The BERKELEY PRIZE Competition was established in 1998, made possible by a generous gift of JUDITH LEE STRONACH to the Department of Architecture in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley.
By Judith Stronach.
Working with the homeless I sit on floors, steps, stoops, and folding chairs. At a Quaker First-Day School I sit on short, small chairs with my knees higher than my hips, or outside on the ground. Sitting around is very conducive to the spirit of teaching.
One afternoon I had a meeting with a very confused man named Paul. His eyes and thoughts darted around in distraction, so conversation was often difficult. I was there to teach him to see reality a bit more clearly. We sat on the steps of a food project, and another homeless person walked by. I had seen this person around Berkeley for years and been frightened: by the huge size, unbearable odor, fierce face, often lacerated with strange and probably self-inflicted wounds, and the impossibility of determining any sex.
When I asked Paul about this person, he said, "People need to look beyond their own fear when they see someone like that. They need to ask, `What are the special adaptations this man is making to keep down his rage and sense of powerlessness, to make a space for himself and find peace?"' Clearly Paul was a teacher. He taught me to look deeply beyond appearances. As I looked with appreciation at my companion/teacher, he saw me seeing him. He looked me straight in the face, because he knew I was there. His voice became stronger and deeper. My being there let him be there. Real teaching is like that. It exists in the context of a relationship. Two people who let themselves share a moment together, both exchange realities, give and receive a lesson and are changed. When I allow myself to be truly present, the student becomes like my breath, a point of contact with reality. Here I discover who I am and in the discovery have a chance to shift how I see things and the world I create by that seeing. Teaching is a relationship where each side has a moment-to-moment chance to set new paths of conditioning in motion.
My second example.
One Sunday last summer I took a group of children from a Quaker meeting on a nature walk. Each child was to find one item, plant, creature, rock, draw it, and then voice its point of view.
Most inspiring for me was the experience of Forrest, a seven-year old. When he showed me his drawing of a carefully observed flower, I praised it and asked if he could look again and find one more thing to draw. He looked and found a brown petal. I said, "Wonderful! But I think you might discover something else?" Then he saw a bug on the stem and became very excited at all he might have overlooked on this unusual treasure hunt. The bug woke me up too: I realized I was not seeing the obvious. In twenty minutes of observation, I too opened to the morning and discovered the vivid reality that is always available when we look beyond our routine expectations. Our eyes met and we connected in a sense of completeness in that moment. I gave him a technique and a safe environment to explore, and he taught me all about looking.
As with the homeless man, I was one of two people in the moment letting something new arise for each of us. Teaching is the creation of a circle of safety bounded by attention in which something new arises, something new that surprises those in the circle. The surprise is the teaching.
Who gives? Who receives?
In the gift momentonly two hands in exchange.
Who Teaches" appeared in the Inquiring Mind, v. 08, #2. For those who want to read the entire text, the web site is http://www.inquiringmind.com/
Judith Lee Stronach
May 25, 1943 - November 29, 2002
Poet, Journalist, Teacher, Philanthropist