Tag Archives: teachers

Choosing to Learn

I was very taken recently with Imelda Almqvist’s blog about Trump as a teacher (read it here). Imelda’s underlying philosophy is that we are all here to teach each other. I have a similar line of thought – that everything has the potential to teach us, but it’s up to us to decide what we want to learn.

Any situation can offer multiple outcomes in terms of what we might choose to learn. We could choose to learn from Trump that we can’t have nice things, the world is full of hate and there’s no point trying. It’s not the only possible teaching available, as Imelda points out.

Choosing what to learn is about consciously choosing who we want to be and the direction we want to move in. The trouble is that the vast majority of learning we do through life is done unconsciously. We absorb information from what’s around us and from the experiences we’ve had. Often we don’t dig into it, so we get knocked down by the people who attack us, and demoralised by the shit peddlers and we learn to compete and control and scrap over resources as though they were finite when they aren’t while wasting other resources as though they were infinite… which they aren’t…

Imelda’s blog post is not just interesting in its own right, it’s a map for taking a journey. If we want to choose what to learn, we’ve got to step back and contemplate things, put them in a wider context, delve about in them. A deliberate, contemplative engagement with the choices we have opens things up for us and gives us all the opportunity to take what we need from our experience, not what’s being pushed at us.

The mysteries of teaching

In any mystery tradition there can be tension between how much you tell the student up front, and how much is sprung upon them in surprising and dramatic ways, calculated to change their awareness. Initiations are a prime example of this. How much should be unknown and unexpected, and how much should be done with the consent of the student?

I’ve had experience of teachers who liked to say ‘trust me and I will open the way for you’ and who wanted me to surrender myself into their hands, be guided, trust that they would do the right things for me. I’ve never been at ease with that. I’ve read about people who have undergone surprising initiations, to good effect, and I’ve listened to people who have been shocked and distressed by things done to them in initiation.

If you take on the responsibility of making choices for your student, you have to be aware that you can get it wrong. I once used a meditation I’d taken from a book, which involved starting with just one candle in a darkened room and then blowing it out. After the meditation I learned that one of my crew suffered claustrophobia and that darkness was a trigger. She’d got through, but it was a humbling and life changing lesson for me. I would not want to hold that responsibility for anyone, I would rather ask. I have yet to find any teaching situation where I couldn’t usefully say something in advance about what it was for or what might happen. I’d rather do that precisely because it makes the student an equal partner in a process. I think informed consent is important.

There’s also the mindset of the teacher to consider. I’m sure there are folk out there wise and aware enough to handle the spiritual path of another person, but I’d also bet they aren’t the majority. Taking that responsibility can be all about ego and self importance. Saying ‘I know better than you what it is that you need’ is not always a safe and healthy approach. It makes it easy for us to try and control and direct another person, to hold power over them, to make them do what we think they should be doing, not what their soul needs. All souls are different. The teacher who persuades, guides and suggests has to work a lot harder, can be argued with, and will have to justify themselves. A teacher in that position is also learning.

When we start out along any spiritual path, the idea of mystery can be exciting. Yes, we want to be led blindfolded into a ritual where amazing transformations occur. What we’re rather looking for there, can be for something from outside to come to us and do all the work. Magical transformation, not transformation we have laboured for. And yes of course the theatre is alluring, the sense of stepping away from conventional reality. But does that make it productive? Maybe not.

The world is full of mysteries and wonders without our needing to stage them. My personal preference is to engage knowingly with a teacher, free to take on what works for me and reject what does not. (Thank you OBOD for allowing me to do just that.) And as a teacher, I just don’t want the responsibility. I’d rather offer a possibility and let a student decide whether they like it or it makes sense for them. I know that when I started teaching, I thought people would expect me to be all wise and all knowing. I rather thought I ought to be. I felt like a bit of a fraud, truth be told. But over the years I’ve become a lot more comfortable with not needing to be any kind of guru. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell you what you most need to do. I will not take you blindfolded into a ritual unless you’ve told me there’s something of that shape you need.

There are many different styles of teaching out there, and increasing numbers of teachers. If you run into something you don’t like, then it is important to know this isn’t the only available way. (And some less ethical ‘teachers’ may well try to claim there is only their way, just ignore them.) There are many ways, many styles, and the odds are good that somewhere, someone will be teaching at least some of the things you want to learn. You may need to go through several teachers to find your own way. You may end up doing it yourself from a selection of sources. But the bottom line is, if the experience does not feel right to you, then it isn’t right, no matter how much someone else may think they know best. Saying ‘I know what you need better than you do’ does not make it so. This holds up outside magical and spiritual training too. Informed consent is always, in my opinion, the best life choice. I’d ask serious questions of anyone who wanted me to take too much on trust, in any scenario.