Here’s another installment in a series of emails that took place between Michael and one of his senior students beginning the Summer of 2009. May you find the exchange interesting and enriching.
September 9, 2010
Student: How does one teach without subtle duality?
Michael: I guess Id say that good teaching skillfully uses duality in order to consciously serve up a nondual realization. Put another way, the duality of this or that, right or wrong, me or you, dissolves at some point in our practice to reveal something much more vast. This vastness lacks separation of any kind; hence, the label, nondual.
Oddly, we use duality in order to get to this realization of nonduality. We see this duality in many ways in the teacher/student relationship but among the most obvious forms are through silence and through words. Silence offers us a clear window through which realization can arise through simple presence. There is a subtle duality here since the student perceives separation from both the teacher and the realization that the silence offers. But this duality of self and other has a chance of falling away if the teacher has enough skill and the student has the courage to open to what the silence continually offers. When words are used, on the other hand, the duality is more obvious in that the words lead the mind on a path that takes it to the edge of its own relevance. The mind might not be aware of this as its happening but eventually it sees its own insignificance as the the teaching points to an opening to nondual grace. But to get to this point at all there is the subtle, as you say, and sometimes not-so-subtle, duality of the pointer and the pointed; subject and the object; teacher and the taught.
Student: Its as if the teacher is walking backwards the whole time, making suggestions on which steps to take. And I get that without duality there cant be relationship, but Im still not sure how one teaches this stuff. I mean how does one point at nonduality? I know you do it, I just don’t know how.
Michael: Im not really sure how it works. Its a mystery. But I do know that its critical that the teacher get out of the way; not only his or her own way, but also its key that the teacher get out of the way of the student. So, for example, when the student stumbles, in my view, the worst thing that the teacher can do is rescue the student from his or her misstep. Instead, Ive found it most helpful to bring full attention to the slip. This simultaneously increases consciousness and empowers the student. It also keeps the teacher from becoming an object of dependance.
Student: Sounds like spiritual tough love.
Michael: Yeah, spiritual tough love, with lots smiles.