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!