During one stage of my yoga teacher training, I once had an up-close and personal class with Donna Farhi, a wise and well-known teacher’s teacher and published author from Australia. Though she is widely celebrated for her many books on the asanas (yoga postures), this session was more of a dialogue and mentorship talk about the role of a teacher.
Her key message was, “Send your students on errands.” At first her meaning was unclear, and then I understood – and continue to more and more as the years go on…
Donna suggested that as teachers, we not provide answers, ie: this is the way this works, here’s how you find that, do it like this… in your body, mind, or otherwise – here you go. Rather, she proposed that to be a truly valuable teacher, one must instead find a way to ask questions of those you are guiding, in the time-honored tradition of the Socratic method.
To me, this was sage advice not only as a budding yoga teacher, for informing the kind of approach I was inclined to develop, but in examining the ways I interact with others, particularly when placed in a position of guidance or when asked for advice.
In this way, are we not all the teacher in some moments or relationships? Rather than, “You should do this…” or, “Here’s what I think!” … What would happen if you send your friend, family member, or colleague “on an errand” to find that answer for him- or herself?
By reflecting on questions, we are spurred to make connections, explore and delve into what is happening, what we know, and how we think. I’d experienced this method before as a pre-law student during my undergrad years in an academic sense, and indeed, it is an interesting process… though as applied to yoga or to life at large, how does that work?
In my own experience, I’ve found the most profound revelations come in response to the simplest queries… How does that feel? Where does that come from? Why is that happening? What do you make of it?
Finding ways to probe another person for the benefit of their own inner journey is an interesting skill to cultivate, and one that I’m always refining – and that provides endless insight into my own questions… and their answers.
I came across this poem today by Hafiz, one of my favorite spiritual writers and mystics, that speaks to this idea quite beautifully.
The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
Love and light,