What we teach when we teach Mindfulness

This New York Times article about mindfulness at the World Economic Forum in Davos gives more proof of the ascent of mindfulness in our culture. One worry I have is whether mindfulness can truly be taught while being totally divorced from ethical principles or the spiritual context from which it developed. (That spiritual context is the journey to enlightenment of the man known as the Buddha more than 2600 years ago.) Without that context, there is a danger that teaching mindfulness becomes only about achieving better performance and enjoying life more – certainly worthy goals – rather than its deeper purpose: to radically change our relationship to our own lives, and to provide insight into suffering, the causes of suffering, the possibility of the end of suffering, and the ways needed to achieve that end. Those of us who teach non-sectarian forms of mindfulness – like MBSR – must walk a fine line between our fidelity to dharmic principles and the need to provide powerful practices in an accessible format to people who are not interested in “religion.” For me the dharma context is always foremost when I teach MBSR, which I do in a rigorously non-religious way. It’s my dharma practice which informs my own understanding of the causes of suffering and its release. Therefore, when my dharma practice is strong, so is my teaching. My fear is that many people are now teaching mindfulness who do not have a strong connection to practice. The risk is that much potential dharma teaching will get lost in translation or even ignored, short-changing the students in the process. This might then lead to the “dumbing down” of mindfulness. Many people have contacted me recently asking, “How do I become a mindfulness teacher?” My answer to them is to devote yourself to practice first. Then, from the depths of that practice, let teaching call your name.Davos

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