel Halpern in Chicago and began to study Iyengar. I studied therapeutics with him and studied “yoga as medicine.” I also worked with Gorakh Hayashi a psychotherapist who was a great yogi, and had himself studied with Eugene Gendlin. He was the one who turned me onto the work of Swami Muktananda. After that I did many years of training in the lineage of Siddha Yoga.
Harshada primarily teaches – one on one – guiding, counseling, training. He also offers regular retreats at Omega and Kripalu and does videos on Yogaglo so that you can meditate with him. Check out his website for more information by clickinghere.
ST: Is there anyone in particular that influenced you deeply as a teacher?
HW: In India I have a beloved friend and teacher. He is an older sannyasi with a deep attainment. Now he lives as a hermit, just lives alone, grows a garden and enjoys the wilderness in the place where he lives. I met him many years ago and wanted to know his state. There are lots of seekers in yoga, but not so many finders. He was clearly a finder. So I asked him "What's the secret??” At that point he only said that the "secret" was only an "apparent secret", but he spent a great deal of time helping me after that. Mostly he blasted my concepts about practice and spoke directly about the state of freedom. I had been a serious yogi for many years by the time I worked seriously with my dear friend. He helped everything come together and helped me let go of all the unnecessary crap.
ST: How do you see the role of the teacher, in your own life, and in relation to others? How do inspiration and confrontation relate to that role? Anything you’d share on the responsibility of a yoga or meditation “teacher”
HW: As I develop, my relationship with the teacher is nirguna, meaning formless. For many years, I surrendered deeply to my guru. I trained with her, served her, and used her as a focal point for my whole sadhana. At some point, I began to experience deep guidance from within. Sometimes I still visit my old sannyasi friend, and I read the books of the masters I have learned from in the past, but I find that the Guru now speaks through many mouths. Earlier, it was important for me to learn from and serve just one master.
Now it's different.
During the whole first stage of sadhana- which can last for years- a student needs supervision. A sincere student needs a teacher who has attained something themselves to supervise their progress and help them avoid self deception. Later on, the teacher is more of a beloved spiritual friend. Someone that can hold space for your attainment and be there when you "fall off the wagon."
That whole relationship depends on the depth of the student's sincerity and the level of the teacher's attainment. In the Mahabharata, there is a story of a poor tribal boy named Eklavya who wants to learn archery, but because of his low caste cannot study directly with Drona, the master. So while the master is off teaching the royal princes, Eklavya makes a statue of the master, worships it and meditates in its presence.
In meditation, Eklavya receives all of the teachings, even secret ones that the princes do not learn. It's a story about how our sincere devotion and intensity will draw guidance.
In the story, Drona didn't even know this was going on. His greatest archery trick was to shoot an arrow and weave it between the teeth of a running dog without hurting the dog. Only Drona could perform this shot. Drona didn't know about Eklavya until he saw a dog running around with an arrow woven in it's teeth.
You also asked about confrontation. In the classical system, the Guru is the ego assassin. The guru is always confronting and loving in such a way that melts or burns away our egoic sense of self. I am not into all that, but if people are engaged in sadhana, that process will take place none the less. I won't even mean to do it, but their sincerity will do it. I will say something very innocently, but it will go in very deeply- sometimes melting, sometimes burning.
I’ll usually ask permission to be confrontational if a student needs to be confronted. I am too worried about people liking me. I am a wimp as classical teachers go.
Sadhana is the process of awakening to the pulse of ever-increasing sensitivity. It's a deep energy thing, we awaken to our Soul power, our deep Essence, with our mind, our feelings, our body, and in our life. All of these levels are asleep at first. Like when your leg falls asleep. It is alive, sort of, but dumb and floppy. When we begin sadhana our inner and outer worlds are like that- numb and floppy.
Sadhana is about connecting with and developing a sensitivity to our essence, and then experiencing that essence in everything. Permeating all these layers with that same awareness, we contact a deeper sense of purpose and priority. From there we practice yoga. My goal is for people to learn sadhana in a deeply personal way.
ST: Quite engaged… Lastly, so what’s the secret? In your own words?
HW: The essence is that people get in touch with their most sincere heart’s longing… getting in touch with that… bring that longing into contact with loving awakened guidance in some form. When these two elements come together – that is the most potent conversation.
Harshada primarily teaches – one on one – guiding, counseling, training. He also offers regular retreats at Omega and Kripalu and does videos on Yogaglo so that you can meditate with him. Check out his website for more information by clicking here.