Reciprocity, metamorphosis, mentorship and beyond
‘I think, therefore I am’, declared Descartes. And I thought the same; I taught the same. You thought, therefore you were. They thought, therefore they were. Nevertheless I have been very inconsistent and unpredictable a man throughout. As time grew, I began to feel entrapped and suffocated; I could not continue to dwell in the same box and I flew away. Afterwards, I disassociated myself from Descartes and many more like him. I had been solid all along; I was liquid now. Snow must melt someday.
The story goes like this in brief. With Descartes and his ‘cogito, ergo sum’, it was thinking that ensured my existence in the world I dwelled and played my part in. I existed only because I thought. Anybody existed because they thought. Thinking was the basis for any relationship that I was in, that I wanted to be in. Everything else felt petty; everybody else felt mediocre. I had been a body all along and I was a mind now. Of the three metamorphoses that Nietzsche in his magnum opus ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra, designate of the spirit, hopefully it was one: the camel had turned into a lion. Naturally, the lion felt euphoric about the accomplishment after struggles. However, the lion still lived in an enclosure for his world was private and compartmentalized. Like a chariot horse; he could neither see left nor right but merely straight. Descartes solipsism had led him into such a cage where he saw, heard, felt, touched and smelt with mind alone. Not only that he contemplated with mind but he meditated and mediated with mind/s alone. Perhaps, he had unknowingly obliterated that he possessed a beautiful body too and the body housed a self too. His disillusionment came to an end only when he was stuck on the middle floor and out of blue regained memory of where he came from and also visualized where he was destined for.
I still hear cartesianists blowing their horn. In fact, majority of academia has chanted the same mantra of ‘cogito’ down the ages. The world of intellectuals seems to have disdained that besides one on the middle floor, there is one apartment downstairs and still another upstairs too. Regrettably, they have neither envisioned nor ever tried to enter into the higher realm. With cogito, one remains merely a trunk devoid of both head and limbs. For a total worldview, anybody needs the three realities of body-mind-self to act in unison, harmony and also to be in communion conjointly both in and out.
In the same way, cartesianists fail to understand that my existence and my mechanism are two things. The problem begins when I consider the part to be the whole. “The brain is your machinery, just like everything else is your machinery. The hand is a mechanism, I use it. My brain is my mechanism, I use it” proclaims Osho. Unfortunately, I along with the cartesianists had been trying to equate my mechanism (mind) with my existence as a whole. I realize I was used while I was to use. Possibly, slave had become the master and master the slave.
Besides, I do not live in seclusion. It is togetherness that authenticates and strengthens my existence. In this coexistence, my individual existence can be ensured only if my self is in communion with other selves in the biosphere. This is why many including Russell names this existence a coexistence. “I cannot know myself in isolation, I know that I am a self because I see you looking at me, responding to me as a self. It is clear then that consciousness of my own existence requires the existence of another self”, says Hegel. Of course, I am not a Hegelian the way Marx and Marxists know and interpret him and his philosophy. However, the way he looks at the relation between one self and other is pretty valid. My interpretation of Hegel is apolitical but more spiritual, not religious though.
As a matter of fact, at this stage I hardly believe or disbelieve in anything until I experience by the means of my body-mind and self in unison. Everything has to be weighed consciously by the triangular scale in order to approve or disapprove. The ‘cogito’ principle therefore proves merely schizophrenic in that it divides my body-mind, the inseparable entities and does not even envisage the real ‘self’. If I depend on faculty of thinking only to underlie my existence, I deny the existence of everything else. Then, I am merely a mind and that’s it. Metamorphosis is not only about contemplation. Metamorphosis is an interactive and collaborative process. The chain of Contemplation ↔ Meditation ↔ Mediation ↔Action ↔ Transformation best describes the process of metamorphosis for me. I place contemplation, Descartes’ principle of ‘cogito’ at the base for which is where anybody has to initiate. Individual contemplation of any kind is not adequate for the thought has to undergo the process of meditation which serves to filter, purify and sublimate it. To put it more explicitly, my individual thinking must undergo the realm of self where through the process of meditation, it becomes whole or truly existential. In order for the contemplation to be truly existential, it has to be co-existential. I might call it individual metamorphosis, however it is not since it is not truly existential. From meditation, I need to move towards mediation, which is interaction between selves. Mediated thoughts interact to establish reciprocity in action. Action is the final stage where individuals and societies put the meditated -mediated thoughts into action for welfare of co-beings.
As ELT practitioners or readers of this webzine with ELT or applied linguistic mind, you might be thinking of me to have arguably deviated from the track. You might be wondering why I am discussing my personal stories weighed by varied philosophies while I am supposed to share my insights and understanding of the significance of mentoring in the profession of ESL/EFL teaching. My approach is more experiential and at the same time holistic; I have tried to understand a branch via tree itself. I have been trying to personalize and then impersonalize my philosophy of metamorphosis for the object of mentoring is metamorphosis. I have been trying to understand the importance of reciprocity in this coexistence which is pre-requisite for my existence first and then for any mentoring to happen. The expected length of the article, however, does not allow me to elaborate the whole concept that I have in mind and therefore in the following section, I am trying to, as far as possible, understand mentoring and recall some mentoring situations that shaped the way I am.
