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domino effectThis past week I have recognised a sense that the summer is here. Not just because of the warm weather, not just because evenings are punctuated by my beloved Tour de France on TV but rather because work has slowed to a pace that suggests “summer holidays”. And whilst my partner bemoaned the arrival of Bastille Day as the signal “summer is already ticking down”, based on my childhood memories it is only this coming week that heralds “school’s out for summer”.

My retreat is now nearly a month behind me. I continue to have moments reflecting on my personal koan, but more figural for me is the space emerging. The two collide - Bodhisattva activity requires energy, energy comes from rest: and the summer is typically the time I recharge. Inspired by the Tour, early morning bike rides complimented by longer meditation sittings are setting me up for the day. My private practice is still in full swing, but my University commitments are thinning down. In fact, more so than previous years - I have decided to step down from my role as Course Leader for the MSc in psychotherapy. This feels the right time - 3 years in the role feels long enough to have made my contribution to the team and to have gained enormous insight in to the training of psychotherapists; but now, I want become a ‘foot soldier’ on the team and to really focus on my teaching. Furthermore, it also the right timing in my manifestation as a Bodhisattva-with-training-wheels. My 1-2-1 role as a psychotherapist means I can help one person at a time; my role as a teacher allows each person I interact with to go out in the world and help others. Teaching enables me to help others to help even more others; a bit like when one domino hitting multiple dominoes.

There is more than one way to be a bodhisattva, at least that is what the Buddhist teachings say:

  • Like a Monarch: the intention is first to become a Buddha, then to help all sentient beings to become Buddhas. Like a monarch would do, she first tries to develop abilities for herself, then to help her subjects. In other words, I lead others over the bridge toward awakening.
  • Like a Captain: the intention is to take all sentient beings along with her to the state of enlightenment, like a captain who sails together with her passengers; I walk alongside others as we cross the bridge to the other shore.
  • Like a Shepherd: the intention is to deliver all sentient beings first, to lead them to enlightenment, to the state of Buddhahood, and then only to become a Buddha, like a shepherd who will bring all her sheep to a safe shelter and only then will go home herself. I escort others on to the bridge and follow on behind, making sure no-one is left behind.

A Course Leader could be compared to the monarch - taking the lead, over-seeing. My philosophy as a teacher on the other hand is more like the Captain. At the University of Brighton we have a particular philosophy that considers trainees as colleagues-in-training rather than students: we are firmly alongside, generating a training environment that feels reciprocal and attempts to dispel the teacher - student dynamics (and the all the associated trappings of transference and projections). I especially feel this when I teach on the MSc course, as all the students in the room are fully qualified and practicing as counsellors. I often leave our classroom debates and dialogues as a recipient of much wisdom and experience. All good educator models speak of the importance of the teacher being a lifelong learner. As a therapist, especially from the Humanistic tradition with its emphasis on listening the client in to their own wisdom and letting that take the lead, there is a chance for me to fulfil the shepherd manifestation - considered the highest esteemed bodhisattva. This leads me to consider how I can also teach from the shepherd position.

One of my ’tidying up tasks’ as the current academic year closes has been to write-up my submission to the Higher Education Academy to become a teaching fellow. In this exercise, I have been afforded the opportunity to reflect upon my teaching activity and how I promote optimal learning for our students. There is a big emphasis on equality and how our teaching methods address different styles of learning. If I consider the shepherd bodhisattva, it is how I make sure no-one is left behind in the classroom. It is very easy in professional trainings to be distracted by those more able practitioners - these are the students who we might consider stretch us: who we might feel most explicitly we have the capacity to learn from too. I know in the past when teaching on sport science courses, those students who were eager to learn and to become sport scientists themselves caught my attention. In some ways, post-graduate teaching means a bigger majority really want to be there; and arguably more so when people have chosen a professional training to go about switching career in mid-life. There is a commitment. But post-grad teaching also brings diversity - time since last in education, intellectual, life experience, and indeed, financial. I have often wondered what ‘equality’ means in this situation: where does our effort go?

Much of this reflection will go on hold until September when things begin to ramp up again. For now, the next 6 to 8 weeks are about space…I’m sure it will get filled: and not just with bike rides and meditation. I’m looking forward to getting back to my book project - left on the back burner since April in Normandy.

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