A Johari’s Window into Teaching

A few years ago I met a kindred spirit here in the Ojai yoga community. Suza Francina is a seasoned Iyengar yoga teacher, published author of numerous books on yoga and former mayor of Ojai who brings a big heart to everything she does. Sensing our connection, she gave me a copy of her latest book, Fishing on Facebook.

In short, the book is about Suza’s experience dating at the age of 60. But it’s also an expose of why just asana and meditation and the “light and love” approach to personal growth doesn’t cut it. As a fellow yoga teacher and writer committed to shedding light on my own very human shadow side, I was blown away by the guts it took for Suza to reveal her blindspots and personal story with such vulnerability.

As a fellow woman trying to navigate the dating world, I was triggered by Suza’s desperation to be loved and her willingness to ignore what she sensed to be true for what she wanted to be true. I kept thinking, “How could she be so blind?!” I cringed a lot. At first I cringed at what she was saying, and then I cringed because I realized I was cringing because there must be something about her experience that was too close to home for me.

I was thinking about all of this recently when I was on a date and realizing just how hard this  dating thing is for me. As I was trying to explain to my date about how I was feeling and exchange insights about ourselves, I was thinking of Johari’s Window. I actually was. Maybe that’s one reason why I received the feedback from him that I can be kind of complicated and too in my head. Ha!

But anyway. Johari’s Window. It’s a model developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (hence Joe-Harry’s Window) used to discuss personal development and interpersonal and group dynamics. The gist is that there are 4 panes to personal awareness:

1. Things I know about myself that others know, too.

2. Things I don’t know about myself that others do.

3. Things I know about myself that I keep hidden from others.

4. Things that neither I nor others know about myself.

The idea is that the more “open” area there is, the more understanding and cooperation and trust there is, and hence, the potential for more successful relationships.

And though I’d agree that one’s ability to be self-aware and to reveal things about oneself that are vulnerable is a very important thing, it’s only one part of the picture. Why do I say this? Because I’m pretty good at this, this willingness to be open and to not hide things about myself, and yet I can still be a mess at times when it comes to dating.

Why? Because I’m not so good when it comes to the things that the other person can see about myself that I can’t, and even more so, when it comes to all the things that neither one of us can know about ourselves, the other and the relationship.

I could riff here about how we as humans have the tendency to want to limit things by knowing because it’s so uncomfortable to live with uncertainty. Or about the spiritual paradox that we can’t ever really know anything anyway. Or about the perpetual delusion we suffer under that if we can know something in one moment it will always be that way…

But instead I’ll stick to a riff on the role of a yoga teacher in light of Johari’s window.

Holding space with a light and love attitude for students to find self-awareness through a sweaty sequence is great, but it’s kind of like saying that just increasing your “open” area is enough to be truly self-aware and in healthy relationship. There’s more to it.

Because people are masters at avoiding discomfort and at hiding from physical and emotional edges. If we really want to grow, we need the feedback of others to mitigate our blindspots, no matter how much it might make us want to throw up or run away.

As teachers, we offer feedback in the form of an insightful adjustment, a well-placed strap or block, or from the intelligence of a sequence of poses; all of these things have the potential to illuminate a blind spot or to suddenly budge open a window into ourselves that was long ago painted shut.

Another piece is to create the type of learning environment that inspires students to be more of who they are—to show the parts of themselves that they know but might not have ever let others see. The way to do this is to model it: reveal who you are as a person through how you teach.

And finally, be willing to play in the unknown—the place where you and your students meet in the mystery of it all. Whether in a relationship or in a yoga class, the unknown is where most of the magic resides. And since this is where I struggle the most in relationship, this is a place that I tend to try to practice being in when I teach:

There’s the oldie but goodie way of simply coming to class without a plan. But I was also reminded last weekend when I was teaching a training in a new studio of just how good a different studio or new teaching situation is for revealing unknown parts of myself—the same way that offering your students experiences they’ve never had is like opening a window into unknown parts of themselves.

Another way that I like to celebrate the unknown is when all the students are tucked in to their savasanas, steeping in all the knew awareness they’ve awakened in their bodies, I like to just sit there and let the tenderness and the fullness of the moment crack my heart open. What a sweet thing to share: a collective moment of nothing to figure out, nothing to label or contain, just the opportunity to be held by the sheer inevitability of love when willing to be undefended and connected to what is.

Which is kind of the point. As Suza says in the final chapter of her book: Our great psychological challenge, both in human relationships and the wider world, is to see what actually is, without projection, without the veil of illusion, and thus see the mixed bag that all human beings are.

And so, whether in yoga or in dating or in any other arena in your life, here’s to having the courage to peer through all four panes into the mystery and the mixed bag so that we can create more relationships and ways of being based in true freedom and love.