The Mindspace Podcast #17: Mindfulness and Buddhism with Susan Woods

welcome to the Mindspace podcast I am
Joe Flanders thanks for tuning in the mind space podcast is my personal
exploration of the science and practice of well being we now know that
well-being is actually a skill and I want to inspire as many people as
possible to become more skillful join me as I discover the most impactful
insights about human flourishing from leading experts my guest today is Susan
woods Susan is a senior mindfulness teacher and teacher trainer she’s been
training health professionals since 2005 and developed the professional
certification programs at the mindfulness based professional training
institute at UC san diego and the center for mindfulness studies in Toronto Susan
and I spoke in depth about contemporary mindfulness and its relationship with
Buddhism we explored the ways in which mindfulness based programs align with
and sometimes diverged from traditional Buddhist teachings we covered the place
for ethics and values in mindfulness based programs the role of the teacher
and their own meditation practice and the state of the art of training
mindfulness teachers it’s really hard to find someone better place to comment on
the origins and evolution of contemporary mindfulness susan has been
particularly innovative and impactful in the area of inquiry and she just
published a book on the topic with her co-authors Pat Rahman and Evan Collins
the book is called mindfulness based cognitive therapy embodied presence and
inquiry in practice Susan Pat and Evan will be in Toronto
for a book launch on June 18th should be an exciting event and I’m also excited
to share that Susan and Pat will be at mine space in Montreal in October for a
two-day training on inquiry links to both of those events will be available
in the show notes for this episode if you’re interested in Susan’s MBSR or
NBCT facilitation certificate mindspace is pleased to offer them in
collaboration with the Center for mindfulness studies for more information
please check the professional development tab at mine space well-being
com and if you’re interested in following a
mindfulness based stress reduction mindfulness based cognitive therapy or
mindful self-compassion program for yourself please visit the mindfulness
training tab at mine space well-being calm Susan Wood’s welcome to the podcast
thanks to it so I really like to be here okay
maybe you can start us off by telling us what you do where you come from okay
all right so what do I do um well currently I am involved in training
future teachers in mindfulness based stress reduction as well as mindfulness
based cognitive therapy supervisor mentor senior faculty at the center for
mindfulness studies and have had the joy and the challenge as well in being a
part of developing the professional training program at UC San Diego at the
mindfulness based professional training institute so the training the
professional training in MBSR and and NBCT and have also been asked to consult
on various other projects to do with developing the field of mindfulness and
have also had the opportunity to be involved the consultant on various
research projects um more more sort of recently I’ve had the delight of writing
a book about NBCT for teachers who are interested in developing their skills
and I wrote that book with Pat Robin who is the clinical director as well as the
director of professional training at the Center for mindfulness studies in
Toronto and then also with Evan Collins who is a psychiatrist she was also
involved in offering trainings through the center
for mindfulness studies so um it’s been pretty busy let’s put it that way yeah
yeah um I like to hear a little bit about how you got into this role or
these various roles I think you have a an interesting background so I know that
you are a social worker but you’ve done a bunch of other stuff can you tell us
about that yeah sure so when I came to the States in 1983 the original
agreement that I had with my wonderful partner my husband
was that we would be here for three years and he would return to the UK and
well it’s now 2019 so that didn’t happen and really that was the I suppose the
engine that placed me in a mmm a different frame of reference you know I
was now going to be here in the US for a longer period of time I was a qualified
physiotherapist UK trained had been working as a physiotherapist in England
in various hospitals and in various practices and it had all my
qualifications my UK qualifications transcribed into the American system and
all I needed to do was just to sit the licensing that was required to for me to
you know to offer my my professional ability here in the US but I also had an
opportunity to have an introduction to two MDS and they basically dissuaded me
from working as it would be a physical therapist here in in the US because
there were some pretty big differences at that time between the
two trainings and basically as a UK physiotherapist I had more autonomy than
pts had at that time so that made me realize that you know I could perhaps
look you know in have a wider frame of reference and I’d always been interested
in the mind-body connection as a physiotherapist I was often seeing an
emotional component to physical disease and physical injuries and became very
interested in in in that association so I applied to a ph.d program at New York
University in school psychology and I was lucky enough to be accepted and did
a year there I realized that the fit really wasn’t such a great fit for me
and so I moved up to Columbia University again in New York City and did their
two-year clinical master’s program in social work which was fantastic and very
much more reflective of my interest and understanding about us as social beings
in context in our environments as well as of course our personalities how we
make meaning in life what contributes to that experience what contributes to
mental health issues and graduated from there then went on to do actually an
advanced clinical training bakit at NYU for clinical social workers and really
enjoyed that and at the time I already had a yoga
practice I started that in the in the UK and had found that incredibly beneficial
for me personally and as I started to work as a clinical social worker I began
to hear about the work of you know John kabat-zinn and the center for
mindfulness at UMass and was lucky enough to be a participant in I think it
was the second training that they offered it was an internship at that
point they really hadn’t developed a training pathway and you know that sort
of was really a sin the sister both the yoga practice that led me into a
meditation practice in the tradition of the Kasana and I was suddenly seeing
that there was now this ability along with my clinical work to synthesize
something that was deeply meaningful for me which was these this combination of
both yoga practice meditation and movement meditation in action and then
the purpose ahna and so you know that sort of opened some some doors for me at
