I see a growing and somewhat concerning tide of practitioners in the Mindfulness community suggesting they are the only people qualified to teach or train in mindfulness meditation and by inference, that others who have trained extensively in other (less expensive or more accessible) traditions are not. It’s therefore perhaps worthwhile considering some facts about meditation, mindfulness and the increasing confusion between the two (noting I have studied, trained and practiced both formally and informally in both):
1) Mindfulness is a clinical, non-secular term for the entry-level, beginner’s meditation practice of dharana
2) Mindfulness was not discovered or invented, it has been around for millennia, practiced in many Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, Yoga, Hinduism and Sufi
3) Mindfulness was brought to the Western mainstream by Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat Zinn, the latter a clinical psychologist who began researching and promoting the benefits of meditation as a therapeutic approach
4) Mindfulness and meditation are not different: mindfulness is a gateway/foundation stage in meditation (3 stages in total)
5) Mindfulness as a new concept cleverly circumnavigates two key mental obstacles: Westerners’ predominant misconception that they ‘cannot meditate’ and that meditation is solely the preserve of spiritual/religious practitioners
6) In the spirit of the Western tradition of capitalism, academic institutions, training providers and businesses are now making millions out of teaching mindfulness
7) Both mindfulness and meditation are entirely deregulated domains. Meaning there is nothing to stop people/companies setting themselves up as mindfulness teachers with minimal direct experience of meditation practice. UNLESS they are part of another regulated/governed system, such as a British Wheel of Yoga teacher or a member of BACP, or a member of a Buddhist monastic or other religious community
8) In yoga and other traditions it is not considered appropriate to teach meditation unless you have trained with a guru/master, studied extensively and practiced for many many years (personally I would suggest 3-5 would be a minimum)
9) Mindfulness is normally made available as a commercial, profit-making enterprise.
10) Any form of meditation is extremely simple and easy to learn but may take a lifetime to study and practice.
Meditation is an extremely powerful and in many cases effective tool. A piece of paper does not make you any ‘good’ at it: that takes years of disciplined study and practice, and a great deal of humility.
Whomever you choose as a teacher and especially if exploring meditation or mindfulness as a therapeutic response, do be sure to check their credentials carefully. I would suggest asking the following questions:
- Who have you trained/studied with? (Personally I would be concerned about anyone who only gives one name, unless they are devoted to a particular spiritual guru)
- How long have your teachers practiced?
- How long have you yourself practiced?
- What obstacles have you experienced in your practice and how did you overcome them?
- Who guides your meditation study/practice now?
- How would you adapt techniques for specific mental obstacles in your teaching?
- Are you a member of a regulated body, which sets guidelines or standards for your meditation practice and teaching (be it clinical, professional or spiritual)?