I am really excited to post this guest blog. I was put in touch with the author, Majid Khan, by a friend who, having read my previous blogs, thought we would benefit from being in touch. Majid is a GP in Birmingham, a Breathworks teacher and tutor at Warwick Medical School. His blog is about teaching mindfulness but I think it connects deeply with our role as educators no matter what topic we are teaching. Thank you Majid.
Warm wishes Caroline
‘And why, my dear,
Do you call on Hafiz?
For I shall only
Hafiz of Sheraz
There is an old zen parable of a father, who happens also to be an accomplished burglar, wishing to teach his son the trade.
So one night he takes his son out and finds the biggest mansion he can. Stealthily climbing over the fence, successfully negotiating the alarms, and the dogs, he manages to get them both into the upstairs room where lies the chest full of jewellery. The father asks the son to enter the chest, and on doing so promptly seals it, raises the alarm to all the inhabitants, and himself makes a quick getaway. The frightened, confused and no doubt angry, son must find his own way out.
Managing to do so, successfully evading capture, tired, still angry, he finds his father at home, who at once exclaims:’There! You have learned the art….’
It is a strange irony that the origin of the word ‘educate’ actually means to ‘draw out’, rather than the modern understanding ‘to stuff in’. And nowhere is this more important than in the teaching of matters of the mind and of the heart.
To ‘teach’ a student to be compassionate towards themselves, that it’s ok to feel anxious, to respond to their states of mind rather than to react, is to attempt to open up a space in them whose existence they were not aware of. In this sense, the ‘teaching’ takes on its original meaning.
This type of teaching is sensitive to the fact the answers to the questions that students ask lies nowhere other than in the consciousness that is asking those questions.
It is the teacher’s role here not to necessarily give any new information but to point them to answers from the only direction they (indeed, we) so stubbornly refuse to look.
Quite different, then, from the ‘teaching’ of any other academic discipline, guidance in the way of mindfulness begins with the degree of mindfulness of the teacher. The question becomes not one of ‘how much information do I possess on mindfulness’, but rather one of ‘how aware is the mind that is teaching mindfulness’; a question which, aside from itself becoming a part of the field of awareness, is notoriously difficult to ‘answer’.
Such an awareness has relinquished any trace of desire for this mind to be anything other than what is. In this sense, it doesn’t really want to teach the student anything that they do not already know: that the key to mindfulness lies in noticing what’s happening, for as many moments as it is possible to.
In letting go of a desire for a student’s mind to be anything other than it is, the student’s mind is given an opportunity to recognise itself. The student is given the opportunity to recognise themselves.
Perhaps the father in our zen tale wasn’t so cruel afterall…….
I see, then, my role as a ‘teacher’ of mindfulness to be nothing other than a matchmaker: to introduce a student to themselves. The rest is, of course, something of a blind date.
Dr Majid Khan
GP in Birmingham
Breathworks accredited Mindfulness for Stress teacher
Co-lead ‘Mindful Medical Practice’ at Warwick Medical School