I dare to say yes, when it’s safe to say no

What makes a good teacher? And when do we really learn something new? How do I expand my comfort zone, to grow in an empowering way? I remember these questions already from high school, but over the last two years, I have increasingly thought about, where I learn the most fundamental, transformational things for my life. Where do I have the most meaningful and confident relationships, that make me feel strong and allow growth when I’m vulnerable? And in this regard, what makes a trusted teacher or companion (for me)?

Recently I have been prompted to think about this subject again and decided to dig a little deeper… In continuation of my thoughts on integrity, I want to start a short series of posts about looking for integrity in teachers, coaches, and other “inspirational authorities“. Today I want to share a thinking process about my own experience of finding teachers I trust.

I realized that it is closely connected the possibility to disagree with them.

In the very beginning of learning to explore my body with awareness, a teacher told me that I had anger in my body. It was a moment when we were working with my legs, I was learning to notice my pelvis and the connection downward. And what I experienced was simply a strong sensation of flow. It was hot and there was a lot of movement in my legs. But I did not associate this sensation with anger at all. It was a very pleasant experience actually, I enjoyed the powerfulness. Anger, for me was something different, something aggressiv and destructive and I didn’t want to feel that. I was afraid of anger and that I would destroy things or people, if I let myself experience it.
Instead of asking me, how I experienced the moment, my teacher said, that this is anger. And that I probably will know eventually. This gave me a feeling of being wrong, small and dependent on him to let me know what I’m experiencing.
And after that session, I went home with a doubt about my experience, instead of the powerful, pleasurable sensation that I actually had experienced just before that short conversation. And with a nagging sensation of doubting him, in the back of my mind…
Even though I today realize that anger can be a quality, and that aggression or destruction are different things, this is exactly the kind of situation where learning something new didn’t happen smoothly and without extra effort.
I was busy with his interpretation of something and whether or not he was right, instead of being able to explore what I could learn from this powerful, pleasurable sensation of flow in my legs.

I find this a very innocent example of an important issue in the context of learning and personal development. When I really want to learn something new, something that is essential to my well-being, to living and expanding myself and expressing more freely – I have to move into the vulnerable field of „unknown“, I have to fully say yes and trust my teacher in moments that are tender. I want to accept their expertise and for a moment let go of some of what I previously knew; safe ways of acting and defending myself – in order to discover something new.

In a way I have to say yes, to being totally confused or lost or open to be touched and transformed.

And this, to me, is the most frightening and often most transformational field to go through, especially when it allows me to deal with something like a fear of destroying everyone around me.

Sometimes life serves me a kind of challenge – it’s not a choice, but a combination of events happening around me, that lead to an overwhelming sensation of being lost and having to find a new way. And then, the best thing I find is to go, continue, experiment, walk on… And I, of course, learn profound things in this process of finding some ground under my feet and a way to dance with the challenges. Sometimes then I will act in the way I usually do, trying to just survive, sometimes I get forced by circumstances to do something, that I would never have chosen to do – that can make me creative. But it can also create a sensation of disempowerment, defeat or frustration – until I again find a sense of agency and participation; even if it is „just breathing”.

In an intentional learning process, I bring myself in a situation of unknown, with the wish to grow beyond my previous limits. My aim is, to empower myself and others, by seeking this field that can be frightening and face my challenges in order to find new solutions.

And my experience is, that only when empowerment is part of the whole process, does it feel real at the end.

If I feel that I was forced to do something beyond my comfort zone, or asked to “just believe” like in the example above, on the other hand, I need an extra step of dealing with this sensation of being forced, before fully embodying what I actually wanted to learn.

I have been forced and I have forced myself to do things. And I have experienced, that forcing something can also get things done. But that force always comes with a price. A kind of effort and a feeling of disempowerment. Leaving traces and a bitter aftertaste or even pain, or just years later a frustration with someone who otherwise taught me many valuable things.

I don’t want to expose myself to this intentionally. Especially since I know that I can learn something much more efficiently when I learn from someone I trust. When I can really learn with them.

In this field of unknown one of the scariest things is, to be manipulated. To be lead to a place that I didn’t want to go, that is actually dangerous and where I am used… to be ridiculed, to feed someone else’s ego, to be exploited for money… the fear can go in many different directions. But it is real in the way that there can be people who exploit the trust they receive in these ways. And there can be situations where I am left with that feeling because I didn’t stop or say no, when it was necessary (maybe because I didn’t notice, didn’t know how or was not aware that that was an option…).

I find the fear to be manipulated can infest and compromise the empowerment of an experience. Even if I learned something great and I changed a lot of things if I am left with the doubt whether I really wanted this or I did it because I was „made“ to… it doesn’t taste good. It can either just slow down my process of learning or actually add a source of constant doubt to my experience.

Therefore I need to know, that a no is a no.

I need to know, that the person I work with is someone I can safely disagree with. I need to know, that if I say stop they will stop. If I say no, they will respect that and adapt to my learning. I need to know that they won’t judge me or leave me. I need to know, that if they disagree with my no, we can have a dialogue about it and explore our common language. I need to trust, that if they make a mistake they will be able to apologize honestly. And that if I make a mistake that they will listen to my apology without becoming patronizing.

Part of this, I can only know through experience over time. Through trying something, daring something or taking the risk that I just have to hold on. Sometimes I have had a feeling of trust from the beginning, and I might dare more with some people than others. But even with them, I notice that the ability to disagree with them is part of my „compass“ from the start. I trust you as far as I can disagree with you.

Especially with a teacher, who I meet for their expertise in a field, I need to know that they respect my personal integrity. That they appreciate the trust I give them, when I say yes, by accepting my No when it comes. I need to know that they will look for ways to collaborate with me around the subject we met to discuss. That they will open up a space beyond my comfort zone and hold that space, so that I can enter it in my style and my tempo, rather than throwing me in it.

When a teacher doesn’t accept my no, I don’t know if they ask for my yes for my own sake or for theirs… If they can deal with my no and allow me my own pace, including the option that I will leave and find another teacher, my trust, and respect for them is there. I will full heartedly recommend them to others, even if I notice that currently, I want to learn in a different way. Or if I’m exploring how to train and practice on my own (as I describe in Everyday Presence*).

My personal process should not be part of my teacher’s ego or need to be right. It is truly about creating a space for me to learn and grow. Their role is to hold the space and learn with me. And in a context with peers, we hold the space together.

My challenge in this is, to learn to say no or yes. This is where my courage is required and strengthened… It is vulnerable, even with those who I do trust, and who I know I can disagree with or be at a distance for a while, without feeling disgraced or thrown out.

When I don’t know, I wait. When I’m courageous I throw myself out there and try.

When I know it is safe to say No, I dare to say Yes, – to letting go, to daring unknown, to exploring a way of being that is weird, awkward and maybe just different, to dance with a challenge and grow.

…*I describe my personal approach in „Everyday Presence – a personal description“… My first book, which I’m very excited to publish in April 2017. If you’re curious and want to drop by to hold it in your hands – I would be thrilled to greet you at the Release-Fest April 21st, 5pm in Frederiksberg, DK.

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