learning to teach, teaching to learn

(expressing gratitude through sharing what we know)

illustration by heather Horton, www.heatherhorton.com

The line between a teacher and a student is much more fluid than we think. You can’t be a teacher unless you are a learner. There has to be a willingness on both sides – one to give and one to receive.

And the process never stops; there is not one point when you are only a teacher. And there is not one point when you are only a student. We all hold knowledge, and we all have something to learn.

There is a natural desire in us to share what we know. Years ago, when I worked at a daycare centre, I would observe the children as they played or painted or cut paper – they were so happy when they figured out how to use the scissors! And if another child wanted to know how to cut a piece of paper, someone showed her. Then there would be two of them who knew how to cut paper. The children would show each other how to do new things because they would be so excited about crayons or paper or cutting…whatever it was.

As we grow older, obstacles often enter into this fluidity in the form of competition or a desire for a perfect teacher to tell us what to do, or an overpowering will that wants to control what others learn.

So it is very important that we ask ourselves: How can we keep this spirit of sharing as we learn to use different tools, the tools of yoga?

One way is to recognize the qualities and conditions of being a teacher and being a learner. Learning is a discipline in engagement; you need to put in the effort. Knowledge is not something that can be handed to you. You have to do the practices, ask the questions and find out for yourself. You can’t have expectations of what you are supposed to know. You have to start somewhere, you have to accept where you are, and the next step will open up.

When you start teaching, you find out how much you have learned. And with that knowing comes the responsibility to bring the teachings into your life, knowing that you are an example. As a teacher you can only teach from your own experience: If you don’t know something, say you don’t, and there is more truth and integrity in the teaching.

For a teacher, there is a mirror in the student; for the student, there is a mirror in the teacher. We can be constantly asking of one another: What do we need to learn, what do we already know, and what can we share?

My teacher often talked of having “spiritual companions” on the path. She appreciated having students she could talk to who were committed and deeply interested in yoga. I know, for me, teaching becomes a process of learning to trust the tools that have been given to me, and that the people who come to me are unique and intelligent. As a learner, I am constantly aware of what I don’t know, and what a gift it is to be able to go deep into my humanity.

When you see how far you’ve come, gratitude emerges and you’ll want to share what you know. If you truly understand your process and have your own insights, you can give back. How do we express that kind of gratitude?

When I think of where I was when I first started studying yoga, and how my teacher gave me the tools to change my life, I want people to have those same tools – so I teach from that place.

In this age of wireless worlds, having an opportunity to learn from each other is a wonderful gift. Creating a relationship with another person in a meaningful way – through telling life stories and listening deeply – has an immediate impact. We are on the same planet, a small place in an ocean of space, and we need to learn from and help each other, understanding that we are one in the Light.

mirror exercise
Gaze in a mirror at your face. What do you see? Does the inner Light shine through your eyes? Is your face relaxed and open?

Close your eyes and visualize Light flowing down and filling you completely.

Look in the mirror again. Observe your eyes and face and note the changes. Continue closing your eyes, visualizing Light, observing and making notes.

Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

   read more of swami radhananda's past columns

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