Tag Archives: Dogme

The ‘Don’t Know Mind’ and Teaching

Seven days at a Buddhist temple, forty-one hours of sitting meditation, two personal interviews with Zen Masters, one Dharma talk, and many hours of silence can have a great impact on one’s mind. The greatest impact for me was the realization that I have very little, if any, control over my mind. One of my favorite quotes from my week at Musangsa – International Zen Center, related to the idea of control, comes from one of the monks. As we hid away in the storage room for a chat over coffee on the last day, she shared:

“One of the greatest delusions we have, is the delusion that we think we make decisions.”

What she essentially was saying is that we have no control over the outcome of any event. We may have plans, we may have expectations, but in reality, what happens doesn’t always match up. No matter how often I ask the barista and think I’ve made myself clear, I may decide to have a cappuccino, but may only receive a cafe latte. I may decide to move to Ottawa to continue my French studies but may end up teaching English in Korea instead. I may decide to arrive at work at 8:30am, and I may arrive at 8:30am. Life unravels as it will.

What does this mean for the ultimate control freaks: teachers? We are trained to create SMART objectives, to plan minute-by-minute lesson plans, and to “manage” our students’ behavior. Teachers need control!

Our obsession with control is connected to our attachment to outcomes. We use the textbook, we plan a few speaking activities so students can practice the past tense, and of course, we expect our students to be able to use it. To our surprise, the reality is usually very different. The reality is we don’t really know what our students took away from this experience.

What if we went into the classroom knowing that we just don’t know? What if we entered the classroom with the “don’t know mind” I heard so much about during the retreat?

“Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.”

“An expert may know a subject deeply, yet be blinded to new possibilities by his or her preconceived ideas. In contrast, a beginner may see with fresh, unbiased eyes. The practice of beginner’s mind is to cultivate an ability to meet life without preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgments.”

- Gil Fronsdal

If educators could see with unbiased eyes, maybe they would see that Jong Won doesn’t want to talk about what Mary and John did during their summer vacation in Paris. Maybe he wants to talk about the girl he met at the PC room. With a beginner’s mind, maybe Sun Hye’s teacher wouldn’t laugh and tell her she is wrong when she tells the class “I always fly.” In truth, she does fly: each night in her dreams.

I think a teacher with the “don’t know mind” would have lessons such as the ones Scott Thornbury describes in Teaching Unplugged (Or That’s Dogme with an E):

Think about it: how many of your best lessons just happened? For example, a really good discussion cropped up, and you let it run. And run. Or something that had happened to a student in the weekend became the basis of the whole lesson. Or, because you missed the bus, or because the photocopier wasn’t working, you had to go in unprepared. But the lesson really took off.

During my retreat, I realized it’s very hard to let go of my attachments. I realized that I don’t have the “don’t know mind”. Despite this, I’m glad to say I realize the its power. From what I’ve learned and experienced, this mind offers more peace and spaciousness. I think it’s from this space that deep learning can come… or not. I really don’t know.