I was hesitant to start a blog of the sort in which one promotes one’s own ideas, opinions and knowledge so nakedly.
This venue of blogging ups the ante on the temptation one sometimes experiences in meeting for worship: to voice the clever things one has thought of, instead of waiting upon a true call to vocal ministry. Instead of holding the thought in one’s own quietness, unless and until it becomes viscerally clear that one cannot not speak it aloud.
My friend Jerry Rudoph, in his comment on my post “But not alone,” describes the temptation well:
What is more, seeking comfort and satisfaction from having a consistent conceptual framework is also a striving after wind just like seeking success and avoiding failure are strivings after wind. That does not mean we don’t do it. We cannot help but do it; at least I am not able to avoid it. I become obsessed with having the right answers and even the better things I do turn out on reflection to be attempts to establish myself as something unique and admirable. (Maybe even writing this.) But what is a person to do?
It is easier for me to write pieces for my other blog, Walhydra’s Porch. There, I am a storyteller. I can use the storyteller’s pedagogical device of narrative distance from a somewhat fictionalized self, and I can laugh at my own foibles while I confess them.
Six months ago, I displayed the guts of what I’m writing about here in a piece called “The Central Paradox.” The key theme there was my awareness of the self-defense strategy I learned in grade school in order to avoid (or mask) the pain of being an awkward sissy and outsider. I mastered the art of being a “teacher’s pet.”
I learned to be the tightrope walker who balances opposite ends of a long pole. On the one end, I held out my creativeness and intelligence to gain approbation from “knowledgeable authorities.” On the other, I extended my meekness, empathy and sense of advocacy to my peers, in the hopes they would befriend, or at least not abuse, me.
The strategy worked—at great cost.
It only felt safe to do what I could do well without public practice. I dared not make mistakes which others could see, criticize or, worst of all, ridicule. This meant that I hid or even denied much of what is dearest, much of what is most true to me. I often still do this.
And it’s not just that I want to avoid being caught out. I fear being either compelled or convinced to acknowledge that some belief which I privately feel to be crucial to my sense of self-worth, of rightness, of “being saved,” is erroneous in the eyes of those whose judgment I value or fear.
As Jerry’s comment suggests, it is human nature always to be walking some version of this tightrope, constantly juggling the balance pole by which we present ourselves to the powers or peers whom we perceive as judges.
Moreover, we tend not to recognize the “judge” we actually fear most for what it is: our internalization of what experience has taught us to imagine are the expectations of those powers and peers.
Instead, we cling to the pole and play to the audience, not trusting to walk by our own center of gravity alone.
We defend the “self” which we create and recreate every moment, not trusting that the “original self” (which Jerry identifies from Zen thought) could simply walk—or fall—without judgment. That it could say, as he does:
But there are times when I am brought to the present moment and feel a deep love for my partner in life, compassion for others who are suffering, and even a kind of compassion for life that includes even the fox that killed our chickens and continues to visit in search of food…. At those moments, what knowledge I have is enough. Successes, failures, harm I have done, and moments of achievement I have had do not consume me.
One of the greatest costs of this tightrope walk is that we tend to spend our energy and attention defending what we profess, rather than simply walking our practice.
My dear friend Christa recently shared a saying with me:
God wants witnesses, not lawyers,
so testify, don’t argue.
I have matured over the decades from clinging to the balance pole in desperate self-defense to relishing its use in the intellectual “martial art” of argument over principles. That is at least a move toward taking a self-assured stance in the world.
Yet I know that ultimately reasoned argument is just a more sophisticated—and, hence, potentially more self-deceptive—version of the old ego defense.
How do I learn to trust that I can lay the balance pole aside, find my spiritual center, and simply walk toward That which leads me?
I know that this is possible, I feel that this is possible, because I have experienced it over and over again in moments of grace.
I long for more grace.
And so it is.
2 comments On “Teacher’s-petitude”
Yes, yes, yes. Exactly so… Friend, you speak my mind… And I’m very glad you are doing this (very different) blog, in addition to Wallhydra’s.
I wish that I had kept my blog secret from my coworkers so that I could write with the honesty, the nakedness that you do here. Just breathtaking. I’m loving this blog very much.
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