On the role of the Meditation Teacher

The path to teaching is unique to each and with development each teacher brings an special authenticity to his or her students that arises naturally from ones own experience. Over the past 10 years, one learning that has become resoundingly clear is that the art of teaching depends more on ones own practice, authenticity and stewardship, than on any particular instruction, method or ability. As teachers we facilitate awakening rather than 'teach' it, the process of facilitation is one that requires intimate knowledge of ones self above all, a trust in the process that can only be cultivated through dedicated practice.

This old story told across the world illustrates the role of the mindfulness teacher perfectly. A stranger comes to a little village that’s been under great stress, where food has been scarce, and where people have drawn away from one another and are only looking out for themselves. The stranger arrives with nothing, and manages to borrow an empty cooking pot and starts making soup. He begins with a ‘magic’ ingredient, a stone, sometimes a button, or even a nail. The village members become curious about what he is doing, and each secretly comes to look upon the pot. The strangers stirs it up and tastes the soup ”Ah it’s coming nicely” he says. ”But it could do with something a little extra, like a potato maybe…”, he says to one visitor ”…like a carrot,” …”like some cabbage”…, then ”some beans..” Soon there is a shy parade of of folks bringing ingredients and standing around the pot that’s now brimming with good things – enough for everyone. They share a meal, there’s even some music. Someone signs, another finds a fiddle, there’s dancing into the night. And the stranger is gone, picking up a new ‘magic’ stone, on the way to the next community.

In this story the stone may be deemed ‘magic’ but nothing happens because of the stone, rather it is because of the strangers ability to be present for the community. The stranger simply coaxes out what is already within the village.

What better story than this to illuminate the role of the meditation teacher. The stranger in this story does not arrive to tell the community how they must change and learn to share! The stranger facilitates the learning through presence, trust and authenticity. When we enter a community of students, we enter with nothing. We meet each person as they are, not with a head full of answers or methods or techniques. Our knowledge is exposed, as is our trust that the community has what is needed and of course you enter with your support, care and friendship.

The attitude that the teacher brings into the room, the ultimately influences absolutely everything. Acting as a stranger, the teacher trusts that each person can turn towards what is arising, challenging, joyful or ordinary, and discover something of the inner recourses available within his or her own being. The practice of mindfulness will reveal what is necessary, at that time, to each participant in the group. This knowing and trust arises from ones own practice and experience.

When we facilitate a group, we do not do so to preach, heal or change. Our role as teachers is only to illuminate what is there, and to support our students in the process of opening to what is arising. Often one of the biggest challenges as a mindfulness teacher is to stand back and allow the process to unfold. There is a natural inclination in empathetic people have to want to protect others from discomfort and pain. But as we learn through practice and research, avoiding the difficult does nothing to strengthen our resilience, and goes against the very principal of presence. Through our own practice, this confidence to stand back and trust arises.

This story above is adapted from the book Teaching Mindfulness, 2011, McCown, Rebel, Micozzi, published by Springer Press.