Using Ignorance Wisely–From Spiritual Teachers to Parents or Managers

July 29, 2009

Ta-hui Tsung-kao (1089-1163) was a leading Zen Master of the Sung Dynasty. believed that each teaching must fit the person, time, and place.  His writings remain accessible.

Consider this excerpt from Swampland Flowers (Zen Sourcebook, Addiss et al editors, Hackett, Pg 124)

In the conduct of their daily activities sentient beings have no illumination.  If you go along with their ignorance, they’re happy; if you oppose their ignorance, they become vexed.  Buddhas and bodhisattvas are not this way: they make use of the ignorance, considering this the business of buddhas.  Since sentient beings make ignorance their home, to go against it amounts to breaking up their home; going with it is adapting to where they’re at to influence and guide them.

Here, Ta-hui is addressing the use of ignorance wisely as a tool to liberate beings from their attachments and move them in the direction of direct experience of their original nature.

Rephrasing makes it immediately helpful to improve situations at other levels:

. . . . Making use of ignorance, is the business of parents and managers.  Since people are comfortable with what they know, to go against it rankles them; going with it is adapting to where they’re at to influence and help them grow.


The obvious response to inappropriate action may not be the best.  If you can first recognize what people are thinking and address that, more appropriate actions can follow.

Often teachers, parents, managers impulsively oppose the behavior or ignorance of their students, children or employees, demanding compliance without understanding the situation.   Except in an emergency, that may not be the best action.

Examples of inappropriate, impulsive behavior abound, especially when you begin to look for them. (If this were a book for sale, there would be pages of anecdote examples—but see them for yourself.)

Observing inappropriate responses in situations around you is a good way develop awareness and skillfully use ignorance.

Begin to make the effort to better understand the new situations and then respond, rather than oppose then directly.  It takes some practice, but see for yourself if the results are improved.  (If this were a book for sale, there would be pages of anecdote examples—but who has time for this.)

When this teaching is used skillfully, it is not evident; When not used– a glaring omission.

Foam Blocks for Bath time—Good Clean Fun

April 24, 2007

A while back, there was an article here “Stacking Cups for the Imagination—A Great Toy Not Found in (Many) Stores”. Simplicity, better play value than many marketed toys, and low cost conspire to limit its shelf space. These are a great first toy.

Babies grow and pretty soon they are in the bathtub, looking for activities. Here, there is another simple toy, foam blocks which float, but also stick to the side of the tube or wall when wet. The blocks themselves are pretty simple. They are just EVA foam cut into different shapes about 2 or 3 inches. As with any blocks, you need a bunch of them to really have a good time.

The possibilities are endless. At the beginning, the kids take delight in just sticking them on the wall. Then the adults can build stick figures, houses, or anything with imagination. Pretty soon, the child is doing it also, and by the end of the toy cycle they are making elaborate structures of their own. (These blocks are sometimes advertised for use on dry land. They do not work out so well there, since there light weight causes the “buildings” to be very unstable, easily knocked over and frustrating to children just learning finer motor skills.)

These foam blocks are not available, at all stores, but are a more often found than the stacking blocks. What is remarkable is wide range in price. Most often, they seem to be sold at a price that averages $1.00/ block (say $20 for a box of only 20). A buck a block seems a little steep, especially in view of what they are. But looking around, some places have them for a price that averages 12 cents a block. A factor of almost 10 times cheaper! Perhaps there is a difference, but both float and stick to the wall!

If it makes bath time more enjoyable, it’s worth a try.

Finding and Hiring a Tutor—Interviewing for Value

December 1, 2006

Private tutoring is an expensive proposition for families. It’s important to select an individual who really brings value to the students. Their experience is fully dependent upon the person hired.

There is plenty of general advice about tutoring on the web. Sooner or later though, there is an interview and a decision to hire a particular person must be made. It’s important to have some ideas of value in tutoring before the selection process.

The points below can provide specific background to improve the chances of hiring an effective tutor.

1. Value Tutoring–Example.

A young woman was doing poorly in an introductory Physics course. She was clearly bright and motivated. She was having difficulty applying the mathematical equations of motion the travel path of a thrown baseball. It was clear, after a short discussion, that she had really understood the use of the mathematical equations, usually the most difficult step.

