Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side
Several years ago during a workshop for leaders I heard a saying that, as a leader, you could be either a “sage on the stage” or a “guide on the side.” I contemplated what that would be like in my role as a professional facilitator, working with groups and leaders in resolving conflicts and planning for the future.
At the time, I believed a “guide on the side” would be much better than a “sage on the stage.” My definition of “sage on the stage” was someone who believed they knew more than others. And since I didn’t want to appear as someone who thought she knew more than others, I opted for “guide on the side” as the model I wanted to follow. Internally, I fought the whole notion of ever being a “sage on the stage.” I denied that I ever showed up as a “sage on the stage” and was blind to how I was actually behaving. I definitely didn’t want you or me, for that matter, to see that I believed “I know more” or “I know better.” The whole time it was obvious to others what I really believed because of my tone of voice and the way I spoke about what “I knew” and what they should and shouldn’t do. During my professional career, I was a classroom teacher, a trainer of teachers and a director of staff development; perfect places to demonstrate “I know more. ”
Once I found Inquiry, the beliefs “I know more” and “I know better” confronted me on a regular basis, and I questioned them frequently. The more Inquiry I did, the less I experienced the attachment to those beliefs. They no longer run my life in the same way. When I speak, my knowing comes from a different place inside of me, less of a “dictator” pretending not to be a dictator and more as one with experiences to share. I also have come to see how little “I know.”
The “I know mind” is not comfortable with not knowing. It definitely prefers the “I know” version. Knowing is mind’s job and it works very hard at it. Over time, I have found myself saying, “I don’t know; I don’t know what I am doing; I don’t know what to do next, and I don’t know what Inquiry is; I just don’t know.” I have come to relax into the not knowing and I now experience the “not knowing” as a rather peaceful place to be. Periodically fear will arise along with the deeper realization of “not knowing.” What has become more true for me is “I really don’t know.”
As time passes and the realization of “I don’t know” becomes more a part of me, I notice myself showing up more and more as a “sage on the stage.” It has both surprised and scared me. A friend, who has participated in several of my workshops, recently told me, “Workshop by workshop there is less and less of you.” This leaves me, as another friend described me, as an “empty vessel;” someone who truly doesn’t know. From that place of not knowing I am able to speak more authentically.
At a workshop a few months ago, I had somehow surrendered sufficiently to “I don’t know” and announced to those attending the workshop, who were counting on me to “know,” that “I don’t know!!” Sharing that with the group stunned me. “What would they think?” I’m supposed to be the one “leading” this workshop. Once I had announced, “I don’t know what to do next.” something other than “me” showed up. The “sage on the stage” showed up with a level of authenticity and truth that served us all. It turns out that the “sage on the stage” is just Truth speaking authentically.
I have come to realize that a true “sage on the stage” is someone who knows that everyone really knows and is just pretending not to know. This leaves the ‘sage” with only one thing to do: support others who are open to realizing what they already know, as she continues to realize the Truth of “I don’t know” more deeply herself.
I seem to have caught up with reality. I am a “sage on the stage.” It just isn’t personal. It isn’t “me” that is the “sage.” To deny what is coming through me is arrogant. I also have come to see that there is an “alchemy” of “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side,” something that is a synthesis, both and neither at the same time. A true “sage on the stage” is also a “guide on the side.”
“I don’t know,” continues to unfold inside. From time to time, when I get caught in “I know,” or “I need to know,” I notice fear arising. I am more able to sit with the fear as those thoughts appear and not take them too seriously. After all, what is really true is “I just don’t know!” Freedom!