Learning to teach

Our hillside

The two most beautiful women I know are Teachers. I use the upper case ‘T’ quite deliberately as they teach simply by Being who they are. One, on her own admission prefers to work from the wings and stay out of the spotlight, yet her gentle and joyful Light touches all who know her. The other is known worldwide, a light around whom we flock, and both are loved deeply by many. Both are head of the group they represent. Both would, and do, simply describe themselves as little old ladies, but nothing could be further from the truth, except in purely physical terms… and even that I dispute!

They share many things, these two, not least a joyous, playful wickedness in their humour. There is a twinkle in their eye and you know there are stories they could tell. These are women who have Lived, taking the life they were given and embracing it to the full, fearlessly in spite of fear, wholeheartedly and vividly. They are both loving, kind and warm… in fact, they seem to glow with an inner radiance. Yet there is nothing soft or sentimental about them. To stand in the quiet of ritual with them is to see something quite different. These women are spiritual Teachers and they radiate joy and strength.

 ‘Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.’

Teilhard de Chardin

I, Steve and Stuart have been blessed to learn from both these women over the past decade and that learning continues… the seeds once planted continue to grow if they are cared for and nurtured and they will continue to be part of who we are. We may carry a different lantern these days, but the light within it is born of the same Flame, a Flame they were instrumental in igniting for us.

With the coming into being of the Silent Eye, we too found ourselves called to teach. I can’t speak for the other two, but it came as something of a shock to me. We all have experience of teaching; I had taught various aspects of the spiritual journey for years before, yet there was a gear shift here, more was required… and what I had thought was teaching suddenly took on a different hue and showed itself to have been merely the first diffident steps in my own learning. Now there was a need to step up and really learn to teach… and with these two women as examples, that is no laughing matter!

No laughing matter?
No laughing matter?

 

It would be easy enough to fake it on the surface… going all beatific and angelic, but one thing among many that these women have taught is that it has to be real. It has to be from the heart and soul… it has to be whole, warts and all. All of us. All of me. I have written before of the internal debate… did we have to stop being ourselves and become something else…burying who we are beneath a veneer of who we or others think we should be? No… that would indeed be hiding. The phrase naked in the desert has a habit of wandering through the mind…

I recall a conversation with one of these women about what makes a Teacher; how it requires that one keeps a foot in both worlds as it were, seeing the greater purpose behind the events of our lives. We spoke too of the decades each of us spend learning to use the gifts we are born with, of the transforming journey through life, pain and laughter towards understanding. Of the courage that is needed to be one’s whole Self, whether privately or publicly. There was talk of the human flaws we all share and of those who inspire us and how they can be seen as “special – to others.” Yet to themselves “it must remain no big thing.” She says of such people that they “fart and burp and pee when they cough like any other daft creature of our ilk. But they have Work to do.”

It tickles me, with the mental picture I have of her elegant and stately self that she chooses such words, yet she is without doubt the most down to earth person I know, as well as being one of the most genuinely spiritual. And she is right. It is a common misconception that a spiritual teacher must have found some kind of personal perfection, yet in truth what they have found is a real and all- pervading awareness of the Divine in life. Yet those true Teachers I have been privileged to meet seem to share this earthiness, this serene acceptance of all the levels of their being from the gutter to the heavens.

The unholy alliance...
Mischief incarnate?

 

There is, it seems, always laughter in them, often at themselves, and sometimes tears. Emotion and experience are equally vivid, equally embraced, as are their characters, seen as the raw material of humanity within themselves. They acknowledge their strengths as well as their weaknesses, but seldom see themselves as Teachers unless that role is thrust upon them. They are simply sharing the journey with fellow travellers.

There is another side to this, for the commitment to the Light is real and demands a lifetime. It is not something one can dip in and out of. It can bring to these people both the gift of being truly with those around them with a warm immediacy, but also a certain separateness, an aloneness and sense of isolation as they see life from a different perspective that they can share only with others who have walked their particular path. And at the level of which I speak, they are as rare as unicorns. Yet there is a wholeness about them, a completeness that accepts themselves and us for who we are, seeing, perhaps beyond the outer face we wear to something profound within and recognising the kindred fire of the Divine we each of us carry. And because of this deeper vision there is a strength in them and a depth that manifests itself as Love.