my local hospital I was able to teach the MBSR program and basically joke you
know things happened as a result of doing that I mean I I continue to have a
very busy clinical practice but I was now also offering the mindfulness based
stress reduction program seeing this wonderful benefit that people seem to to
be experiencing as a result of taking the program I was real nervous so it was
you know me learning as I was teaching there was no supervision at that time
there was no mentorship my participant seemed to do okay and I was learning a
ton from really having the ability to work with
them as they were developing in the practices that I was offering through
the MBSR program and I was you know it was contributing to my own practice so
it was really reciprocal which was truly wonderful so that that’s really what
happened and as a result of that I then got asked to work with gentle seagull
who is one of the cofounders of the mindfulness based cognitive therapy
program I was the therapist to lead two of the first cohorts through a clinical
study that he was doing in Toronto and then he and I started to teach together
so we started teaching together in 2005 I guess and then that led to me becoming
much more involved in you know how do you train future teachers what is the
structure look like what are the components how do we bring this this
aspect of both personal practice because we are asking those teachers who want to
teach a mindfulness based program that actually the one of the probably the
major engines around being able to deliver a mindfulness based program is
to have a practice of your own whatever that looks like that there are some
parameters that we can we can suggest and support in terms of developing that
and then also having a structure a protocol or a curriculum that gives a
basis for new teachers to to have a a map or it’s not really a well and that
we have actually they kept by the map because it’s two by two dimensional and
I always think of maps as a way to start but then as you go into the territory
you’re you know you’re finding your way into the material and so yeah I mean
that and then you know other things happen right so I can’t tell you Joe
that I I had a sense of how this was all going to to be I just I don’t know I I
was I don’t know I was lucky I was interested I find I was learning as I
was being asked to do all these different projects and different
trainings and again this is the same reciprocity it’s not a one-way you know
practice is not a one-way thing is this inner awakening this inner awareness and
then the context in which you’re delivering and so then you’ll being
acted upon by the context and the people and it it it’s very sustaining and
life-giving right your experience being an early trainee CFM is very interesting
and I like I have the impression that that you know positions you in in a in a
particular way meaning you’ve been studying this for a long time you were
very close to the founders or let’s say the founder and the intentions that went
into developing the curriculum and then delivering it to the public and if I
understand I mean you had a yoga practice and you’re particularly
interested in to use your word the sort of synthesis between these different
ways of being these different kinds of experiences different approaches to
understanding the mind etc so I’m just curious how you think about
this convergence like you have clinical training and fairly traditional Western
scientific way but you also have a Dharma background yeah how do you think
about mindfulness based programs and this intersection so the intersection
between you know the more traditional form of meditation practice and then how
that has come into our you know our Western world and particularly the
fusion with Western psychology stuff what just to Barsky yes yeah exactly
goodness a nice easy one to warm you up yeah well you know that’s I mean that is
a it’s a it’s a question that the the the more traditional form of meditation
so you know that the Dharma teachers are asking of those of us who are offering
micro space programs and indeed those of us who are offering more space programs
you know what what is it that we we teaching what if and and how how can we
maintain the sort of the ethics of what we’re what we’re teaching you know yeah
definitely on the right track in terms of what I’m curious about
yeah so it’s a this is a big question and I think if what were what we’re
saying is if we can hold it in a in a bigger frame which is that whether those
traditions are offering a specific awareness or specific form of awareness
I mean there’s awareness and then there’s thinking and there’s emotion and
there’s body sensations that there’s this this mindfulness is point
to awakening or becoming aware and becoming and aware in a way that is
asking us to spend time in the present moment as best we can so I don’t think
there’s any difference in in the ethos for both of those traditions were both
we’re both really what we’re asking people to engage in their lives from a
an understanding of an interior ‘ti so how how that appears when we practice in
a in a specific way and how often we are governed by a stream of thinking which
often leads to emotional context which can then play out in the body and
behaviors and then the context in which those get operationalized if you like
and there’s the formal practice in the tradition of Buddhism and then there’s
an aspect of that that we can really offer those participants who come to
MBSR programs and those patients who come to NBC tea programs we’re giving
them a taste of what we all have inside of us it’s not something that we have to
you know build it’s already there and the practices of mindfulness just open
those doors and make them more available and I think that that contributes to the
well-being of a participant or a patient but it also then contributes to the
well-being of the world in which we live in because it asks us to be thoughtful
about how we treat ourselves which is self-care
and then how we contribute to the way that we hold our relationships and that
of course would be to family to our friends to our colleagues and then to
our neighbors and to the world itself it doesn’t stop with us and that those
principles are the principles of the tradition on which mes our NBCT is built
Buddhism though those are inherent precepts if you like from from the
traditional Buddhism but they are very much a part of the skill that a teacher
offers to a person who comes into an MBSR on NBC tea training eight-week
training so thank you for that I think that was a lovely framing of it what’s
interesting though is that you know someone who gets referred let’s say to
my center let’s say gets a referral from their physician or or a sort of a
word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend okay very stressed something’s
going on yeah their life and they want to do a
mindfulness based stress reduction program and here you are talking about
