So I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’ve been teetering for a while. I just haven’t been able to see myself ‘doing it’ and don’t feel nearly wise enough. But after seeing and feeling the benefits in my life and in my whole being from my mindfulness and compassion practices; seeing how I have learned to focus on intention and motivation; how I have learned to dedicate any benefits to all beings; and how those benefits have subtly flowed into my daily life and into my interactions with those around me; I am feeling more ready. I am amazed to hear my family open up to mindful awareness themselves without ever having been near a cushion and without me overtly talking about mindfulness. At times it seems to have effortlessly suffused the family.
And oh how I have learned how much my family are my teachers!! I used to run away to Samye Ling to hide from the stresses of family life and to learn how to cope better, only to learn that actually I had run away from my best ‘teachers’!
But to realise that particular wisdom, took quite some training. It involved embodied mindfulness teachers who were also wise; with skilful means to impart the teachings in a way that would be deeply understood by my self-centred and untrained mind.
Having spent years in practice of varying intensity and commitment I have now studied and journaled both my own mindfulness journey and researched mindfulness in a more committed way – by attending Buddhist teachings at Samye Ling and Mindfulness Association trainings and then embarking on the MSc Mindfulness with the University of Aberdeen. Even through the past couple of years I did not feel that I had ‘progressed’ (wrong word) enough to contemplate teaching – still feeling unwise.. and as mindfulness has a habit of highlighting our own ‘terrible’ mind-habits – I went through a phase of feeling worse not better – suddenly I saw my neuroses in quite some clarity and even worse, I had never even considered myself to be a neurotic person! And I’m not (or am I?!)– it’s just the workings of the ‘normal’ mind; but my inner critic so quick to jump in in moments of doubt – continually took the opportunity to remind me that I was definitely not a good candidate for teaching.
My parents were academics and teachers. My mum although blessed with a brilliant academic mind – her old school style teaching filled me with horror – lacking in compassion and deep understanding of the vulnerabilities and limitations of her students. With growing pressure to be clever like her – well it soon had me running away to Wales to knit in the hills rather than follow in those academic footsteps! I had no urge to be clever like that.
I have needed to somehow reframe my concept of teaching and what it means to be a teacher. I have been more of a creative facilitator in my delivery of art workshops and that feels more comfortable to me. The skilful means are about enabling others to see and feel their own inner workings from the bottom up rather than to impart my ever-so-clever knowledge onto them from above. Ah, I’m beginning to see that maybe I have already been practicing skilful means without knowing, perhaps it’s my own storyline and fear of coming across ‘teachery’, patronising, a know-it-all – these are my fears.
But now? Maybe I am ready for this journey; my practice has enabled me to unravel some of these outmoded schema, holding me back from myself, stories of not being good enough, clever enough, but now I see everything I have done, all the causes and conditions of my life have led me to this moment, and I am seeing things differently. I am grateful to my mother now – for helping me to find my own way with that! and for being the one who brought me to Samye Ling in the first place. Because of her and our broken relationship I am finding a way through – Mindfulness has shown me the way, and the Compassion practices have brought me connection to an inner energy that has been blocked and inaccessible up until now… and the insight practices? – well you can guess what happens there!
I’m reading the Lama Tsultrim Allione book Wisdom Rising, and she explains the prayer hands gesture which I have always had a problem with since school (another blockage to do with teachers!) – being made to do it without knowing why or what it meant – Allione explains that in the Buddhist gesture of the two hands coming together have symbolism, firstly the coming together of opposites, male and female, but also – the left hand representing wisdom, and the right – skilful means – we bring them together in a gesture of humble supplication – that we may cultivate these virtues in our practice. This woke me up out of my hypnogogic state the other night as I was nodding off. I LOVE THAT! It transformed my story around prayer hands instantly but also spoke to me of the skills I need if I am to be a teacher of mindfulness: – Wisdom and skilful means. If I continue my daily practice (and all variety of them – find some here) I will access and cultivate my own inner wisdom. If I am taught by skilful teachers how to teach I will gain the skilful means I know I need.
