watch out for mindfulness ‘cowboys’

One of my students Ali Gray, is very passionate about the world learning meditation.  

He is one of our Connected Kids students and together with his colleague, Gary Young, is pioneering a project to make it part of the school curriculum in Scotland.

At a ‘business and mindfulness’ conference, he heard the term mindfulness cowboymindfulness cowboys‘ and wondered what this was about.

He asked me. I sighed.

You see, the term (and subsequent conversation at the conference) suggested that mindfulness was the only type of meditation available.

This is simply not true.

I know it is  a very popular style of meditation with a history that goes back thousands of years through Buddhist practice.  I have attended mindfulness courses, only to discover that my own meditation teacher had taught me this (along with other meditation styles). She simply hadn’t given it a ‘mindfulness’ identity.

From my own experience I know that mindfulness has it’s place in helping our society (adults and kids) to retrain our minds to have focus and concentration.  These skills are being diminished by unhealthy lifestyles and overuse of technology and a lack of connection to nature and our environment.

We benefit from a mindfulness practice (focussing on breath and body) to witness but let go of thoughts until we can enter into deeper forms of meditation with some ‘meditation muscle’ (eg not be carried off by the thoughts and stories our mind tells us… which it does all the time by the way).

With this strength of ‘mind’ we can then enter into our imagination and subconsciousness to reveal profound thoughts and answers that can really help us develop our cognitive functions – making decisions and coming up with solutions to problems.

So mindfulness is important!  But it is not the only approach to meditation.

When we want to teach children and young people we must be creative in the way we teach them meditation.   One size does not fit all.

In our Connected Kids programme mindfulness helps our tutors to ‘check in’ and keep grounded as they are teaching, but they must trust the intuition of the heart to teach meditation creatively – thus making it accessible to all ages and abilities of young people.

So… back to the idea of a ‘mindfulness cowboy’  What does that mean?

Initially it suggests that there is a right way to teach meditation (and thus a wrong way). That there are some, with a lack of integrity, whose motivation to teach meditation is a bit … suspect.

I wish there was an easy answer to this dilemma.

For me, it is a difference between someone who teaches from the head rather than from the heart.  Just because you attend a course or have had years of meditation practise does not automatically make you an effective meditation teacher.

There is no point in doing a course, reading or even teaching meditation if you are not teaching from your heart.  Teaching from the heart means from a place of trust, love and compassion.  

If you teach from your head, it means that you are thinking that the way you teach is the right way (and thus others are wrong), that the practice is fixed (and thus limited), that you may make a mistake (ego) or that you have all the answers as you have a certificate saying you can teach.

Personally, I find the idea of a qualification (or certificate) to teach meditation hilarious!  I have many certificates I have collected over time for courses I have attended. They are a symbol of a moment in time where I learned something new.   But in terms of meditation it doesn’t make me an expert.

It’s a bit like learning to drive a car.  We pass our test (which means we can drive the car at that moment in time). But every journey we have from that moment will be different and it is up to us how good (or not) a driver we will be.  The more we practice the more we will learn.  We may attend other courses.  Maybe we will get into the car each day thinking “I wonder what the journey will be like today”.  Or maybe we think that since we’ve passed our test, there is nothing more to learn.

Even though I have certificates and years of experience …and 2 published books for heavens sake 🙂 … I am still learning.

The problem with a certificate is that it can give some assurances but it only confirms that this person has taken the test or attended the course.  It doesn’t say anything about how authentic they are or how committed they are to their own meditation (and learning) practice.

When I started teaching kids meditation, other adults approached me about how to do this.  At first I said ‘I don’t know ‘.

After a meditative moment, I had the idea to write a book.   I produced a course to help me test the ideas I wanted to write about.  Regardless of ‘experience’ or ‘certification’ I just wanted people to try teaching their kids meditation because the sooner we did it, the better it would be for us all.

Then people started asking for a certificate.  

I agree with those who say that meditation isn’t a ‘brand’ or product and as soon as we package it up as such then we have lost the meaning of what meditation is about.

I assumed that people asked for a certificate so that they could ‘prove’ that they knew how to teach meditation.  Perhaps they wanted to charge for their services and make it a career.

I faced a dilemma.

I could imagine my own meditation teacher laughing at such a notion of courses and certificates in how to teach meditation.  Yet I wanted those I taught to be authentic, skilled and heart centered.  How could I do this and avoid compromising what meditation really is?

I could have said no.  

But I meditated on it and started to get ideas/inspiration of what and how I could teach this to others and provide a ‘certificate’.

There are at least 3 things that are important to me in what I teach.

  • That students learn how to write a meditation script but then let go of using them.
  • That they develop their own meditation practice to keep themselves balanced and grounded.
  • That they realise that each opportunity to teach meditation is their learning experience – always.

So why bother to teach them about meditation scripts if they don’t use them? Because they learn about the creative process within them that is always present – sometimes called the intuition.  Reading a script means that you are teaching meditation from your head, not your heart.  So to teach authentically… the script has got to go.

Having a personal practice is essential for teaching children meditation.  It helps students to feel calm when in a situation that feels overwhelming (eg if there is a strong response to the meditation – like tears or anger). Plus it means we aren’t hypocrites asking kids to meditate yet we ignore our own self care.

Having an open heart to the experience means that the  meditation teacher realises how much the child has to teach them – about the experience, about the teacher’s own thoughts/feelings and how to be compassionate to another’s suffering.

I was still nervous about giving out a certificate to people who would then claim to be a professional tutor.  How could I be authentic in my teaching and give them this?

I set about creating an authentic process where students on my course would have a thorough assessment to complete – lots of practise teaching kids, essays/tests and all the while encouraging them to work from their heartfelt intuition (not their head) and to trust the process.

Only then do we release a certificate that confirms that they can teach other people’s children how to meditate.

Are they cowboys?  I hope our thorough, heartfelt process proves they are committed, loving and passionate individuals who want to empower families and kids with skills that work.

No one is trying to fix anyone.  No one is trying to be a mindfulness cowboy.

Some of those who take level 2 never complete the assessment as they were already in the midst of creating a teaching children meditation programme and wanted some new skills/ideas.

I am not going to stop that creativity.  We are all finding our own way to help bring more peace and balance into this world.

I do everything I can to help students/tutors be authentic in their teaching practice.  We have a community (online) where ideas, inspiration and encouragement is given.

I along with thousands of others believe that meditation is an essential life skill that we should teach children and young people.  We also know we must practice daily to stay true to our heart and be aware of the ego/mind.

So what is a mindfulness cowboy? I’m off to meditate on this.  I suggest you do too.

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