Mentoring and Receiving a Mentor

The following are excerpts from a manual intended for mentoring in an occupational setting. In light of the beginning quote by Suzuki, beginner’s mind is simply to be in a learner mode rather than a judger mode. Likewise effective mentoring is described in the style of a Zen master.

“Challenge refers to those acts that provide a stretch experience for the learner: assigning mysterious tasks, introducing contradictory ideas, questioning tacit assumptions, or even risking damage to the relationship by refusing to answer questions. The function of challenge is to open a gap between the learner and the environment that creates tension in the learner. This gap calls out for closure—so that the learner must stretch herself to grow” (p. 15).

“Not only by ‘being there’ and ‘listening’ but also by their mere existence as experienced travelers, mentors provide continuity. . . . Any interchange with a learner will involve a mix of support and challenge, both going on at once. In an appropriate mix, development can occur” (p. 15).

“The sense of being really listened to comes from the willingness of the mentor to accept where the learner is and to acknowledge the legitimacy of that stance rather than to see the learner as someone in need of modification” (p. 16).

Zintz, A. (2002). Leaders as mentors. Hopedale, MA: Federal Training Network.

Teachers and Vendors

It takes humility to seek a teacher and mentor, then to be open to learning. It takes humility to be an effective teacher and mentor.

The sages universally revered engage in the teaching because of their compassion and because of their enjoyment of seeing growth. They frequently acknowledge the sayings of their teachers. I am wary of those who sell their wisdom and insight; there would be a temptation to present the most palatable and attractive product to entice the customer to buy again. I question the value of that attractive product. Although gaining insight can be exhilarating, the consensus among psychotherapists and their clients is that the process of lasting change, of growth, involves moments of excruciating awareness of aspects of ourselves that we hid from ourselves. The teacher’s gift is that these hidden aspects unfold in the safety of another’s wisdom and compassion, teaching us by their acceptance and humor that we too can embrace yet surpass our human foibles. The therapist is rightfully paid for (a) the service of coaching us as we learn the skills for self-discovery and (b) the service of painstakingly countering our self-deception. They are not paid for imparting their wisdom.

The sages universally revered frequently acknowledge the sayings of their teachers. Skillful teachers and therapists have a way of often guiding you to the point that you come to an answer yourself. I am wary of those who portray themselves as the source of wisdom or secret knowledge.

Buddha himself admonished his followers not to believe something simply because he said it, as is repeated in the following passages:

“Go your own way, on the path you select for yourself, corresponding to your own innermost inclination. Don’t accept any statement because I made it. Even if it is true a hundred times over, it still is not your truth, it still is not your experience, and it will not belong to you. Bring truth into being, and then it will belong to you. Regard the lives of those who have achieved truth only as proof that the goal can be reached” —Elisabeth Haich