My second truth: The past is a fiction; the future does not exist. All that I have right here and right now is all that there is. Nothing else matters.
It occurs to me as I sit down to write this that I should at least make some concessions to the target audience…English teachers and the manager of English teachers…I will try harder to exemplify this truth by relating it to our common practice. I get a bit carried away at times…
As with most of these truths, on first sight, it might seem a bit twee. “Turtles on a Bike,” you might be exclaiming, taking care not to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, “Can this guy not write anything that doesn’t have an aura of new age claptrap?” Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I know how to answer your question so I am going to assume that it is rhetorical.
That said, I am reminded of the words of Steve Peters who says something like the following [adopts Middlesbrough accent]: “This is only one mind model of many. Many of the others work for many people. I’m not saying that this one is the best or that the others are wrong. This is just one I’ve put together and it works for some people. If it works for you, goody! If it doesn’t, no problem. Good luck with whatever does work for you.” Seriously, the man is like a twenty-first century buddha.
MY FIRST TRUTH: everything in life is changing and nothing ever stays the same. Good and bad come and go. The greatest joy will never last for ever and the worst suffering will end one day.
Intellectually, this is an easy one to get to grips with. Sure, we think, everything is changing! Yah! I geddit! It’s kinda cute. Very eastern, man. Far out.
NO, SUCKA! EVERYTHING is changing. NOTHING stays the same. EVER! This isn’t as simple as the glib wisdom of Persian kings with their rings inscribed with Ancient Hallmark messages of This too shall pass. This, mes lecteurs, is frigging massive.
I spoke at IATEFL Manchester. I was surprised that my proposal was accepted, given that I was really just saying to people, Let me tell you about a great book that I’ve read. That great book was, of course, The Chimp Paradox by the eminent Dr Steve Peters. Anyway, whoever accepted the proposal also needs to accept my deepest and sincerest thanks. It has been a long time since I have felt so…energised?…ecstatic?…wired?….looking back over my formative years, I can’t think of any time when I felt that way without having broken some of the local laws regarding controlled substances. If you’ve never done an IATEFL presentation, I couldn’t recommend it more. Thanks too to Andy Hockley and the LAMSIG crew for allowing me to form part of their SIG programme. Another big honour. And I’m not just saying that.
I was even more surprised to see how many people came to the talk, attracted, I suspect, by the promise of a stress-free life. At the risk of sounding overly happy-clappy, this is a real possibility. A key component of the Chimp Paradox model is what Dr Peters calls the Stone of Life. To be clear: if you want to live a stress-free life, it is necessary to work daily on reviewing and repeating the turths by which you live your life, the values which influence your life and the reason that you have for living. These three components, truths, values and the force behind your life, are written down on what SP calls your Stone of Life.
My stone of life took some putting together. I just couldn’t get my head around how to draft it. In fact, it took some years to gather together. Steve Peters explains how the Stone is at the centre of the Chimp Paradox model. The best way to avoid the chimp ruining your life is to make sure that it doesn’t kick off that often. How do you do this? You put time in to making sure that it feels safe and secure. A happy chimp rarely loses its rag. The best way to do this is to have your stone of life firmly in place and to revisit it daily.
Dr Peters recommends reciting the stone of life out loud every day. The theory behind so-doing is that as the brain hears the words, it is forced into processing them for meaning; if you quietly recite it in your mind, the mentalese doesn’t require processing. Anyway, it’s what I now do every day once I’ve finished walking the dog in the morning. My current stone of life can be found here. The next few blog posts e will provide some more detail of what these words mean to me.
A lot of kind words have been said. Lao Tzu said “Beautiful words are not truthful.” Stupid old sod.
Occasionally I come back to look at the site stats. It’s like watching the heart monitor of a loved one in hospital. There’s not long left now. Sniff. Sniff.
But life goes on. Thanks again for the kind words. This little project has been of immense enjoyment to me. This is made all the more worthwhile by the knowledge that it brought some enjoyment to others too.
Slan go foill!
And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain. It’s time to thank those of you who may have stopped by and lingered and those who stopped by and contributed. It’s time to thank those of you who have encouraged others to come and join the readership of this blog. I would like to name everybody in my thank you speech, but I’m not going to. But I am going to say that I am really appreciative of the efforts of some to share this blog with other people and equally appreciative of those who have come to the blog and tried to deepen the exploration of certain themes by offering their views. As the album notes frequently say, you know who you are.
There’s no point in writing -well, very little point- without a readership. And it was encouraging to see that this readership grew over time until it settled at a modestly low total. When I am treading along the Way of Heaven, you will be able to say, I followed him before he got big. Metaphorically speaking. He was always quite big, physically speaking. Your grandchildren will envy just how damn smoking you were. You will be seen as so hot that, years later, people will surreptiotiously place tinfoil-wrapped jacket potatoes in your coat pockets and wait for them to cook. Well done, you!
Thanks are obviously due to the Old Master. But he’s dead so there’s very little point in ladling it on too thickly. Lao Tzu wrote a book (probably not) that provides an excellent vehicle for exploring all sorts of different things. If tao is what taoism says, then there is a tao for all seasons. Where other blogs post weedy challenges that anyone can do, this blog postures macho…[errr…what’s the adverb for macho? Macholy? Shurely shome mishtake?] and challenges you to write the Tao of your teaching. 81 chapters, each one a reflection of what you do in the classroom. I know that nobody will respond to this challenge, buy that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t.
