Whenever in the position of offering reflections or teachings, it would seem that the best that one can ever do is to come from the sincere intention of sharing what you think is useful or relevant, according to your own experience - or from what you have studied or heard from beings who are wiser. Sometimes though, people are struggling with doubts in areas that one might never have guessed or even imagined! Recognising this, whenever I find myself in the teacher’s role I always allow for a session of Questions and Answers, giving people the chance to ask their question out loud, or to write it more discreetly on a piece of paper to be read before the group. These Q and A sessions are often scheduled at the end of the day in a retreat situation, and offer a unique chance for the meditators to “get out of their own heads” by witnessing a portion of the curious mental formations that have been ruminating in the minds of the other yogis! Often times the questions are related to subjects that are relevant to all.
This more interactive mode of teaching can be a good way to stimulate the teachers memory of good teachings once heard that may have become buried with time, or perhaps one remembers a relevant story that illustrates a useful example. It can be quite challenging and you can feel quite exposed having your knowledge and understanding probed in full public view. But in my own experience it is also an excellent way for the teacher to test his or her own understanding, and in this way the students and teachers are learning from one another in a dynamic and inter-related manner.
There is often a wonderful liveliness as people pay very close attention and the spirit of true investigation and contemplation quickens in the air. Occasionally the questions seem a little strange; yet, at other times they are very poignant. The challenge is always to answer the question, ideally, in a way that is both honest and useful to many people in the room. Often times there is humour, sometimes intended and sometimes unintended. After long, silent, inward hours, the chance to learn and also to laugh together seems a good way to end the day.
This reflection by Ajahn Achalo is from the website Introduction to Questions and Answers.