learning a practice that helps them take care of themselves which makes sense but
you’re then introducing how they relate to other aspects of their lives and it
starts to feel a lot broader and it starts to sound a lot more Buddhist and
even a fickle I don’t know if we can use that word but certainly potentially and so somehow it becomes more than a
clinical intervention it becomes an introduction to the Dharma in a way but
it’s all implicit and I you know I do think that you know there’s this the
critique of the mindfulness movement as kind of stealth Buddhism um so so is
this a Dharma training or is it a health program or are we is there some kind of
like bait and switch happening with our participants when we introduce this kind
of awareness training well I don’t I this this is where I would see the
Dharma as a big mystery big it’s a big mystery how it unfolds it for me the the
Dharma is about a lot of things but not least the alleviation of suffering in
all its forms can you for the people that aren’t very clear on what the word
Dharma means before we talk about how mysterious it is the last degree simply
you know the Dhamma is is a is a way of conducting oneself in the world I mean
simply put and in that way it would be no different from other religious
traditions it is if it asks us to be thoughtful about how we understand
suffering and in Buddhism it makes some explicit suggestions that there’s a way
that we can understand it and alleviate it and there’s a path we can invite
ourselves to to play a part and for us to thoughtfully engage in and
yeah you’re talking about the Dharma as the teachings of the Buddha or though
the wisdom in Buddhism is that fair that that would be that would be correct yes
now when you come to look at MBSR I would you know question this idea that
um there’s something in implicit about what what we teach you because I think
if if what we’re saying is that in the case of MBSR somebody is stressed or
they’re anxious or yeah they they they’re recognizing something about
their lives that that is troubling and and concerning for them and challenging
and they they self refer or they get a referral from their physician to come
into the MBSR program they first of all want to have a path that helps them
understand how to work with stress the way they perceive it and the way they
relate to it and eventually to have through that understanding to mitigate
some of their symptoms if not all of them and have a path to prevent it the
whatever form of suffering they’re experiencing take such a hold in their
lives that produces these symptoms of discomfort anxiety sadness anger
whatever it is and I think that both MBSR and more specifically NBCT but MBSR
really addresses that and i wouldn’t I wouldn’t call it the Dharma because it’s
not the Dharma as in Buddhism but it’s it’s saying here are some ways that
we can offer you through these practices to develop a different relationship to
suffering which is actually one of the ways that make suffering a lot worse
we’re not going to escape the vicissitudes of life there is going to
be stress in our lives that’s part of being a human being and through
developing awareness so I would you know substitute the Dharma and say awareness
through developing awareness we can offer ourselves a way to understand how
much of suffering we what’s the word just give it a little bit of so I’m
going to back out of just what I said and go back to that the MBSR program has
this way of of unpacking suffering which is very much part of the Dharma but it
doesn’t need to be cool the Dharma so I think sometimes the discussion gets uhm
can get a little bit bogged down in the semantics of the word you know that I
see the Dharma as the foundation for a lot of my understanding but actually
what has you know my I still practice Jo is every time I sit on the cushion or
every time I have a moment where you know I I go oh I’m getting nothing
attached to this or I’m getting some activation that’s practice and is this
practice of understanding how I can contribute to making things worse or I
can alleviate the situation or I can bring some stone walls or equanimity to
a situation and so not contribute to NES and I think it’s that that we one of the
things we offer through teaching and BSL so I I don’t worry so much about is it
the Dharma is it Dharma light I look at this as the sort of a concept I have
which is they’re suffering in the world and you know I mean I was a
physiotherapist for ten years then for something like 22 or 23 years I had an
active clinical practice in which I was teaching MBSR and NBCT so I’ve seen the
physical components of of disease have seen the mental components of disease
and I’ve seen how people want to have a tool and MBSR is one of the tools and
receipt here’s another to find a way for their own wisdom and their own
understanding to develop so that then they have some relief some freedom from
what contributes to an initial condition so whether that’s you know the loss of
over dr1 whether it’s a loss of the job it can be stressful to have a you know a
baby born you know you’re your first child or your second child I mean there
are so many aspects of life that can really challenge us but at its deepest I
think the MBSR really allows people to trust their own wisdom and understanding
in terms of how they relate to what in Buddhist term is the first arrow and
then that second arrow is that you know what we then bring to this situation so
I think it’s beautiful from from that perspective and I I don’t worry about
whether it’s the Dharma or not what I do worry about
is I want my future teachers to have a practice because that embodiment of
wherever they are in their practice is a contributing factor in terms of the
transmission of how we can hold moments of difficulty and challenge to the
practice does that mean does it hold on for a long time it does that out does
that answer it a little bit I think it does I what’s interesting though that
the last very less than you said is that it’s important that the teachers you
train have a practice and I’m on board with the suggestion that MBSR and it’s
kind of derivative programs are have become a lineage or or an approach in
and of themselves they may have you know the Dharma has their inspiration or the
Dhamma recontextualized but it’s a toolbox that in a way stands on its own
but you want the teachers that you’re training to have a Dharma practice so
the Dharma is in there amazed it’s just that the Dharma is a nice way or
provides the framework or the context or the training for the teachers to move
into an MBSR context and teach effectively I think so I mean I think
and again the practice meditation practice as as it is offered to us
through Buddhist teachings is it’s the practice of non doing and those so if we
think about non doing I mean that’s different from it’s not the same as not
doing nothing and I think you know that’s a whole different conversation
but is this idea yeah that when when when we practiced so
the teachers is practicing non doing they’re going to and I don’t know what
