What I Have Learnt from Teaching Meditation

Teaching meditation is very rewarding!  Warms the heart and pleases the soul.

Teaching meditation is very rewarding, and in my experience (read my  Meditation CV here) over the decades, I have mixed with some lovely people and almost always have had the pleasure of watching  them catch on, and seeing them report better relationships and an easier sense of life.  And they invariably say they will continue to meditate… I hope they do.

But there are some occasional experiences that are different from most.  These are the standouts!

I’ve learnt….

  • That I’m a bully for asking what time you plan to meditate

Goodness!  If you want to learn meditation,  it is in your best interests consider when you will meditate, and where you will meditate… otherwise the day will fly by in exactly the same way as it has done every other day before you ever thought about meditation.  If you want to establish a practice (Tips for Establishing Your Practice), you have to figure out how you will fit it into your day, and your week, and your life.

Most people find that helpful.  But one person… says I am a bully! And leaves the course.

  • That I won’t be able to teach you meditation (because you  are determined not to learn)

Imagine someone who introduced herself at the first session  by saying that each of those present would be able to meditate, but not her…she pointed her finger at each one and said, “You will be able to meditate, and you will, and you will,” around the room, “But I will not.” What a self-deprecating mind-set!

Curiously, as I remember, she did get it, at least for the duration of the program. One of the good things about learning in a group is that individuals, including those whose self-deprecation weirdly maintains a sense of specialness, learn how normal they are, after all.  In doing small normal practices, change can come about.

  • That I should lead visualisations of dolphins in the ocean…

Grrr!

Did the man who said that not hear what I said?  This was STILL-MIND meditation!!

I happily gave him his money back and we parted company.  I suspect he hasn’t learnt anything about how his mind works to this day.

  • That it was not what you were expecting, and so I am the one who knows nothing about meditation

Somewhat like the man who wanted pleasant guided fantasies.  If I didn’t give him that, I was the one who did not know anything about meditation.

But this attitude comes in many guises. Sometimes people have a rigid mind-set and are not able to look at their own processes.  Perhaps what they really want is some methods to get a better response from other people, and fundamentally it is a wish to manipulate.  Looking at how their mind works to project a view on to the world and others is a no-no. But stillness tends to make our own processes objective and visible, which may be uncomfortable. Meditation may have been mistaken for a way of glossing over all one’s attitudes… wrong!

  • That you see me through your lens rather than as I am, and then tell others that it IS how I am

This is another variant of the dolphin-man’s attitude, but it is very pervasive. And it goes in two directions.

To overstate a little, some think you are a saint, and present you as such all around the town, while some think you are just awful, and present you as such all around the town.

While I like to think the “sainted swami” is a compliment, I’d rather be seen simply as the human that I am.  On the converse, I am pretty sure that the “just awful swami” is not only a misrepresentation of who or how I am, but also that I am libelled in what is said about me. Nothing much I can do about it, either.

  • That people who don’t want to be there are hardest to teach

That’s not really surprising, is it?  And it is much better not to accept those who don’t want to learn, anyway.

Sometimes it happens, though. Those who don’t want to be there are  invariably pleasing someone else. They are quite pleasant but have predictable responses when I ask them how they went with their meditation. “Yes, did that. Yes, meditated every day. No, nothing, no difference. Waste of time, just did it because you said.”  Basically that’s how it goes. Occasionally there are some beautiful outcomes, though.

Beautiful surprises

  • Someone who is stitched up can have a big break-through

A person who came only at the insistence of a relative was very conservatively dressed, and even she said she was somewhat anxious. To me she seemed to be defensive, too,  and I assumed she probably also had a criticising attitude towards herself and others.  For most of the sessions, when I asked those present to describe their practice, from her I got the expected replies of “yes, did what you asked, no nothing, waste of time” … until one night…

It was an exercise in open eye meditation.  When we finished, I could see that she was just bursting to give her feedback.

