I wouldn't say that it keeps me awake at night, but I am aware of a low level hum of a concern that I have been sitting with for a while now...
To become a mindfulness teacher I undertook one of the most rigorous trainings I could have stumbled across (and which, truth be told, I probably rather underestimated when first applying).
I was given fair warning at my interview. Sat in front of me were three individuals whose names I had been familiar with for several years, whose thoughts and opinions I had read and respected. Ascertaining what cognitions were around for me at that particular moment was none too tricky. And naming my feelings would have come very easily there and then.
It had been a while since I sat in a panel interview situation and I can't recall ever jumping for joy on discovering that such a scenario would feature in any recruitment process. I was daunted. But they got through my (largely self-induced) panic, and explained the route and terrain of the journey I was wishing to embark upon.
It would be fair to say that, upon receipt of my offer letter, I dusted off my walking boots and sought to brush up my navigation skills. I needn't have worried; my fellow journeymen (and women) would be there to lend me support whenever the incline felt too steep. But I'm glad I took the steps I did to 'get in the zone', so to speak.
And this is where the hum probably originates. Mindfulness is a most mysterious label that is, I think, now being attached to so much that it is at risk of becoming meaningless.
I am trained and qualified to deliver mindfulness-based interventions. I have not only studied the theory that underlies the clinical applications of mindfulness I have worked hard to develop and sustain a personal practice that sits firmly at the root of my teaching style.
And this is what I hope we, as a community of practitioners find a way to annunciate. Mindfulness in all its various forms is to be welcomed. The world is, it seems, becoming increasingly alive to the possibility that it can be helpful for most people to develop the art of stillness but... there is a staggering volume of science to back up these claims.
The 'brand' of mindfulness I am interested in, and committed to delivering, is not the hippy-dippy-peace-out-man meditation some people may want to find. Underneath the acronyms MBCT, MBST, MBRP (to name but a few) is some pretty hefty (and, I concede, at times rather turgid) science that forms the expanding evidence base that supports the protocols.
I am trained and qualified to deliver manualised protocols. Nothing incorporated within a programme is included 'just because'. And, it works. If it ain't broke... But let's not undermine what we have by generically referring to mindfulness which perhaps just confuses the matter.
If you're interested in learning mindfulness you might wish to consider the following suggestions when choosing your teacher...
What, exactly, do they teach?
Horses for courses, but what sort of horse are you and what is it that you're looking for? As I quite often find myself saying in a pre-course meeting (which, incidentally, is a great way to meet your would-be teacher and explore any concerns you might have - if they don't offer such a forum, it's worth asking why not... For me, this is where the course begins...) - no one comes across mindfulness by accident. Most of us come to it having been round the houses (a few times, perhaps). As such, we tend to come looking for something. You want and deserve to know that what you're signing up for is what you think it is.
How do they teach it?
How closely do they adhere to the original protocol? Are you actually getting a programme delivered in the format it was intended and designed to be offered? If not, what's missing, and what's been added? Any teacher worth their salt will be happy to explain their approach and rationale. And (if they're anything like me) they'll enjoy the discussion. I quite often teach 8 classes in 4 sessions. It makes for a rather intense experience, which requires a lot of participants (and of me) but means that a solid foundation is developed quickly (assuming sufficient home practice is visited between sessions). Given the level of demand I have for the double-quick-time courses, I'd be negligent not to offer this format but I wouldn't dream of teaching something I felt lacked integrity. My outcomes surveys indicate that what people get out of attending a course is directly proportional to what they feel they've put in along the way. The duration of a course is, I'd dare to say, perhaps less of a determining factor, than the quality of the instruction, guidance and support available.
Where did they train?
It might surprise you to learn that I don't have a particular loyalty to my own training institution. There are several excellent trainings that wannabe teachers can now undertake. I am familiar with some of the more established training routes here in the UK. There are, after all, many ways to skin a cat. The moggy is, of course, metaphorical.
I am proud of what my own teacher training bestowed upon me whilst aware that it came at a high cost. (And my mortgage broker would be able to tell you exactly how high.) There was not a single component of the programme that did not stretch me to the point of discomfort. But that was, I now see, how I found my edge. Academically, the course demanded I get seriously creative. Practically, my skills were developed from scratch. I was a seriously rough diamond. So, alongside my Masters degree, I gained a whole dose of humility for free.
What does their own practice look like?
As teachers, our practice must be at the heart of our teaching. Else there will be no heart in our teaching. My practice waxes and wanes, but I persist. And that's where I meet my students. Mindfulness practice does not, it seems to me, have a smooth linear progression. It is elusive and, just when you think it's going well, it will disappear, like water through your fingertips. But, with sustained effort, you will find it never leaves. Mindfulness starts when you discover how unmindful you are. And it returns when you notice its absence. I would be a hopeless and wooden teacher if I did not approach my classes with a solid sense of the benefits, challenges, pitfalls, highs and lows of the practice. You'll soon find out what a teacher's practice looks like, but it's probably worth enquiring before you've paid up and joined a group.
What contact do they have with a professional community?
To keep growing we need optimal conditions. To teach ethically, we need to be remain aware of our blindspots, and access support in the form of guidance or supervision from those we can learn from. I'm not sure it's enough to have a practice and have attended a training course. The field is developing too quickly, and we will surely get left behind if we do not remain open to learning, thinking, reflecting. Practice must be followed by inquiry, after all...