Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Golfing Zen #5 - Teaching and Learning

About Golfing Zen: This is the fifth in a continuing series of short essays dealing with the application of Eastern spiritual philosophy to your golf game.

The surface intent is that, as you apply the ideas, your golf and your enjoyment of the game will grow. However there is also an underlying motive: as you are able to see gains on the course, you’ll then be moved to alter your approach to life as well.

Today’s Topic: Teaching versus Learning

Today’s essay is another stone in the foundation we’re building. The stones that are already in place are:

    1. The “East” versus “West” differences and how they relate to golf.

    2. The Eastern Fundamental Truth: that life is suffering (dukkah) and that suffering grows out of desire or attachment. (And we all know how that relates to golf!)

    3. Enlightenment, the ultimate Eastern objective: often referred to as “remembering” who and what we really are, or “waking up" from the illusion. In life — and golf — the truth is within us and the goal is to recover it. Further, the golf truths are easy to execute… within the capability of all of us, yet we deny them.

    4. Last week’s “stone” proposed reasons why we fail to learn, to develop what is already within us. I listed three: impatience (we want it NOW!); getting better often means first getting worse (requiring another form of patience); and self-doubt (we don’t really think we’re worthy, so we don’t try.)

All of which brings us to today, and to two additional roadblocks: the white noise produced by many conflicting teachers and the interdependent role of the teacher and the learner. I’ll save the “many teachers” issue for next week, as understanding how we teach and learn is the critical question.

We’ve heard people talk about their experiences with golf lessons, and the opinions are almost always either black or white. Golfers are rarely neutral to their teacher; they’re either very enthusiastic or they aren’t going back. But in the long run almost no one goes back forever. Teacher/student relationships run their course and end, with the student eventually picking up the trail with yet another teacher. Almost never do you hear a student say that her teacher brought her to a happy and final end-state. “I’m now complete,” just doesn’t happen. It’s almost like serial monogamy, as we move from teacher to teacher.

Further, you never hear a student talk about his own success or failure in the learning process. The teacher is everything in the process; he either did or did not convey useful knowledge to the student. You never hear the opposite, “He’s a fine teacher, but I didn’t learn.”

So, how does all this happen within Zen, in the East? Like with golf, there are many teachers, and I’m sure they all don’t sing the same song. Also like golf, some Zen students decide (some successfully) to “go it alone.” So, what is different in the role of teacher and student?

In Zen study, the teacher only points and it is the student’s obligation to look and to see. And, in the seeing, he does not look at the pointing finger, but in the direction of the pointing. In other simpler terms, the obligation for learning is on the student, not the teacher. The teacher, in pointing, cannot fail, but the student certainly can fail to see.

And so Zen learning is an internal process, sometimes described as “breaking and entering” — entering into a Zen mind that the student always had, but which is both difficult to find and then to retain.

I’m sure you can see the golf parallel: the onus is on us. Others may point, but it is up to me to see. Failure to grow is my failure — mine only.

If you want some additional examples, then I’d suggest you listen to the companion podcast, number five in the series.

Then, in the next essay we’ll deal with the storm of conflicting “pointing” coming from the army of golf teachers out there. They can’t all be right, can they?

Next Time: The Noise of Many Teachers

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