It is easier to be a teacher than a student

Jonathan Robinson

Jonathan Robinson

I had a phone conversation last night with one of my best friends in the whole wide world. His name is Jonathan Robinson and I’ll tell you a little bit more about him in a moment. He said something in this conversation that really struck a chord with me. And as I switched off the light in my hotel room, on my way to Colorado to teach a seminar (you will see why that is funny in a moment), his words echoed in my mind. And here is what he said:

“It is easier to be a teacher than a student.”

I want to ask you to stop, to pause for a few minutes right here and go back to that line. It is easier to be a teacher than a student. Feel what it means for you in your own life now. What are the implications of that one little thought, on the relationship you have with your parents, with your children, with your friends, at work, with the world, and with “God”? I discovered, in the time between our phone call and falling asleep, that this one little sentence from my friend has enough meat on its bones to keep me chewing for a long time.

Let me tell you a bit about Jonathan Robinson, because his is the kind of story that seldom gets told. Back in the 1980s Jonathan did what so many people want to do, he became rich and famous doing what he most loves in life. That’s the American dream, isn’t it? That’s the jackpot. That’s three cherries in a row. He was the youngest person ever to be licensed as a psychotherapist in the state of California, and then went on to write many bestselling books. He was on Oprah several times, and on one occasion she told him that his had been one of the most controversial shows she could remember. The 1980s was before the advent of the internet, so there’s not much trace remaining of those days of glory for Jonathan Robinson. You can still find his books on Amazon.

The Book that made Jonathan famous

A day came when he was at the peak of his success and wealth. He made a decision that not many people make in our culture. He had amassed more than a million dollars, just from writing books and giving talks. Very few people in America have been able to do that. He made the very unusual decision to walk away from all of it. He moved to North San Juan, at that time an extremely remote outpost outside of Nevada City, and settled down to a life of meditation and self-exploration.  He lived with a loose knit spiritual community and his teacher.   He realized something that not many people get to realize, or if they do, they realize it too late. He recognized that fame, wealth, and a packed schedule are not all that they are cracked up to be. Although everyone chases after them, they are more of the booby prize, than where the real gold is to be found.

Jonathan has lived in relative obscurity for the last many years. He lives in a very small house (about 800 square feet) with his wife and dog. Slowly another recognition has crept up on him, and has taken root. He has discovered that he is happy. He is genuinely happy, for no very good reason at all. He has put quite a bit of energy lately into paying attention to the mechanics of real happiness, of deeper happiness. And he has realized (as he shared with me and I am now sharing with you), that to a large degree happiness has to do with a willingness to being a student to life more than being a teacher.

It is easier to be a teacher than student.


Very new-agey people looking silly

I would love to hear your thoughts about this: about this statement that has touched me so deeply. What are the ways that you hold on to being a teacher? To being a “know it all?” (Just like me!)  And what are the ways that you are willing to step into the dangerous territory of being a student?  (Just like me too… sometimes).  Please share your thoughts with me.

All the best,

Arjuna Ardagh


Photo Credit: Red Wheeler Weiser, Mark Tozer


ps.  At the request of some of his friends, Jonathan has made a series of audio recordings documenting all that he knows about happiness.  He has it all on CD, and is willing to share it with anyone who is interested.  You can e mail him directly, and he will arrange to get the CDs to you, if you want them.

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7 Responses to “It is easier to be a teacher than a student”

  1. Verena October 22, 2012 at 8:26 am // Reply

    Thanks for this post, it touches me!

    Being a teacher offers a lot of very comfortable feelings – you can think, you’ve got several things seemingly “under control” (the setting, issues to talk about and through these circumstances emotions as well), there’s a feeling of safety – mostly a teacher would not ask questions to his students without knowing the answer. The student is more or less under pressure to come up with smart questions or the right answers, and usually he has to follow a map instead of exploring the area just by a playful walk. Most of all the student is faced with the emotions which come together with the state of not knowing. He can feel helpless and stupid, but also – as Jonathan mentioned – very happy. Not knowing is the most delighting state of consciousness I can imagine. It’s not EASY and COMFORTABLE. But fresh, open and alive.

