To be a good teacher, it’s important to understand things from the student’s perspective. It can be harder and harder to do that the more and more familiar you become with the material you teach, and perhaps it’s also harder as you have more distance from the time when you last were a student.
So I’m working to recapture that student sensibility, trying to be patient as I learn how to meditate in my classes at the Rime Center, and as I practice my scales on the guitar. The simplest things are often the hardest to learn.
I look carefully for the connections, the thread that runs through various aspects of my life. When I had my beautiful Stratocaster as a teenager (sorta looked like this, remember) I didn’t have an amplifier because I spent all my savings on the guitar. Thus, when I practiced, I played the strings much too hard in order to hear the music without amplification. This was not good. My playing was sort of sloppy and the strings would go out of tune more quickly from being hit so hard. Now when I play, I use my amp and try to play gently and more precisely.
When I teach, I notice that as a result of the adrenaline I inevitably feel when speaking in front of a group of people my voice tends to be somewhat louder, more strident, than it would be in ordinary speech. I fear that this means that the more subtle points get overlooked (by me as well as by students), that the tone of my voice affects the tone of the class discussion. I try to speak a bit more softly and trust that people will still hear me but that more possibilities will become apparent.
The difficulty in meditation (as it’s being taught to me) is that it’s not about doing anything. It’s about being. You don’t go into a trance. You don’t chant. You don’t close your eyes. You don’t withdraw from the world. You’re still present. You’re still aware. You just … are. Your mind, ideally, becomes clearer. A helpful metaphor used the other night is of water in a pond that has been disturbed. The water is cloudy because the mud at the bottom has been stirred up. In order to achieve clarity again, the water has to become still. The mud doesn’t go away, however. It just settles. The water becomes clear as it becomes still.
I’m trying to learn that I don’t always have to try so hard. And this takes patience.