kind of form that practice will take because it’ll change as their as their
home situations change as their work situations change I mean I think about
my practice when I had very very young children and my practice now I have more
time to practice now because my children are grown when they were younger my
practice whereas parenting I couldn’t go on retreats and you know trying to get a
I remember 40 minutes sitting practice let alone a 15 minute yoga practice with
not be objective and working for panda that doesn’t that doesn’t correlate so
easily so practice will change but this aspect
that I think it it’s so important for an MBSR NBCT teacher to know about is
what’s going on in their own minds because if they don’t know what happens
when you sit down and you still the body and then all this thinking comes up and
all this some emotions that are often attached to it and then there could be
some body sensations if they don’t if they have a behind that experience so
they haven’t had that experience they’re not going to know how to deal with the
various mind states that participants are going to talk about in the NBS our
program as a result of doing the practices okay so it doesn’t necessarily
matter whether they have a Dharma practice but they need they need to have
a very well developed sense of like awareness of their own reactivity like
all the sort of skills that an MBSR teacher needs in general they need to
have it for themselves indeed indeed yeah yeah okay so so if there was maybe
it’s just a question of the stage of evolution of teacher training like there
was a way to train teachers without talking with the Dharma at all just like
a mindfulness-based teacher training no it’d all be contained within that
curriculum is that fair yeah okay okay that’s interesting yeah I mean I think I
think that’s already happening Joe so there are now a number of senior MBSR
trainers and NBCT trainers who are offering standalone mindfulness retreats
for MBSR and mbc tea and other mindfulness based program teachers to
come on retreat so already that’s sitting outside the tradition that we’ve
had for a very long time which is to send teachers to specific retreat
centers within the Buddhist traditional that within the traditional form of
Buddhism right it’s it’s very interesting I just saw and I’m actually
planning to register I saw retreat at Insight Meditation
Society and it’s an insight retreat like a Vipassana retreat but for mindfulness
based program facilitators yep yeah they’ve been doing they’d be running
that from while I remember the first one they did but I actually went on that one
and IMS some some time ago yeah and it’s nice that they’re so there’s there’s a
nice meeting if you like of the traditional form meeting the
contemporary form I don’t like to call it secular so it’s a contemporary forum
of this time in this place and the two are now having a discussion right yeah
so the fact remains though that most mindfulness teachers that are
well-trained developed their own practice in a Buddhist context most of
them do I mean there are some other context Christian contemplative
traditions but yes but I would agree with yeah yeah most most uh going on
Buddhist retreats mmm-hmm now the the the other interesting kind
of question there is that for many people myself included actually I’m not
sure that applies to me for many people my own space program becomes a kind of
gateway into the Dharma so yeah many people do an MBSR let’s say and then
want to go deeper want to go further want to understand more about what this
practice is all about and then again maybe if there was more mindfulness
based programming available they might just follow that track them
end up in a more spiritual or more religious if I can use the word context
and in many cases if I can move us in this direction these traditional
contexts are much more explicit about ethics engagement with the world developing certain types of should we
say values compassion this sort of thing and so it so what’s my question here I guess it’s difficult to sort of define
the boundaries of MBSR or a my poems based program because it very quickly
bleeds over into more traditional Buddhist teachings is
that is that fair how would you define the boundary I think perhaps I wouldn’t
even think there is a boundary that’s needed so I’m just sort of I’m just
reflecting on the word boundary Joe if some in the MBA so if we just take the
MBSR program there are moments within that that eight-week trajectory where
there is discussion about how we can come to know perceive and understand in
particular there’s a moment where we talk about we turn towards difficult
communications and we all know that difficult communications or
communications conversations that we have because we have so many of them
during the passage of a day are often often difficult in a variety of
different writing different ways there are expectations and challenges and we
often have an agenda for these conversations you know typically we
might be listening to somebody but was affirming the next question or what or
what we’re going to say and you know in MBSR we we we talk about those
conversations and how we can come to understand the you know the part that is
played by two people coming together in a moment of time and wanting often
different things and how that can contribute to the relationship becoming
stuck and by often a conversation that’s happened
several weeks ago maybe several years ago and how painful that can be
when that happens because there is no fluidity there’s no adaptability which
is very much a part of the practice points to that we’re all in process and
although we may have said things and done things that we later regret there
is this opportunity with those people to have a conversation that is not being
governed by the past and doesn’t produce the same kind of reactivity and
therefore the inability to have a different relationship with that person
and I’m not talking now about you know relationships that have that have that
have been abusive in any way I’m just talking about the you know the the
moments when somebody asks us to do something we don’t want to do it or you
know we ask somebody else to do something and they don’t want to do it
or somebody said something to us that caused us concern and worry and moments
of anxiety so you know I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill conversations that
we have that are often quite triggering but we don’t really pay attention to
them so in that when we turn when that we can’t or we’re turning towards these
understanding house how much conversations can add to stress we are
then asking how we can reframe that and and how we might be framer and that
really becomes the synthesis of the Western psychological understanding of
mind and the practice of more mindfulness
and we bring into that conversation into that equation alright so in those
moments from the weeks that we’ve spent together learning about this practice
