The Vulnerability of Learning – and How to Get Through It

If you prefer to listen, hear this on the Creative Living with Jamie podcast.

I am currently most of the way through Meditation Instructor Training with Susan Piver, who is my meditation teacher and has been for several years. Today I am scheduled to give her meditation instruction. When we had booked this one-on-one session, I originally thought it was to discuss my development in the program and I was excited. Then I find out I would have to demonstrate my development in the program and I was anything but!

Of course, this makes sense. My instructor should witness my ability to offer instruction before she certifies that I am able to do so. But wow, it makes me feel wobbly inside.

Do you get like that too? You just love learning. You’ll read all the books, take all the classes but when someone askes you to show what you’ve learned – ACK!

Last week in class I had to lead a fellow student in meditation for the first time and it was the same thing. I couldn’t believe how anxious I was. I mean, it’s weird because I have led hundreds, even thousands, of people in all sorts of practices, including guided meditations. In fact, the guided meditations in my full moon dreamboard workshops are often people’s favourite part.

So why am I nervous?

It’s pretty simple really. It’s a new skill.

I am learning a particular practice from a particular tradition,. There are specific steps in this practice and though the way is not new to me, I have been practicing for years, the teaching of it is.

It is always awkward when you are learning a new skill. There will always be a period of discomfort, of uncertainty, of finding your feet. That doesn’t change the fact that if you want to learn to do the thing, eventually you have to do the thing.

If you read everything you can get your hands on about how to make a pie and you talk to everyone you know about how to make a pie and you watch YouTube videos on how to make a pie and you register for a class on how to make a pie but you never make a pie, do you actually know how to make a pie? My tummy would say no!
And even worse, with several types of skills and practices, that really awful awkward stage will be – in fact, it must be – witnessed by others. Blech!

You can’t perfect the tango or the waltz without a partner. You can’t get hone your coaching skills without a client to coach. You can’t improve as a teacher without getting in there and teaching students.

You can’t improve leading, partner or performance skills without other people. And it’s going to be vulnerable.

What helps get through the awkwardness and the vulnerability of learning?

1. Know that it’s worth it.

What makes an actor get on stage even when they are wracked with nerves? What makes an entrepreneur launch her first product even though she is terrified she has built it and no one will come? What makes a photographer put on her first show even though no one may like her work at all?

We brave these things when our desire is greater than our discomfort.

For me, with meditation, with coaching, with entrepreneurship, my desire is the same – I want to help. My desire to be of benefit is stronger than my fear of being awkward or getting it wrong and so I persist.

2. Trust there will be gifts in the mess.

As you try on your fresh new skills, as express your newfound knowledge and apply your learning, you find all the places where things fall into place and discover all the places where you are deeply uncertain, and you will learn. The good bits will sink deeper into your soul and the missing bits will reveal themselves, giving you a chance to do something about it.

As I practice offering meditation instruction, I find myself feeling more and more familiar with the steps. I am like a guide becoming more and more familiar with the path. Yes, I must pay attention to what is here and present now but I am also growing in confidence that I know the general lay of the land. When I make a misstep, I have more knowledge for next time. I have deepened my learning and become a better teacher.
And in the midst of this, my imperfect teaching, the student received the gift of meditation. If we show up with earnestness and devotion, if we honour the work, ourselves and one another, there will be benefit to all three. You can count on it.

3. Remember, we’re all just people.

Something Susan said in our last class made all the difference to me. She said, “Remember, I am just a person.” Oh. Right. She is not the all-seeing, all-knowing guru, the voice of judgment. She is not simply “the one who will deem me worthy -or not.” How easy that is to forget. This is so often how we experience not only teachers but any authority figures (e.g. our parents, our boss, a publisher).

When we are starting with something we truly want and facing someone who has the power to grant it or deny it, we have a tendency to hand over to them all of our power. In our minds we create a relationship where they are elevated and we are diminished, where they are not only saying yes or no in this moment to this thing but they are opening the gate to a whole new world or they casting us down into the depths never to rise again.

Why all the drama?

We are all just people.

One moment, one performance, one no or many, none of these things diminish who you are. You are a person. You are of value whether you pass this trial or not. This is not a measure of you. It is simply a measure of this moment. Relieve yourself and the other of the burden of judgment and stand rooted in the knowing of your own value.
We are all just people and when we remember that, the path becomes less fraught and easier to navigate. Today, if I can remember that Susan is a person, I will be able to show up with the truth of what I’ve learned and the desire to be of benefit. I am sure that will result in a more meaningful and positive experience for both of us.

By the way, it’s vulnerable for me to share this with you. I know you might think, man, Jamie still gets nervous about this stuff? She’s intimidated by her teacher? She’s insecure about her abilities? Hmm… she must not be as awesome as I thought. How can I trust her to show me the way?

But this is the point exactly. I share this to say I’m a person too. A person who is always learning and stretching, a person committed to being of benefit, a person striving to learn these lessons well so that that she can pass them along to you.

Be here with me in personhood. Let’s be on this journey together.

For all of us there will be discomfort when we learn and grow. Every time it will be awkward and uncomfortable. But with more awareness and more experience, eventually we and discomfort can become old friends or at least familiar cohorts. Every time we step into something that is stretching our wings, we will find one another again.

Discomfort: Hey, I see you’re learning something new again. I’ve been sleeping but that woke me right up so I thought I’d stop by and see what’s up. Do you think you could wrap this up quickly? I really want to get back to my nap.

Me: Oh, hi, I thought I’d run into you here. Sorry I interrupted your sleep but I knew you wouldn’t want to miss out on this! I mean, it seems that whenever things get exciting you show up. In fact, I’m going to take your presence as a good omen that I am in the right place. Thanks for saying hi. I’m going to run over and hang out with Desire for a bit. Why don’t you grab a coffee? On second thought, how about an herbal tea?

So, if you find yourself learning, stretching, growing this week, say hi to discomfort but don’t hang out with her too long. Instead hang out with desire. Trust that if you show up and honour the work, your self and one another, there will be gifts even with (or maybe because of) the tender vulnerability of awkwardness. And remember, we’re all just people – and each of us is worthy and of value no matter what – and that means you too.

I’ll try to remember all of this too as I offer Susan meditation instruction today and as I face the last weeks of my Instructor Training. Send me some good vibes. I’ll send you some too.


  1. Pamela says:

    You can do it, Jamie. I believe in you. Breathe. . . .
    And I have to say that your photo here is the most lovely violet lighting and peaceful presence that I have seen – I adore it and fall under its beautiful transcendent quality. WOW!

  2. Lorwag5046 says:

    Keep on learning! I Believe when the student is ready the teacher appears! I recently signed up with you and I really enjoy all your information. I’m 71 and going through many changes right now in my life and you sound like someone I could learn from. I’ve done art most of my life and yet when my mother died last year it feels now like I’m starting all over, figuring out who I am and trying to do art again .Thank you for all your great teaching so far! Hopefully with your help I will get back to creating again ! Love and peace Loretta

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