“we are exploring together. We are cultivating a garden together with our backs to the sun. […] we are digging beneath the hard and crusty surface to the rich humus of our lives”
-Parker Palmer Let Your Life Speak
This year (2017) marks the fifth year that I have been co-delivering mindfulness courses for the Mindfulness Association. I’ve had the good fortune to tutor in York, Scarborough, London, Brussels, Samye Ling and even in my hometown Newcastle (canny like!).
Mindfulness has opened doors into Universities, Public Health Departments, the NHS, charities and a host of grassroots services that it’s been my privilege to talk to and lead practices with.
It’s been quite a journey, and I get the sense that in many ways it’s just a beginning.
But it was when I sat during the Teaching Skills Weekend at Samye Ling with my co-tutors Heather, Tina and Chloe, and I looked out at the 44 new teachers, that I began to see things in a very different way. During the break, I turned to Heather and asked, “did you ever think, 10 years ago, that it would be like this?” and she smiled. How could one ever imagine?
I tried to do the maths around this: 44 folk times how many times; plus Level 1 folk; then add Level 2; add the years of MSc students and the MBLC teachers; add the various home groups and workplace drop-ins… woah! I suddenly gained a new and fresh appreciation for all of this, and my place, my little cog in the MA machine, the whole impact, meaning and purpose of all this.
In what often appears to be a somewhat cruel and heartless world, this feels like another possibility, a potential; a powerful sense of warmth, heart and hope.
Being a mindfulness practitioner is often akin, I think, to the salmon who travel in what appears to be the wrong direction. And as far as this target driven, striving, data collecting culture we are in is concerned, this direction of travel can seem like swimming against the tide. It’s at this time, when we start to lean into ourselves, warts and all, that we are required to do what Brene Brown calls “Daring Greatly”.
So, it’s possible to see ourselves as part of the MA machine, a cog in the whole, so to speak. I could see myself as this; nothing special, just a cog that does its job, sometimes miss-spinning and making mistakes and sometimes working well.
But I really don’t see it like that. This weekend, something changed.
We’re all, I think, leaning into the same thing. We’re all trying to “dare greatly”. Christopher Lasch called the family a “haven in a heartless world” and I believe there is a resonance here with what we’re doing as a family of mindfulness practitioners and teachers. We’re daring greatly to lean into our difficulties (and this is quite beautifully what I saw on the teaching weekend) in a mindful and kind way. Perhaps this is what Jon Kabat-Zinn meant when he called mindfulness a “radical act of love”.
It reminded me of how I felt when I did this training: anxious and very uncertain; quite worried; feeling I would never be worthy of this. I continued to ask the question- why on earth am I doing this? What motivates me? Thoughts such as this kept coming up in my mind. Parker Palmer writes about this and talks about having the “courage to teach” -daring greatly? And remembering how I felt going through this keeps me connected with a deep respect and regard for those who train to be mindfulness teachers.
Recalling the empathy and kindness shown to me reminds me to cultivate the same in myself, all the while offering it to others. I do this in the hope that it will be passed on. For mindfulness “teaching” is perhaps freighted with a difference to some other forms of teaching, in that it is not something we “do” to participants but a practice with do “with”-there is no separation. There’s more than a whiff of reciprocal vulnerability here which is deeply connective and quite beautiful.
So, I’m no longer a cog in the machine. I see the way this operates now as much more organic. There is a Norse legend of the World Tree Yggdrasil, whose branches reach out into multiple realms of sentient beings, whose roots are centuries old, yet whose expression is right here, right now. Perhaps this is a more fitting metaphor, more real. Reaching out, our arms are branches that can hold each other through this.
Grappling with the full catastrophe of life’s sorrow and wonder, our own capacity to develop our kindness and to reach out and teach or offer this to others: this is our radical act of love.