what can we bring to ourselves not to the other person because we can’t change
the other person that we can do something about our own state of mind
our own state of emotion what can we bring what would the practice of
mindfulness bring to those moments that we can offer to ourselves and what I see
in the participants that come to my programs is they they they intrinsically
know what’s going to be helpful some people will say I’m just going to tune
into my body and just really be with those sensations and that buys me time
before I then say or do something that I will later regret other people will
identify there’s an emotional context that they can tune into and again it it
buys them time to maybe act in a different way and other people will tune
in to the the the torrent of thinking and from the practice will say oh here
it is again you know I’m preconditioning this whole situation because of what
happened a week ago or dare go on so I think there is a very explicit teaching
there that in those words in those specific moments we really are asking
ourselves how can we not contribute to the ongoing situation of difficulty or
challenge with this particular particular person or in this particular
context and I think in that way it really does mirror the movement
towards a outward manifestation of the practice and then later on in week 7 we
return towards how we relate to not just other people in our lives
but the world so we talked about the diet though that we take in and for me
right now this is where I tend to focus is technology because we we’re all
familiar with technology it has a wonderful contribution that it is made
to our atoms it is also very addictive and it’s not that we’re going to stop
using technology it’s not going to happen but we can have a relationship to
it and what is that relationship is that relation are we being governed by
checking in to our social media platforms how often are we doing it what
about texts you know we all get these notifications these little signals these
sounds that come in to our smart phones that tell us that somebody is wanting
something from us but it’s an email and the text something that’s coming from a
social media platform is that governing our lives is that how we want to lead
our lives and and so we have a discussion about that and when you know
I facilitate this and you did in the training programs we then have to have a
behavior that follows because we can have the best insight and understanding
but if that isn’t behaviorally operationalized then it’s not gonna it’s
not gonna stick so I will get you know my participants to to think about okay
well so what will I choose um to shift or change and what will that look like
behaviorally and again you know the folks in the in the program they come up
with really wonderful examples and these are like I’m never going to
for my cell phone ever again but it’s you know simple things like I’ll open my
cell phone and take a look at what’s come in when I get to my desk or whether
that’s a home office or an office that’s outside the home or it’s a parent who’s
taking the kids to work to school rather and you know they’re not going to open
their cell phone until the kids are at school whereas before they were opening
their cell phone o’clock in the morning and checking in and this these messages
that come in sadly are often not uplifting or mood
elevators but they are quite negative because it’s people wanting us to engage
with them so this is not our time it’s somebody else’s time and so when people
begin to see this you can then begin to get them to think about their
relationship to it and then this is very much in keeping with what the practice
asks us to do which is that we have choice and that choice is a form of
self-care so I do I do think that there are some very explicit ways in the MBSR
program where we are asking people to to really think about not just how
certainly not how they relate to themselves because that doesn’t go far
enough but we move towards the relationship that we have with family
and friends and colleagues and then further afield now to technology and
then what about to work um many of us can’t change our work conditions so how
do how do how do we relate to what are there some things that we can bring
through the practice that can offer us a shift in our perception that’s enough to
change things a little or a lot so I think this is pretty clear you know
certainly for mindfulness teachers and people that have gone through these
programs there’s a very light touch around let’s say values again so the the
of course the the primary practice is about awareness coming into contact with
some of the difficulties or the the difficult feelings that arise when we’re
confronting a problematic habit let’s say and then we’re moving towards this
building a capacity for a choice yes and then as you say it’s a very open its
Invitational inviting people to reflect on what is important to them and what is
the next step for them given their own sense of what is important and there is
a light touch around in these in these later sessions around self care right so
I find this a very interesting edge or line to walk as a mindfulness teacher of
course there’s the sense that the Invitational approach is a teacher the
autonomy supportive approaches that as the teacher is going to facilitate the
person working it out for themselves and that learning tends to stick better than
just hearing a lecture but but one of the things that that has happened I mean
literally dozens of times over the years as I’ve been teaching is that people
feel that aspect of like okay now I have a choice but what do I do now is kind of
lacking it sort of feels underdeveloped for people and people are hungry for
more direction and this puts the minds teacher in a particular position which
is to say well do I make recommendations for what they
should do next for what is important for them do i facilitate a conversation
about what’s important to them in general or what’s important what what
are some helpful guiding principles for behavior and so why wouldn’t we be more
explicit about like the way the Dharma is explicit about what we ought to be
doing to cultivate well-being in ourselves and in the world and I’ll just
give you a very brief example there’s some really cool research by this guy
Tim Kassar you may have heard of him he’s at Knox College in Illinois and
he’s published a bunch of stuff about well-being being better attained in in
the pursuit of self transcendent values more so than in self-enhancing values so
the self-enhancing values tend to lead people to consumer behavior and self-transcending value sent to lead
people towards generosity and compassion etc so we know this we know that certain
choices are going to make people feel well no and so why such a light touch
why can’t we mobilize the facts that we that we know that the Buddha knew 2600
years ago why do we have to be so careful about all this I don’t know that
we are careful I mean I think and I think we need to be careful so I think
