In Memoriam Daniel P. Brown


The Student, the Teacher, and the Woods: A Bedtime Story
Copyright © 2023 T. J. Nicholson


Once upon a time (in April of 2005), in a far-away land (at Esalen on the Big Sur coast), there was a Student in the Woods. The Student was clambering about in the Woods, he had been in the Woods for some time, he was adept in the Woods. One day, the Student came upon a Teacher. Now this was a confident Student, confident enough that he felt he’d had enough of teachers for one lifetime. Just the same, he asked the Teacher, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m on my way to a Clearing over there,” replied the Teacher. Now the Student knew his way around these Woods, and while he’d heard of Clearings, he’d never seen one, and certainly not in these parts. So he asked the Teacher, “Which way are you headed?” in reply to which the Teacher pointed out an obscure, illogical, unpromising Path. The Student gave it one look and told the Teacher he thought it was an obscure, illogical, unpromising Path. The Teacher shrugged off the Students protests, said “Well, I’m off,” and went on his way leaving the Student standing there in the Woods.

Now the Student, being a confident Student, thought these events over, thinking to himself that he was perfectly comfortable in the Woods, he always knew where he was and where he was going, so a little side-trip to have a look at an alleged Clearing could do no harm. And since he knew there were no Clearings in these parts, it would be a chance to prove to himself the Teacher had been talking through his hat.

So the Student set off down the Path which proved to be steep and confusing and often dark, and the Student tripped on roots, banged his head on low-hanging branches, scraped his knees on the rocky terrain, and stumbled at last, a bit worse for the wear, into a Clearing. As he dusted himself off, he looked about the Clearing and, small though it was, could not help but admire the setting, uncluttered and quiet. He spotted the Teacher waiting there for him, casting an impatient glance at his watch. “Come on,” said the Teacher, “There’s no time to hang around here, you still have a long way to go.”

Now it certainly came as news to the Student that he was on his way anywhere, but something unusual about the Clearing gave him pause. He considered that perhaps he didn’t know everything there was to know about the Woods, that now he was in the Clearing, he might not have been the complete woodsman he had always thought himself to be. Not only that, but now he was stuck here on some Path with this guy! So he asked the Teacher “Now which way are you headed?” The Teacher pointed out another obscure, illogical, unpromising Path. The Student gave it one look and told the Teacher he thought it was an obscure, illogical, unpromising Path. The Teacher shrugged off the Students protests, said “Well, I’m off,” and went on his way leaving the Student standing there in the Clearing.

The Student stood a while in the Clearing where he felt faintly at home, and after a little more thought tinged with resignation, set off down the Path after the Teacher. Now this Path also proved to be steep and confusing and often dark, and the Student tripped on roots, banged his head on low-hanging branches, scraped his knees on the rocky terrain, and stumbled at last, a bit worse for the wear, into another Clearing, this one a little more expansive than the first. He spotted the Teacher waiting there for him, casting an impatient glance at his watch, now also tapping his foot, giving the Student the impression he’d had quite enough of the Student’s protests. “Come on,” said the Teacher, “There’s no time to hang around here either, you still have a long way to go.”

“I’ll get there when I get there,” grumbled the Student to himself, but the Teacher had already turned and headed off down another obscure, illogical, unpromising Path.

So this somewhat dysfunctional, but quite productive relationship (productive for the student at any rate, we have no idea what kind of grief it caused the Teacher) between the somewhat grouchy Teacher and the somewhat defiant Student continued in like fashion for some years until one day (in December of 2011 in Boston), the Teacher brought the Student to the edge of a Lake. Now Clearings the Student had heard about, but not only had he not known this Path would lead him to a Lake, he hadn’t even known there was a Lake. He was standing there in moderate astonishment, looking at the Lake lying Clear and Calm at his feet when the Teacher said, “Come with me now out onto the Lake.” Now the sharp-eyed Student was not to be taken in. He spotted that preposition, and he protested, pointing to the Water at his feet saying “But, but, but …”

The Teacher looked down at the Water, looked back at the Student in perplexity and said, “It’s only Water, what’s your issue?” Once again, the Student turned to the Teacher to protest, but this time when he looked at the Teacher, he saw the Teacher had changed.

There were the same blue eyes, and there was the same pugnacious set of the jaw. There were the same elfin Instructions and tart replies. But something was different. For one thing, the Teacher thought a lot more things were funny than he had before. But the Student also noticed a light happiness hovering about the Teacher, he was faintly effervescent, just beaming stuff straight at the Student. He gave the Student an Instruction that was Simple and Clear and Perfect, and it went thmmmp right into the Student’s solar plexus. And before our now unguarded Student could say anything about anything, he realized he had stepped out onto the Lake.

With this we come to the end of this chapter in the ongoing story of the Student, the Teacher, and the Woods, but as we all head home to our sleep and our dreams, we can cast one last look back at the Student standing there with his Heart broken wide Open, and we can all Listen as the Teacher whispers (in a familiar Boston accent) in the Student’s ear, whispers in all our ears, “If you think this is something, just you wait until I take you to the Ocean.”