Tonight, on our Pagan Primer, I want to discuss commitment and persistence.
We live in a world today, where commitment isnít valued nearly as highly as it once was. We hear statements such as ďItís a womanís prerogative to change her mindĒ, and donít think very much of the comment at all Ö itís commonplace. We see people join organizations without a great deal of investigation, and leave as soon as they discover that there may be some challenge involved.
Gone are the days of ďtaking the bad with the goodĒ. Gone are the days when one carried through after having given but their word, knowing that their word was their most valuable possession. Or so it seems.
We live in the age of ďtry before you buyĒ and ďsatisfaction guaranteesĒ. We feel entitled to have our wishes met, with little thought given to meeting the expectations of others.
In the pagan world, we all suffer because of this, especially in the West. When I studied Martial Arts, we all heard the stories of what it took to be accepted by a teacher. A potential student would wait for days outside the home of the master, just to show that she or he was truly committed to the study. For months, the potential student would seemingly do nothing related to the art they sought to one day master, doing instead domestic chores or seemingly pointless exercises.
Todayís martial arts student goes to many different schools, knowing little or nothing about the instructors there, and basing her opinion of the school on social aspects, how the facility looks, whether or not there are showers, and deciding on such things whether or not theyíll study there.
Itís not much different in the Pagan world. Students come and know little or nothing. Theyíll say theyíre dedicated to learning, when really they donít even know what they hope to learn.
I know teachers who have had notes left at their door, on their car at a parking lot, been sent emails, all by potential students. Some of these teachers will call, speak a bit, and have, eventually, a student seemingly commit to a course of study. But as time goes on, most of these students back out.
The trouble is that the majority of these students donít offer the teacher any explanation; most donít have the courtesy to call and say they plan on ending their studies. Often what happens is that a teacher is waiting after planning a lesson, for a student who never shows.
In a large Karate school, this isnít as much of a problem Ö the class will continue, as there are always more students. But for a one-on-one teacher-student relationship, such a thing is a gross insult.
But I have to admit that this isnít always the studentís fault alone. As teachers, weíre responsible too, for setting up ground rules, for making certain that a new student is fully aware of her or his responsibilities, should they decide to study with us.
So, how do we go about that?
The first step is to recognize how valuable our own word is. How important are our commitments to ourselves? We all know from our magickal training that our word is our most valuable possession. We know that if our word is not trustworthy, that our magick will have a far less chance of producing our desired effects in our worlds.
I suspect that any mature pagan who is listening to this program understands that personal integrity is essential to any sort of success at magick. I can honestly say that I donít know any mature pagan who doesnít feel this way. We may be in different positions economically or socially, but typically, when we say weíll do something, we do it, unless there is a very good reason..
But how do we impress that same level of commitment on students?
This question can only be answered when we know why it is that we might want to teach. Certainly everyone who does teach feels that they have something to offer, some sort of knowledge, wisdom, acquired talent or skill, that they feel valuable enough to pass on to someone else.
There are those too, who begin to teach simply because they think they can make a few dollars. Those arenít the people Iím addressing. Iím speaking to people who have studied for a time, and really feel that they have something to offer.
So, are you ready to teach? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
How long have you studied? One year? 5 years? 10, 20?
How much of that time has been spent following a particular path?
If not a particular tradition, how much time have you dedicated to specific areas of study?
In that time, how many students have you seen come and go?
What are the qualities that you can identify in students who have ďstuck it outĒ?
Do you see those qualities in yourself?
How many teachers have you worked with?
What qualities do you see in the teachers who helped you grow the most?
Do you see those qualities in yourself?
Have you ever taught anyone anything before?
Do you really know what it takes?
Many people who wish to teach really arenít qualified to do so. Most really donít know what it takes. This doesnít mean that theyíll never be ready, but most of us, new to teaching others, could stand a bit of instruction in the art of teaching. Iím a fan of teaching covens, where the student is raised up as a teacher as well.
One of the major problems when it comes to teaching a spiritual path is the baggage that students will inevitably bring to the table. As teachers, we become spiritual leaders, and some of our students are likely to be wounded people. There may be people coming to us with psychiatric issues. Depending on what weíre teaching, we could be jumping into the deep end of the pool or treading some dangerous ground. If weíve had no training in psychology, how are we to know whether an individual is in the midst of a Shamanic journey or experiencing a psychotic break? This isnít intended to scare you off; itís just to let you know that there are some issues that might come up that you may not be prepared to handle.
So, how do you handle situations like this? If youíre part of a teaching coven, you can go to your coven leaders and discuss things with them. Even if they arenít trained psychologists, a group, of necessity, has a broader range of experience than an individual. At least you wonít be on your own.
