Do Idiots Make the Best Teachers?
In recent blogs I have talked about wisdom versus knowledge, trying less as a yoga teacher, the secret magic ingredient to teaching yoga and now I am going to talk about how important it is to be a fool in order to be the best yoga teacher you can :)
I've just rounded off my first functional breath-work weekend for existing teachers, I had a total ball and I hope that they did too, but a few really interesting points came up that I hadn't really ever considered.
This train of thought began when one of the lovely teachers present came up and told me 'Im so glad that i came, I think it took me ages to come to one of your workshops because I felt threatened by your approach to not having a system; I worried that I might start to doubt the validity of everything I've learned and believed in!' Wow! What incredible self-awareness and honesty!
What probably confused them (or relieved them) was that in the first few minutes of the weekend I encourage everyone to disagree with anything i say; to simply shout out and speak up at any time if they disagree with me or to call bull%&*t on me if they think it right to do so.
Truth is, I don't want people to agree with me, we rounded off pretty much every exercise with a group feedback session, I wanted to hear that things didn't work as much as i wanted to hear that they did!
Sure enough, without exception we found that when we were being honest, something that worked amazingly for one person, had the opposite effect on another. There really is no magic pill in anything!
I hear way too many stories from students about workshops that people have attended with a super knowledgeable, yet super over-bearing or defensive teacher who wont stand for their viewpoint to be questioned let alone criticised. It says to me simply that those 'senior teachers' are afraid. They are afraid that they won't stand up to question, they lack confidence in the fact that other points of view are possible equally or even more valid than theirs and quite possibly they are reluctant to evolve and learn from those that they have separated as 'students' with less knowledge than them. Everyone is very quick to pay lip service to the term 'always a student' but do you really mean it? Especially if you are perceived as a teacher? Its just a question.
No-one likes to feel like a dinosaur with outdated knowledge, but the simple fact is there is ALWAYS someone that is more knowledgeable than you. There is always someone tougher than you, always someone faster than you. So how does this link to the benefit of being an idiot? Its all to do with having a fools state of mind and being content with the fact that you are, underneath it all, an incompetent idiot :)
I was very kindly complimented on the way that I described the often complicated mechanics and chemistry of breathing and was even more shocked to be complimented (by a Buddhist) on the way i described a fairly simple yet often over complicated teaching of Buddhism in relation to the sensation of breath in the body. Chatting with Charlie, who I consider to be an amazing teacher in his own field, he said that I made complicated things sound simple (funny because I think that he does the same with lucid dreaming and shadow-work) .
We both came to the conclusion that what we both do is to assume that everyone in the room is as stupid as we are!
It took me ages to get these concepts clear in my own head. I came up with all sorts of odd visual ways of understanding them. I was always the odd on out in the science department, being far more creative than scientific by nature. To understand the trickier aspects of various philosophies has taken me even longer. Hence all of my odd stories of blood cells as DHl delivery vans carrying orders of bread and footsteps in dark alleys to explain the concept of emptiness.
To allow yourself to be criticised openly, to have your teaching questioned is an unnerving thing, but incredibly powerful if you allow it to happen.
At the end of the weekend I taught a brief exercise and explained what i thought the benefits of two variations were, I then got cross questioned by one of our own TT graduates (thats what they get used to doing!) and I realized that actually I didn't understand fully what I had just said because I couldn't answer her question.
What happens at this point? You generally react without thinking to a sensation in your body that says Im Under attack! You assume you are reacting to the person or the question but no, just to a sensation.
What works best at this point is to simply accept 'Im a fool as much as anyone else here and this is a great opportunity to re-examine something that I thought I'd understood. Either I've misread it somewhere, misunderstood it or explained it badly. My job now is to go back to the source and re-explore that topic to find out which it is. At this point i must be thankful to the person that has made such an astute question, they aren't my enemy, they are the enemy of my ego and my egos enemy is my friend; that is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
So allow yourself to be a fool, an idiot. Allow your ego to be abused and attacked. Allow yourself to be imperfect and wrong. Encourage criticism or questioning. Don't defend your views simply on the basis that they are 'your views'. You will find that you open up. You provide space for your students to open up and be imperfect too. That acceptance and empowerment is the sign of a useful teacher.
I found this nice snippet from an article online, sadly i cant credit it as i cant see who wrote it but it relates to the fool archetype that exists in almost every philosophy and religion.
The Fool keeps us humble by revealing our limitations, and shows that anything is possible when you let go of expectations.
The Fool teaches us the healing power of laughter.
The Fool inspires us to share our joy and sadness so that others may laugh and learn and grow.
The Fool is never what you expect, reminding us to see the world with new eyes.
The Fool provides relief from pain and stress with an indulgence in the silly, the frivolous, and the funny.
And the Fool stings us out of complacence and stagnation, returning us to the path of growth with a blush on our face and a sting in our pride.
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