Teaching Meditation and Mindfulness: How Well Can It Be Done Online?

I try to put something interesting here each weekend.  I know that’s what most readers want, and it’s good discipline for me to write regularly like this.  [I’d like to have time to be able to respond more often to readers’ comments too, but my time is generally all taken up with writing and teaching]

I may not put anything up next weekend, as I’m going to be back East doing a new kind of project for me, one that’s going to be very interesting.  One of my roles is as a teacher of mindfulness.  I did that in a private group (AET, Awareness Enhancement Training) years ago, that’s described in my Waking Up book, and I’ve done that as a one quarter course at ITP (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) for more than a dozen years now.

I was initially ambivalent about teaching anything like mindfulness, because while trying to be more mindful has definitely benefited me, I wasn’t sure I was mindful enough to really teach it adequately to other people.  But my mindfulness teacher at the time told me I was being sincerely humble, but in an unrealistic way.  Yes, I was far from being able to be perfectly present and mindful, but compared to people who hadn’t had any training or practice in it at all, I was an expert!  Oh, yes, of course…..

This reminded me of a situation years before where I had talked to my Aikido instructor about whether one of his black belt students could come up to UC Davis a couple times a week to start teaching Aikido to students there.  He said they were pretty busy, but why didn’t I teach it?

I immediately said I couldn’t possibly do it, I was only a brown belt, and I knew how little I really understood of the art of Aikido.  But, as my mindfulness teacher did many years later, he said of course I was far from perfect in my Aikido, but compared to someone who had no training at all I was an expert, so why didn’t I teach?  I brooded on this for a while and then went ahead and taught Aikido for several years to students at UC Davis, and it was a very rewarding experience for me and, I believe, for the students.

So, at the invitation of a North Carolina company. GlideWing, I’m flying back East to teach mindfulness on videotape for several days, with an end result that this will be offered as a course people can take over the web, a webinar.  They will pay a tuition charge for it, so the company can pay its bills, and each time the courses is taught, students will have the same basic lectures, but I will be available to answer student questions through text e-mails.

If this were an ordinary academic course, I would have no worries about how it will go.  I’ve been teaching for 50 some years, and my students tell me I’m quite good at it.  But I’m trying to teach basic meditation and mindfulness-in-life skills, and my style for teaching these is to try to model mindfulness in the course of teaching.  That is, I don’t just talk about how useful it could be to keep some attention focused in the here and now through various techniques, I try to actually do that while talking, rather than get carried away by my words.

This is something it took me a long time to learn, I’m the kind of person who gets hypnotized by my own clever words (there are lots like me!), and so I can say wonderful things, about being present, without actually being present.  But I make a big effort, as I said, to actually be present while I teach this material.  I am moderately successful at being present much of the time when I teach this, and I think some aspect of my students’ minds/beings detects and responds to this, and it helps them understand what it means to be present.  My experience has been that my students learn to be much more present.  One of the best ways this manifests with my ITP students is when they reach a point of being present enough that they can spot when I’ve been carried away by my clever words, and call me on it.  “Hey Charley, have you lost it?  Are you still here?”  That’s a great joy when my students get that good!

So I’ll spend several days teaching various aspects of mindfulness on camera, and trying to be mindful while I do it.  I’ll certainly have some idea of how successful I was at it, and I expect at least a moderate degree of success.  The question is, will that mindfulness, which is more than just a set of words, be effectively conveyed to my students?

I won’t have any external “props” to suggest mindfulness, such as an Eastern spiritual teacher would, like looking, for example, “spiritual” through wearing robes, or have various holy objects and symbols sitting on the table in front of me, but we shall see.  The answer to my question of whether I can convey enough mindfulness in this manner to be of help to my students will eventually be known through the kinds of questions and comments they e-mail me.  That is going to be very interesting!  Will I have created a relatively permanent method of teaching mindfulness through these videotapes, or will it turn out to be a good idea that doesn’t work that well in practice?

I’ll put some comments on how it comes out later on this blog.

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