On Remaining Teachable

Being teachable matters in the sense that we don’t know what we don’t know. Reality is that which contains all possibility (all potential) equally, including the possibility of impossibility. Since the only answer is “there is no only answer”, sitting around and admiring sunlight on snow (or rain on tulips or what-have-you) is all there is. You can’t go wrong consenting to happiness.

Many years ago I interviewed a very intelligent scientist, the chair of the science department at a nationally-recognized university. He told me that in fifty years human beings would know everything. Everything. There would be no more mysteries, and nothing left to discover.

I love science very much, and have great respect for those who can’t be bothered with haiku and sonnets, but that comment struck me (then and now) as foolish. It is impossible to know what we don’t know, which naturally obviates the possibility of knowing everything. We can always say “what next” or “what about” or “what if.” We can always look at a conclusion and postulate its extension or expansion. As my father used to say with respect to trout fishing, “there’s always another pool up ahead.”

Being teachable simply means that we are humble with respect to – on account of – what we don’t know. It means that we accept the possibility of what we don’t know. This is a kind of openness in which what is – call it Christ, God, Holy Spirit, Life, Source, Brahman, Ground of Being or whatever – the divine et cetera – teaches us effortlessly because we are it.

This is a course in how to know yourself. You have taught what you are, but have not let what you are teach you. You have been very careful to avoid the obvious, and not to see the real cause and effect relationship that is perfectly apparent (T-16.III.4:1-3).

“You have not let what you are teach you . . . ”

To be a student in this way requires a sort of active passivity: a willingness to give attention to experience (both internal and external) without leaping in to name everything and insist that its lesson arrive at this or that conclusion, produce this or that result. The challenge here is our conviction that the self – what we are in truth – is what we do. And what we do too often obscures what we are.

You are not two selves in conflict. What is beyond God? If you who hold Him and whom He holds are the universe, all else must be outside, where nothing is (T-16.III.6:1-3).

It seems relatively clear to me that dictating formal prayer or meditation practices can quickly become oppressive, where being “right” about the particular form substitutes for actual insight or learning. By the same token, I have come to understand that my morning routine (especially my devotion and relative fidelity to it) – rising early, walking the dog, sitting quietly in darkness, then studying, then writing – has become a rhythm through which – or by which – the Ineffable reveals itself.

In other words, discipline and routine may well be called for, helpfully called for, especially in the sense that they undermine the egoic need to make things new and exciting over and over. The ordinariness of life is somewhat paradoxically its most rippling luminosity, but realizing it as such cannot be forced: we have to let life teach us: we have to allow it to reveal itself.

This revelation – the diamantine glimpse of reality – is a sure thing but it does help to meet the conditions of learning. If you ask me what those conditions are my answer is: I don’t know. But if you give attention to your life – gently and consistently – then the conditions will naturally emerge and you will be happy to meet them and, in time, you will be awakened and – sometime after that – you will realize you always were awake, and that it’s no big deal either way.


  1. wow. I’ve just come across your work, I am so grateful to have read your words , but beyond that, I really felt them. Your comment about routines or lack of for the egos fun and adventure extravaganza is a big theme in my life. You have helped me to see this routine thing in another light.

    ‘ you have taught what you are but you have not let what you are teach you.’ I felt the TRUTH vibrations as I read this line.

    Thank you so so much! looking forward to reading more of your work

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