Monday, May 24, 2010

Blowing on a Violin

Teaching can be rather like talking into empty space, or like talking in public when the possibilities of being heard are slim.

It is not out of nastiness or through a lack of interest that the pupil does not listen, since in general it the pupil’s own will that has led him or her to seek to hear. However, any teaching has to pass through certain filters:

- Acceptance by the pupil’s ego
- Limits imposed by the pupil’s prejudices
- The pupil’s capacities for comprehension
- The quality of the pupil’s attention

These four “riders of the apocalypse” will pose certain challenges to the ease with which information can pass.

Whenever information directly threatens the omnipotence of the pupil’s ego, or confronts the fundamental values of his or her person, the information will be transformed, or even ignored.

Whenever the lesson goes against what the pupil has fantasised about practice, the information it contains will not bet through, or very little, being transformed along the way.

Any information that is to be received will pass by way of the filter of the intellect. If the intellect is limited or if it occupies to important a place within the pupil’s mental activity, the teaching will be unable to penetrate.

With the spirit perpetually stimulated by what the modern world offers, one’s capacity for attention is often very restricted. The “zapping” of the news, superficial forms of knowledge, and the constant boredom that goes with these do not encourage the development of openness towards the world.

The capacity to grasp a lesson is rather like lighting up an object with the beam of a torch:

The torch must be working (intellect available and disposed), it must be pointed in the right direction (towards the instructor or teacher), it must illuminate for a sufficiently long tie the same spot (focused attention), and the object of study must not be obscured by an obstacle (the wall of the ego).

If these different elements are united, then information can easily be grasped.

Teaching often means furtively pointing an oil lamp towards a wall which is concealing an object buried in the passageways of prejudices.

But if one keep’s one’s bearings, if one perseveres, little by little the lesson will become clear.

And this is what constitutes the joy of teaching: seeing a pupil progressively grasp what is obvious to the teacher; finding the other in a shared knowledge, and observing that there is a genuine unity in knowledge.

This communion partakes not of the domain of the intellect, but more broadly of the conscious experience of humanity.

What needs to be accepted is that the understanding of a lesson represents only a small part of the process. It is an illusion to believe that what is known is also understood. If it is not “directed” by a lived, felt, visceral experience, knowledge remains nothing but a collection of concepts lacking practical application… as useful as a stamp collection.

Some will be tempted, in order to understand a subject better, to get distracted by alternative ways; others will fail to get far… but will come out of it with a nice stamp collection at least.

One also has to be honest: there are those who are happy to “know”, but who are not happy in their practice. This is honourable in its way, but it needs to be borne in mind that practice alone is transformative. It is not the acquisition of a slimming product that makes one thinner, even if one knows about dieting; rather it is the effort linked to the process.

Teaching is marvellous but it requires one not to be rushed.

The return of the good weather permits one to benefit from a strong energy. Let us therefore make the most of it by training to be more-than-ever present to the reality of daily practice.

In order to practice well, it is advisable not to forget one’s first lessons, not to underestimate one’s capacity for transformation, and to find an openness from within the imbroglio of one’s own prejudices.

Happy practice, one and all!