Thursday, April 17, 2014

You're a Mindfulness Teacher, Right?



The other day, I was in a meeting at the yoga center I teach meditation at, and the other meditation teacher and I were talking about student numbers. I said I had a few regulars in my class now, and he said "That's because you teach mindfulness, right?" I had a very odd reaction. Almost straight aversion. I responded that I teach a lot of practices, not just mindfulness. But the response was muddy at best, and I've been left with this curious feeling about it all.

I'm almost certain he wasn't thinking of Sati, the Pali word for Buddhist mindfulness, which is steeped in ethical considerations as well as development of attention skills. He was probably more thinking of the pop mindfulness that I've written so much about in recent years. At the same time, the classes I've been teaching haven't been highly focused on social ethics or connecting big picture issues. That's more one element among many. Nor could what I've been offering be reduced to mindfulness of any variety. Again, that's one element among others. My whole goal has been to offer a diversity of gates into meditation, and the classes has focused on everything from grief for recently lost pets to reflecting on our roles in supporting the health of the planet.

Anyway, as I was reading this article - yet another critique piece on the Wisdom 2.0 conference - I thought of this odd feeling I had being labeled a "mindfulness" teacher, and how corrupted that word seems to have become. To the point where part of me doesn't even want to claim it, because doing so without an explanation doesn't seem right anymore.

6 comments:

Inge said...

Nathan,

For me, I think it depends on who is calling themselves a mindfulness teacher. If it is you, then I know you are about staying present, compassion, understanding and the need to look at oneself in the context of a bigger picture.

If it's Google, I know it's about profits and how to maximize the most work out of their employees.

For one thing, if they were about compassion, they wouldn't have slave labor making their products.

That's an issue I had with Steve Jobs. Writers say he was a follower of Buddhism and he was so compassionate. Others say he was an ass. Why did Jobs send jobs overseas? To make more money. How much money did this guy really need?

I enjoyed the Mindfulness 2.0 article. I am thrilled Williamson had the courage to speak her mind. That takes balls!

I shouldn't be surprised that meditation like anything else can become just another marketing scheme.

Nathan said...

Hi Inge,

Yeah, I'm with you on all that. Especially the elevating of Steve Jobs without any critical consideration of all that he and his company had done in the world. People seemed to leap on the fact that he was Buddhist, and also said some profound nuggets near the end of his life - and ignored or never saw the rest of the story.

It was an odd experience being labeled a "mindfulness teacher" because on the one hand, I do teach mindfulness in my classes. But that's only one element of what we practice. So, the label wasn't accurate in that sense. I'd never advertise what I'm offering as mindfulness classes.

I also felt a sort of disdain in his voice about mindfulness, which made me kind of want to unfold some of the discussions about mindfulness that have been going on online. Because I wondered if he'd grown cynical about it all, especially given how much fluff is presented as "deep truth" in a lot of yoga studios these days.

We didn't have time to dig into any of that, nor did I have the energy that morning to really do so. He also seemed pretty dead set on ranting at us about the lack of yogic meditation practices in yoga studios, so I'm not sure any fruitful discussion was going to be had anyway.

Jeanne Desy said...

I suspect you're right, Nathan, not carrying that conversation on.

I also feel like you do about the use of mindfulness as stress relief. BUT, maybe it helps some people hold their temper who are never going to practice an ethical system. So . . . Always interesting to notice one's reactivity.

Inge,Steve Jobs left a fortune of over $6 billion, none of it to charity. I haven't looked into what the family has done with that since. He also refused Bill Gates' personal invitation to join in charitable work. I felt his profoundness was of the Art of War variety, not the compassionate. That said, I love my iPad.
Jeanne

Nathan said...

"I also feel like you do about the use of mindfulness as stress relief. BUT, maybe it helps some people hold their temper who are never going to practice an ethical system."

There's most likely some benefits to these practices, regardless of form and intentions. But so much of modern mindfulness just feels like a coping mechanism for people living in an abusive, destructive society. And a pretty weak coping mechanism at that.

But I do think you're right that it might be the only thing some folks would choose, even if they had (or knew about) a lot more holistic practice options.

Stress reduction and honing your attention aren't easy, but they're a hell of a lot easier than examining every last piece of your life and interconnection with society and it's systems.

Junkstylediva said...

"Stress reduction and honing your attention aren't easy, but they're a hell of a lot easier than examining every last piece of your life and interconnection with society and it's systems."

Nathan, I think you hit the nail on the head with your last comment.

My dad died when I was 31. I never thought about anything "deep" before that. I was a single mom who worked full time. My dad's death led me to a personal crisis.

I got counseling, which led me to "self-help" books. I got married. Then I decided to go to college and my world opened up to new ways of thinking. My old beliefs were challenged.

I became spiritual. I questioned everything I ever believed in but it came with a price. My new husband divorced me. He didn't want to think "outside the box." He wanted a typical, no questions asked life.

I knew there was more and I couldn't stop moving and growing (I am still evolving)

Living a mindful life (especially in So-Cal) can be a lonely road but well worth it.

One has to be tough and willing to give up worldly pleasures and distractions and I don't think a lot of people are up to the challenge. I don't blame them. But I wouldn't give up my journey to go back to my old self.

Hopefully there will be some who practice mindfulness 2.0 and it will start their journey of self discovery.

Nathan said...

"One has to be tough and willing to give up worldly pleasures and distractions and I don't think a lot of people are up to the challenge. I don't blame them. But I wouldn't give up my journey to go back to my old self.

Hopefully there will be some who practice mindfulness 2.0 and it will start their journey of self discovery."

Thank you for your comments. And much agreed that for a variety of reasons, man just aren't up for the challenge.

I tend to think, though, that a lot of the run of the mill mindfulness teaching being done today is more likely to keep people in the box, than to help them crack open. It soothes the pain and allows some release of suffering, but doesn't really - in and of itself - direct anyone to that deep questioning part inside.

I can imagine some people do find the questioner regardless during popular mindfulness work, because anything can be a gate. But having read my share of self help over the years, I don't see a whole lot of difference between that and pop mindfulness.

In the end, it's all just vehicles to liberation. Even the deepest spiritual teachings and ethical frameworks. So maybe all of this is about creating, upholding, and helping others to choose more effective vehicles?