Skylark on moor
Basho [On Love and Barley #83, tr. Lucien Stryk]
Basho cultivated a sense of lightness, freedom and naturalness in his poetry that he called 'Karumi', reminiscent of 'that which does not stagnate, but constantly flows, like a mountain stream, fresh. clear and light' (see this article).
I recently went to a conference where the presenter strutted up and down, in front of and through the participants, calling forth responses, gesturing confidently, showing us how knowledgeable he was.
I went to a different conference where the 'presenter' appeared regularly at our sides and asked us questions related to something she had invited us to work on. I felt attended-to.
These two events had a profound effect on my teaching; I vowed never to strut around the classroom again.
One day, I decided to have a 'day of slowness'. I noticed that I was breathing more deeply, more calmly. I held things more gently and remembered to tread lightly on the earth (in the words of Jane Bennett). I did not need to speak as loudly as usual, as I was prepared to wait until I was near people before speaking.
Reflecting now, I remember that day more clearly than most, although this might be due to the fact it was a beautiful Autumn day in Kew Gardens.
I do not always remember to tread lightly. In a recent lesson, I sensed a taken-aback-ness in my students, and realised my tone had become patronising, perhaps mildly aggressive, as they were finding it difficult to understand something I thought they might understand more easily.
Teacher lusts abound: I must recognise them and follow Amy Liptrot's advice to, 'Let the cravings pass lightly'.
'Slowing down into experience', and 'stopping to consider' are key themes in Dorothy Heathcote's work. By going slowly, we can reflect while doing. As Heathcote states:
Without the power of reflection, what have we?
With slowing down comes awareness, as well as lightness, softness, stillness, quietness.
I recently sat with a student who wanted to go through some difficult problems. He was finding it difficult to concentrate. I read him chapter 16 from the Tao Te Ching and asked him which line stood out for him. He chose this one:
Returning to the source is serenity.
I asked him if this helped. He said yes, and it seemed to; we continued with the work afresh.
With serenity comes sensitivity: to our breathing, to our surroundings, to our own consciousness, perhaps intertwining with others. This feels connected to just listening. When slow and quiet, we become more attentive, more receptive to that which is there to be noticed.
When we go quickly, we take less care, are less able to dwell, we notice less. Our actions will create noise, and possibly damage, violence.
With lightness comes freedom, freshness, non-attachment. At a recent Science of Education working group meeting we talked about the importance of letting go when trying to solve problems, but the ability to let go may be more useful than (just) for doing maths.
In his later life, a central theme in Heidegger's philosophy was the term Gelassenheit, which can be translated as a letting go, but also letting be, freedom, non-willing, releasement, waiting.
Letting things be is not a matter of leaving them alone. In Pathmarks he states:
Ordinarily we speak of letting be ... in the negative sense of leaving something alone, of renouncing it, of indifference and even neglect. ... However, the phrase required now - to let beings be does not refer to neglect and indifference but rather the opposite. To let be is to engage oneself with beings.
Letting be requires openness to people and to the world around us. But with this comes risk, vulnerability:
By loosening the boundaries [between emotion, cognition, subject matter, professional and private lives], perhaps even cutting them, we become open to enriching learning about ourselves and others.
This is the cost of removing our 'ego' from teaching - an essential part of becoming a good teacher.
To me this echoes the Zen teaching of not two, of Zen-master Hui-Neng's suggestion that one should not look at, but as, the object - in this case, the child.
Letting be might also be termed a 'slowness of judgement', as in Montaigne's, 'Je soutiens,' or the skeptics 'Epoché'.
This is a critical element in good teaching, as described by Dorothy Heathcote in this article:
Being slow to make judgements allows me constantly to renew my view of each pupil and update it. I think this is one of the hardest things we must train ourselves to do if we aspire to excellence in teaching... One of the most rejuvenating things is to give everyone a fresh start each morning. The ability to do this is part of the condition of innocence. I think innocence has a chance of bringing with it enormous gaiety and trust, so that you walk into the classroom clean every morning, however mucky you are at the end of the day.
On innocence, Henry Thoreau adds:
Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbours… A return to goodness produced each day in the tranquil and beneficent breath of the morning.
With openness, trust, renewal comes a greater possibility of receiving. This is from Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea.
With patience and faith, we are back to taking the wanting out of the waiting.
The same themes recur again and again.
This is Chapter 43 of the Tao Te Ching.
The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.
Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
that is the Master's way