Still Water’s senior teacher, Mitchell Ratner, is currently at Plum Village, a Buddhist practice center in France founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. Mitchell has inspired and provided wise counsel to many of us, and has served as a steady rudder for our Sangha. Whether we have known Mitchell long or benefited from his teachings, his absence offers an opportunity to reflect on those times in our lives when no external guides are available to help us wrestle with challenges and see our lives more clearly.
Teachers are, of course, wonderful resources. The best of them have walked many paths and possess keen insights into the nature of human experience. Furthermore, the most adept have the ability to listen deeply to us, offer guidance, and, most importantly, create space for us to grow.
Many of us have had instructive teachers pass through our lives but, more often than not, we have found ourselves on our own to navigate the twists and turns of life. We cobble together things we’ve read, conversations we’ve had, moments of illumination, and the hard-knocks of growing up to navigate our way forward.
To me, Buddhism has been attractive because it calls on us to trust our own deepest experience rather than subscribe to a set of principles, place absolute faith in a teacher, or otherwise turn outside for insight. When evaluating a new understanding, Buddhism instructs us to “put it into practice” as a way to test its authenticity and its ability to enhance life.
This Thursday, after meditation practice, we’ll explore the ways we learn in the absence of a formal teacher. How do we put possible insights into practice? How do we funnel them through our own experiences to dig beneath, as Thoreau says, “the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion and appearance”? What tools do we use to separate truths, promising openings, and more fruitful practices from falsehoods, dead-ends, and counter-productive habits? In short, who is the inner teacher and how do we place trust in our deepest experience?
Follow Mitchell’s blog as he travels to Scotland and Plum Village here.