    I love your teachings so much, Arjuna, because you keep this attitude of not knowing. Mostly. 😉


  2. Cristy October 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm // Reply

    Good afternoon, Arjuna. Thank you for being a teacher. Spending the weekend watching you teach a small group in Colorado, your role did not look easy. Yes, you are adept and knowledgeable. However, there are many skills that go into the teaching process — and it does not look easy from the cushion.

    Jake and I had the experience of dropping out, living a life of service for 10 years in Mexico. Both of us brought many skills to the work, and yet both of us became beginners within a foreign culture. Being a beginner is also not easy.

    My quietness this past weekend was a deliberate re-framing of being an expert. I no longer want that role. I want to enjoy discovery and curiosity. To do this, I need teachers like you, who create the time and space, provide the expertise, stories, and available presence to nurture presence in others.
    Thank you, Arjuna, for being a teacher, especially when it is not easy.


  3. Regina October 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm // Reply

    Hi Arjuna…I really love your authenticity,your vounerability and strength…and that to me is actually to be both student and teacher at the same time ….and none of them, beyond it all.
    much love


  4. Rosaline October 23, 2012 at 12:14 am // Reply

    In my experience, one does not necessarily have to be a teacher by profession in order to teach others. I think we are all teachers in a way. Very often I go out of my way to “lecture” people on the right or wrong way of perceiving things. I put on my teaching cap then and truly believe in what I am lecturing them about. However, it is a completely different story when it comes to me putting what I preach in practice. It is much easier to teach kindness, love, peace, acceptance etc than it is to “be” all of these qualities. The inner peace that comes with living what we teach is difficult to achieve. Yet we still need teachers to teach us how to “be” in this life. Personally, I find it easier to be a teacher than a student.
    I have found Arjuna’s teachings very profound and yet so simple, down-to-earth and practical. He puts across his message in such a way that I always feel it is do-able and achievable; his teachings inspires me in a way that I am moved to practice whatever methods of “being and loving” that he suggests. Yet I get frustrated when my inner feelings are out of balance with my acquired knowledge. I guess I just have to be content with the fact that as a student I can’t always be at the top of the class.


  5. Ysha October 23, 2012 at 4:28 am // Reply

    I think about this everyday w/o giving it usually these words. What Johnathan has been able to do is my dream too. It of course is a different path, and I’m quite engaged in being the teach right now too. How to back out (without the proverbial millions) while “completing” what I’ve committed to? That’s my daily behind the scenes. Thanks for sharing it, enlivening it, Arjuna.


  6. Jake October 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm // Reply

    Thanks Arjuna for this last weekend in Grand Junction. I am still digesting the experience and there is a lot to digest. I was kind of amazed to see a blog about the weekend so quickly.

    Many times over the weekend you said that you were there as a coach and not as a teacher, and yet, at the same time you were obviously also a teacher. I watched and listened to both the teacher and the coach and again thank you for showing up.

    I get what you are writing about in the blog and it seems perfectly normal in my mind for a man or woman to shift to a quieter life. My wife, Cristy, and I have lived the last twelve years in much that way. I quit work at age 52 and we moved to Mexico and lived a dream life near the Pacific Ocean.

    I have spent all of my life being the student and always in the process of acquiring more skills and knowledge. Now at age 64, I am noticing a growing desire to shift to the more active role of teacher and coach. And I am aware of a sense of urgency.

    I just thought I would offer another perspective and know that both are perfect in this moment.


  7. Kathrin October 29, 2012 at 9:05 pm // Reply

    Thank you Arjuna for sharing this. While reading these words, a sentence came into my mind my sweetheart once told me and it goes like this: When you think you have it all figured out (no matter on what subject or about life in general) you walk through another door. And suddenly you turn from a teacher into a student again…and the cycle will continue. I recently had an experience like that (again;)) and I felt resistance. Although this time lesser than before. In my experience the transition from teacher to student is more uncomfortable at first, yet the more you “practice” the less uncomfortable it will feel, once you notice the deeper feeling or should I say knowing that all is well and perfectly fine, no matter whether you’re the teacher or the student.
    All the best


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