The first time that I tried a silent meditation retreat, I lasted less than 24 hours before I snuck off to flirt with a guy who seemed irresistible at the time. We got in my car, drove down the street to a gas station, bought candy and soda and sang along to rock songs until we were buzzing with energy. Not exactly what the monk teacher had in mind for “settling the mind.”
The second time I tried a silent meditation retreat, I lasted about the same amount of time; but this time, I wasn’t flirting. I was arguing with a guy who didn’t like the way I was fidgeting during the sessions, and then I called my friends to complain about the stupid retreat and how much I wanted to leave. They told me to stay.
Enlightenment does not come easy to me.
You would think that after these episodes — and dozens of others — that I would have given up on meditation, but it’s quite the opposite. I’ve been on 16 meditation retreats and done multiple trainings. I’ve spent countless hours on the cushion. I’ve even taught meditation for 10 years. Yogi Bhajan says: “If you want to master something, teach it.” So that’s what I’ve done.
If you feel like meditation may be part of your professional path, then here are some things that you can do to prepare to become a teacher:
1. Find your practice
There are countless meditation styles and techniques, from the clinical-based programs like mindfulness-based stress reduction to the fringe practices like laughter meditation. Find the practice that most resonates with you and the teacher who can lead you on that path.
2. Find your guru
Choose someone who embodies the attributes that you respect — not just someone who is popular. Things to look for in a guru include experience, a positive attitude, accessibility, a love of teaching and the ability to hold you accountable. You want someone who is friendly but firm, compassionate yet uncompromising.
3. Find your tribe
Don’t go it alone. You need the support of a loving community. In Buddhism, we refer to this as “sangha.” These are your peeps. These are fellow teachers you trust who will be honest with you and support you. A great place to find your tribe is in a certification program, mediation center or professional membership association.
4. Find your why
Know your intention. Know why you’re interested in teaching and whom you want to reach. If you’re in it for the money, you’ve picked the wrong job! Just kidding — sort of. Seriously, be clear on your why; students want to hear about your experience, not your knowledge. Be prepared to share your story with them.
5. Find your place
Where you teach is almost as important as what you teach. Setting the mood for contemplation requires a comfortable space with a fitting ambiance, like candles or calming music. You can transform any ordinary room into sacred space with objects and decor that have special meaning for you.
Remember, before you get to the blissful high of a clean and carefree mind, you’ll spend hours on the cushion fantasizing about ice cream, hot guys, sleeping and any yummy thing you can think of. Sometimes, you’ll dwell on all the crappy things that happened to you that day, that week or for your entire life. You’ll try to force your mind to be focused and compliant — which is like herding cats — and you will fail and feel frustrated. You’ll fidget, itch, scratch, lose feeling in your legs, have pain in your hips and generally feel uncomfortable all over.
But I promise that it will get easier over time. All you can do is let it go. Come back to the breath. And trust the process.
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