When I began my formal mindfulness training in 1998, it was certainly not to become a mindfulness teacher. This was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to work on myself and potentially heal the various physical and psychological issues that I was struggling with. I wanted to find more peace and quiet in a mind that was up until that point filled with worry, panic, anger, uncertainty, confusion and self-judgment. The irony is that today I still practice mindfulness for the exact same reasons that I started practicing almost two decades ago.
I have never had any interest in enlightenment or nirvana. I have never had much interest in transcending my more materialistic or egoic limitations through some sort of spiritual transformation. I have zero problems with other people who are interested in spirituality and religion (unless they try and push their beliefs onto me), these belief systems have just never really been for me. I have always been someone who prefers learning how to be fully right here, right now. My interest is in learning how to be as fully present in my life as is humanly possible, since I realize that my struggles with worry, dissatisfaction and anxiety are mainly a result of thoughts about the future and my struggles with anger and depression are mainly rooted in thoughts about the past.
The more and more that I have cultivated the ability to be fully present, fully right here and right now- the less that I have struggled with anxiety, dissatisfaction, worry, anger and depression. But being fully present, for me, is a daily, moment by moment practice. The more I practice the less tormented I get. The more present I become. This is my practice in a nutshell.
I do find it challenging to be a mindfulness teacher. Like I said, I never set out to teach mindfulness. I was always happy learning mindfulness from and practicing with others who were much further down the path than I was. My wife and I started the mindfulness group in Claremont because after moving to Claremont from the San Fransisco Bay Area, I could find no place in LA to practice mindfulness. I started the group so that I could have a place to practice mindfulness with others, and I feel very grateful for what this group has become.
But I still see myself as a mindfulness practitioner, not really a teacher. When I lead mindfulness individual sessions, groups and seminars I look at it more as sharing my practice with others (rather than instructing others in what they should do). I talk about the things that I am practicing in my own life in the hopes that other people will use my mindfulness practice as a foundation from which to go forward and build their own practice. Mindfulness is a very creative practice. I have found that no two ways of practicing mindfulness are exactly the same. Over time, everyone makes mindfulness into something that is their own if they are doing it right. I suppose this is why I am drawn to mindfulness practice- it is an open and creative practice that only really works for a person if they find a way to turn into into something that is their own creation.
This may be why it is challenging for me to be a mindfulness teacher. I think a lot of self-help, motivational, religious or meditation teachers must struggle with this. There seems to be this unspoken expectation that the teacher is this perfect person that has it all figured out and is going to pass along to the student how they have figured everything out and healed themselves completely. As a result the student will be transformed and fixed. No more problems in life. I am yet to meet a teacher who has no problems or issues (though many will present themselves this way in order to succeed in their position) but I think it is the collective expectation. There is no doubt that the most successful spiritual, self-help, religious and mediation teachers are the ones who present as having it all figured out. Masters at their craft.
I am a flawed individual who struggles with various emotional and psychological issues just like every other human being on earth. As someone who teaches mindfulness I do not want to give off the disingenuous impression that I am a master who has figured it all out. This would be a terrible way to have to live my life- being someone who I am not. And more money in the bank is just not worth it. I want to be a very human mindfulness teacher, one who struggled just like everyone else but applies mindfulness to better manage my daily struggles. This feels more interesting to me.
I try to be as open and transparent as possible about my struggles as a human being so that I can help others to see how I apply mindfulness to better my mental and physical health. This I feel is the most important teaching that I can offer other people. It allows me to continue to feel authentic and truthful in how I present myself to the world. I feel that it is also an important learning opportunity for those who struggle with similar issues. I practice mindfulness for the same reason that everyone else does- I am trying to obtain more presence and peace in my life. I presume that if I ever arrive at a point where I have achieved absolute peace, perfection and presence, I will probably no longer have the desire to teach.
Many people think that mindfulness is a very simplistic practice. What do you mean just breathe when I still have all this anger in me and issues that I need to figure out? What do you mean just breathe and hear sounds when I am really struggling with serious problems that need to be resolved in my life? There are things I really need to figure out! I can certainly relate to this since I at one time felt the exact same way.
Mindfulness may seem simplistic because life is filled with so much suffering and agony. Who knows, maybe we will all go to our graves kicking and screaming but I feel that the pursuit of peace is a very noble pursuit (especially after a lifetime of suffering). Even if a continual state of presence and peace is just not possible in our fast-paced contemporary world, it is the pursuit that is important. And it has been my experience that through pursuing peace and presence, I have experienced a lot more peace and presence in my life. The alternative is more suffering. The most important part of mindfulness practice is a willingness to no longer be as defined by our suffering. Everything else gradually falls into place once we are willing to begin the process of letting it go.