Confused? Bewildered? Teach!

To be honest I have struggled to know what to write on this blog for a few weeks now. I am still waiting for some inspiring bolt of lightning. When I consider all the things I could write about, and look at the burgeoning resources on contemplative education, I just feel a bit bewildered and lost at the moment.

But I think that is the overarching theme of 2016 – bewilderment. A sense of deep vulnerability and groundlessness – waking up after the Brexit vote, and again after the US election, dealing with challenging discussions about changes in my department as well as interesting changes in my home life.

This morning I have got to thinking that this sense of bewilderment has an interesting quality to it – it is accompanied by a sense of impotence, a ‘not knowing’. In effect I am stopped in my tracks and can no longer carry on with the illusion that I know exactly what I am doing and how to make everything better. As a teacher I think this is profoundly valuable experience. It is humbling and reminds us of what it is like to be perplexed and to not understand what is in front of us. Furthermore, if we can find within ourselves the patience and skills necessary to sit with that impotence, frustration and bewilderment then we can start to open up the space of not knowing for our students, enabling deep  understanding to emerge. This is what contemplative practice is really for.

Beware then the teacher with all the answers! I think bewilderment is an important formative experience in the life of a teacher. I have just remembered that almost exactly two years ago I wrote a blog in which I mentioned bewilderment using this quote:

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”
― Rumi, Masnavi i Man’avi, the spiritual couplets of Maula

Clearly this sunk in for me to return to it now!

One thing to consider however is how we can use the experience of bewilderment to serve us, as a creative process rather than it sinking us and leading us into despair. For me my meditation practice has been central to creating a space to sit with the ‘not knowing’. It has supported my ability to sit quietly with discomfort and to resist the temptation for constant distraction. However, equally important has been keeping in mind the values that guide my life, with compassion and generosity being upper most. The Pali word ‘Sati’ which is commonly translated as ‘mindfulness’ in English, is not only about being present in the moment it also encapsulates bearing in mind our intentions. I have found this ‘bearing in mind’ very helpful, particularly when  I do not know what I should do and everything feels quite hopeless, if I can bring my intention to mind it is always possible to find ways of acting with kindness and compassion. I think this stops me from throwing in the towel and just giving up. It helps me avoid the ‘everything is such a mess so what’s the point’ mentality. It also keeps open lines of communication and creates space for creative ways forward.

That is not to say there is often a fairy tale ending (even at Christmas!) but it does mean I can stay (relatively) sane and hopefully help others along the way including my students. I am not sure there is much more I can do, bewildered or not!

Festive wishes





2 thoughts on “Confused? Bewildered? Teach!

  1. I do appreciate your thoughtful, reflective comments, Caroline. I especially resonated with your mention that groundlessness and bewilderment have the potential to be a very valuable experience. This helped me to take a moment in the midst of all the end of the semester and holiday rush to pause to be some of the groundlessness I am feeling. This feels raw and vulnerable but also quite necessary!


  2. Thanks Caroline, for reaching out with your vulnerability in trust to this community. I find that meditation definitely keeps me grounded, keeps me sane and allows me to take a step back from the cascade of mental events I often experience. It is puzzling that I am able to think about global developments without being able to perceive what to do. But I think you are right that this tension in itself may create spaces for new things to unfold, through uncertainty and bewilderment. It reminds me of an exercise that Arthur Zajonc gave in a workshop, which alternated focused attention with open awareness. The openness may allow something to arise out of the work done by focusing. Yes, meditation IS an answer to world. It IS taking action in the face of disaster and upheaval. I include a quote from Steiner below. Knowing all this does not mean, by the way, that I myself am not struggling with these questions and issues!

    “One should not have any “mystical” ideas in connection with meditation, nor indeed imagine that it is an easy thing. Meditation must be something completely clear, in the modern sense. Patience and inner energy of soul are necessary for it, and, above all, it is connected with an act that no man can do for another, namely, to make an inner resolve and then hold to it. When he begins to meditate, man is performing the only completely free act there is in human life. Within us we have always the tendency to freedom and we have, moreover, achieved a large measure of freedom. But if we think about it, we shall find that we are dependent for one upon heredity, for another upon education, and for a third upon our life. And ask yourself where we would be if we were suddenly to abandon everything that has been given us by heredity, education, and life in general. If we abandoned all this suddenly, we would be faced with a void. But suppose we undertake to meditate regularly, in the morning and evening, in order to learn by degrees to look into the super-sensible world. That is something which we can, if we like, leave undone any day; nothing would prevent that. And, as a matter of fact, experience teaches that the greater number of those who enter upon the life of meditation with splendid resolutions abandon it again very soon. We have complete freedom in this, for meditation is in its very essence a free act. But if we can remain true to ourselves, if we make an inner promise — not to another, but to ourselves — to remain steadfast in our resolve to meditate, then this in itself will become a mighty force in the soul.” (from;mark=182,49,59#WN_mark)


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