Learning how to follow sounds like an oxymoron. But, if we define yoga as the cessation of unnecessary mental chatter allowing a connection to the divine, perhaps it isn't such a stretch to frame the art of taking someone else's lead as a progressive learning opportunity. Dancing has a clear leader (the man) and follower (the woman.) All businesses have org charts defining the control structures in place. And, perhaps the most basic form of interaction we experience, the parent/child relationship, is all about learning how to lead and how to follow, ideally from both sides of the equation.
One of my favorite compliments of 2011 occurred when a friend told me she thought I was a good listener. Perhaps because this was unexpected, perhaps because I have some insecurity in that aspect, it meant a lot to me to hear someone say that, to hear someone genuinely express approval of my ability to listen and understand what they had to say.
Anyone can talk just to hear themselves speak. Anyone can bark orders, no matter how relevant or useful they may be. A lot of people struggle with this, for reasons of self confidence, lack of subject matter expertise, or general shyness in public. There are so many opportunities to hone the craft of leadership and so much has been written on that subject that I don't feel any need to add my own take. Strong leadership is seductive, inspiring, and the reason we feel the excitement of life.
But learning how to follow is more than just saddling up to the strongest bull you can find and holding on as long as possible. Learning how to follow is all about bending but not breaking. The best followers have a suppleness to their character which allows them to absorb from all of the corners as well as the center. The gold in life is buried in strange places, it doesn't sit on the surface waiting for us to come along, pick it up, and put it in our pockets. It requires some effort to find the gems we seek, and that effort is the art of following.
Following starts by placing our own self interests aside, at least for the moment. A strong ego can get in the way of our desire to follow because the ego likes to steer and following is all about relinquishing control of the wheel. But following is more than just letting go.
Following requires action, understanding, and absorbing the lessons, the teachings, the intent, and the meaning behind the instruction and example set for us. But it is important to not follow blindly. To be a good follower, we must question all leadership all the time.
First, we try to understand the message, the intent, the context, and the purpose.
Then, we decide how to implement that mantra into our own lives, how to incorporate or internalize the teaching.
Last, we have to evaluate our interpretation and results compared to the original, how well did we transform as a result of the instruction? This requires a look backward in time to the before image and a comparison with the present moment.
Very few people take time to do this. I honestly believe there is great value in learning how to follow, great value because of the wealth of life experience that is available to us when we truly open ourselves up to absorbing it.
And I don't just mean great professors or gurus or life leaders, I mean everyone around us, the homeless, our neighbors, the most humble of souls all have lessons to teach us every day, all we have to do is learn how to listen.