“To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.” – Yogi Tea
Today’s Yogi tea bag carried the above message. It was particularly pertinent because I just spent the weekend with colleagues for whom I had served as a teacher of sorts. The experience with those amazing people taught me that the teacher/student relationship is an incredibly enlightening and healing experience – for the teacher.
An Unexpected Truth
For those with illness, or anyone struggling to find more happiness or better health, I believe it is especially empowering to serve in a teaching role. This may seem counterintuitive because you are likely used to being on the receiving end of advice from doctors, family, and well-meaning friends. When you have any type of challenge from chronic illness to unemployment, you become far more accustomed to the role of student than that of teacher.
How Can I Be a Teacher?
For me, after years of doctor’s visits the patient/student role became all too common. So common in fact that I started to think that I needed to be “fixed”, so I certainly wasn’t in a position to be giving advice. Not that I ever stopped offering my opinion, but I did stop providing formal health counseling. And, I truly started to wonder what gave me the right to educate on health at all. I convinced myself that the only way I could be an effective teacher or health coach is if I maintained perfect health. To make matters worse, there were people in my life who advised me not to ever let on that I had any illness or personal challenges because according to them no one would trust me, besides, a true professional never shares too much. So I tried to hide my imperfections and put on an “I got it all together” façade, which just made me feel like a liar, and actually made me grow sicker.
In addition, I started noticing that lying about one’s imperfections was quite popular. Many educational gurus don’t walk their talk. There are overweight individuals giving sold-out seminars on weight loss; excessively wealthy professionals preaching that we all must be more generous; and religious leaders condemning us for the very sins that they commit behind closed doors. Believing that we must be perfect in order to teach others, while also witnessing the reality that many of those that do teach seem to function with a shocking level of hypocrisy, made my head spin. I wondered if the role of “teacher” was an inherently unhealthy one.
Students Become Teachers
With all these negative mixed messages I concluded that I was never meant to teach others. Then, something amazing happened – students began showing up in my life. There is a Chinese proverb that I have quoted many times before “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It seems that the reverse can also be true. When we are ready, there are always those who are willing to learn from our experience. And, that willingness is a gift that one should never squander, because, as today’s tea bag suggests, teaching others is the surest path to life mastery.
Mastery Requires Humility
So here’s where it gets really tricky. I previously thought that being a “master” implied a level of perfection. But, that no longer feels true for me. Mastery seems more about a willingness to fail, to face one’s flaws or challenges and embrace the lessons in them. I’m realizing that being an effective teacher is not about having an advanced degree. It has nothing to do with age, gender, or what you look like. What it really boils down to is doing the work – getting down in the dirt with a problem, figuring out a solution, and then sharing that solution with others. Often that actually requires a whole lot of imperfection. Just like all contrasts in life, really understanding the elements of health and balance can only be achieved by experiencing the realities of illness and imbalance. Teaching someone is really attempting to walk in their shoes while letting them benefit from the wisdom of walking in yours. It is about first being a student, with an honest and open heart that’s willing to learn, followed by acting as a guide with a humility and purity set only on helping others uncover their truth.
I have always been deeply grateful to those who have taught and continue to teach me. Recently, however, I have uncovered an even greater gratitude for those who have been kind enough to let me teach them, for I now know that they are helping me to heal.