Allowing students to meet themselves: Mindfulness teacher as matchmaker

Hello

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
Step out
Of you’

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

3 thoughts on “Allowing students to meet themselves: Mindfulness teacher as matchmaker

  1. That’s a wonderful posting. Thanks, Caroline. He expresses it very well.

    A few things I might add. On the analogy of that house-breaking father and his son, it may be all very well in older cultures for a father to teach his son in this way, but in our contemporary academic world, a teacher would be (perhaps justly?) accused of bias or cruelty for treating a student like this. “I don’t know the answer,” says the teacher. “Look inside yourself for the answer.” — “Hey,” says the student, “I’m paying all this money for you to teach me, to stuff me with what will give me success in my field. I want you to do the work.” (This is the way a modern consumerist thinks and talks, isn’t it? “I pay you money for you to do something for me that will please me.”)

    The way around the difficulty, I think, is to initiate a class discussion about the assumptions that lie behind “education” (as opposed to “training”). What Majid Khan says here will be entirely novel to most of the students, who will need to be carefully led into this new way of drawing out wisdom from within themselves. They will also need to understand the difference between education and training.

    In my experience, these discussions about the basic assumptions of what we’re doing can become the most stimulating discussions of the term, and the most long-lasting.

    Thanks again, as always,

    Robert-Louis

    Like

    • Thanks Robin and Robert-louis. You make some good points Robert louis – this clash of consumerism and education is an interesting one. I like the idea of initiating discussion about education although I can’t immediately see how this would fit within my own teaching – but it has certainly given me food for food – how can I open up this domain of learning, especially in my more technical, training orientated courses…

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s