Permanent Student

One of the best teachers I’ve ever met is a Hindu Swami named Radanath. He sat with me one day while I was waiting to introduce him at his book signing and he listened attentively while I told him story after story. I told him about how Beethoven was deaf when he wrote his 9th symphony, about thinking my cat had been killed, about how writing is like prayer sometimes. I’d heard him lecture and I considered him a master teacher. He ran an ashram in India that ministered to 10,000 people. He had been invited to speak all over the world. And yet he sat during my stories and listened and smiled and asked me for more stories. When we were done he said, “Thank you. That was excellent teaching.”

This meant a lot to me, but I will never forget the quality of his attention while he listened and I “taught.” Even as I was telling my stories, I was thinking, “When you can listen as well as that, you will be a master teacher too.” That was where his true teaching mastery lay, in the humility and curiosity of his eternal student’s heart.

I’ve learned a lot about writing. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and then some. And I’ve learned a lot about people – in my writing, in my day-to-day life, in my interviews. Yet the more I learn, the more I must remember to frame every experience as learning. Most of all, as a writer, I must remember to replace the concept of perfection with learning, to replace the concept of failure with learning, and to replace even the concept of success with learning.

It is the most effortless relationship to life. How monstrously overwhelming to think I could or will or must know it all. To believe such a fiction is to live in the despair of permanent failure. Meanwhile, life is ceaselessly learning about itself. We call this evolution. When I accept my role as student, even while teaching, I am living what is actually happening. When I forget, I feel like a fraud, leading a party by a map I have never learned to read.

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