It’s been said so many times that the best way to learn is to teach. I experienced this first-hand as a teen when I was “preaching” to Sunday school kids and had to prepare lessons for that and also a little while after that when I was in high school and taught German. You have to be prepared for what you want to communicate in the teaching as well as any potential exceptions to the lesson and any questions you might encounter from students.
In my own life, I’ve been a teacher to many – both in the sense that I mentioned before wherein I was physically standing before a type of audience for the purpose of imparting knowledge and also as a kind of “life teacher.” Grown-ups, young people, friends, family, and strangers alike have come to be for advice. This isn’t bragging, it’s just a fact. People have said to me that they perceive me to be someone who “has it together” and it creates a sense of trust. I’m flattered and honored to help anyone in any way I’m able and if all they need is advice then my work has been made easy. But this comes with a responsibility and one that I think I’ve failed at miserably.
I’ll back up a bit and share some of a story that was told to me a few weeks ago during a dinner with a prefect. We’d met for dinner for what I thought was strictly business – some questions and loose ends that she and I needed to review and try to nail down. As I should have expected, our conversation steered itself wherever it would and we talked about lots more than anticipated, some of which might be shared here later down the road. At one point she shared with me a couple experiences of hers from time when she was in the presence of our last guru, Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari (Chariji). I’m probably remembering the exact details wrong, but in one of the stories, a meal was being shared with those present including herself, Chariji, and a number of other prefects from different nations. The story meandered a bit but over the course of the dinner, as I understood, the different nations as they were represented at the table were focusing quite intensely on each other’s flaws or weaknesses… or at least this was part of the conversation… and I think it even started with talk about Americans.
Chariji was an active part of the discussion and, as any true teacher would be, played the role of a mirror to those engaged. As those present were being taught a very tough lesson about judging and finger-pointing (and who knows what else) the prefect telling me the story said that her own experience of the moment was of the energy being quite intense and heavy feeling. With that intensity, she began to feel herself wilt – like some kind of flower in the noon hour heat of Indiana’s very humid summer. Being an advanced soul himself, Chariji was able to sense this response in her. As he was sitting right next to her, he turned to her and gently said, “I’m sorry.”
There was another story she told me also involving being in his presence and him, at one point, saying to her, “I’m sorry.” This made me cry right then. I made an attempt to bring our dinner to a quick close, but she (seeing my upset) wouldn’t have it and insisted I sit back down and talk to her. She hadn’t even realized what a deep message she’d given me. This kind of wisdom is truly dark and wondrous and I wasn’t expecting it. Our guru’s awareness was so keen that he was able to sense her subtle response to the exchange taking place. That’s a sensitivity that I think I have yet to hone – which, to me, feel dangerous.
I wept at our dinner because instantly, as if Chariji were there to transmit the lesson himself, I was very aware of lessons I’ve given to others which were probably very tough to swallow. Lots of medicines are tough to choke down and that doesn’t in any way mean they aren’t the right medicine or that they aren’t what’s needed to cure the ailment in question. All of that, more than anything else, really speaks to the point in personal evolution the student is in at the time. But there’s a certain absence of compassion or … something … when a teacher knows the lesson is tough (as I have known some of my lessons are tough) and keeps pushing the student. Thinking about all the times my lessons have been tough for the students to internalize and realize and how I’ve continued to push … just about makes me sick to my stomach. It feels so irresponsible.
Recently, in Minnesota, I was telling a friend and his wife about this. Stupidly, I got kind of choked up while telling it – I really just can’t even believe myself sometimes. They were so understanding. My husband was in the car then, too, and I could see it in his eyes. Probably because he’s been a student a few times, himself. Even he could see the value in a teacher who says, “I’m sorry.” My friend and his wife seemed very understanding. They were quick to try to soothe my feelings. They reminded me that it’s okay. That my manner of giving wisdom is just my own and there’s nothing wrong with it. I think boot camp was mentioned, which makes me smile a little even now – I will definitely put someone through boot camp. They reassured me that even teachers are growing and evolving.
This is challenging for someone like me to accept – not because of the idea that I have more growing and learning to do, but because of the realization that my actions could be perceived as careless. Worse yet is that I’m not certain how to move beyond that. I only know to trust my evolution.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti