The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: MBSR:Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training, November 11-16, 2013, at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.
By Susan Woods
In the second of these of these reflections on the nature of teaching mindfulness I thought it would be interesting to continue with the theme of mindful presence. As teachers of mindfulness in secular settings, we bring an emotional and cognitive sensibility to our teaching that is based on our personal experience and understanding of mindfulness. When we respond to questions from our participants via the process of mindful reflective inquiry, we are embodying an awareness that embraces and acknowledges a way of being that is able to stay quietly present even in the midst of ambiguity. Being able to allow for those places of uncertainty, anxiety, and doubt and then know when and how to respond are important components for our teaching. It is likely there will be times when one of our participants will ask a question or make a comment that elicits a moment(s) when we have no idea of what’s next or how to respond. In addition these moments may touch a strong emotional reaction inside of us of doubt, worry, distress, anxiety, irritation, despondence, even anger. I suspect we have all had some or perhaps all of these instances.
No experience is wasted; even those that have challenged me in sometimes very uncomfortable ways. When I have found myself in those places, part of my own journey of mindfulness, has been in allowing an emotional and cognitive unfolding that can be relaxed. Remembering to take a breath can help to soften into these moments; relaxing into the body another. This becomes a way of sensing into the current experience where understanding grows from letting all of the uncomfortableness be present, cognitive, emotional and somatic.
Being emotionally sensitive to these moments requires an active intention and receptivity. Being a mindfulness teacher asks that we are willing to take our seats in the uncertainty and teach to and through that experience. This means that we include an experiential sense of our own complexity in those moments and in that awareness do our best to step out of our own way. As we meet these moments we also notice that being gentle and patient rather than a problem solver, allows us to start from where we truly are rather than from where we think we should be.
It is this emotional awareness and sensitivity that we bring to our teaching of mindfulness. It allows for the landscape of the moment to reveal itself, an inner and outer attunement and brings us into the present, one where we are receptive to our own experience and at the same time responsive to that of the other. It is a moment of being attuned to an inner and outer noticing, where compassion is embodied through mindful presence, heartfelt sensitivity and through mindful reflective speech. In this way the teacher and participant(s) are involved in co-creating a journey of relationship which entails a kindhearted understanding of self, of other and the unfolding nature of the present. These moments of connection are sacred moments of wisdom and humility.