speak from the scar, not the wound
Have you ever heard the phrase, “speak from the scar, not the wound”?
It’s a bit of old wisdom that I’ve also heard as “teach from the scar,” “write from the scar,” and “preach from the scar.” What it means is that when we are trying to be of service to other people, it is most helpful and most healthy to do it from a place that is healed and not a place of raw pain.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of teachers in the meditation, yoga, and general wellness space that seem to be teaching from the wound; sharing their pain in real time and processing it in front of their students. To me this is a complete misuse of the student-teacher relationship.
No teacher should be expected to have a life without ongoing heartache and challenges (we are all humans) and certainly we don’t want teachers that pretend like they have everything figured out (again: humans). But as students, we should expect that our teachers have a keen personal understanding of where they are healed and where they are healing–and to use their wisdom to teach from the places that will benefit their students the most.
My friend, the Buddhist author Lodro Rinzler, speaks wisely about this, so I asked him to share some thoughts with us. He said:
“The role of meditation teacher is not the role of a fully enlightened Buddha. It is someone who is trying (really hard) to wake up and has been doing the practice long enough that they can share both from their wisdom and their mistakes. Whether it's going through a break up or experiencing tragedy, it's important a teacher speak from the scar of their experience, not the wound.
If you just broke up with your spouse, that's not the time to give a talk on heartbreak! It's too fresh! You'll only end up in a situation where you're asking students to hold space for you. When we are doing the healing work we need to do as humans, we can't teach others how to do it too. We're still learning. “
The discernment of an enlightened teacher, then, isn’t to know everything; it’s to know what they know and where they are speaking from; to use their embodied judgment to teach from the places that can best serve their students.
To be clear, this is not about asking teachers to try to somehow never be wounded, or to always avoid the places where they’ve been hurt before. And this is definitely not to say that people who have experienced trauma, trials, or great tribulation in their life should not be teachers. Not at all! When we have endured, and then healed, from a painful experience, we have the capacity to become excellent teachers of that heartache.
Again, from Lodro:
"Once that wounds has scarred over, we are in fact the best people to talk to others about how to heal from similar situations, because we have been there and learned from it. We know the pain of that wound well and can hold space for other people to be present to it, without judgment.”
Holding space is one of the most important things that a teacher can do for a student, and it is not fitting for a teacher to behave in a way that (inadvertently or otherwise) asks a student to hold space for them, or to look to students to help heal a teacher.
This is a huge part of why it is crucial, absolutely essential, for a teacher to continue to hold the seat of the student for their entire journey. No one is ever done growing. No teacher should ever feel like they aren’t able to keep learning and healing; this is how a good teacher becomes a great one: continued education of their path through the school of life.
Students: May your journey be full of compassionate wisdom.
Teachers: May you continue to heal, to grow, and to teach from a place of love.