In the heart of the oldest primary rainforest in SE Asia is the Maliau Basin, on the island of Borneo. This basin was created by ancient volcanic activity which left this area sunken into a volcanic crater and filled with lush jungle and stunning streams which cascade into waterfalls. In the heart of the Maliau Basin lies Asiatic Organic Farm and Resort, where I now find myself. Literally, this is where I find me…
I originally came here as a volunteer to learn about organic permaculture farming methods and help out where I could. Upon my arrival, I realized my mission here was to be much greater than that, and once again the universe had opened up a path which is perfect for little me. There is a small resort area at the back of the farm consisting of two Malay longhouses built to house guests, and one which serves as a hall. The resort is in the process of just being finished up, and does not house guests… yet.
There are about 50 farm workers here, from the Philippines and Indonesia. They speak very little to no English, so right away I began hosting evening English lessons every night. I teach them English, they teach me life. I think I get the good end of the deal. The heart of these people, who work hard in the hot equatorial sun, have little time off, and no big “future” to speak of, is some of the biggest heart I’ve known. They will share anything they have, are eager to
learn, they are open and without guise, and always happy. I don’t think I’ve seen one snarled lip, sideways glance, or heard one bad word about another person in the last 4 weeks. Funny thing, when I was teaching one night I used the example sentence, “She is always happy, he is always mean”. My friend who helps to translate the sentence stopped, he could not translate this for me. You see, there is no word for “mean”. They don’t know what this is. They have a word for “angry”, a temporary reaction-based emotion, but not for “mean”, a temperament which is constantly rude and disrespectful to others. They don’t know this. I decided then and there that I should learn this from them, and I take the word out of my vocabulary.
Upon learning I am a Yoga teacher, they all keenly ask me when will be their lessons. At first I am hesitant, because I came here not to work at my job, but as a kind of retreat when I could really focus on my own practice depth. But, I love them, and cannot say no to them. They have no exposure to yoga, but can see that it makes me the person I am and would like to have the same qualities : peaceful, content, focused, healthy. So, now I am the Yoga and English teacher. I’m sure that my students understand very little of what I say when I guide the class.
Yet, they practice alongside me. Every night, I have a group of Sun Saluting, focused Warriors.
I thought this time teaching might take away from my own time to further my personal practice. Foolish Jesse, haven’t you learned by now? I always think I know best, and am often pleasantly surprised to find that I don’t. You see, teaching them has taught me and furthered my practice. Our lessons are not about the words, or telling them to make their body feel like a clear sky after the rain. Our lessons are about sharing a common positive energy. Supporting eachother through adversity, communicating through the eyes and body, and really watching my students to understand where to next take the lesson. I have to focus on them for the lesson to be beneficial. We do not need the words because yoga carries an energy and sensitivity all its own that is highly personal. They can feel this without me telling them, maybe moreso because I am not telling them how to feel or move, they go completely off their own bio-feedback.
Our interactions are similar outside yoga practice. Their English is improving, but still not fully functional. Often we communicate through a gentle expression, or smiling and rubbing our bellies to say the food was good, or proffering whatever we hold in our hands to share as a sign of friendship and love. These are some of the truest exchanges with other people I’ve ever had. There are no word games, no hidden intention, just open sharing with one another, a common need for camaraderie. It reminds me of a quote by one of my favorite bands, Modest Mouse. “Language is the liquid that we’re all dissolved in… Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem.”
I now prepare to hold a Vinyasa Yoga retreat at this eco farm, it’s first grand opening, over Christmas. I think I will be a better teacher from what my new family has taught me. If you listen, really listen, you can hear through the heart. If your energy is pure and focused on benefiting another, it will. A farm worker in a third world country has something to teach and share with you. Most of all, love and respect for eachother are a language all their own, and universally spoken.