Posted by: highmountainmuse | January 7, 2009

On teachers and teaching

This is about the struggle of trying to learn.  Anything.  I started thinking about this in terms of horses, which for me has been a challenging and continuing process of trying to get ideas, information and specific skills despite my isolation and frustrations of not knowing how, where or to whom to turn for answers. (It’s easy to say the answers are all within us, and maybe this is so.  However for some of us, the answers are buried pretty deep.)


But now I’m thinking about the same frustrations and obstacles, and putting them in light of everything I have written and want to write about here. So now, this is about learning to live simply.


You’d think, of course, that the skills of simple living would come, well, quite simply.  But I tell you what, I don’t know about you, but learning to bake bread, milk a goat, or build a cabin did not come “simply” to me.  I for one really needed teachers.  And very lucky for me, I have had some wonderful teachers along the way.


We are not born with this knowledge.  Some are lucky enough to learn many of these skills as kids from their parents or neighbors or community.  Others learn through one experience (in my case, usually a mistake) after another, but this is the slow and hard method.  Yes, the “school of hard knocks.” And other times, we can learn from books, though you’re lacking the hands-on aspect here. This method does work, though very slowly. In fact, I can not tell you how much I have learned from books (can I mention and recommend specific books here?).


But a mentor, a teacher, a friend who cares enough to share his or her experiences, stories or knowledge… this is the time honored, most successful and guaranteed way to learn.  A teacher or mentor is hands-on, caring, available for questions or support when you really need them, and the icing on the cake is, they have already made the mistakes!


It can be rather odd the forms our mentors come in, often the last person we’d expect in a situation we were not expecting.  But just about everyone has a lesson to teach us, if only they are willing to take the time to listen.


Perhaps my first teacher to introduce me to the world of simple living was a strange old hippy living in a cave.  He taught me the value of slowing down, looking around, listening. Then there was the grouchy elderly WWII vet, who chain smoked cigarettes and drove his old pick up so slowly that I learned to ignore the many vehicles who passed us with their hands pressed firmly to the horn.  He taught me that I can do anything, build anything, by one grain of sand at a time.  Then there was the old cowboy, who shared wonderful stories and invaluable life lessons while driving and riding around the back country looking for cattle, ever smiling, with a magical twinkle in his eye and a chuckle on his lips, as his wife and I would have to reply so loudly to be heard over the buzz of his hearing aid.  And of course, there was (and still is) the friend who taught me so many of the basic and essential skills I now use every day; as well as showing me first hand the invaluable lesson of giving up.


Oh, there have been so many people who have taught me so many things! And I know I am especially lucky, as I have my parents to thank for the most important lessons of all: a good work ethic, and the determination to be a good person.  The hardest lesson of all, for me.  One I will have to work on every day for the rest of my life.


Well, now it’s time to look at the other side of coin.  Remember the ideas about giving?  Well, teaching, sharing knowledge, is a form of giving, isn’t it?  So, here’s where I’m going with this.  Don’t we all have things we can share? Doesn’t everyone have something they can teach?  Perhaps this is an important lesson I need to understand better: even though I’m still (and always will be) learning, and I’m not “old” (yet), and I’m no expert (at anything)… but just as I have been so lucky to learn so much from so many, likewise, I can pass on this information with others who might be looking for answers.


We can all reach out and ask more questions (and don’t forget to listen) if we do want to learn. But we also can, each one of us, be there for folks who reach out to us.  Each of us can be both student and teacher, can’t we?


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