You’re a spiritual teacher. A ragged child, starving hungry, shivering in the bitter cold, comes up to you. She asks you why there is suffering in the world, and if we have any control over our lives.
You give her a long lecture about the ins and outs of consciousness, the perfection of ‘what is’, the paradox of the Absolute and the Relative, the benefits of awakening to your true nature. You tell her the story of your own awakening, how your life changed beyond recognition many years ago, how deeply at peace you are right now, how you are changing your student’s lives. You remind her about the illusion of choice, about how in reality there is no past and future, that there is only Now. You tell her about suffering, how ultimately it is all an illusion, how we only suffer when we are at war with life, when we push away thoughts and feelings and sensations, when we stop seeing ‘what is’ right in front of us in the moment. You insinuate that she should accept ‘what is’ and stop her storytelling.
The child walks away. You feel satisfied – you spoke the Truth, without compromise. You have just contributed to that child’s awakening. Or so you think.
But you didn’t hear what the child was really asking, did you? You played your role as “spiritual teacher” perfectly, yes, but the situation may have required something totally different, and in your rush to hold up an image, you just may have missed something essential.
Remember, that child cannot eat your words. She will still starve if she is not fed. Words will not stop her from freezing to death tonight. Was she really asking for more words? Is that what the situation was really calling for?
Teaching is not preaching, nor is it regurgitation. It is alive. It emerges from seeing – from deep sensitivity to the one in front of you. Deep listening. Meeting truth without agenda. And a willingness to drop any ‘image’ you are carrying, even the image that you are a teacher with the answers.
We can get so lost in our spiritual stories, can’t we. And sometimes we can forget that the one in front of us just needs a warm meal, a bed for the night, some practical help – the human touch. And then, maybe, when their basic needs are met, they may be open to something else, who knows. But that is all future-thinking. What is here, right now?
Right now, are we able to really listen?