Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

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My Monkey Mind In Full Swing

February 25, 2014

I haven’t meditated for a couple of weeks, but today was a teaching day and I really like to start my day with a 20-minute sit. It calms me, and helps me feel focused before I spend the day “on” with a group of strangers.

I was easily 15 minutes in before I realized I had not once bothered to focus on my breath. As soon as I closed my eyes, my mind started racing. Anticipating the workshop I’d be teaching, thinking of upcoming travel, phone calls I had to schedule, what was going on at home … a never-ending cascade of blather. This is what Buddhists call this leaping from one thought to another “monkey mind.” When I finally realized that my intention was to listen to my breath and silently say, “maranatha,” I was stunned at the monkey’s agility. Unfazed, it stilled for about two breaths before resuming its activity: composing this blog post. You are a mischievous monkey indeed.

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Beginner’s Mind

January 5, 2012

One of the most prominent books on Buddhism in America is Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970). At the risk of oversimplifying, the idea is that the beginner takes to a practice with a freshness and openness that can dim with experience. While I still enjoy going to baseball games, I have never felt the thrill I experienced the first time I saw the green green grass under the lights of Fenway Park, now 40 years ago. Suzuki gave the talks that became the book in part to help his budding Bay Area Zen community maintain their beginners’ minds as they learned to meditate.

I have now taught Precision Questioning+Answering over 200 times. Not only is it easy for me to forget what it is like to teach it a first time, it is even more challenging to imagine what it might be like to take the workshop for the first time. Last year I had two learning experiences which helped me re-experience beginner’s mind. In March I took Powerful, Persuasive Speaking from my friend, outstanding trainer, and philorator extraordinaire  Alan Hoffler. I entered the training figuring I had some polishing up to do, but quickly discovered that I was much more mediocre at speaking than I’d estimated. I found myself suppressing the desire to dismiss the lessons of PPS as superfluous or tangential to my own teaching–the ego is powerful, and mine was not prepared to have its limitations exposed. But the beginner’s mind is a humble mind, without pretense, and I quickly swallowed my pride and opened up to the possibility that I could become a much better presenter if I was willing to try the techniques taught in PPS. There was some pain in acknowledging my shortcomings, but once I set aside my ego the growth was astounding. The comments, written and verbal, about the quality of my presentations since I took PPS, are the highest and most frequent of my career.

In November I was browsing at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill when I stumbled upon ChiRunning by Danny Meyer. My travel schedule was making it hard for me to keep up with my over-40 pickup soccer group, and I had been thinking I needed to start to run more regularly, so discovering this book felt like the universe tapping me on the shoulder. ChiRunning applies tai chi principles to running, easing punishment on the body and making running an activity of both joy and focus. At the ChiRunning website I found a half-day workshop being taught in Raleigh Thanksgiving weekend, and I figured it would be a way to get quick feedback on applying the ChiRunning methods. But learning them required substantial changes; it was like learning to run all over again. Enter beginner’s mind: standing with a group of strangers, listening to our patient and kind instructor, Pat Reichenbach, and trying to run like I’d never run before, all required me to again put aside my ego, admit I was not very good at something, and then start getting better at it. I’ve been running this way for almost two months now, and while I know my form is not perfect, it is starting to feel more natural. Each run feels like it’s new still, which has invigorated my practice. I am really enjoying running, and hope a beginner’s mind will guide me each time.

It is not hard to admit I’m not good at quantum mechanics or the viola–most of us aren’t. But to admit I am not good at speaking or running is to acknowledge I have deficits in things we are all supposed to have a basic competence at. When I stand in front of a room of new PQ’ers, some of them might not want to admit they are not as good at asking or answering questions as they could be. My own experiences with

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Three Layers of Tired

December 1, 2011

Tonight I am sitting in the Sky Club in Seattle. In the last 54 hours I have flown from Raleigh to Atlanta to San Francisco to Seattle, and in 90 minutes I’ll head back to Atlanta on my way home. Even though I love to travel, that’s an intense couple of days, and I’m feeling tired.

Beneath that layer of tired lies another kind of fatigue, the kind I get after I teach a workshop. This fatigue comes from projecting all the energy I can into the room where I am teaching, from 9:30 to 5:00 (yesterday in San Jose) and 8:30 to 4:00 (today in Seattle). I am  trying to listen to everyone and to think carefully about each comment and to remember to look toward all corners of the audience and to speak slowly and to time the jokes and … and the result is a feeling of emptiness that runs from my dulled brain to my tired feet.

Yet peeling away this fatigue reveals joy. Under the two kinds of tired, travel and teaching, sits a deep level of satisfaction. I love my work, teaching this incredible workshop to interesting people in wonderful cities. I love feeling like I gave them all I had this week. And I love the feeling of heading home.

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