A Learning Encounter

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At the end of each month I will share a personal story about our monthly Archetype theme. The month of December being associated astrologically with the Sagittarian TEACHER archetype, let me share with you a story of how teaching/learning has enhanced my Life Path.

One of my greatest Learning—and Teacher–encounters I associate with one of my greatest Mentors, Dr. Antoinette Mann Paterson (or as her closest students would lovingly call her, ‘Tone-the-Bone Paterson’). She wrote a book called The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno. Toni Paterson was a professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, my undergraduate alma mater.

Toni was a beguiling, dynamic professor and a strong friend. She would stand before a large class of students and teach often with her eyes closed. Then she would pop her eyes open to stare at one student and ask a direct question, waiting for their answer before continuing. She is the person I have blogged about before who handed an acorn to her son in a park and declared, “There is God!” She also took a nap every day on a little cot at her home. She told me this was so that “Every day, I swim in the Ocean!” Mind you, this was in Buffalo, New York.

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One Fall day in Buffalo on campus, I encountered Toni P. while I was walking between classes. I hadn’t seen her since over the summer.

“Can I take an Independent Study with you this semester?” I queried.

“What topic?” she asked.

On the spot and not having thought in advance of this chance encounter with my mentor, I answered what came to mind: “Silence. A         philosophy of Silence.”

“See me next Monday. 10 AM, my office.”

That Monday when I went to Toni’s office for our first session, shortly after some small talk about how I had been (I was feeling down over some emotional issues), she directed  me:

“So take out a pencil and a piece of paper.” (I did.) “Now, write down this question: ‘So … What?’ Answer that question for next week. I’ll see you then.”

All week I researched philosophical and poetic or literary topics that might pertain to this topic. “So What?” suddenly seemed to me the most vital, important question I had ever considered. “So What?” was the question of existence (Descartes) or of transcendence (as in a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay where he spoke of identity as a “transparent eyeball”).

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The next Monday I arrived with many pages of notes. Toni never asked to see them. Instead she brought me to a table where she had laid out a large sheet of sketch-pad paper. With a marker she began to form a diagram. Who? What? Where? When? Why? These were words she wrote around the borders of the page.

“Where do these intersect?” she probed.

I didn’t understand.

Toni then drew lines from each of the bounding terms that intersected squarely at the center of the page. She wrote one word: “W-H-A-N”. “Whan!” she said, pleased. That is the answer to “So, what?” WHAN!!!

And she was so right! Whan certainly was the correct answer to, “So what?”  It came to mean, for me, that the answer is not materialistic. “Whan” means “It Just Is!” and that is Enough! Where all the WH-Questions combine and intersect and even cancel each other out, see? There doesn’t need to be a substantive answer. IT JUST IS! Life Just IS, and that is Enough. That is Good; Life is Good. WHAN!

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We read a lot that semester, and I journalled a lot—about the nature of existence and about the nature of Silence. Whan is a principle that ever since, I associate with my own Silence. I see it everywhere, hear it whispered in all of existence. It is associated for me with a Word found in many religions, too: HU! This is an ancient, sacred name for God found in many religions and sung as a mantra or song of love for God (on the outgoing breath as H-u-u-u-u-u-u). While in college around that time I was also studying James Joyce’s ULYSSES. In the structural center of the text (however I may have figured that out back then), I found these lines:

“What’s the word?”

“HU!” A bird, sitting on a wire, chirped…

So, WHAN! And, that’s enough then.

Merry Christmas to All.

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images from pixabay.com

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