I recently had the opportunity to arrange for my Dharma-teacher to give a one-day seminar on meditation to an audience of some 30 people. It turned out that preparing the seminar was in it self quite a lesson for me.
I had, not long before this seminar, attended another seminar where the interdependency of compassion and emptiness came up. But it wasn’t until I was preparing the seminar in question, that I really got it; understood how compassion, kindness and other so called positive actions and intentions can rest on something so seemingly nihilistic as emptiness. In the following I would like to share some of my own reflections on the student-teacher relationship.
What ignited the string of thoughts that I am trying to expound here, was a thought I had whilst taking care of practicalities; arranging the room, preparing lunch etc. It struck me: “This is very much like being in love”. I am very much in love at the moment. Not with my teacher, mind you, but still, some things are very similar: Having this person in mind, the loved one or the teacher, you do your very best to prepare everything according to what you imagine to be the needs of the other person: How would they like to sit? What would they like to eat and drink? Would they like the room hotter or colder? Will they need this and that?
Of course, everyone can agree that on the one hand, being in love is a very superficial thing. A “process” where you are possibly so full of your own projections that you don’t even really see the other person. But on the other hand, it’s something very real in the sense that it really makes you do your best. When you’re on love, you seem to effortlessly muster everything you’ve got: You can do with barely any sleep or food, and things that you normally might struggle with, like showing kindness and putting yourself second, suddenly comes so easily. In a sense, being in love is just a kind of game you play, but it has very real implications and consequences when it comes to your actions and intentions.
The difference between your average lover and your not-so-average teacher is that the teacher knows this. The teacher knows that underneath the playing, there is really nothing. He knows that it’s really not “you” doing something for “him”. Which means that in a sense, he doesn’t really care for all your efforts. Whether his tea is hot or cold, he will still teach to the very best of his ability. Now, when I think about it, I know it’s like that, and I know that he knows this. But I’m still doing my best. Still trying to imagine, if he’d prefer ginger tea to mint tea, and if he wants a hard cushion or a soft one. The difference between the teacher and the lover is that the teacher won’t get carried away with you infatuation. He won’t begin to see himself as you see him and start acting like a rock star. What he will do, is he will leave you to your own devices, so to speak. (I know this from experience, and even though in the long run it’s very helpful, it can be so very frustrating.) He will let you act out all of this dualistic ginger tea/mint tea drama. Not for his sake, but for your own.
And while you are frying in the fat of your own ambition to please and be “good enough”, he will be the spaciousness where this can happen; he will be the safe space where you can ultimately realize that you are not doing this for anyone, but simply trying to your best for the sake of doing your best. He will accept whatever gift you offer him, and by not changing he will show you in the kindest and most compassionate way that although it matters greatly, it really doesn’t matter. Now I’m not saying that I’m there yet. I’m still in mint-tea-drama. But I did get a small taste of something very precious, and I am so very grateful for that.Featured image by Holger Langmaier, Germany and photo of children, Constance Kowalik, Germany
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