there are two things there’s a tension here that that were holding and I think
a piece of that is very much in the hands of the teacher and how how the
teacher is holding the practice so what do I mean by that it is an act of
generosity and deep compassion to sit down and turn towards yourself
I have no worries about sharing those phrases with my participants because I
know that implicitly from my own practice so I think the like the the
skill comes when when it’s helpful to make those kinds of statements because
one has had that experience over and over again and you’ve tested it out it’s
not like you have it once or twice you see how the act of turning towards
oneself and really having it you know a deep understanding of what the mind can
actually how the mind can contribute to suffering and that as we become aware of
that and as the mind starts to you know cotton down and stillness you have this
you know sweetie the brahma vihara so you have this real sense that the human
the the nature of a human being is this deep sense of generosity and
compassionate right there and it just Wells up through through the practice so
I think that you you know when you can certainly say that but you you have to
to to to have have seen how that not only is a component or an ingredient or
a a you know the the richness of a formal sitting practice but also in your
life because because the sitting practice in and of itself is wonderful
and helpful but the practical real practice is life which is where I think
you and I would agree this this this is it how that how the practice really asks
am you for this deep engagement in the life that you’ve been given the
is really the richness the loam if you like of what we’re all talking about so
I I don’t know but I don’t think we need to you know have a have a program that
is specifically here to Ward’s supporting and strengthening you know
generosity and compassion I mean there is the self compassion program that’s
already you know really doing that in terms of specific skills around self
compassion so I think there’s that and we could certainly point our
participants to taking that program if that was something that they were
interested about so I don’t think every SL has to do everything I also think
that once once once we begin know once our participants a teacher is in the arc
if you like of the eight-week program and a skilled teacher is with an
individual and with the process going to be able to highlight these what what
what you’ve called these transcendent qualities but the transcendent bit we
have to be careful I mean yoga philosophy has this transcendent quality
you know the sort of loss of self if you like and Buddhism has a slight slightly
different take I think the best way I can describe this is to borrow a phrase
from jack Kornfield after the ecstasy the laundry which is
the title of his book which I love because yeah it they the the the
discussion that one can have with one participants um is is not to empower
one’s home values a teachers values you wanna be
very careful did people come from different cultures so they they bring a
different understanding to and different traditions they come from different
cultures different religions they have it so so it’s a rich make sure I don’t
know we want to you know impart specific values that’s not what I’d be interested
in but I am really interested in conveying the possibility through
practice that we have this inherent capacity we want to act in ways that
don’t contribute to our suffering or to others I mean it’s a human quality and
part of that is generosity part of that is compassion part of that is loving
kindness far that is equanimity and we mess up I mean that’s the other thing so
then we talk about values I don’t want people to go on as sort of
self-improvement course at all I wish for them the very best in terms of
whatever I am able to impart by using this vehicle that we happen to call them
be yourself okay that’s um that’s really helpful
does that help no really it is I mean well you’re
talking about there are very explicit values in the mindfulness based programs
yes you might say that it’s kind of particularly explicit in mindful
self-compassion yeah I think there’s also a lot of explicit explicitness in
mindfulness based cognitive therapy because it’s a much more focused program
yeah and I guess what one of the things I’m taking away is that in many ways
navigating this issue of transmitting values or not or whatever it comes down
to the practice of the teacher yeah and their intentions and how they see their
role and it that is something I wanted to ask you about because I wanted to get
back to your book I think is a really interesting new
development in the field but first let me just ask you how how do you see the
role of the teacher and how do you train that I mean all the things we’ve talked
about really highlight how complex a job it is and I know it’s a very broad
question so you know feel free to share whatever comes to mind most readily oh well yeah so how do you Tripp how do you
yeah I mean how do you go about training a teacher who’s got this thing you know
who we call MBSR or mdc-t and of course we have to I mean you know
there’s this we we want to be able to have a teacher who at the very best is
is not going to do any harm so sure who knows the scope of their practice so you
know professional ethics and boundaries and if they don’t have a designated
profession that has provides oversight then they really need to know who they
can teach to you know so I think those would be the the really basic ones um so
how do we how do we you know how do you train a teacher and how long does it
take I mean these are questions that I have wrestled with for many years now
Joe and I so don’t really know the answer um we can we can what do we know
we know that so here’s what we do know we know that we can we can train to a
protocol structure or curriculum so if if an eight week program has a structure
that’s really helpful because that’s a really good beginning place for teachers
to kind of you know put put their hat on a hook if you like or big they can see
okay so you know I start with the practice that I’m going to have a
discussion I know what kind of practice I need to
teach that I’m going to introduce some kind of didactic exercise that
highlights the theme for that particular week I’m going to have a discussion
about that and I’m going to set the home assignments and you know if it’s a week
where the home assignments have already been said I’m going to talk about that
so that’s really helpful and it alleviates confusion and anxiety for a
new teacher on you trait a new teacher who’s training so that’s that’s great so
we can we can really rely on that and the other thing of course is it provides
consumer safety if we have a curriculum or a protocol because the consumer knows
what they’re going to get to some extent but they know that it there’s going to
be a forum and if there’s a forum we know it can be replicated and then we
