This last week I have been teaching with Choden at Samye Ling. We have been teaching the Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) teaching skills retreat, and so now have a new group of qualified teachers.
It is intense work as each student presents sessions from the MBLC and receives feedback and Choden and I assess whether they are ready to teach. However, it is the most rewarding work I do, as I observe the transformation of the participants throughout the retreat. Then at the end they are ready to teach compassion based mindfulness and to make this world a better place.
I am always struck by the courage and commitment of those we train to teach. Our mindfulness practice is a very personal and intimate thing and so sharing our mindfulness teaching practice makes us vulnerable. When we teach we are being present as ourselves just as we are and are relying on our own personal practice to teach others. Therefore, training mindfulness teachers is quite a tender process, like facilitating a butterfly from a cocoon. While we need to assess the teachers we train so that they will do no harm, we need to do it sensitively. Mindfulness practice means so much to our training teachers – as it does to me.
When I was a lawyer, I had a lawyer persona while I was working. Even as a yoga teacher, I hid behind a persona. But as a mindfulness teacher I am simply present as myself, embodying (as best I can) qualities of kindness and self-acceptance and holding group boundaries to keep the group safe. At its most magical, my egocentric self gets out of the way, and the teaching flows and a human transmission of qualities happens by itself. When I can model qualities like self-acceptance, somehow those in the group learn that it is Ok to accept themselves too and they get a felt sense of how to go about accepting themselves. At it’s best I am not thinking about what to say, but the session unfolds and the teaching does itself.
This year we added an extra day to the retreat. It was a day of silent practice, with a reflection and sharing at the end. We added the day after the training teachers delivered their first 30 minute teaching slot and before they delivered their second 15 minute teaching slot. It was a very powerful and restful day – for us as well as the participants. It demonstrated again the power of practice to help us process and integrate learning and of course, is the best preparation for teaching mindfulness.
Lama Yeshe Rinpoche, the Abbot of Samye Ling Monastery says that once we have practiced mindfulness sufficiently to experience a personal transformation, then we have something authentic to share. I am very proud of our teacher training program and have seen many times how following the Level 1 Mindfulness course (being present), followed by our Mindfulness teacher training courses leads to profound personal transformation. The main transformation I observe is one of the attitude we have towards ourselves and towards our mental activity. Self-criticism, self-attacking, even self-hatred gradually transform into self-acceptance, self-support and even self-love.
Choden and I are currently working on developing a second Masters degree, based on our mindfulness and compassion teacher training courses. It is part time over three years and will be delivered in London. It will enable participants to train to teach Mindfulness and Compassion in the first two years of the degree and then go on to register on the UK Listing of Mindfulness teachers after year 3. All being well it will begin in London in January 2021. More details will follow in due course!
One of exercises we did together during the week was an exercise called memories of kindness which can be found on our app. In this we bring to mind a memory of when we were kind to someone else, when someone else was kind to us and when we were kind to ourselves and then notice what happens – thoughts, emotions, sensations. Like many people I often struggle with the last memory, but this time it became clear to me that the comfortable home for myself that I have been working on creating is a great act of self-kindness. And I am grateful to myself for it.
How can you be kind to yourself today?
You can practice mindfulness with Heather by joining her on the following courses:
Teacher Training Level 1 at Samye Ling – 3-5th July 2020
Heather also teaches on the MSc Studies in Mindfulness.
Heather will be speaking at the Mindful Living Show 6-7 March 2020 at the Business Design Centre in London.