A Shared Blanket

A Shared Blanket

During a recent group dialogue at our Meditative Inquiry Group in Richmond, one of our participants, Beth, shared an experience she had during a private meeting with Sandra Gonzalez that reflects well how Toni Packer saw the teacher-student relationship.

Sandra was visiting our group this past March leading a weekend retreat and Beth met privately with Sandra during the retreat. Beth had not met Sandra prior to our March retreat and as the weekend of Sandra’s visit approached, because of all Beth had heard about Sandra plus all the images she developed over the years of “spiritual teachers”, Beth had a very strong teacher image of Sandra, putting her high up on a pedestal as the wise one with the answers. Beth wanted to meet with Sandra because she had a specific question and wanted to hear Sandra’s wise and spiritual answer. When Beth went to the meeting room to see Sandra, the room was very cold so Beth started to go back downstairs to get a blanket but Sandra said, “Wait! ….you can share my blanket.” So, Sandra and Beth moved their chairs closer together and Sandra draped the blanket across them both. Beth then began talking with Sandra, laying out her question in detail, giving lots of background to set the context, going into the complexities of the issue so that Sandra would understand completely and could give Beth an accurate and wise response. As Beth talked, both she and Sandra under the shared blanket, Sandra listened attentively and quietly. When Beth approached the end of her long exposition, suddenly, to her great surprise, the answer to her question emerged from within her. She was astonished. It was a powerful experience, both the nature of the answer itself and how it arose.

As she reflected on it later with our group, Beth said that there were two important things that led to her realization. First was the shared blanket – that Sandra offered it to begin with and then the intimacy it represented as they shared it together. When Sandra offered the shared blanket, a shift occurred… the separation resulting from of image of Sandra as teacher and the image of Beth as student suddenly vanished. Under the shared blanket they became equals, indeed, more than equals… they became intimate in one listening and one looking. And as Beth discovered intimacy with Sandra, she simultaneously discovered intimacy with herself and the question she was looking at. Second, and no less important to Beth’s realization, was Sandra’s quiet, fully-attentive listening. The soil was fertile and prepared. And from this shared listening and intimacy came the miracle of seeing which allowed the answer to arise within Beth, directly and powerfully. Beth didn’t do it. Sandra didn’t do it. It happened in the intimate and shared space of looking and listening together. As Toni wrote in the chapter “On Teacher – Student Relationship” from Seeing Without Knowing – What Is Meditative Inquiry, “In working closely with the teacher in private meetings or during a talk, it may suddenly dawn that it isn’t a matter of the teacher “knowing the answer” or expecting answers from the student. It is rather a matter of looking at something together out of a state of not-knowing. In this there is no succeeding or failing. It is simply allowing the whole thing to unfold.”

Something else that I carried away from Beth’s experience is that it is often the small gestures, like the shared blanket, that may suddenly and unexpectedly create a shift… and this is why it is so important, as Toni urged, to always pay attention, always listen to everything in every moment. If we are really listening, every moment is teaching…
Mark Bryant
June 9, 2015