But if you intend to teach on your own, itís good to surround yourself with a group of friends who do have more experience. Collaborate with others who teach their craft. Consult with them every now and then.
This is all part of being consistent. It may not seem so, but if you get in over your head, what are you to do? Do you just want to jump ship? Bail until you sink? Or maybe consistency and persistence in teaching require that you know how to handle your ship, and make repairs when necessary.
If we expect our students to be reliable, to arrive on time, having studied, then teachers need to be prepared as well. Remember though, that the teacherís job is not to be merely prepared for a particular lesson, but to be ready to handle the myriad of things that a student will bring up. Itís ok, sometimes, to defer, to wait, to offer that you donít know but are willing to look things up. But a good teacher will be able to move beyond and around the lesson at hand; to relate it to other things. A teacher who simply canít handle the variety of issues that inevitably come up when working with students isnít really going to be all that effective.
A martial arts instructor might be in the changing-room with a student, and see bruises. Itís his job to know what sort of training that the student has been undergoing, and recognizes that these bruises are not consistent with whatís been going on in the Dojo. Itís his job, his responsibility, to inquire, and to address the possibility of abuse.
As soon as we take on ourselves the mantle of a teacher, we have no less responsibility. Dealing with spirituality, we canít neglect what we see. We might have students who are experiencing some sort of abuse or illness. Can someone truly be effective in any pagan path while in the midst of major problems? What about the anorexic student? What of one who is severely depressed? Itís not our job to treat, but it is our job to be able to recognize, and lead those people to where they might find some help.
Consistency requires that, as teachers, we not get put off or unduly diverted when a student comes to us with problems outside our realm, when they fail to show up, when they arenít ready for lessons. We need to be able to handle these situations without getting wrapped up in them.
If we want to change paganism, to supply it with a group of people who are steady, dedicated, persistent, committed, we need to be these things for our students. We need to model a behavior that shows that other issues and misdirection can creep in, but not divert us from our work or study.
In any study, self-doubt will eventually creep in. Quite a few years ago, I had a guitar student. He had progressed well for many months. At one point in his studies, he felt stagnant, as if he wasnít making progress. We had a chat. Learning anything isnít linear. Weíll learn some, and then weíll seemingly be stagnant for a while, we just donít Ďgetí the next lesson. So what I told this student, and what I believe, is this: weíll learn for a time, accumulating knowledge. But at some point, our minds take a bit of a break from acquiring new knowledge, and make that knowledge we have already gained, our own. Weíre integrating it further into our beings. This particular guitar student went on to college, where he studied guitar. He wasnít diverted from studying, he was persistent, even when he thought himself stagnant.
If weíre not able to do these things ourselves, itís difficult to model them for our students. The old ďdo as I say, not as I doĒ, doesnít carry much weight. It didnít work when our parents used it while we were children, and it wonít work with us and our students.
I know how much work my own teacher has done in her own studies. There is notebook upon notebook with research on various goddesses. She doesnít quit. When she finds something that challenges what she thought she knew, she works it out. She goes to her library, and if they donít have a book that she needs, sheíll request they acquire it. Or sheíll purchase it for herself, which is no mean feat on a fixed income. The point is that she is diligent and dedicated.
If weíre not willing to do the work that those we admire do, weíll not be the teachers that they are. If we allow ourselves to be swayed from our tasks, we really canít expect our students to be any more dedicated.
Anyone can go out and buy a book about Wicca, Druidism, Witchcraft, or anything else. Itís easy to find a book that one agrees with. Itís far more work to find a good teacher. But a good teacher is able to offer so much more than a book. A book canít be a model. We can read one of Cunninghamís books in a matter of hours. But we donít see the weeks upon weeks that went into that book. In a book, we donít see the dedication of the author, or at best, we only glimpse it.
The best thing that can happen to paganism is that weíll raise up dedicated teachers whom dedicated students will seek out. But this is never going to happen until our teachers, our leaders, have done enough work to know that they are, and will remain solid in their paths. Weíll need to recognize that we have a commitment to those whom we serve. We need to know that leadership isnít an honor we impart on ourselves, rather than a trust that is given by those who learn from us. If weíre not solid in our paths, if we donít have a real commitment to be there, to fulfill our obligations, we are doing those who trust us, as well as ourselves, a severe disservice.
Itís only when leaders are that willing to remain committed that they can expect to have persistent and committed students. I think that some of us have learned this; there are some amazing teachers out there. But there are quite a few people who place themselves in places of leadership who arenít quite as committed. Hopefully we can grow and become solid enough so that weíll help each other attain that level of commitment before taking on the mantle of a leader or a teacher.
© 2009, Deirdre A. Hebert