Here in the Midwest, the practice of mindfulness is still relatively new to most people and although we have a few very experienced Buddhist teachers doing good work in Kansas City, there are no senior secular mindfulness teachers that I know of locally. This leaves a growing group of “early career” mindfulness teachers relatively rudderless in terms of our own professional and spiritual development. To help with this, we’ve begun a lovely tradition at the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness (MAM) called Teachings for Teachers.
Whenever possible, our community mindfulness teachers and professional members get together in our space and share teachings and practices from our favorite senior teachers. We’ve had teachings so far from Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Gil Fronsdal, Bob Stahl, Marshall Rosenberg, Bernie Glassman, and Anne Cushman. The teachers take turns choosing topics that have resonated with them and bring their own unique perspective to the experience. The results have been so very imaginative, enriching and useful. The inquiry and discussion generated is not only a great learning experience, it provides us with a sense of community and connection.
A 2014 study identified four important roles a mindfulness teacher fulfills for their students: modeling embodiment, providing a sense of empowerment, engaging with non-reactivity, and offering peer support. Having a teacher who is further along than we are in their realization provides us with a powerful role model for the work we are doing in the world. Sadly, in many parts of the US including here in Kansas City, this is very difficult to find locally (in terms of secular teachers) and it can be quite expensive to travel across the country with the frequency that is needed to establish a deep connection.
Studying on our own is important and we have done that when we must, but the power of an in-person connection cannot be replicated through reading, listening to podcasts and watching videos. There is a Sanskrit term, sangha, which describes the practice of being in community. It is maybe one of the highest and most challenging, but one of the most transformational practices I know of. In some ways that is what we are building at MAM, a sangha of secular mindfulness teachers. If you are a Kansas City area mindfulness teacher who is feeling isolated and alone out there, give us a shout out and we’d be glad to talk to you about our teacher’s sangha.
It is said that geese fly together in formation and that the lead goose makes the flying easier for the others, and each goose in front of the other also helps the geese behind – and they all take turns. I think [a practice community] is a lot like that – when we sit together, our presence together creates a slipstream for others – to support their practice and our practice together. It is mutually beneficial – and a field seems to be created… it’s palpable. Imagine aligning all of our energetic focus – that has to do something to the energy within a room… – Anonymous
Van Aalderen, J. et. al. (2014). The Role of the Teacher in Mindfulness-Based Approaches: A Qualitative Study. Mindfulness. 5. 10.1007/s12671-012-0162-x.