can start to measure patient outcomes so all of that is really good not only that
but we have inter teacher reliability so we can help each other because we’ve got
a form that we can discuss and take a deep dive into so that’s what we do in
the foundational trainings one of the things we’re doing the foundational
training we take a deep dive into the curriculum we go through the curriculum
in detail and we take a deep dive into you know how how to do this so they have
that experience as a participant and then we turn the tables and we get them
to actually teach each other in dyads or in small groups with the watchful eye
of two or three senior teachers who are facilitating the training and they then
get to see that what looks quite easy is actually not that easy so they begin to
see the demand that is part of being or becoming an NPS are on NBCT teacher and
I always say in these trainings so it’s not going to faint-hearted
why because I actually unlike the usual way that we get trained which is we you
know we taken through a specific protocol and we
talked about it in great detail and then we go off and you know actually do it
what we’re really suggesting to our trainees is that actually it’s through
the experience of being taken through an eight-week program and then turning that
into okay no you’re going to be teaching this so what’s what’s what’s that going
for and that would be different for different people at different kinds so
that I think is relatively easy and then the next easy bit which is to
provide some kind of supervision and mentorship while somebody is is teaching
I think it’s is really a incredibly useful and a very good way to train
people because you can help them and about what not to do because you know
that that’s not helpful and you can support what’s already a strength in
that individual and then focus on some areas that need to you know some support
and and further understanding so I think that’s relatively easy the the piece
that isn’t so easy is the developmental check trajectory of a person’s
mindfulness meditation practice and that’s an unknown I’ve had very
experienced meditators come into a BS RN NBCT training and find it very difficult
an equally I’ve had folks who have very limited exposure to practice just just
be Naturals so you know what’s that about so I think you know that that’s
that’s part of it I also think that and I mentioned this when we first started
talking that when when I first started I I
learned through delivering the program and then seeing how my participants were
responding to it and there’s something about the reciprocity of this kind of
teaching which is very exponential in nature rather than intellectual or that
rational or didactic that informs the process of developing the skill of the
teacher so one of the things that we think about when we develop something
and I developed a training pathway is having a teacher teach enough of these
eight new programs to have have a sense of that to have the essence of it to
savor that so that when they sort of come to the end of a training pathway
and they meet up with the supervisor and the mentor again for some final
mentoring they would have had that experience and they can bring that to
those you know final final sessions so I think it’s an open-ended question to be
honest with you about you know how what actually contributes to training a
teacher mindfulness based teacher um what I have seen over the years is that
over a two-year two and a half year period of an intense training trajectory
that I feel I can feel very very comfortable if I’m working with that
particular person and I’ve now worked with literally I don’t know hundred
certainly I’ve thousands I’ve trained but you know hundreds in terms of having
the the delight you know and the responsibility of mentoring and
supervising teachers all over the world that at the end of a period of time
where they’ve had a foundational training and advanced training and the
at supervision and mentorship and they have talked a number of eight week
program they’ve gone on retreat that I am comfortable saying that this person
has developed competency and best practice and is is therefore qualified
now to you know teach on their own which they’ve been doing to a certain extent
but but I also then talk to them about professional development which is you
know something that again I don’t think the field has really deliberated enough
on which is it doesn’t end just because you’ve got a certificate or a master’s
degree it doesn’t end there because again the principal the the ethics of
mindfulness is that this is an ongoing process and you are not darling as a
teacher not done as a person and never done we’re done were my dad basically
okay but um so professional development how are you going to sustain your
competence do you have peers that you can meet with
regularly you certainly must continue to attend silent meditation retreat
experience have that you know attending conferences so you can keep up with the
latest shifts and movement in the field touching base with a mentor or
supervisor from time to time it’s really really helpful don’t teach in isolation
because that just it can meet all sorts of things yeah but but I mean one of the
things it leads to often this is drift so you sort of move further and further
away from the curriculum all not so much the curriculum joget is the intention
the rationale the themes that are embedded you know that are inherent in
in the modularity of teaching Reed’s eight-week programs so yeah I mean I
don’t know that it’s a lot isn’t it I mean III when I
hear myself saying is I feel you know golly it’s um it this is a huge
responsibility to to train future teachers I mean I’ve always felt this
and I’ve always felt a bit I suppose concerned about it that that you know I
I found myself and up in a position to you know to think about this and to
offer this and so you know I as a trainer I’m still in process – mm-hmm
well it’s um it’s helpful to hear the broad strokes and sort of the framework
you’re using and I suppose it it’s appropriate that you would think of
yourself and the process of teacher development as impermanent and in flux
like everything else that we do yeah I mean it I think what we you know just
disagree I think so just a little sort of tangental thinking here but as you
were talking Joe I was thinking about the process of writing the NBC T book
that I wrote with you know Pat Rahman and eleven Collins and you know our sub
R sub heading on that book is embodied presence and inquiry and practice and
originally we were trying to find a title which was the teaching NBC T has a
practice because that was really our sort of real premise it was the ethos of
what brought us together and so it you know in the book we’ve tried to address
some of the things that you know you and I had a chance to talk about in this
very brief period of time so giving people a like a framework for teaching
so how do you set the stage you know what are those components and then skill
