Posts Tagged ‘teaching’


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


Tired but Happy in Miami

May 30, 2008

I can't believe I've almost let the month go without a post. I will write more on the weekend. For now I will only say that I have been in Miami for two days, certifying a candidate for our workshop, and working with him to prepare to teach a half-day version of our workshop tomorrow. Cesar is not only a sound trainer but good company and a generous host. In between work sessions I have been treated to Cuban, Colombian, and Argentinian food. All of it most excellent. Lots of firsts, including first mojito, first Sangria (since college anyway), first fried plantains (wow!), and tonight first strip steak Argentinian style. Muy bueno indeed.

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More on Christian

September 14, 2007

I'm in Atlanta for a few days this week and I told my Vervago colleagues about Christian's life and death. This morning Wendy called me to say she heard a story on NPR about Christian. The link is here. I'm also going to try uploading it 


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Christian Wilson Brings the War Home

September 11, 2007

In the middle of my first year of teaching in Chapel Hill, over 16 years ago, a family moved into an apartment near Vicki and me, and the two kids came to my middle school. Christian Wilson was a little goofy, very funny, and had a very kind heart. After he finished at Chapel Hill High I'd see him at a nearby mall where he was working security. He always wanted to chat and was always upbeat. Not every kid looks back on eighth grade fondly, and some of my former students look the other way when they see me because the person they are does not much like the person they were then. Others are like Christian–always happy in their own skin, always happy to see a former teacher.

Last night we got back from a terrific weekend in DC–more on that later–and there was a teaser in a section of the Sunday paper that said a soldier from Chapel Hill had been killed in Iraq. It was Christian, now 30 and a highly decorated six-year veteran who had been in Iraq for over a year. As this story mentions, he just wanted to come home for a couple of weeks at the beach. He won't get to. His story–his commitment, his dedication–should be more than a line in the New York Times.

And now I hate this war in a whole new way. For years I've hated it on principle, on politics, and in my head. Now I hate it in my gut, and in my heart.

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