Teaching mindfulness involves meeting our own suffering and that of others with equanimity, transparency, courage and compassion. As mindfulness is an embodied practice and not just a good idea, it not only requires theoretical knowledge and skills but also a personal, in-depth mindfulness practice. It would be hard to teach a musical instrument or yoga without having immersed oneself in those practices for some time. In just the same way, mindfulness practice takes time and involves experiential learning and incremental integration into one's daily life.
Our teaching and training is experiential, and includes skills-based practice and theoretical understanding. We emphasise an ongoing commitment to an engaged personal and professional development process based in the practice of mindfulness meditation which supports the emergence of an authentic embodiment of mindfulness and a self-reflexive teaching practice. We also emphasise the development of the skills, and theoretical and contextual understanding, which enables the teacher to offer mindfulness in a variety of settings.
Teaching mindfulness is a transformational process that involves growth and change, rather than just the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Transformative learning can involve opening to shifts in the basic premises in our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It can involve a shift of perception that alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and the places we live; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world. It can inform and transform our understanding of the power relations involved in the structures of class, race and gender in which we participate. It can impact our body awareness and our sense of possibilities in daily living, ethics, social justice and peace.
Mindfulness interventions span two powerful paradigms: one being Western scientific approach with its emphasis on objectivity, cost-effectiveness, generalisabilty and evidence-based practice outcomes, and the other being the secular Buddhist paradigm with its emphasis on experiential, embodied and phenomenological learning, and on values such as wholeness, integrity, ethics, wisdom and compassion. These two different paradigms translate into different values about teaching and learning.
As the underpinnings of this work are so vast and have such impressive credentials, it can feel challenging to find one's own authority in the place of "teacher". For many of us this is a daunting prospect and can generate all kinds of questions about our identity as teachers, professionals, and people: "Who am I to teach this? Do I know enough to teach this?"
In line with the wisdom of the Center for Mindfulness, we believe that teaching mindfulness involves development in two areas of learning. From their website:
Inward-oriented learning is aimed at refining one's intrinsic capacities for meditation, contemplation, self-reflection, and self-knowledge. This approach to learning is directed toward the cultivation of wisdom through the on-going development of innate qualities such as non-judgmental observation, active listening, flexibility, presence, insight, and compassion.
Outward-oriented learning is targeted toward the understanding and attainment of well-defined technical skills and competencies in all curricula associated with mindfulness based interventions and an ability to apply these core methods and skills in diverse situations and settings."
Many people come to mindfulness training through a professional interest, and many come from an interest in the dharma and Buddhism. If you haven't come to this work with a mindfulness practice already, a very grounded and sensible place to start professional training in mindfulness is with yourself – taking the time to cultivate your own mindfulness practice, applying it in your own personal life, and seeing the kinds of changes that emerge for you. There is no rush; cultivating a practice takes some time. From this basis of embodied learning, you will be in a wonderful position to communicate both the theory and methods of mindfulness in a vivid and embodied way.
Teaching mindfulness requires an intellectual understanding of the educational, medical and scientific basis of the programs and an ability to articulate these aspects in the classroom or clinic with warmth and authenticity.