I was recently asked to write a profile piece for the Mindfulness Network CIC, a not for profit organisation, which works closely with Bangor and Exeter Universities. I work with them as a supervisor of mindfulness teachers. The piece offers an insight to me as a person and a mindfulness teacher, you might find it of interest, particularly if you are considering attending one of my courses.
What drew you to mindfulness?
It began twenty-four years ago. I was in my early twenties, and waking up unenthusiastic about life. I somehow knew that life wasn’t meant to feel this way, and began to look for ways to support myself in feeling better. This took me to India, to my first ten day meditation retreat. The retreat was really tough, but it helped me establish a strong foundation of practice. I left the retreat knowing that meditation was helping me, and this led to a very committed ongoing practice.
Fourteen years later, and I am once again in India, taking some time to find out what the direction of my life is to be. I had been teaching in higher education for ten years and was looking for a new direction. While in India I understood that I wanted to teach people meditation. The practice had been so beneficial, life-changing for me, and I wanted to offer this to others. On my return to London I discovered that there was a Masters degree in teaching mindfulness at Bangor. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was a perfect next step for me.
What does “mindful teaching” mean to you?
Mindfulness teaching is my vocation. It is a natural expression of what is most important to me in life, being present and aware, and supporting people in waking up to their potential, and the rich texture of life. The phrase comes to mind, ‘We teach, what we most need to learn’. In mindfulness teaching there is this process of mutuality, I am teaching participants, and learning from, and with them, at the same time. It’s such a privilege to work in this way.
Tell us about your personal practice and how it influences your life and work.
I have a very committed personal practice, of both Yoga and Meditation, and am also an avid student. I love learning, particularly about ways to tap into the richness that life has to offer, including both it’s joys and sorrows. I read a lot, listen to podcasts and attend both relational and personal meditation retreats. The German philosopher Heidegger said, ‘We convince by our presence’, my personal practice infuses my professional practice, how could it be otherwise. For me study, and ongoing learning are vital ingredients in offering the best possible quality of presence that I can to my course participants.
What is your experience of compassion within the teaching process?
The root form of the work ‘compassion’ means ‘to tremble with’. The way I understand this, is that compassion is the capacity to feel with another, to be touched by their experience, particularly experiences of difficulty. It’s impossible to feel with another if we are not present, available to our own experience. How will we know what we feel, or another feels, if there is, as it were, ‘nobody home’. From the very beginning of a mindfulness course, we learn how to become curious about, and intimate with, life, and with ourselves. We learn how to become present through systematic training, returning the attention to the present moment, again and again, and we learn particular attitudinal qualities that inform the ways in which we relate to our experience. Compassion is innate to the experience of mindfulness, it cannot be separated.
As my life has presented it’s inevitable ups and downs, I have learnt that the practice of mindfulness is one of ‘holding’ a receptive, open, and to the best of my ability unconditional attention towards whatever is arising in my experience. Jon Kabat-Zinn has described mindfulness as a radical act of love. I know this in my own experience, and I know this in my experience of the mindfulness ‘classroom’. This way of being with myself, we could call it compassionate or loving, infuses the language with which I teach meditation practices, and the way I communicate with course participants. I love this phrase, ‘words are the fragrance of the heart’. And so it is, that my practice is one of an ongoing cultivation, of a heart that has the capacity to meet all experience unconditionally, and with kindness.