Thursday, January 05, 2012

Missive from Eagle Rock

I have already written the dedication for my book on teaching writing:
"Dedicated to all my students and all my teachers.
If you are one, you are the other."
Natalie once told us to dedicate books to students, because you can't fail with that one.

Right now I am in Los Angeles (specifically, Eagle Rock, close to the Shambhala Mediation Center of Los Angeles). I am participating in a two-part program - the first half is five days - all five parts of the Shambhala Art curriculum (an intensive).  The second half is four days of teacher training so that some of us can go on to teach the first three or all five parts. Basically, it means I get to be a student for five days, which is pretty sweet for me (I like being a student again, more on that later) and then go through a pretty intensive four-day "exam" to make sure I am prepared to teach this material.

I love being a student "again" because I teach so much. It is, of course, true that I learn a lot from my students - easily as much as I am teaching at any given time. And yet, I am also holding a space, holding a set of teachings every time I teach, and so there is a certain commitment (or I make one) to uphold/maintain appearance/embody the teachings. When I am a student, I get to just be me.

Turns out, of course, that just being me makes me a better teacher. Today, two separate folks at two separate times told me that "you use really clear language in asking/answering questions so that others understand better what the teachers are saying" and "you have got to be an excellent teacher". These two statements really struck me because the very first thing that the main teacher told us this morning was "for the teachers to not be teachers - be students, be people, be a part of of this mandala, with your peers." I took that to heart - don't try to use a check-in period (or any part of this program, I concluded) as a "chance to teach others something." Be vulnerable, Be real, Be me.

So I was. I was being very me, which is to say, vulnerable and real. Yes, sometimes I felt myself approaching a teaching moment - re-asking a question when I sensed that someone else may not have understood the answer or the teacher didn't quite hear the question. But I never did that because I had the answer, nor did I try to answer it for myself. In other words, I was being a student the whole time. And two people mentioned while I was doing this that I must be an excellent teacher.

Lo and behold: my dedication should also be to my inner student and inner teacher. Turns out that when I am allowing myself to be open to the situation, focused less on what I know and what I should be imparting, I am a better teacher. This doesn't surprise me, but it is a pleasing reminder.


  1. A beautiful thing is that you model this in your teaching, bringing out the teacher in each of your students, and showing us that as you are teaching, you are learning. Just thought you might want to hear from the other side of the class. :)

  2. Beautifully expressed, Miriam. I was so happy to have shared the five days with you!

    1. Indeed, Linda, same to you! Thanks for visiting me here.