Teachers & Seekers: Opening Up to Being Taught, and Awakening to the Fact That We All Have a Role to TeachFriday, June 26th, 2009
Teachers & Seekers:
Opening Up to Being Taught, and Awakening to the Fact That We All Have a Role to Teach
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
When I was a very young child my mother told me what a little teacher I was, somehow showing adults how to look at things in new ways in spite of my obvious lack of experience on this planet. I didn’t fit in at school and never felt like I had any close friends, yet when my fellow students had something deep or vulnerable to share, a poignant and debilitating fear to deal with, a nagging question to be explored or important choice to make, they would search me out for insight and advice. Forty years later, it is as a teacher that I am most known, even more than as a historian in spite of my many writings on the subject, more than as an accomplished artist, lover or land restorationist, outlaw primitivist provider or admittedly wild-eyed activist shaking the pillars of an unjust and ecocidal power system. And I accept the role of teacher as a primary responsibility… not because humans are more deserving of my attention than art or wildlife, but because of the fact that it’s people’s adopted ignorance, dearth of self-knowledge and self-love, degree of unclarity and depth of insecurity that are most impacting the health and integrity of the entire planet and everything on it large and small.
The rewards I get from this are huge. Just as I take great satisfaction from seeing this canyon flourishing with a forest of wildness I myself planted, so too am I made content by the expression of gratitude from folks that I have inspired assisted, instructed, guided, empowered and supported. There is little that could be more touching, than for my partners and I to regularly hear from our students, clients and readers that “you have changed my life,” or that “thanks to you, for the first time I feel wholly, completely alive!”
As much we appreciate the credit and feed on the gratitude, sometimes I find the only way I can help is by allowing someone to act as if they had come upon the insight on their own, independent of my orchestrated assist. And there are a few others (usually male) that I cannot seem to get through to at all, their boundaries so practiced, identities so fragile and thus resistance so great that I am unable to penetrate. Of these relatively few disappointments, there have been some who have denied and decried the very concept of teachers and teaching. Usually these have been politically correct egalitarians with a need to feel that everybody is not only equal but in possession of equal amounts of knowledge, experience or insight to share.
It is actually a core tenet of the Animá practice we teach, that we are all teachers of a sort, responsible for our effect on the larger living world. It would nonetheless be a mistake to downplay the importance of wizened human mentors and other (including plant and animal) instructors and inspiriteurs. There are no true “solitaries,” only those unaware of their teachers, or who have yet to meet and align with their allies on their path. If the fact of ecology and the dynamics of spirit and magic tell us anything, it is that we are inextricably interconnected and fully interdependent, and that none of us really “get it on our own.” Almost every correct conclusion or healthy choice has benefited from the examples and wisdom of other people, of the generations who came before and evocative more-than-human nature. And even when we hear truth from our hearts, we are speaking from and for the needs and will of the entire sacred planet we are a part of. Even our instincts are handed down, palm to paw to hand, from distant primal ancestors, the result of hundred of thousands of years of challenge and mistake, opportunity and fear, elation and pain, persistence and reward. Insight, revelation and even seemingly extrasensory perception all draw from and are informed by a reservoir of accumulative memory, pattern and association.
All of us human recipients and repositories are also designed to be vehicles and transmitters, with the capacity to be conscious instructors and role models. On the other hand, only a small percentage of those who have an impact on other’s lives, are by nature equipped for and devoted to teaching others, and who thus become defined first and foremost as teachers. The depth and integrity of knowledge, breadth of experience and enthusiasm for passing on their lessons and gifts is what distinguishes and defines such teachers. For these relatively few, it feels not only personally satisfying but somehow essential that they pass on their lessons and gifts, just as true artists – those essentially defined and completely dedicated to creativity – not only construct occasional expressions of beauty but actually live and breathe art… and just as true leaders are those naturally committed to doing the crucial work of moving forward regardless of the costs and rewards, not feeling fulfilled until certain they have left sufficient blazed trails for others to follow.
From the time I ran away from military school as a young pup, I searched high and low for those individuals who might be able to best teach me, or inspire me by daring example, in the ways of being real and purposeful in a culture of artifice and distraction. Some, like the revered philosopher Alan Watts, did indeed offer words that were like brilliant stars to navigate my life by. I was encouraged by the audacious authenticity of Ken Kesey, and the ways of the traditionalist Native American elders that I hung out with. The primary author of The Great Cosmic Mother, Barbara Mor provoked me to go beyond the simplicity of black and white and into the world of layers and twists. Experiences with others – indigenous shamans and control-freak charismatics alike – taught me about the human absurdities, contradictions and failings of even the most brilliant of our kind. I learned that we should give thanks to every influence whether flawed or not, just as we are grateful for every mistake we learn from and every poignant test that we survive.