However, the young woman did not have a clear picture in her mind of a thrown ball traveling through the air. She had not used her own experience to understand the physical situation.Without this information, she could not use the mathematics properly. The instruction emphasized making diagrams of the physical situation to gain this understanding.Once made, it seemed simple and she was able to solve these problems quite readily.After a few sessions, the young woman was on her own doing well. Further, the technique of making the effort to understand the physical situation can be generalized to other subjects

2. Value Goals.

Consider these two objectives in view of the tutor’s approach to teaching.

(i) The goal of one-on-one teaching is to identify the obstacles and provide the tools to allow the student to work at his full potential independently as efficiently as possible.

(ii) Tutoring should be viewed by the student, parent and tutor as a focused short term activity.

3. Skill Levels.

Individuals have different skills. Here is one way to classify them by value.

(i) Minimum Requirements

Objective credentials in the field (formal education, test scores, training for special learning situations, experience

(ii) Value Requirements

Demonstrated perceptive abilities to precisely identify the obstacles to learning. The real value is to diagnose the problem.

The ability to teach specific methods to overcome these obstacles

(iii) High Value Requirements

The problem solving techniques are presented so that the student can gain confidence and expand their use to other subjects

4. Interview by listening for the tutors attitude.

During the interview with the prospective tutor, first confirm that the objective credentials are present. Then look for value:

Does the individual’s instruction method lead to the value goals listed above?

How has the tutor demonstrated the ability to diagnose obstacles?

It is more effective to listen to their conversation to find out if these types of value activities emerge in their own words. An effective way is to just to listen to the way they discuss their work. However, if these questions are asked directly, there will always be a positive answer.

5. Check the references against the high skills criteria.

References are only provided if they are generally positive.

Look beyond the overall results. Specifically ask about the references about the experience with the tutor in diagnosing specific issues. Ask about the length of the teaching and how the stopping point was determined.


In summary, tutoring selection decisions are often made quickly and without a criteria for evaluation of the tutor. Then the instruction activity begins, expenses mount, and performance is what it is. However, with just a little more attention at the beginning, the chances of have a good tutoring experience can be increased.

Stacking Cups for Imagination—A Great Baby Toy Not Found at (many) Stores

September 30, 2006


Last year, several of our friends had their first babies. Thinking back about the best toy when our children were born, a set of 10 stacking cups came to mind. What fun they were! So, stacking cups is what these families got. Now, a year later, the parents report that the stacking cups are the most used and enjoyed toy of all. Not bad for a toy that can be purchased for as little as $7.20.

There are countless activities. The imagination grows to invent new ones as the child’s abilities develop. No instructions needed. Another benefit is that the games hold the interest of the adults as well.

However, this toy has only moderate popularity. There may be several reasons for this. As possibilities: The cups do not look like much in the box; they don’t come with a technical buzz; there are no advertisements for a cheap, old toy; adults who had them as children do not remember that young age

Finally, you have to go out of your way to find them. They are not stocked by most of the major toy chains either in their stores or on-line. Some, but not all, boutique toy stores do carry them, and they are available over the web. (Caution: The sets containing only 4 cups do not have enough play possibilities.) It’s worth the effort to track this toy down.

Also, a great gift.

Not found in most stores.

When the baby moves on to the bath tube, check out Foam Bath Blocks–Good Clean Fun 



A related post for parent/baby activities: 3 Parent Activities to reduce frustration for sleeping problems and toilet training.



Child Sleeping Problems and Toilet Training—3 Parent Activities to Reduce Frustration

September 26, 2006

If you scratch the mind of a parent about concerns for their baby or toddler, odds are either sleeping habits or toilet training will come up. No question about it, there is a challenge here. Even though the vast majority of these adventures work out without major health issues, it is of little solace during the training. The concern takes a big bite of nervous energy. A few straightforward activities that can help to reduce frustration for the adults are highlighted below.

It’s obvious that there are many different methods to approach this training. As an example, on-line bookstores show 15 books devoted exclusively to sleeping problems and over 25 to toilet training. All but one of these books are rated 4-5 stars (****1/2) of a scale of 5) by the users. People are satisfied with the books. It’s interesting that, although each book claims to have the winning method, some are directly contradictory. For the methods, pay your money, take your choice. For serious problems of course, expert medical advice is available for those who need it.

