posttitle = The eyes-open student: “I can see things my teacher can’t acknowledge” titleClass =title-long len =76

The eyes-open student: “I can see things my teacher can’t acknowledge”

Part 7 of the “I can tell for myself” sequence, picking up where Guru dynamics: “I can show you how to trust yourself” left off:

To the extent that the person in the more student-like role is able to stay in touch with their own direct-knowing even though it conflicts with what they’re hearing from the teacher-role person… now what?

I’ve studied in depth a handful of cases of this (firsthand and secondhand) which is more than most people but not a lot, so I may be missing something major here. These situations can come from the situation described in the previous post, where the student develops self-trust while already inside a container that they had previously been more naïvely surrendered to… or it can involve someone who already has sufficient self-trust to listen to themselves consciously stepping into a learning environment with someone else who also has a lot of self-trust.

In these contexts, where one person is the official or de facto authority in the space, what I’ve seen has tended to involve what-the-authority-knows being the sort of dominant view, with the other person’s knowings (where they contradict, which won’t be everywhere) getting a lot of questioning and suspicion, or treated as irrelevant. This is functionally a form of “oppressive culture”, even if it’s actively intending to be a welcoming culture.

And it turns out that the main approaches are basically the same: stay & pretend, say the unsayable, or leave. But they look a bit different in learning community than in a kind of default societal context.

  1. Stay & pretend to go along with the authority’s worldview, so that they get to stick around. I said in the “oppressive cultures” section that it’s best to leave, but that was intended to be more referring to a situation where someone doesn’t have enough self-trust to be able to hold their own worldview even in the face of outside pressure. But if someone has that, and has enough time & freedom to journal or talk to people outside the context of this dynamic, then it can make sense to stick around at least for a little while.

    Someone’s reasons for sticking around might include one or more of:
    1. wanting to learn from the person’s wisdom (“yeah he’s belligerently confused but he still knows stuff I don’t, and I trust myself to learn safely in this context”)
    2. wanting to learn from interacting with the person’s confusions (“I’m honestly just trying to understand how someone can be so wise and so foolish at the same time”)
    3. wanting to reconcile the relationship and the viewpoints (“I want to get to the bottom of why that rift years ago originally happened, and have more ease”)
    4. wanting something out of the relationship or context, whether material or social or whatever (“people keep ignoring the obvious, but on the whole this is still a better place to live than any of my other options, for the time being”)
    5. wanting to keep an eye on the person and their context and make sure others are okay (“this former student of mine is getting into risky territory in her container, but if I say everything I’m seeing she’ll just kick me out and then I won’t be able to advise her at all”)
  2. Say the unsayable. Speak to what you can tell for yourself, ideally in ways that also make space for what the blindspots are protecting. This is usually an unstable approach; eventually it converts to pretending or leaving, although with enough trust-dancing/bridging skill I think it can theoretically result in insight and healing.
  3. Leave the context. Sometimes this happens with a lot of anger and resentment, from pressure built up from months or years of pretending not to notice what one notices—particularly if someone had years of being unconsciously in this culture where they repeatedly denied their own knowings—in the name of learning how to trust themselves!

I did a mix of all three of these when I had my own self-trust breakthrough in 2020, as I wrote about somewhat hotly just after I moved out and more spaciously 2 years later. That’s a great example of a context that was attempting to be welcoming everything but in practice didn’t know how to welcome many things. And there were many aspects of me that could tell they were uniquely welcome there, which is part of what made it all so confusing. And when I tried saying the unsayable there, it was difficult of course, but we were able to sincerely approach the challenge together to some degree. There was no “you can’t say this”, just a “you can only say this if it also accounts for this other thing that’s really important” which was around the edge of my ability.

Another case study I’m aware of is much more cut-and-dry, my-way-or-the-highway, “I don’t take feedback, that’s not what I’m here for”. I haven’t interacted with her directly, but I’ve heard from various people in her containers describe how they can tell she’s doing something weird, but they don’t bring it up with her because if they do she’ll just say something like “why are you projecting? that’s your stuff. get out of victim”. And they are, to some degree, projecting their stuff onto her, which she can tell for herself and is accurately commenting on! But… that doesn’t mean she isn’t also doing something weird, that they can tell. Yet there’s only space for one of those views, and since she has the authority, it’s hers. And so the local blindspots are very strong, because everyone who can see them has to shut up, or they get shut down, or they get kicked out or leave. All of those reinforce the dominance that her “I can tell for myself” has on the scene—and the blindspots formed of the negative space of that knowing. Nonetheless, her being not-open-to-feedback from students is part of how she maintains the clarity to do her work, given that she doesn’t have any psychotechnology that would allow her to listen to her students’ feedback without getting hacked (such psychotechnology exists though!). She does maintain connections with a couple people who she trusts enough to at least let them try to give her feedback, but my impression via backchannels is that there are obvious and absurd blindspots that they can see but have been unsuccessful at pointing out.

It’s ironic and kind of tragic, but not at all a coincidence, that this is showing up in precisely the sorts of arenas that are attempting to develop peoples’ self trust. In situations where what’s being taught is eg photoshop skills or startup principles or whatever, the teaching is happening on a less raw level of perception and experience, and the teachers might not even have such a strong sense of “I can tell for myself”. They have confidence, sure, but it doesn’t go into such spiritually deep places. Or they do, but the level they’re giving feedback on is the art or the technique, not the way-of-being or the person’s mindset or whatever. I would expect a medium amount of this to be present in acting classes—a range; less than most spiritual learning contexts but more than most physical skill contexts.

So… what do? You might think that while the teaching/learning process is challenging/paradoxical, if we just had multiple people who are already consistently groundedly in touch with their sense of “I can tell for myself” then we’d finally have something like collective sanity… but in my experience this is helpful but far from sufficient. Let’s talk about that, and then talk about what we might be able to do about this.

Next post in sequence: Merely getting everybody in touch with their own knowing isn’t enough

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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