To the degree that we in this culture have come to disrespect or feel leery of leaders and luminaries, elders and teachers, it is the result of witnessing or hearing about people from politicians to gurus who practice “power over,” whose insecurities result in their coveting rather than inspiring and engendering power in others. Such people tend to claim that they have exclusive knowledge and abilities unavailable to their students no matter how much they might study and practice. They fear they would lose their following, and thus their identity, if they were to teach that others have the capacity and responsibility to learn and then make important choices themselves, and the means with which to grow and to know.
My partners and I are here to help awaken and embolden the teacher within everyone who works with us. We will neither force nor allow anyone to become a dependent. Every session I hold, every line I write, is meant to be a full class from which you the seeker or reader graduate, and with which you are then impelled to act. The work of the Animá Center is to aid others in the honest realization of their individual medicine ways, to help lead you to the lessons of dynamic nature, the place of both knowing and doing where truth and purpose reign.
Sidebar: Teachers & Seekers
The following lines from my book The Way Of Animá, are like all of my knowings, the result of a great listening. You could think of them as Gaian Sutras, passed from the inspirited all-knowing whole to this wordsmith in moments of confusion or need, insights and aphorisms that cut to the chase, practicable tools for clarification and choice that beg to be embodied, implemented and lived:
• This inspirited planet we are extensions of, is our original teacher. Thus one of the first steps in becoming an effective teacher ourselves, is to become a lifelong student of the natural world.
• Every exchange of information is an alliance of purpose, between that which expresses, and that which hears. That purpose is not only the education of the individual, but also the informing of the earthen whole… to our mutual and collective benefit.
• All things have something to teach us. All things capable of learning, are students. All students of life, have learned lessons they can then share with the world.
• Seek what is true, and then honor what is found. It is always as close and connected as our hand, as expansive and complete as this ever unfolding universe.
• A seeker becomes a teacher whenever she or he shares the truths they’ve found with others. At the same time, no viable teacher ever quits being a seeker.
• The purpose of the teacher is to point to phenomena, reveal connection, heighten
awareness, and encourage engagement and depth. To nurture the seeker’s compassion, and affirm their intrinsic beauty, practiced skills and developing love. To encourage healthy skepticism, expose harmful untruths and help eliminate self serving lies. To instigate response and direct action, inspire service and purpose, and foster fulfillment.
• The most conscious, experienced or innovative of human teachers are more the vehicles for practical and spiritual truths than they are their source.
• A teacher does not explain mysteries, so much as illuminate and acknowledge them.
• Anything we learn from, is a teacher. Thus to resist the idea of teachers is to deny that we have anything to learn.
• The problem is not so much that we have a hard time trusting the sources of truth, but that we are sometimes unwilling to give up those ideas that we wish were true.
• Teaching is a joint accomplishment.
• For seekers to fully “own” their abilities, accomplishments and purpose, they must personally and willingly pay the cost… and learn to take credit for having done so.
• Once we know that everything we are and do affects those around us, we become partly responsible for what effects we have.
• For ideas to affect the world, they must first be translated into action. For these reasons, a good teacher makes sure the student is in touch with her feelings — and that she feels empowered to act on them.
• Likewise, the best teachers will strive to be catalysts — and never a surrogate – for the student or seeker’s direct experience and personal revelations. Such teachers will direct focus away from themselves and, instead, in the direction of that which they have been fortunate to see. Rather than imposing definition or interpretation, a teacher leads or excites us in the direction of meaning.
• The teacher’s purpose is not to criticize or judge, but to awaken, alert, inform, unsettle, positively correct, inspire, encourage and applaud. At the same time, it is as important for a teacher to capitalize on a student’s challenges as on their abilities, as crucial to point out any illusions as it is to point to the truth.
• Not all lessons or gifts are accepted, fewer are understood, and fewer still are really put to use. Thus a student must open to new lessons without any expectations. And a teacher would best share her or his vital lessons without expecting anything in return.
• An Animá teacher plants the seeds of awareness and empowerment that he or she were themselves given… and with no certainty of results. They water them with tears. Feed them with their hopes. Anoint them with their heartfelt prayers. Support them with honesty and affirmation. And embolden them their cheer.
(Please copy, forward and post this piece on appropriate forums)