Blogs, like most writing in the 21st century, are ephemera that are blown away in the wind. Taoism would probably see that as a strength. So this blog doesn’t expect to be missed too much by its reader(s). At best it hopes for a sadness at its passing, but realises that by the time that you turn away from the keyboard, it will no longer be a concern. And I think that it is OK with this, but it would like you to do it the honour of reflecting for one moment about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. We live in a disposable society where people’s work can be consumed and then expunged from the brain. Are we missing the middle step of digesting much of what we consume? Or is there some truth to the argument that technology makes so much pre-digested pap available to us that we don’t have to? If the latter is true, then I hope that this blog has at least provided some food for thought.
The blog’s primary reader was myself. This was an idea for a book that I had had for some years but knew that my literary talents would not stretch that far. When I discovered blogs, it occurred to me that I no longer needed to meet any standards. I could churn out my book and force myself upon unsuspecting people at the party. Really, I think I just tapped away every morning in the hope that something would become clearer to me or would make me laugh. I am still immensely proud of my observation that Lao Tzu was a sage who certainly knew his onions. It’s probably a hackneyed old pun -I’m too scared to Google it- but it’s my hackneyed old pun. And I’ve had the good grace not to repeat it until now.
Thank you once again for putting up with me. Even if you only ever stopped by a couple of times before it all got too much for you. For those of you who felt trapped into staying until the bitter end, my thanks are accompanied by my apologies. I can be a right arse a lot of the time. I hope that this blog will have at least inspired you to take up a copy of the Tao Te Ching – or the Dao De Jing- and re-read it. It’s a fantastic tool for self-reflection. I’d try to do a Tao of ELT Management, but I think that I am too far from my path in this calling…I’d love to read somebody else’s efforts.
So good luck in finding your Way. And as the words Way and Road take on a new layer of meaning for some of you, your final piece of homework is to compare and contrast the following and reflect upon which one is more poignant at this sad time of our paths diverging. HEIGH HO SILVER!
charming words aren’t true,
People who know aren’t learned,
learned people don’t know.
And so concludes the Tao Te Ching – in much the same way as it began: Things are not what they seem, Neo. Which I might slightly alter to stress the fact that things are never what they seem. Something that we should always remember when walking into a classroom, a post-observation session, an argument with a manager, a dispute with a colleague, or an ideological stance. This isn’t some sort of teenage relativism: it’s a reflection of the fact that the worlds and its mysteries are far beyond the reach of our intellects. We inevitably have to simplify everything in our life in order to understand it.
So, Lao says, wise people don’t hoard. They recognise that there’s very little point to clinging onto whatever they gain: the world changes, language changes. No, wise people don’t hoard their knowledge, they do things with it. And the more they use it, the smarter they get. The more they lose, the more they gain. Lao was a very clever cookie.
Therefore, my brethren and sistren, as we move towards the light, let us reflect on the messages that have been thrown out at us: teaching needs to be simple; focus on people rather than learners and teachers; there is no right way to language learning or language teaching – there are only your way and the ways of others; stick to what you know works; enjoy the little that you need; when you fall back to the natural ways of learning languages, languages will be learned; it’s not rocket science (and it might not even be brain science). Don’t monopolise power and authority in the classroom, but don’t abandon your responsibilities as a leader. And enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
80 – The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Once again, Lao produces a turn of phrase that I can only envy. Chapter 80 calls for a pre-method “state of grace” – when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest, and most prototypical of situations. OK, that was Thornbury Tzu. Lao Tzu called for a society where technological tools exist but grow dusty through disuse. People are happy with what they have and don’t feel the need to add to it. Even writing is left in favour of the use of knotted ropes (not some sort of flagellant society, but a precursor to writing in ancient China). Oh lawks! I can hear you thinking, He was some sort of mad anarcho-primitivist. Another Unabomber. But this is to miss the point.
Lao doesn’t advocate a return to the Stone Age just because he thinks technology is bad. He wants a life where people are happy, contented, and able to rediscover the pleasure in the simplest things that their worlds have to offer. Why? Well in a verse that I am going to quote in full because I think it’s so damned beautiful, he explains that if we obsess with the need to fill our life with ephemeral junk
The next little country might be so close
the people could hear cocks crowing
and dogs barking there,
but they’d get old and die
without ever having been there.
Phew! I’ve referenced Tolstoy’s view that the kingdom of God is within you and here we have the same. If we divorce ourselves from the simplest delights and experiences of this world, we will be oblivious to the fact that the promises of Paradise are already with us. This is all there is. So, for language teachers, we can extrapolate, Lao is telling us once again that all we need to do a grand job can be found in the room that we teach in. Teachers’ books, DVD guides, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Wordles, Word Magnets, Hot Potatoes, talking avatars – all may carry the echo of dogs barking and cocks crowing, but if we rely only on tracing the echo to find the real thing, we will grow old and die without ever finding our goal. A chair, a blackboard, some students and a teacher.
I am reminded of a poem when I read Scott’s “some chairs, a blackboard, some students and a teacher.” The poem was written by Yannis Ritsos and goes, “A man, before going to bed, put his watch under his pillow./Then he went to sleep. Outside the wind was blowing. You who know/the miraculous continuity of little motions, understand./ A man, his watch, the wind. Nothing else.”