This is a blog about the initial stages of my experience of training to become a teacher of Mindfulness. I am not a teacher of Mindfulness yet, and so anything I write here is of my experience only. I have completed the first training at Level One and have signed up to the Mindfulness Association’s MBLC Teaching Level 2 in July. This is my journey. I plan to write a little about my research into the topics, the practice and the actual experience of learning to teach, with my peer group buddies. I do not profess to any kind of wisdom or knowledge around the skills of teaching Mindfulness! Heather offered guidance when I admitted nervousness around applying for the course in July: “Prepare to Fail epically and all will be well!” She said with a smirk. I know there is an Mindfulness Based Living (MBLC) Level 2 Course starting this weekend – three of my peer group buddies are departing for that and I wish all trainees on that course well from the bottom of my heart! I was too ‘fearty’ to go on this one!
In order to teach Mindfulness I really need to understand what Mindfulness is and where it comes from. On the Master’s Course at Aberdeen (Studies in Mindfulness) we have to study this in depth and write an essay based on its definition and what we discover from our own practice. We journal our practice and correlate our experience with the neuoscientific, historic, secular and Buddhist research on that topic. We consider Rob Nairn’s definition of ‘knowing what is happening while it is happening without judgemement’. But it strikes me that this knowledge needs to be known and understood by the teacher of Mindfulness, but not necessarily shared with someone who is completely new to Mindfulness. When we start out these are just words and I may as well be speaking Greek. Mindfulness needs to be understood on a personal level in a deep-known-embodied way. And we need to ‘start where we are’, as Pema Chodron says. I could try to explain Mindfulness in words; that would be me showing my ‘clever knowledge’, that could turn into a little number for the ego-centric mind to enjoy – but that will not give anyone the experience required to fully understand it or get you any closer to seeing the workings of the mind – so that approach isn’t going to help anybody. The only way to achieve non-identification with thoughts feelings and sensations is to meditate and get that direct experience of noticing what the mind / body is doing from moment to moment.
Shunryu Suzuki in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. He goes on to say that when we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. Knowledge is knowledge but teaching is a skill: teaching mindfulness has to come from an embodied mindful teacher with a beginner’s mind.
And so I see that it is important that the exercises we guide, will lead a person to see for themselves the nature of the mind. The guided meditation exercises are tools in our toolkit. The toolkit works for all minds, but each mind is unique with its own conditioning. The light of Mindful awareness will illuminate the darkness in the unknown mind – showing up different things at different times for different people – it will show us the things we have been continuously bumping into in the dark – things we keep tripping over – Mindfulness shows us the obstacles in our mind and gives us the tools to negotiate what we find. And the teacher too is operating from a conditioned mind full of self-doubts and projections just like everyone else – as a trainee teacher I need to be aware of that.
And so a teacher delivers the exercise and then follows with enquiry, which is the skilful process of meeting the meditator where they’re at and working with their experience without judgement and crucially without offering advice or trying to fix them. “There is nothing wrong” and there’s nothing that needs fixing. That is a fundamental tenet of MBLC mindfulness training. I know I’m going to need all the help I can get with this. Compassion requires us to take action in the face of another’s suffering. But within compassion there lies wisdom to know how to ‘help’ and here it is by directing people back to their own thoughts, feelings and sensations, where they can draw their own conclusions… really teachers are to deliver a set of pointers, not to come up with answers. In our practice group we have found this so difficult not to make value judgements -oh that’s good! great or bad! or interesting – making judgements or making suggestions it’s so hardwired in us from school and parenting.
During a recent daily sit, I was asked to consider my motivation and intention to study mindfulness. And then, what were my intentions for this particular practice? This question arises at the start of most practices and I have noticed that if I am not given enough time to fully contemplate this motivation and intention the mind gets a little irritated; at the cusp of some great insight, or connection with my deepest needs and aspirations, suddenly I am whisked on and invited to notice my breath. I make a note to myself to allow time to dwell here when I am teaching it myself, to allow meditators ample time to connect with this deep wellspring of life. What is it that motivates us, and powers our intentions? I noticed then that on the occasions I have had in my practice the time to fully dwell here, I am empowered by what I find. My intention is fully charged and I know what I am doing, and why I am doing it. When I sat with the question of my own motivation and intention to teach I felt very strongly an urge to work with children and to help them with their growing minds as they navigate this confusing world with confusing adults with all their mixed messages and hypocricies. Children are our future, we need to nurture them and it feels for me that it’s that thought that inspires and motivates me to learn to teach Mindfulness. In fact that thought fuels my courage to face my fears around teaching – I’ll do it – for the children. That seems to make it easier. If I can incorporate my Mindful Art into the work at a later stage then all the better. Art and Mindfulness are a wonderful partnership, especially for children – I’m looking forward to my Msc research on this topic and using the MBLC training as the foundations for creative and mindful exploration – it will be a celebration of curiosity!
When we are invted to consider our motivation and then perhaps after really fully feeling this connection to ourselves, perhaps it is enough to touch on it briefly in subsequent practices and move on. But every so often, I find it beneficial to engage at a deeper level with motivation as it feeds my Mindfulness practice. It has been shown that this helps to maintain commitment to mindfulness practice – and actually in our daily lives if we remind ourselves of our motivation to do anything – it will help keep us on track with our life goals and values.
Our teachers always invite us to reconnect with our intention and motivation; setting intention has power in it, they say – it Re-Minds us– and the more we connect those neural pathways, the stronger they get and the less likely we are to wander from our intended path. But we do need to remind ourselves, and as in mindfulness the root word smrti is about remembering, re-minding – remembering to remember! That is mindfulness. As Sharon Salzberg says “Mindfulness is easy we just need to remember to do it!”.
This week, spend some time, at the start of your practice – a little longer than usual, to connect with your motivation to study mindfulness. What do you find? Sometimes this can touch on some deep emotions. If that happens stay with that feeling. Notice what you are feeling in your body, and where. How does it feel? What is there?
Also in your daily life, stop and ask yourself from time to time – why am I doing this? Is this what I intended for my life? Is this something that nourishes or depletes me?
Have a good week, and remember to stay mindful! If you’d like to share your thoughts with us you can do that on our facebook page, where Heather is suggesting a daily prompt for Journalling in January. We’d love you to join in.
If you are between Level 1 teaching and Level 2 of the MBLC and are yet to attend the 5 day MBLC retreat – you can join our Teacher Trainer Membership for £15 which will give you access to monthly support sessions allow you to attend the free teacher membership CPD sessions, and access to the CPD recorded archive on the Teacher members site. Email Helen or Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.