Had I had not continued to practice diligently the Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight/Wisdom training, (I think I am a bit slow! and that’s ok I’d rather go into this deeply and steadily no matter how long it takes) I would still be trapped in that dreadful ‘everyone else’s fault’ ‘it’s all happening to me’ ‘poor me’ mind set that still had me identified with all my ‘stories’. I would not have found the spaciousness of lovingkindness and compassion to hold your difficulties as well as my own. The compassion training helped me to see, recognize and face aspects of my own shadow, my deepest fears, my suppressed feelings. Had I not felt such grief when I saw how cruel I have been to myself, how mean I am to me; the compassion practices allowed a gentle recognition and allowance and taught me how to give myself a helping hand out of that despair, how to speak to myself in a kind way, how to notice when I was being unkind to myself. Now I knew that just like me – others may experience something similar too.
“The word “education” comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out.
To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”
How could I teach to others what I had not fully engaged with within myself? I was not ready, and the more I practiced the less ready I felt. The more I learned I could see the less I knew for sure. The practices have a way of challenging your version of truth, and knowledge, of deconstructing old schema, challenging notions of self; and the power of these practices, I now know. I also know, there is no end to this journey and I am humbled by it; but now I am ready ‘to put wood on the fire’ as Mingjur Rinpoche says – to commit to burning though those obstacles – to add wood willingly to the fire of resistance!
Mindfulness needs to be taught from an embodied place suffused with and powered by compassion. This is why the Mindfulness Association says ‘Compassion is at the Heart of Everything we do’.
The definition of compassion from the Dalai Lama is that we become
“sensitive to the suffering of self and others which is accompanied by a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it’”.
And this quote brings me to my personal turning point. I have come to a point of realization. It is connected to my dedication to share the benefit of practice with others. I have been saying this after every meditation session since my first ever meditation. I have even been thinking it when something goes well for me in my days, and if things are going bad for me – my heart reaches out to all those who may be suffering in the same way that somehow may my suffering take the place of yours and tonglen allows me to handle this without it being a burden or detrimental to my wellbeing. But now I feel it and it is meaningful. Compassion is limitless. If we are getting burnt out it is because we have not truly and deeply connected to our compassionate heart which is limitless. I think I said this in my last blog as well – but it keeps coming up!
I’ve had a problem with feeling other people’s pain. An empath, they say. Especially my childrens’. I’ve suffered on their behalf. It’s what mothers do. But there’s been a shift. So subtle barely noticeable. It’s to do with the compassion. I no longer feel their pain (mirror neurons on overdrive!) now I sense it but do not feel it – I feel removed, better able to watch their pain as a doorway to wisdom. I’m in a better place to guide, with compassion, not sentimentality, not trying to fix, not trying to give advice. Just to offer attention, kindness, and a gentle touch is enough. They have the answer within them.
I think I am ready now, to begin my Mindfulness teacher training.
This week I wonder if you could see if you can try to catch yourself when you have a self-limiting thought. Or maybe if you hear the self-critic jump in to stop you from doing something, or standing up for yourself? How would life be if you hadn’t had that thought?
You can talk to the voice with a soothing voice tone. It’s difficult to catch. Try this meditation on working with the inner critic with Heather. I found it really helpful to draw my inner critic. You may find more than one critic. I did.
It’s good to find the company of others on the mindfulness journey. If you’d like company and a little chat you can join our free daily practice sessions which are continuing every day right through the Christmas period. You’d be most welcome.
Behind the scenes at MAHQ We love hearing from you so please do share any thoughts, drawings or revelations you have with us. Jacky and I love to hear from you.
Warm wishes to you on your mindfulness journey,
I will blog my progress (bumps, anxiety and all!) as I work my way through theMindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) teacher training programme.
A recent academic article published last month on Springer was heartening and fascinating: Do Trainee Mindfulness Teachers Practice What They Teach? apparently yes! they do! and there was a general feeling that they want others to benefit from the practices in the same way that they had.