Random Musings: Styles of Teaching, Organization and Paths for Learning

Posted on March 12, 2012. Filed under: Random Musings | Tags: , |

English: The enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

Image via Wikipedia

There are several threads that have been weaving in my head which are slowly becoming a pattern I’m working out my thoughts on. One thread is following the current discussions of the Anusara yoga community and John Friend, another is my own experiences as a student of herbalism and various spiritual practices, and my own growing beliefs about teaching, learning and growing along your path be it yoga, herbalism, spiritual or other healing arts.

I believe that there are two primary poles of being a teacher and the sort of paths they form for students. I’d tend to call them Priesthood and Guides. Personally, I tend to prefer, and like working with folks, who favor the later style and have always been less fond of or drawn to those in the first. I don’t condemn the first if that is what works for folks and it does seem to be the strong preference for many people – and, like plants, different people grow better in different environments so it is not always so much a good/bad thing.

The Priesthood (I actually like calling it Guru-centric but that has a stronger implication for most people that is a bit distracting) often has the teacher be the sole focus with the view of knowledge and being centered on and flowing from them. (This all applies to focus on knowledge and spiritual practice as well.) Folks and groups with this orientation tend to be more formalized and hierarchical. They are more concerned with gatekeeping and are drawn to licensing, testing, etc. The communities are often more closed and over time develop increasing standards and organization. Paradoxically, the first wave of folks often enter with very loose standards and diverse backgrounds and strive to make it more difficult for succeeding generations to enter. Too often students and other teachers are seen as competition.  All of which I think is pretty stagnating to the health and growth of both the groups and people in them.

The Guides see things as a journey and exploration and themselves more as guides than gatekeepers of wisdom or knowledge. They tend to be more informal with open communities and aren’t as competitive. The view is you can learn from everyone and the more people explore and do things differently the better for all. It is more about exploring and sharing. It doesn’t mean everyone is an equally good and useful as a guide, but instead tries to cultivate greater opportunities for more folks.  Admittedly, the free form qualities can be a bit daunting for folks who are more comfortable and grow better with a more formal structure.

(Check list making folks shouldn’t go crazy here because people and groups can have aspects of both. I just find it a useful way for thinking about what I do and don’t like in teachers and groups.  And yes it is all a bit broad brush but that’s half the fun of such musings.)

I believe a lot of what we’ve seen in Anusara at the top was very strongly in the Priesthood model (not exactly unique in yoga or spiritual movements mind you – due to the strong influence of their origins) and now we have a number of former members who are trying to cultivate the Guide aspect and find a balance between those two aspects. I find that a really positive direction myself and hope they find a way.

Personally, I find that Guide style folks tend to have more a sense of humor and realness to them that I like. But heck it is hard serious work for the Priesthood folks to keep up that image of being especially knowledgeable and spiritual! 😉  (It is also no surprise that I have a strong affection for some strains of Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Christian Mystics and the Society of Friends/Quakers.)

I prefer it when folks think (when studying with a teacher of any stripe) “I could do that if I work at it”, “They really inspire me to try it myself”, etc. Instead of along the lines of “Oh they are so cool, deep, spiritual, wise, etc.”

But that’s just my own partly formed musing and odd .02 worth.

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