Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma.” – Black Eyed Peas
As human beings we are capable of love, kindness, appreciation, and wonder. We have these soft elements of our being, as well as strength, intellect, ferocity, and power. Being fully human is embracing our whole experience, which means being willing to feel the textures of life, bittersweet as they are. Life is extremely challenging and includes incredible pain and suffering. Can we meet these challenges and continue to feel our humanity, or do we subvert our feelings and mask our experience with fixed opinions?
Traditionally, it is the role of the mother to nurture, protect, and acknowledge the soft side of our being. Yet despite good mothers the world over, this part of ourselves has become culturally disempowered. Gentleness, kindness, femininity, and so on are seen as weak, and often treated as liabilities, so we develop the habit of shutting down any feelings associated with vulnerability. Self-protection may have a certain practicality in terms of navigating our modern world. We don’t want to be naive. The problem is that without these softer feelings we don’t feel connected to our world. Without letting down our guard we can’t appreciate or be touched, and we become socially isolated. Even if we interact abundantly with others, without openness we can’t communicate meaningfully.
Our native intelligence reacts against this betrayal of our innocence. We long to feel alive, but we are afraid of the vulnerability that comes with feeling. So we are caught in a conundrum. We both fear and long for the very energy of life. As individuals we want to communicate, but we can’t handle the uncertainty and vulnerability that come with being open. Our effort to communicate, but without exposing ourselves, and our effort to protect ourselves and our imagined social positions, generates drama of all kinds. Thus we have a culture that offers countless ways of feeling more and other ways of feeling less. The notion that we should change the way we feel is almost a given.
In this atmosphere of low self-trust and high drama, learning can become an anxious endeavour. Transforming education begins with transforming ourselves as teachers and as human beings, and this begins with simply learning to feel human, and to trust that feeling human is good. When we trust our humanity we don’t try to change or alter our raw and full experience. This takes bravery, which is why we call it the path of the warrior. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche writes, “A key aspect of warriorship is having vulnerability and trust. Vulnerability is being open to the goodness within us and others. Trust is understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it. Without vulnerability and trust, we are perpetually dragged down to the lower realms of existence.” (Shambhala Principle, pg. 70)
At the gates of some Asian temples there are statues of guardian deities with powerful, menacing expressions. Their purpose is to repel negativity so that the practitioners within the temple can feel safe to simply be with themselves in meditation. Meditation might sound like a peaceful endeavour. In fact, it involves letting down our guard and meeting ourselves without any distractions. It is learning how to be vulnerable and open with ourselves so that we can discover trust. When this happens we are no longer afraid of being open, and we no longer associate it with weakness. Our humanity altogether is empowered.
Empowering humanity is the basic ground of Shambhala education. For teachers this education must begin with ourselves. Then perhaps we can begin to manifest as the temple guardians, and to make our classrooms into safe places for others to learn in the true spirit of openness, vulnerability, wonder, and joy.