Beyond the methods however, background activities that can make this period more enjoyable for the parents often get little emphasis. Three are outlined below:

Keep a realistic perspective on time and goals

A few hours awake in the middle of the night seem like forever. There is a distortion that sets in—a mentally predetermined time is set when sleep will come, or success on the potty. When that milestone passes, there is an increase in anxiety and then a new goal is set. Break the cycle of predetermined goals. (The goals are often determined by the “normal” development cycle, ignoring the fact that there is a natural wide range.) As long as there is no serious problem, events will unfold in their natural time. A day, a week, a month seems like a long time when waiting. Looking back it is an instant. Try for the middle perspective. In place of a goal, stay in the details of the moment of activity. Sometimes there are no options, so just relax, laugh at the absurdity of the situation and work through it

Make some records

There are several benefits. First, the record generally shows that the situation is not as bad as it seems. Second, if there turns out to be a real problem, this factual information for the health care provider to assess. Third, it’s reassuring to watch the changes. Years later, when the record is rediscovered stuck as a bookmark, it serves to jog the memory.

As an example for sleeping, use a sheet with the hours of the day in the rows and the days of the week in the columns. Have enough columns for at least 2 weeks (or longer) on a sheet. Keep track of the waking and sleeping time by shading in the time periods during which the child was asleep. Update the sheet after each period.

Develop a back-up plan in advance to deal with frustration

There is a time in all of these activities when the fatigue or frustration just appear overwhelming. It is just part of the deal, so prepare for it in advance when times are calm. A little planning here can avoid a crisis later. Several points are key in this planning: Determine the early warning signs that the fatigue or frustration are building to a critical point. Since the signs may not be recognized in the heat of the moment, look to identify them early. Then, identify people and resources that can be used. Discuss this plan with these people in advance. Finally, if the situation reaches a critical point, put it into action. Even if the plan is never needed, just knowing one there is a plan reduces frustration

Giving a child more responsibility–Intuitive Decisions

September 10, 2006

Introduction: There is a chronic pain resulting from making an erroneous decision that goes against one’s better judgment. It is one thing to take your best shot at a course of action and having it fail. That is just life. It is quite another if a failed course of action also goes against your better judgment. The decision continues to exert a price on the individual long after the physical situation has been resolved. There is never any guarantee that a decision can lead to an acceptable result, but using intuitive judgment and checking it when necessary can improve the chances.

Most decisions are relatively straightforward. An analysis of the facts reveals a direction for action. This type of rational analysis is sufficient for many decisions, particularly in business, where the consequences can be mitigated as the results unfold. However, there are some decisions that can never fit into this rational category. Sometimes, the problem is with the facts—they are insufficient, or cannot be known, or are so conflicting that no clear direction can be identified. At other times, the emotional or physical consequences are so great that the rational analysis alone cannot be trusted. An intuitive aspect is needed.

Two obvious situations when rational analysis may not be sufficient are business decisions that can affect the direction of the entire organization or, at home, actions that involve the well being of children.

In an earlier example, “Deciding to let a child travel alone”, the emphasis was on a general method to gauge whether the required skills, experience, and maturity were present to give this responsibility. If the baseline requirements are not met, there is no question that responsibility cannot be delegated. However, even if the skills are present, allowing that responsibility may not be the appropriate direction.

Actually, the real question in this example is when to let a child have responsibility (on mass transportation, at the mall, etc.). Sooner or later, these responsibilities will be given. In this case, the actual decision questions are: Is this the right time to allow this freedom? If not, what conditions have to change?

The decision to give a child such responsibility falls into the previously mentioned category of a case that rational analysis alone cannot be trusted and intuitive judgment can be used. Some people use it consciously and routinely; others hardly at all. Working with gut level intuitive judgment is a skill. It can be developed with practice and feedback. As the first step, immediately after having reviewed all of the available information, hold the information in the mind and take a deep breath or two. Then, note which decision direction is favored. There may very likely be no explanation for the result

The judgment itself may be right on target, or it may be off the mark, clouded with other issues such as emotions and personal experiences. The accuracy of the initial judgment doesn’t matter. It can be tested later. The important point is not to ignore the initial direction and act immeidately against your better judgment because of time or peer pressures.

