Friday, January 08, 2010

STUDENT AND TEACHER
How the relationship changes both

"Friendship is a word which we all use in our everyday language, and yet it could take one's whole life only to realize its meaning. However learned a person may be, however pious, spiritual, or experienced, if he has not learned the nature and character of friendship he has not learned anything. This is the first and the last thing we have to learn." Hazrat Inayat Khan


There is something that I always tell people who ask me to be their spiritual guide. Well, there are several things, I have a list, but one of the things is that, just like any relationship, this relationship will change both of us. I also make it really clear that asking questions, any questions, is not only allowed, it is encouraged. As a result of this, some of my students take it upon themselves to keep me in line, so to speak. I do not object to this either. I used to as I was following the traditional model of the guide/seeker relationship, but I soon found that did not work for me.
Most spiritual teacher/student relationships tend to be traditional; or so I have observed. I have done no polling about this and am only going by my personal observations.
When a person is given the responsibility of being a spiritual teacher it is natural for them to emulate the model that they have before them of their own teacher's behavior. In my case the model was Pir Vilayat. He had a certain style probably necessitated by the huge number of people that he had initiated over the years. Also his basic training would have been in the Indian model of Guru – Chela relationships. The Guru is the teacher and is above all judgment. The Chela is the devotee and his/her job is to be totally devotional. Since Chisti order comes from India, it is not surprising that this is the model, more or less, that we use. To his credit, Pir Vilayat did often state that he did not want to be seen as or treated like a Guru, but it happened none the less. He did instruct his representatives to maintain a kind of distance between themselves and the students and to make sure that we kept a more or less aloof attitude. This was not said specifically but the message was clear. That was okay for him, he had this automatic regality about him that told you without a word being said that you were in the presence of a King. For others it tended to be something put on that may or may not have really fit. The problem, as I see it, with this model is that it is difficult for the teacher to admit to the student that the teacher also is affected by their interaction.
I have noticed in my own evolution as a guide that I am becoming less and less worried about appearances. And that is what the Guru/Chela model really is, an appearance of some kind, a sort of comfort zone where everyone knows their role. This works I suppose as long as everyone agrees but hard feelings arise when someone disagrees.
All too often, in this budding culture of Western spirituality, have I seen damage done because of the attempt to impose an Eastern model on our sensibilities. Why do I say budding? Because we are still trying to figure out just how we are going to do it. For the past century or so those of us with a need for a deeper spiritual experience have been struggling to integrate Eastern knowledge with Western secular attitudes. At times we go way overboard. In India it is fine for a person to don a saffron robe, in Des Moines it is silly looking. There is an impulse, I suppose, to display evidence of one's affiliation by the uniform but it really isn't necessary. Using some kind of uniform is not necessarily a bad thing but it does separate you out from your fellows in a kind of arrogant manner, as if you are somehow better because of your uniform. You may not feel that but others will so why do it? I think it may be that we are slowly coming to the realization that it is the inner work that is important and not how you are perceived by others.
Perhaps it is evident by this point that the evolution of Western spirituality is still going on. Where it will end, if it does have an ending, is still an unknown. What I firmly believe however is that it will become more and more a cooperative partnership between teacher and student. Yes it is true that the teacher often has technical knowledge that the student does not have. Yes he/she will also have access to intuition that the student has yet to develop but the words of Pir Vilayat about one's guide continue to reverberate within me and I have to believe he meant exactly what he said.
In regards to finding one's guide he always used this phrase, "To see yourself in another yourself who is better able to manifest that which you already are." How much more clear would we have to be to see that all the guide is doing is helping you to access what is already within you. And, in the doing, the guide will also find spaces within him or herself which are also opening, manifesting, unveiling. It is a cooperation.
I suspect that this line of thinking bears more inspection. So I would be glad of any input that may come from my readers.

Love & Blessings, Musawwir

9 comments:

Çiğdem Atabey said...

In my opinion, in the teacher - student loop we are both students and teachers.. We are teaching and learning in the same time. Sometimes we are saying something to our students, but to ourselves actually.. This is a nice relationship, I like it.. :)

much love..
Cigdem

Maggie said...

I would hope that the teacher is willing to learn from the student, as well.....I have found that it flows both ways, if it comes from the Heart.

Much love, many blessings.....

Wahida

lefthanded said...

Dear Philip!

I absolutely agree that students influence on their teachers just like teachers influence on the students. Of course this is true when both sides are open to each other and to their creative process. But here is what I would like to add to the above. When you get too deep into anything (be it a philosophy or a science, or anything) it might be difficult to keep the general idea of the research object. You get into the details too much, while the truth most often lies on the surface. So, students (people who only begin their studies, who see the object maybe for the first time) have this fresh look, free from any details. It seems to me that this fresh look is the best gift that a student can share with his teacher.
What do you think?

Victoria.

Musawwir said...

Hi Victoria,
You are exactly correct. That fresh look that you mention does lead to questions of the teacher that can open fresh possibilities for both. It behooves the teacher or guide to not only encourage such questioning but also to be aware that they may not have the whole of it either.
Regards, Musawwir

msdong said...

We both are learners. Students learn from teachers as teachers learn from their students.Never underestimate the learners. They have brighter ideas which we don't even think of.

In the past 23 years which I have been teaching,I always get new encounters, new experiences,new challenges. In few of those experiences, my students have shared to me their life's experiences . Once they feel comfortable with the teacher, they pour out everything.. looked up to this teacher as one who could inspire them to reach their goals despite of hardships. Well maybe because my culture is different, I am an Asian. teachers here are so particular of guiding their students, reaching their goals and finally looking at them holding their diplomas. By this I sometimes became so attached to my students that our first conversation in the classroom would lead to several conversations even outside of the class. Many of my students confessed that they only felt comfortable to open up to me but not with other teachers. Maybe because I'm like a mom to them.

Learning is liberating.. We must continue to learn with our students and be effective and efficient teacher at the same time..

with my best regards and Love,

Helen

msdong said...

I have learned theories, philosophies and principles of teaching, but I feel you have learned the most..

I'm afraid I can't stay far from the " teacher". I'm more emotional. I usually use my heart. when a student came to me and pour out problems, I can't say No.. I have to extend my services. maybe because i am bound to do so.

Your approach is unique..

with my best regards and love,
helen

Za'ida said...

Dear Musawwir,

two thoughts came into my mind.

First there is no action without equal reaction! That means there must be a reciprocal influence from teacher to student and vice versa.

And we can not see in another person what is within ourselves. Student and teacher are a mirror to each other.

Love and blessings
Za'ida

gabrielle said...

i see that we are all constantly learning from all of those around us. just as a mother, i have learned endless wisdom from my son, a teacher and student learn enlessly from each other in the same dynamic way that a child and parent learn from one another. a truly beautiful connection between the two....

Sarala said...

Re "some of my students ... keep me in line...."

The other day, one of my students noticed that I was teaching something differently than I had four years ago (!??!!) and she "called me on it."

There was a time when I would have been deeply embarrassed, and stumbled to 'cover up' the change. Instead, I listened, smiled, and said "Thankyou for pointing this out to me. I'm learning and evolving too, you've helped me see my own growth."

I realized that I no longer feel that I have to be perfect (or close to it) in order to teach. I am comfortable being fallible. I think it's good for me and for the students.

An added bonus.... I could tell by the look on her face that her respect for me deepened that day.