building how do you gain confidence what what are the things that you can bring
to your development as a teacher we have seen over the years in
facilitating MBSR NBCT but also in training teachers that seems to have
been useful some recent are offering that and then then we got to what we
what we really wanted to talk about which was teaching as a practice the
inner landscape which is really the heart of teaching you know so how can we
you know how can we describe that and and so we developed that in a number of
chapters in terms of really expressing and fostering what we would call this
embodied mindful presence the inquiry this is the discussions that we have
after every practice with our participants as a contemplative dialogue
that was the closest it’s a word I’ve been using contemplative because it to
me is the sort of the best that I have now of thinking about inquiry as a
practice it’s a reflective it’s not a process you don’t know you’re not
attached to any outcome you’re genuinely present with with the person and you’re
embodying you know this sense of non doing but generosity and compassion a
tiny skillful action and see it no it’s a big one inquiry and then how can we
sustain you how do how do we sustain this for ourselves so this is the place
of personal and professional development so we we you know we had a go and it’s
one of the phases I use Joseph had it we had a go in in seeing if we could
actually you know do this in a in writing and of course the worry that the
three of us have about writing is that it as soon as you put something in paper
you lose that quality of the exponential because now it’s in a form but we
thought it was worth you know having a go and and actually Pat Rahman and iron
embarking on an MBSR book where we’re going to try and do some similar things
not entirely the same but again to see if we can really capture the this
process of you know becoming a teacher yeah so just a little that I just just
was thinking about you know what we’ve been talking about and and yeah it just
reminded me of that ethos around writing that NBCT book because that’s what we
really tried to do in terms of setting the stage gaining confidence and skills
and then inner landscape of the teacher no I was actually I wanted to get you to
talk about the book and your intentions for it and everything so that wasn’t
absent at all it was right on target okay I’m aware of the time yes yes I
think we’re well over an hour here is there anything else that we didn’t cover
that you’d like to you’d like to talk about before we end no I I think we
we’ve had a you know a wonderful conversation that that has covered quite
a lot of territory Joe yeah which is which is delightful
I feel it’s been open-ended as well which is which is great so we haven’t
you know we haven’t come to any conclusions so for me that that’s
wonderful for some people that might be so wonderful if you know we want
sometimes we want to finish about sysm and sometimes we can give those but for
this purpose no it’s it’s being it’s it’s been quite lovely to be given this
opportunity to you know air some some of these topics with you well it’s been
quite lovely for me as well and I really appreciate you taking the time
mmm before we sign off yeah just tell people
where they can find more information about you information go instantly the
training that we have coming up you’re gonna tree all yes and maybe you can
speak about that as well sure yeah well so I have a website where you can find
out what I’m up to and that website is www.pevs.com ishes and for those anybody
who’s in Toronto I am going to be at a book launch in Toronto on June the 18th
and you can find out where that is on the Center for mindfulness studies
website I believe I can’t remember the actual venue I should but I can’t I know
it’s in the evening and Pat and Evan and I will be there so I think that will be
fun I think we have some music and probably something to eat as well and
and then I’m going to be coming up to do a training in Montreal and that I
believe is October is that right Joe yeah that’s October so it’s about right
yeah and we’re gonna have all of the all the information you just spoke about in
the show for this for this episode so people be able to click through the
links there I believe the training you’re doing much role is
about inquiry can you briefly tell us what that’s about
yeah not inquiry in general but what training is yeah so this is a two day
training that they are going to be delivering and it’s
it’s about this you know how do we facilitate this discussion that’s
embedded in a mindfulness-based program and so there’ll be some specific ways
though that we will look at inquiry and there’ll be some specific practices that
people who come to it will be able to actually get their hands around it so
there’ll be an exponential piece that we have didactic piece there’ll be
discussions in terms of how people are working with inquiry what they’re
finding difficult what they’re finding useful so they’ll be that opportunity
for some peer integration which is always lovely and a joy because I think
many teachers you know don’t have that opportunity and it the process of the
two days hasn’t structure but both Pat and I know that when we work with any
given group the the mix of the group also informs the delivery of the program
so that’s what makes it really exciting and very alive and I get to be a motor
orbit I love being exciting and feeling alive yes certainly visit too much Rob
will bring you there yes yes absolutely well I’m not you know if I don’t live so
far away from from Litchfield that m1 shield is is a wonderful city in many
many many ways yeah so that’ll be fun so I’m really looking forward to to being
with you and I guess it will take place in within your organization right is
that right yes yeah it’ll be at a mindspace location okay um and it’s
gonna be done in partnership with the Center for mindfulness studies in
Toronto that’s right that’s right yeah so and I think if
somebody is in the training trajectory through the Center for mindfulness
studies I think it’s it’s part of that training modules as well but other
people can come it doesn’t have you don’t have to be in a a training pathway
to come to the to the to date right okay thank you so much Susan again this was
really interesting and looking forward to getting my hands on the book and
definitely looking forward to having you in Montreal and I’ll definitely be at
the training so thanks for all that and looking forward to chatting with you
again soon all right take care Joe and thank you very much for this opportunity
all right take care bye bye okay thanks for listening to the mindspace
podcast I hope it was inspiring if you feel the world could use a little more
mind space please consider supporting the podcast the best way to do that is
to leave a review on the Apple podcast app or wherever you listen or share your
favorite episode on social media thanks and be well you

Jerry Heath

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