Embodying What We Teach

Photo by Carli Jeen

There is so much I am discovering in this process of coordinating a mindfulness center while also maintaining a private psychology office. One of the balances I am navigating is aligning the goals of psychotherapy with the intentions supporting a mindfulness practice. Another is how to teach concepts while also prioritizing the importance of direct experience in the cultivation of mindfulness.

There is definitely great value in the transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. But, my mindfulness practice has helped me re-discover that no teacher is as potent as lived experience. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t often reinforce this. Mindfulness teachers have to learn to set aside our conditioning and continuously remind ourselves to embody the practices we are teaching.

We all have preconceived notions from our culture and upbringing about the best way to learn. From an early age, most of us were subjected to lectures from experts and later exposed to endless Powerpoint presentations. In the academic world, it’s commonly viewed as a “loosey-goosey” teaching style if there are no Powerpoint slides sprinkled with research article citations. The lecturer is expected to be supremely confident and have definite answers about things. The size of the pile of handouts received becomes a measure of the value of the learning – as if wisdom could be exchanged in a stack of paper like money.

I was recently organizing and purging my professional administration files and came across reams and reams of continuing education handouts and reprints. These documents hadn’t been touched since I filed them away. While at the time I enjoyed and appreciated the workshops, I now couldn’t even remember having attended some of them.

My mindfulness training experience has been very different. We don’t receive any handouts, there are no Powerpoint presentations, excessive note-taking is discouraged – there often isn’t even an agenda. Surrendering to this type of arrangement requires a great amount of trust, courage, and letting go on the part of the teacher and the participants. Yet, the training I received during these experiences has stuck with me like no other.

Mindfulness training asks us to tolerate ambiguity and have some patience for the unfolding. We must remember that learning is a process and find value in the not knowing, the moments of confusion, and the mistakes made along the way. In our modern society, we have come to see knowledge as something that can be delivered to us in a neat package. If this is our belief system, we find ourselves feeling very frustrated when we aren’t clearly told what to expect and if we don’t get what is expected. Within these constraints, we become disappointed when lived experience gets in the way of our pre-packaged learning. But, it’s the lived experience that is our most powerful guide.

In mindfulness training, knowledge arises out of the direct experience of the teacher’s own mindfulness practice and is transmitted through one’s embodiment of these attitudes and practices. The teacher isn’t an expert per se, but a fellow traveler on a shared journey. Although there are intentions scaffolding the teachings, the teacher is flexible and responsive to whatever arises in the moment. This is a very different way of teaching and learning, but one that is incredibly liberating and useful for both teacher and student.

We can easily lose our way in all these elaborations. If we forget that the purpose of practice is to move out of the reactive patterns that create suffering, we miss the whole point. All the philosophies, worldviews, ethical systems, practices, and rituals have only one intention: to wake us up from the sleep in which we dream that we are separate from what we experience. Ken McLeod, Wake Up to Your Life


**If you’re interested in learning about this unique style of teaching and learning, check out our 200-Hour Mindfulness Teacher Training Certificate Program.

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