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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

teaching, practice and love ~

The muse Terpsichore is known for many things: dances, the harp, education. But  most amazing is that all these things come together in one Muse: supposedly Terpsichore invents them all. Think about it: all of those coming from one head. Then think about how we separate them today. Who would put the harp in w/ literacy??

I spent last weekend with teachers. Friday afternoon until Saturday evening, we wrote, worked, shared stories and food, and socialised. It was GREAT. Terpsichore would have been right at home.

Because teaching is all of this: dancing in an elaborate collaboration between student and teacher (and those roles shift, often), the music of learning and caring and whatever discipline we’re exploring together. And all of this is education. Each teacher I know is a kind of Terpsichore :). (My students would make harp into a verb, though…)

Teaching is my practice. My friends know this, even the (mostly) non-Buddhists among them. The Buddhists believe that what you do mindfully, w/ thought and feeling, over and over again until you begin to feel it melt into your very bones, is your practice. In Zen Buddhism, particularly, many things can become your practice — those things you do mindfully and w/ the intent of disciplining the mind and learning how to calm it. Tea can be your practice, for instance (it’s one of mine :)). But mostly my practice has been writing.

It still is. Increasingly, however, I’m coming to see how much teaching also is my practice. Teaching teaches me, particularly beginner’s heart. With my students, I have no expectations :). I don’t judge them if they don’t meet my standards of writing, my standards of attendance, my standards of responsibility. I listen, instead. I hear that Tiffany is worried her kidneys are failing — she may have cancer (really). I learn that Kelley is fighting lupus, as her mother and grandmother before her did. And Stephen can’t bear to be inside — he’s as ADHD as they come; all that keeps him sane is blue sky.

With far too much of my life, I keep score. Did you keep this promise? I ask politicians. Did you live this kind of life? I ask religious figures. Do you hold yourself, in other words, accountable to the same standards you measure the world by? But in my class, this doesn’t happen. I just love my kids. Pretty much irrespective of their accomplishments.

Even though I’m fairly certain we don’t agree on politics, on religions, on unions or the death penalty, that all seems irrelevant. I love them because they’re my students, and I know them through their writing, through their conversations in class, through the lens of my affection for each one.

Today I received a thank-you note from a student in this past semester’s class. It was a lovely hand-written card — covered on both sides w/ her lacily feminine writing. In it, she thanked me for what should be normal teaching: caring about my students, giving them freedom to be themselves, listening to them when they talk. She told me it wasn’t simply a writing class, but ‘senior orientation to the real world.’ Well, shouldn’t all learning be an orientation to the real world?

But what I read between her neatly spaced lines wasn’t only what she wrote. It was this: Thank you for loving us. Thank you for your practice.

You’re welcome, dear. Thank you.

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