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Sometimes not knowing leads to more knowing than I imagined possible. Teaching the Tao was one of those times.

Whenever I had to teach brand new material in which I barely stayed ahead of my students (which can happen to us), I would sometimes feel frustrated. But, when I was willing to stay in the questions and invite my students into the learning process, we had a chance at significant learning. I became more accepting of teaching in this context after a thoughtful conversation with David Spanagel, Assistant Professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, when he suggested that sometimes we do our best teaching when we have not yet mastered our subject matter. He may well be right.

This happened when I taught the Tao Te Ching as part of an eighth-grade Chinese History course and later an Ancient History course. As I was preparing, my mother happened to give me Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh for Christmas, which became a text along with translations of the Tao by Stephen Mitchell. With only a short time to set up the course, my students and I entered the study of the Tao together.

By letting go of having to be the expert, I could remain open to the wisdom of the Tao, not only to reach students but also to learn to teach the Tao itself. The result deepened my sense of purpose and direction as a teacher and has stayed with me ever since. In the words of the Tao:

If you want to shrink something,

you must first allow it to expand.

If you want to get rid of something,

you must first allow it to flourish.

If you want to take something,

you must first allow it to be given.

This is called the subtle perception

of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.

The slow overcomes the fast.

Let your workings remain a mystery.

Just show people the results.

Can we be at peace when we live not knowing?

For more on the Tao and knowing see Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: