Do you drive? I don’t. People who drive had to learn that skill from someone. They didn’t figure it out on their own. You didn’t either. How long it took for you to learn driving ?
If it was quick, you might have a talent for driving, but would you also give some credit to the instructor?
What makes a good instructor? First, he/she has to give you correct instructions, then they have to do the next important thing: give you feedback.
Informative feedback is as important as clear instructions. How quickly you receive feedback is even more important than the feedback itself. The faster the feedback comes, the faster we can adjust our course and master our skill. So, good instructors are those who not only give you informative feedback but give it to you in real time.
That is why in sports, great coaches are videotaping every element of an athlete’s training. Then as soon as possible, show it to the athlete and correct any mistake to refine the next repetition. This is not happening once but over and over again. The main focus is on weaknesses, not on strengths. This principle applies to any learning process.
In Zen training we also need instant feedback. If we want to grow, we need a good instructor, a Zen Teacher who can provide us with clear instructions and instant feedback about our weaknesses but is also very supportive. Like a good parent.
In our tradition we use kong-ans to make our lifes correct. Kong-an interviews are extremely important to speed up the wisdom growth of a practitioner. They provide instant feedback to your Zen training. These days, everyone can get access to any meditation instruction instantly. Just google the word “meditation”. However, without instant feedback provided by a qualified instructor, we can run into trouble.
Sangha, the group of fellow practitioners, is another source of feedback. If you don’t have a Zen Teacher available on daily basis you’ll need a good friend.
Good friend is not a person who give you high five no matter what you do or say. Good friend is a person who is not afraid to point out your hidden faults, which is the most valuable feedback. If you have at least one friend like that you are a rich person. Invest in that relationship.
If you are aiming for mastery, you need feedback. Everyone needs feedback, including instructors. Great coaches and teachers have another specific quality; they don’t consider themselves “Masters”. They constantly improve their skills. Mastery is a process which never ends.
Unfortunately, the higher the position, the less feedback we might get and it’s often given too late. As an old Zen saying goes: “The arrow passed downtown,” points to that. The CEO’s of fallen enterprises, communities and nations repeat the same mantra: “Nobody told me!” The responses they get are usually, “Yeah, but you were always holding a gun!”
If you are looking for effective growth, consider two things: finding a keen eyed instructor, good friend and a community where the leadership promotes an instant feedback culture on every level without “holding a gun”.