At our workshop we were blessed to have some very special people. Some have been called to teach… others teach simply by the grace and joy of being themselves, unaware of what they bring. Some would shy away like a startled horse if you tried to tell them. One thing that is shared by all seems to be this joy, this inner radiance, the ability to play the fool, laugh at themselves and with others. To share a ribald joke or down a pint at the pub, to let their hair down and laugh or cry from the roots of being… what they share is humanity, rooted in earth and reflected in the stars. Shared too is their ability to teach the teachers, simply by being who they are with a whole heart. And that is a gift we can all aspire to share.

There are many paths to the spiritual life and one size does not fit all on this journey. From quiet contemplation to prolonged study; from natural wisdom to religious faith… all paths are valid for those who walk them from the heart. And for those who do so there seems to be a bubble of laughter where the world should be.

"One side will make you grow taller... "
“One side will make you grow … “

 

Emotional beings

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It is the end of a long day, when not everything went right and tired is the word that springs to your mind. You know that it is not the kind of snuggle-up-in-bed-with-a-book tired either, but the kind that begins to question and ask ‘why does it have to be like this?’

It comes to most of us at some point; that emotional bone-weariness. Chances are, you are too tired to even begin looking for answers and past thinking about them if you fell over them. But you are going to find things that look like answers wandering through your mind just the same.

Under stress, they will probably be the wrong ones. Anxiety and fatigue cloud thinking, and what may appear to be a perfectly logical train of thought can begin from a single skewed idea, from a slight misapprehension or misunderstanding. Pursue them and you could end up very far from the truth and casting blame in erroneous directions.

Why does it have to be like this? The most likely answer is that this is a path we have chosen for ourselves. Not, perhaps, with any conscious volition, but through the gradual shaping of our worlds over a lifetime, allowing it to become what it is today. Of course, some events may be out of our control; there may be no choice in whatever it is we are facing at any given moment. But how we react to it is an unconscious choice we have been making for a long time.

Our very earliest interactions with the world around us begin to shape how we will react throughout our lives. The nurture or lack of it that we receive as we grow, the people in our lives, our circumstances, all combine with the raw materials of who we might become to make us who we are. Our reactions to any given event are born from this accumulated and integrated input of experience. Our character and the way we walk through life devolves and evolves from the life we have lived so far and therefore we shape our own lives in what has been called a mechanical fashion.

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That is a cold way of expressing it. We could equally and simply say that our reactions are determined by who we have become. It may sound like a negative assessment, yet it is not necessarily so. Of course those reactions that lash out at the world in hurt or anger stem from here. But it is also from here that the means to express the generous impulse is born; the act of kindness and empathy, the outstretched arms… We all know, or perhaps hope we are, that person who instinctively reaches out to others when they are hurt or in need. What is that if not reaction?

For those who seek to understand a little more of how they themselves have come into being there are many systems, beliefs and paths available. Within the Silent Eye we use the enneagram, placing upon it archetypal figures that express the basic ways in which we function… the chief impellers of our choices. These are not cold caricatures, nor can they be, for all we do stems from emotion. Whatever is behind our public face, whether we are creatures of laughter and tears or intellectually focussed, emotion is the prime mover at the root of all we are.

Imagine working backwards from the very tip of a branch, retracing the intersections from the finest twig, back to the bough and eventually to the heartwood of the tree. The deeper we consider what moves us to be who we are, the fewer possibilities we are left with. The closer we get to the source, the more I am convinced that even from a purely psychological standpoint, love can be seen as the root of all we are. Whether we know it or lack it, feel it or feel its absence and a yearning towards it, whether we feel it must be earned or deserved, or run from it in fear of the demands it might make… whether we clothe it as a need for admiration and respect… even whether or not we feel love for ourselves…Whichever way you look at it, love seems to be the central fact of our existence.

From a spiritual perspective, of course, many have never doubted that this is so. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, “The truth is, indeed, that love is the threshold of another universe.” When you see that the Source of all Being, and the source of our being as one and the same, it changes the way you see the world, yourself and your fellow man… and leads you towards a threshold of Knowing that surpasses knowledge. And perhaps it is here we will find our answers.

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