|Ekphrastic photo of Squeak Carnworth's Perfect Studio, Chazen Museum, Madison, WI|
I have made it in oblique ways to some of you in the past, but I think it's time I say it directly.
A newer student this week said that she read the essays I send out before starting class (which started as blog posts here: Listening In, All the Ways We Apologize and Speaking Up, and have since all been published online elsewhere). After she was done, even before she was done, she realized she "didn't even need to read them." Not because she already knew all they said, but because even reading just parts told her what she needed to know:
I create safe spaces.
She will learn in the process what's in the essays.
So here it is:
I am not a writing teacher. I am not a photography teacher, a calligraphy teacher, a movement teacher.
I am a Buddhist teacher.
I am a Compassion teacher.
Natalie Goldberg says the same of herself in this interview with Susan Piver on the awesome Interdependence (ID) Project. I love it when she says it. When I first studied with her, I went up to her after 60 some others had gotten books signed and said thank you for the program, and I kneeled and said she was one of my dharma teachers. She smiled. Ever since then, we've really gotten each other.
It's not that I don't teach writing at all - heck, I just started another blog wherein to write exclusively about writing a specific genre - memoir. But "art" is second in Shambhala Art. "Photography" is second - even third - in Miksang (Contemplative) Photography. And "writing," as Natalie unpacked at her retreat for my students here in Madison two and a half years ago, is second in Contemplative Writing.
Because, as another student said so many years ago about my writing classes, "(I) came here to become a better writer and realized I need to become a better human being." I don't use it as a tag line because I would change some of the phrasing:
I want you to come to my classes not just to be a better writer/photographer/artist.
I want you to come so you can, with compassion and care, uncover the amazing being you are already.
I want you to be exposed to lineages of practice that can give us the structure to unfold our wild selves, all of our selves, and let them guide our creative work.
I want you to learn to listen better, speak better, write better, love better - not by my commands, but through your own intuition, your own perceptions, your own desires (not discipline, as Natalie notes in the same Susan Piver interview as above), your own drive.
And because I am a dharma teacher, I want the same for myself.
And because I am a dharma teacher, I am also a student of Compassion.