Mentorship is nothing new; it is as old as human beings themselves. Nevertheless, historically the concept of mentorship is said to have originated in guru-disciple relationship in Hindu mythologies. The maiden use of the word ‘mentor’, however, is found in Homer’s Odyssey where Athena guides Telemachus during hardship. The guru-disciple relationship between Krishna and Arjun, Rama and Hanuman, Dronacharya and Eklavya are oft-quoted in Hindu tradition. Some legendary examples of mentorship are the relationship between Socrates and Plato, Haydn and Beethoven and Freud and Jung and between Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. Of course several questions have been and can be raised for or against these relationships, however many inspirations can be gained from them for successful mentorship. Traditional guru-disciple relationship is much closer to the concept of mentorship, yet it should not and cannot be equated with modern day teacher-student relationship in educational settings. The guru-disciple relationship is of deep mutual trust, devotion and dedication. I believe that mentorship grows more informally and impersonally than formally and professionally. Reciprocity is the foundation for any successful mentorship.
Buddha seems to have redefined the concept of mentorship. Buddha perhaps did not trust in the second hand knowledge transferred by mentors and scriptures and therefore he took a journey of self-discovery. His mentor is unknown. In fact, mentors to many well-known figures in the history are anonymous. However, there is no point in arguing that they grew with no mentors. It is worth mentioning how Wordsworth, in his famous poem, The Tables Turned, deconstructs the relationship and attach the role of mentor to nature:
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man
Of moral evil and of good
Than all sages can
Particularly, in the journey of self-knowledge, the whole of the biosphere acts as the mentor.
In recent years, mentoring has become more of a professional label. There has been every effort to make it more formal and career-focussed which is however likely to spoil the very essence of mentorship. Every profession seems to either have adopted or is to adopt and practice mentorship for the professional growth and so is the profession of applied linguistics.
My association with applied linguistics in general and ELT in particular for a decade and half, of course, has witnessed memorable moments of mentorship. My approach to look at life and everything else now has traversed from body to mind and from mind to self. At one point, my profession was an instrument that earned me bread and butter, later it became a subject of contemplation that offered me some space with the likeminded and eventually it became a means of communion itself.
Unlike Descartes’, I say ‘You are, therefore I am’. My journey in the profession owes to the mentorship I received from my gurus, colleagues and of course my pupils I came in association with. For me, mentorship has ever been horizontal and therefore reciprocal. It is a two-way traffic; I am mentored while I mentor. There are many stories of mentorship associated with my life and profession. Nevertheless, by far the biggest inspiration in my life has been Govinda Raj Bhattarai, Professor in English at Tribhuvan University. He did not teach me in classroom, he did not preach me in ashram, yet he has been my mentor. Neither because I would like to take advantage of his scholarship nor because he expects to exploit me like in many guru-disciple relationship in present day. Kabir says, “Disciple has to be such that he offers everything to his guru but guru has to be such that he does not accept anything from the disciple”. The relationship is exactly the same. Mentorship is the relationship of deepest mutual trust, respect, devotion and dedication and above all self-to-self connection. It is the relationship of reciprocal care and share. I hear him often saying, “It is love that connects us” (हामी प्रेमले बाँधिएका छौं). Govinda Raj Bhattarai, Bal Ram Adhikari and I have had lots of sittings, eatings and meetings in various restaurants on Kirtipur hills and elsewhere. My mentor never made a pyramid but ever maintained a horizontal line. He never provided any readymade capsule to chew but offered with a number of alternatives and their pros and cons and let us decide. At dawn and dusk, we walked together; we talked together. On crumbled roads of Tyanglaphant, around the coronation garden, on Tribhuvan University premises, up to Bagh Bhairab or Naya Bazar, wherever we strolled, we discussed of academic growth through which however we dreamt of bringing about substantial changes in lives of ours and theirs. The discourse would often revolve around philosophy, literature and of course, applied linguistics in general and ELT in particular and how they relate to humanities, how these disciplines and interdisciplines could contribute to humanity and societies. We conceptualized, meditated, mediated and worked on several projects on applied linguistics, literature, academic writing, and creative writing together. We collectively contemplated and meditated on any project before we eventually decided to go into public for mediation and action. During contemplation, meditation, we would have a number of disagreements, however we would sort them out through self-connectivity and mediation.
In his mentorship, I never felt hierarchy of any sort. I never felt imposition of any sort. He would listen to us more than he would expect us to. The respect you develop for each other in such a relationship is natural, spontaneous; everything springs from a self and approaches another self. The sense of liberty in the company was amazing. We were loosely bound, yet we were utterly free. My life took different turn some time ago and I miss those moments with my mentor today. However, the light that he lit is ever illuminating inside and hopefully it would keep glittering my wandering down the road. Such is my experience of mentorship.
A final thought on mentorship before I wrap up. A mentor must liberate his mentee eventually, lest his mentorship is likely to remain an act of supremacy, manipulation and in the long run an exploitation. A mentor must have a big heart to release his mentee from psychological shackles if any. In passing, let me quote Nietzsche again which was quoted during a different turn in their relationship by Jung to his mentor, Freud.
“One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil”