Saturday, October 13, 2007

Teaching (Part II); and a Challenge

It's a privilege, really. I was ungracious to be unable to see that in my younger day, when I had the opportunity to teach. Now the opportunities are rare--at least in the way of classroom teaching--and seem all the more to be valued when they come along. My two days at Cal State Fullerton, as usual, were filled with opportunity and fulfillment, with some doors opened, I would like to think, and some insights gained. To each his or her own small piece, whatever they choose to glean. For one young woman yesterday it happened to be the word "surrender," which cropped up in a poem that I read and provoked her question. I explained that my understanding of surrender was more than simply giving up, yielding, giving in, but involved also the embrace of opportunity, and this seemed to allow her to resolve some inner struggle she had been confronting and to give her some new sense of peace.

For myself, I think, the learning part has also to do with a kind of surrender--to the recognition that the less I strive to "teach" the more I manage to open up the field for learning. Once I start to wrestle rationally with a question, to "understand" it and provide the "answer," I tie myself down to head-driven logic which is very limited in its usefulness. If I try instead to feel where the questioner is coming from at heart-level and answer from the same place in myself, the result is a kind of opening of possibility that is much richer, much more fully human, much more connected. I don't know whether this makes any kind of sense to anyone else, but it makes perfect sense to me.

I can count on one hand the number of teachers who truly reached me in the course of my education, all the way from kindergarten through doctorate. Those were the people who inspired me not with how much they knew (although this may have been impressive, too) but with their peculiar passion, their inner sense of self, their uncompromising readiness to show the inside out.

I wonder if you had teacher like this? I think we all did. I'd love to start a thread of tributes to such teachers--is this what's called a "meme"?. Would anyone out there care to pitch in?

Who inspired you? Who led the way to those insights that have guided your life? Whose teaching continues to resonate in your life? Please let me know, and pass on the invitation if you find it interesting.

If you decide to take up these questions in your own blog, please drop the link to the comments section of this post. I'm planning to compile excerpts of the submissions in an upcoming post.

Many thanks to those readers and bloggers who have already contributed.


Mark said...

I have a professor who is a wonderful role model for me. The kind of person I'd like to be someday. He is abnormally intelligent about the field I'm passionate about, well thought, and still manages to be able to maintain a rather egoless throughout his endeavors. I'd love to be able to know all that I want to know and still remain humble about it like that. Few people pull it off.

Another thing this professor does that I admire is that he purposely doesn't go easy on me in class. He knows that I'm in his field of study and that I'm passionate about it, so he never lets me off easy. He pushes me to think harder, turn in better papers, and become the person I'm aspiring to be. In my eyes, that's a sign of respect between student and teacher. I really admire that.

Through all of his hard work as a professor, he manages to have a home life which he's also very passionate about. He talks about his family in class a lot, which lets me know that even though he's big into academia, relationships are still his first priority. Another admirable trait. I hope someday to become something like what I've described, but that's a very long term ideal.

Mark said...

I really should learn to proofread, eh? ;)

Taradharma said...

my college lit and creative writing teacher validated my vision and encouraged me to expand on it. He was a musician of note, a conspiracy theorist on JFK, a beautiful man physically and spiritually. He taught me the craft of writing, of making my personal story universal. He made me see that the passion was only the beginning, that I needed the skill and critical thinking to make sense of it all.

Thank you for allowing me to remember him - he passed away many years ago and I still miss him dearly.

Anonymous said...

peter, wow! what a powerful 2 days. you profoundly touched the hearts and minds of me and my students when you came to my class. you are the inspiratinal teacher you talk about. thank you, thank you, thank you, stuart

william harryman said...

I've been lucky to have three teachers who changed my life for the better.

In 4th grade, Mr. Carter taught me that if I want a good education, I have to be willing to do it on my own.

In 8th grade, Sue Morgan suggested that I could write poetry to deal with my father's death -- a practice I continue till this day.

In college, James Dean made me love reading and writing about the books I read. Because of him, I changed majors in the middle of my senior year (from psych to English). He also too interest in me as a person, which was most important of all.


Unknown said...

I was that much of a reprobate during my school years that I didn't give any teacher the opportunity to engage with me, even if they had tried to. I had very little interest in school and only did what I had to do to keep my parents "off my back". I had a different relationship with my dance teachers. Dance allowed me to express myself in a way that worked for me, and I was filled with admiration for my dance teachers, who treated me with respect as a dancer. I am grateful for my years in their classes.

But my real teachers have been life itself, and my children. I chose the school of hard knocks over the private school that my parents sent me to. I deliberately sought out "troublesome" types to befriend, chose to experiment with drugs and alcohol at an early age and actively put myself into dangerous situations. Life took me in this confused state, kept me safe and brought me out the other side. Life has been my most compassionate teacher, bringing me my son in my early 20's to ground me and put me onto another course. The precious gift of another life to nurture and protect turned me away from my self-destructive behaviour and slowly brought me to a path of peace, love and compassion. I now have two children who continually teach me how to live in the present and give me the opportunity to love them and serve them.

Since my discovery of Buddhism and the start of my practice of meditation and mindfulness, there have been a stream of people who I have been directed to or who have simply arrived in my life as I have needed them. I'd like to say a special thanks to:
Jacqueline Kramer - who shares her wisdom in online classes with the Hearth Foundation and is author of the wonderful Buddha Mom;
Wade M - who writes The Middle Way blog and who actively encouraged me in my practice just when I needed it;
Karen Maezen Miller - who showed me kindness when I least expected it, and is the author of Momma Zen, a book that is teaching me to find spirituality in my "ordinary" life as housewife and mother;
Jeff and Linda Hunt - who generously give their time to facilitate the Modern Buddha Way meditation sangha where I've experienced the benefits of their support and wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I think we can really take heart in knowing that we live amongst some fantastic teachers and gurus.

These special humans are quiet accessable through books, videos retreats and public talks;

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

The Venerable, Thich Nhat Hanh

Lama Surya Das

Prof. Robert Thurman.

And.. the best teacher of all is your life itself. Each moment that you encounter is your true guru. How you react, how you listen to the teachings your life is giving you. This is your "Karma Yoga", it's very special, take it to heart.

one love.

Anonymous said...


I would say one of the earliest influences that comes to mind on my development is a book called "Moon over Water" by Jessica Macbeth, it's a meditation manual but continues to influence me.

I have to mention the books of the late Carl Sagan, I love his work, the sense of wonder and enthusiasm he imparts and he continues to inspire me.

More recently in books and authors, the Tao Te Ching, Benjamin Hoff, Alan Watts, Robert M Pirsig and Steve Hagen. One mention is the Barefoot Doctor, whose style made me feel better and realise it's OK to take things a little less seriously.

I strongly agree with David, the good old University of Life has to get the top mention. Leading from that thought, the blogs I read, the forums I wander into and the people I meet and work / play / workout with.

But at the heart of it all, we have an inner teacher, who I consider the meaning of the phrase "When the pupil is ready the teacher appears". It occurs to me that without that inner teacher, none of the rest of it would really work out.