We sat in a heated room around a table with a candle sitting on it. The fan from the heater blew the flame about.  She said that she was looking at the flame, and as she did so, the rest of us became shadows. Then, she said, she felt that she was the flame being blown about.  And then… she said she was up on the ceiling watching us all!!!

I discourage “wow, gee whizz” experiences.  I am only interested in helping people to recognise that thinking is not the whole of consciousness and that there is already a non-thinking awareness as well as the neuronal function of thinking. Nevertheless, this person had a full-blown mystical experience.  What do you suppose I said?

Heheh, what I said was, “That was a mystical experience.  But did you find stillness?”

I think that her mystical experience, so drastically different from anything she was expecting, may have been enough to pierce the shell of defensiveness and criticism that kept her tight and closed off from others.  But in the long run, I hope that she learnt to maintain a daily meditation practice without any phenomena,  and observe the processes of her mind, which are the source of whatever stress, anxiety and unhappiness any of us have.

  • The man who had no interest in meditation but found ten-minute breaks in a 3-minute exercise

Another one who didn’t want to be there was a very nice middle-aged man who had made a pact with his partner or wife. The deal was that every month they would take it in turns to do something the other wanted. This time it was her turn, and she chose to enrol them both in the Learn to Meditate.

He was very sweet, but had no interest in meditation, and no background remotely like philosophy or life-investigation of any sort, and the predictable replies came fast and thick – “Yes, did what you said, no, didn’t notice anything,  no difference, just normal” Then one day I gave them a 3-minute exercise in keeping their minds absolutely still.

Have you ever tried to do that? It’s surprisingly hard, and most people only manage a second or two before they are back into thinking.  So I was expecting the same response from him.  But no.  In his amiable, unfussed way, he surprised me by saying, “Hmmph … there were a couple of 10-minute breaks in that 3 minutes.”

Hahaha, he had slipped into profound stillness where time seems to stop. If he had slid out again into thinking, he slid back into the stillness. And on being called into normal thinking and talking, he was able to give that clear description of an experience that the others were only hoping for.

  • The girl who realised that there was thinking happening but found herself to be awareness of thinking rather than the thinker

And another that sticks in memory… a young woman who was cynical and sceptical, and she came only because her partner was coming.  Really, she may have had a hidden agenda to sabotage his practice or belittle the whole idea of meditation.

Anyway, as with the others, she was compliant and did all the tasks, including home practice, as requested.  And every time her report was, “No, nothing, did what you asked, no difference, a waste of time.” Until the week she virtually ran into the room, eager to give her feedback on her week’s practice.

She said, “I was practising, just as you said, set the alarm and didn’t get up until the bell rang… except I noticed that I was thinking.”

Well, I thought, nothing different there, then.  But she insisted,

“NO, I NOTICED that I was thinking. I mean it was like I was still, but I could see my mind thinking.  I was quiet and I was the quietness, and somehow thinking was just happening.  It was as though it was something incidental, and not what I am.”

Hmm…  OK.  She got it!! while her partner, who wanted it, never quite did.  His was to practise and practise, hers was to practise and experience.  Maybe it partly happened because she did not try to get it.

You can’t make stillness happen

And that’s a thing about stillness of mind.  The part of us that thinks… cannot make it happen. Practice can only prepare the ground.  But wanting it somehow chases it away, even though that part of being human, that awareness, or non-cognitive consciousness, is always there.

And after all is said and done

So the old Zen saying comes into its own: Meditation is practice and practice is meditation. And, actually, even if you never did experience the sublime state, such practice will make a big difference to your sense of self, to your life and relationships – in fact, it makes a difference to how you do “being yourself.” Easier. More comfortable with the ups and downs of life. More tolerant. And perhaps, kinder, more loving.

Good!

 

 

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About Mataji

I am the spiritual director of the Australian College of Classical Yoga. We teach reality based spirituality.
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