The Importance of a Mindfulness Teacher

Guest post by Shane Ledford, CMT-200

Shane with the cast of the KC Symphony Star Wars Concert

For me, one of the most pivotal moments in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (and in the entire sequel trilogy of the franchise) is when Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi Master in the galaxy, asks Rey, a young person sensing to the ways of the Force, “Why are you here?” She responds, “Something inside me has always been there, but now it’s awake… I don’t know what it is, or what to do with it, and I need help.” And, Luke replies, “You need a teacher.” It is a formative intersection in both characters’ paths in that Rey realizes she needs a teacher, Luke was willing to be her teacher, and it is their acceptance of this that will change each of their destinies.

Many of us can probably recall when a teacher or someone we looked up to took an interest in our budding quest for knowledge, or offered us guidance with something that we felt, yet remained undiscovered and maybe even unnamed. One of these earliest and defining moments in my young life was when my high school sophomore English teacher handed me a book and said, “You need to read this.” The book was Illusions by Richard Bach. At that time, I wasn’t sure why he was offering it to me, but I now realize he saw something in me that was emerging, and needed some guidance to be awakened. I was a shy nerd and he was one of those teachers that everyone liked, and I had quietly started expressing to him what could be considered as rambling philosophical inquiries… and he was ready to help me explore these questions. Reading Illusions would essentially change my life and the trajectory which I would lean towards.

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

In short, the novel is about a master, born in the Midwest, who recalls having past lives and decides to teach what he has learned through many allegories and metaphors. In the novel, the master hands a guidebook to the narrator that contains philosophical contemplations such as: “The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about these once in a while, and watch your answers change.”

Receiving Illusions was like I had been given a magic talisman. Mythologist Joseph Campbell described moments like this as Meeting the Mentor/Supernatural Aid in “The Hero’s Journey.” While fortuitous and unknown to the main character, it is a necessary development (as are several other steps) for her or him to continue and complete the quest embarked upon. This Mentor is generally portrayed as the Protective Mother (such as a Fairy Godmother or the Good Witch of the North) or the Wise Guide (such as Gandalf or Obi-Wan Kenobi). Not only does the Mentor offer guidance and teaching (and, sometimes, actually agrees to accompany the hero along the journey), but also provides object(s) with mystical properties that are later needed to aid along the journey (such as magic beans, ruby slippers, or a lightsaber).

Illusions was formative in that it helped me to start looking at things in life through a different lens with more questioning, compassion, and empathy. It helped me explore the notion that some thoughts are only manifestations and not true reality. I began to take more moments of pause to investigate things I saw or was being told, or thoughts I was having. As Yoda said to Luke, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

It is important to mention that not all thoughts, things, or life are perceptions or illusions of the mind. True violence happens, and real suffering among individuals, communities, and cultures does exist… and that is a reality… not a manifestation. As Luke was training with his lightsaber, Obi-Wan Kenobi intuitively felt with his heart-mind the terrible destruction of Alderaan by the evil Empire war-machine. He was overwhelmed by this pain, and would eventually see the remains of the planet to know that it was true. However, just a few moments after sensing that soon-to-be-realized reality, Obi-Wan handed Luke a helmet with the blast shield down which obscured his vision and said, “Your eyes can deceive you… don’t trust them.” This is not to say Obi-Wan was saying never to trust what we see or perceive as a reality. He was just offering the possibility that it can happen.

After seeing what an impact Illusions made on me and sensing I wanted more, my English teacher/Mentor introduced me to a group of older students that had formed an after-school (and unsanctioned) philosophy club where we would ponder things like causality and determinism. He also recommended I continue with my journey of discovery even after I was no longer his student, and 15 years after starting on that path he led me to, I received a graduate degree with a Master’s in English and a Minor in Philosophy. My studies in philosophy would eventually lead me to the teachings of yoga and Mindfulness. I find Mindfulness and philosophy are similar in their approach to questioning and examining thoughts with curiosity. What may be “true” for me today may not be the same tomorrow… or as it was yesterday. While the book Illusions made an impact on my life when I was at a crossroad, it does not carry as much significance to me today.

It is no longer a book of undiscovered-but-needed teachings… it is more of a pleasant memory of a time when a student and a Mentor agreed to go on a marvelous journey together. It also reminds me that I am a teacher because of the many teachers before me, and I will always still be a student. Much like Rey, we may already have that knowledge in us… we just need teachers to help us truly explore it. Or, as Richard Bach said, “Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.”

If you’re a Star Wars fan and enjoy Shane’s creative use of books and movies to help deepen our mindfulness journey, please join him for May the Fourth Be With You: Mindfulness and the Star Wars Saga May 4, 2021 (Tuesday) at 7:00 pm Central time via Zoom.

Thinking of teaching the transformative practices of mindfulness to others? Check out our 200-Hour Mindfulness Teacher Training Certification Program, designed to help dedicated practitioners bring mindfulness to their communities in s safe and inclusive way.

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