After two days of on-snow practice and testing earlier this week, the Professional Ski Instructors of America awarded me my Children’s Specialist Level One certification. I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Piaget’s Stages of Development, Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, and much else besides. The PSIA claims I now have the tools to be a much better instructor of children than I was a week ago.
Do I really need to be able to rattle off the levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy in order to understand that a child who is cold, hungry or scared is unlikely to learn well? Do I really need to define a four-year-old’s cognitive functioning as "pre-operational" (per Piaget) to know that she’s not capable of understanding complex or abstract instructions?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything useful. I don’t mean to disparage the whole process. Here and there I recognized blind spots in my understanding. I’ll be able to approach certain situations with more clarity and confidence. That can only be helpful.
But consider: This week they told me that the colloquial name for the moral development stage that describes most nine-year-olds is "clever as a fox." It’s nice that they told me that. But the better teachers of this principle were the nine-year-olds I taught back in January, who kept asking me, "Can we do this? Can we do that?" until I realized that they were testing the limits of my authority. The former I learned from a book and a class. The latter I learned by paying attention and being present. Which version of that principle is going to make the more lasting impression on my future teaching? In my relating to children in general?
In our last couple of pieces, Jerry and I talked about using the word open as a cue to connect with the present moment and feel a certain flow of energy within our bodies during the golf swing. If I were to attach the word open to the kind of technical instructions that most golf teaching relies on, I might come up with something like, "During the swing, the chest remains open as the shoulders rotate. The left arm stays extended at the elbow. The head stays up so that the left shoulder can turn freely under it." Do you think we’d have been as successful in our practice if we had repeated those sentences to ourselves over and over again?
I can speak for both of us when I say that those kinds of instructions were the furthest things from our minds. Instead, we’ve witnessed the swings of great golfers, done our best to use centering to observe the truth of those swings, and noticed that a pro’s swing appears open. That is, there’s a resonance between the energy impression given by the swing and the energy we feel when we explore the word open.
Words have energy. We’ve said that again and again and again in these writings. I’ve devoted a substantial portion of my life to working with that energy. I don’t take that energy lightly. But I also don’t want to take it too seriously.
The risk of focusing on big, abstract theoretical models as representative of reality is that abstractions tend to focus energy in the head. If you aren’t careful, you might find yourself demanding that reality fit into your model rather than remembering that reality is reality, while your model is just a model. Rigid thinking tends to follow. Everything that fits the model is noticed, while everything that does not gets rejected.
On the other hand, with enough practice, the practice of centering will always reveal the truth of a given situation. Perhaps we’ll turn to words as a means to communicate that truth to other people. But if we’re truly connected to what we’re teaching, we won’t insist on the rightness of what our words communicate. We’ll ask that you come to center and explore their truth yourself.