I’m scheduled to co-lead a retreat on “befriending death” later this month (see tab at the top of the screen). As we prepare for it, I notice a reluctance to once more step in the role of teacher. After spending thirty years helping others learn how to teach, I retired from that field to enter the stream of a life of contemplation and service. Now and then, I’m called to teach in the new field of death and dying. More than anything, my reluctance to teach arises from my growing awareness of my own ignorance and the ever-present temptation to assume the role of expert spouting off in front of the class.
For years I’ve tried to help adult learners articulate questions they found worth exploring, rather than spouting my ready-made answers for them to write down. In an ideal learning environment*, tacit knowing, lived experience, questioning, hesitating, silence, and heart-felt expressions are highly valued. Not speaking is honoured as much as speaking out loud. Tears and laughter receive equal attention. Not-knowing is prized along with tentative speculations; deep listening and speaking from the heart are the norm. The designated teacher (variously called leader, facilitator, elder, guide, or animator) models with words and gestures, actions and non-actions, opening opening for quiet participants and gentle obstacles for the talkative ones.
Everyone present, regardless of designated role, learns to declare and interrogate their own truth, beliefs, assumptions, and actions. Learning activities draw on artistic, meditative, playful, cognitive, and emotional modes of inquiry. Everyone, as Ken Wilber writes, holds a piece of the truth. The teacher rarely tells students what they ought to know and uses questions as basic mode of discourse and has an aversion to anyone or any text that offers the Right Answer.
*Some techniques on how to create such spaces are laid out in my 2005 book, The art of teaching adults.