A conflict between the facts and intuitive judgment does not indicate that the approach favored by the facts should be discarded, but that further examination is needed. Such a conflict does suggest that respected opinions should be sought. If possible, the opinion should come from an outside source not connected with the problem under consideration. Such an opinion provides a fresh perspective without emotional connections. After this outside opinion has been considered, the decision may very well overturn the intuitive direction and be to continue with the factual decision.

In the continuing example of giving responsibility to a child–if the decision is not to allow it now, the decision process also gives some insight into what has to change in order to ultimately allow the child the freedom to travel alone.

Better decisions result from an understanding based on rational analysis, intuitive perception, and an outside review. It may be the best that can be done, regardless of the outcome.

Children’s Bedtime Stories–Making up a good one every night

August 27, 2006

At some point, every young child gets tired of the same canned bedtime stories and says to the parent “Make up one for me.” For some parents, the mind goes blank. There is no story to be had, or a weak variation of a familiar one comes out.

There is no time at this point in life to study the fine points of storytelling. But still, the child can have a good story and it can be great fun to make them up. It is a lot easier a few points are kept in mind. The first plots will take a few days to get into, but after that, the stories have a life of their own, to the delight of both child and parent.

Outline Example—Wikulus the rabbit


There was a young rabbit named Wikulus who lived with his mother. Whenever Wikulus found a four leaf clover, he could make a wish to visit anywhere in the world and he would be immediately transported there for the afternoon. A subplot is the initial search for the four-leaf clover so that the main adventure can begin.


This type of opening leads to many possibilities for different stories. As examples:


Wikulus may visit Santa Claus on a seasonal basis and find that Santa is well behind in toy production. How to help.


He may visit the desert, find out about the conditions there, and not have sufficient supplies.


The young rabbit may go to Africa and be introduced to other animals with different skills, some friendly, others unfriendly.


These are starting points for the complication of the plot and later resolution.


By the end of the day, Wikulus is home, and of course, his mother does not believe his adventures really happened.


The Key Points


For the first few nights, try different characters. For younger children (2-4), different animals (who, of course can speak) are a good start. Each character should be given a distinctive name, often chosen together with the child. The first character may not catch on, but pretty soon, the child will make a connection and a favorite star will be born.

Another theme variation that is popular is to give normally inanimate objects, the ability to play tricks on people. For example, cars that take control and choose the destination, wall pint that changes color, tables that shake things off. The stories center on the comical reactions of the adults. What could be more delightful than seeing an adult being fooled by an inanimate object.

For older children, people have a more prominent role, particularly from olden times.

After one main character has been established, add at least two or three additional regular or rotating characters. These extra guys provide flexibility and range of interactions needed for a wide variety of plots. Since the same characters can be used for a number of stories, the child is familiar with them and you can put your energy into making an engaging story.


Nothing like it! Just a few elements of magic add a good twist. Not too much though. The magic property can be used to get into predicaments. The character has to resolve them by his own ingenuity. Even a child is not satisfied when the character is suddenly beamed out of trouble.


Plot—This is the most fun!


Once the story is begun, there is no stopping to “figure out the next part”. Make it up as you tell it out loud. It is a reality show for both the child and the parent. The real time aspect adds energy and interest for everyone.

As the first half of the story is being told, add layer upon layer to the difficulty that the main character encounters. This adds excitement. The real key for the storyteller is that the difficulty is added as fast as it comes to mind—there is no known way for the character to resolve it. At the end of this section of plot development, the storyteller should have no idea how the character is going to settle this one.

Now for the best part–As the plot moves toward resolution, the storyteller has his work cut out. As the story is told out loud, you must also figure out a way to get the character out of the predicament. This approach really energizes the storyteller and this energy is picked up by the child. If the child seeks assurance that it will end OK, be sure to give it so he can enjoy the excitement more fully. Then figure out how to make it end OK—no need to stop to figure it out, this is stream of consciousness telling.

Plot Conclusion

Each story has to be complete,, beginning, middle and end, in one telling. No cliff hangers like on television. The purpose is to entertain and then go to sleep, so that all of the energy of the story has to be dissipated.

Give it a try. Parents using these tips have been amazed and pleased at their own creativity!