Who Will I Be? Mindfulness Teacher? Spiritual Teacher? Scientist? Professor? – Reflections and Online Workshop Progress Report

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago(April 9, 2012), I went back to lovely Asheville, NC for a week of video lecturing at the invitation of GlideWing.com, a company that produces online workshops on various spiritual, psychic and psychological topics.  Having watched a workshop they’d done with Tibetan Lama Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, I was intrigued with this online workshop medium.  It’s more and more expensive and time consuming for people to fly in from all over the material world for in-person workshops, even if that may be the best possible format for teaching and learning many things, especially subtle things, but how much could be done, accessible to so many more, with an online workshop?  A relatively repeatable workshop?

The work went very well.  I want to introduce people to the core things I have learned about mindfulness (in life) and meditation, both as a foundation for possible spiritual development (but you don’t have to be “spiritual”) and/or as a practical skill for living a more intelligent and effective life.  Foundational,  but setting directions for advance, of course, there’s only so much that can be done in a 3-week online workshop format, but those core practices can be very useful.

I want to say “it’s in the can,” but the phrase will date me to the days of film movies when completed reels of developed film went into metal cans, but “it’s in the chips” sounds kind of silly.      😉

Basically, it went very well and I think it’s going to be an excellent course.  GlideWing has a brief introduction video up now describing the workshop (go to www.glidewing.com, click the Online Workshops tab, then scroll down to my photo and click Learn More.)  If you click my photo at the top of the first entry page, you’ll just get a general video about my last book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, which is nice to introduce me in my scientist role, but not helpful to show anything of my mindfulness teacher role.

Which brings me to my central theme this morning: what exactly is my role in this workshop?

Mindfulness teacher?  That’s quite accurate.  Over the decades, I’ve learned a fair amount about both being more mindful in ordinary life, where we really need to be more mindful, and more mindful in various formal kinds of “meditations,” where we observe and learn more about the inner workings of our minds.  I’ve done both a prolonged group process (see my Waking Up book for more detail) and many shorter in-person workshops about this kind of thing, as well as teaching it to graduate psychology students at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology for more than a decade and at pre-conference workshops at the premier “Tucson Toward A Science of Consciousness” conferences several times (see my Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People book, or my Waking Up book or my Living the Mindful Life book), so I know how to do this.

Here’s where it starts feeling a little sticky for me though.  Many people traditionally think of anyone who teaches meditation and the like as a “spiritual teacher,” and this is a role I actively reject.  OK, realistically I know a little about spirituality, it’s central in my life and I’ve devoted much of my career trying to create bridges between genuine spirituality and genuine science, but when people hear “spiritual teacher” they project all sorts of ideas about enlightenment, perfection, knowing everything, etc. on to the teacher – and that isn’t me!  I’m a nice fellow, I know a lot, there’s much more I don’t know and, worst of all, there’s a lot I don’t know that I don’t know I don’t know, but I’m tempted to keep talking anyway and mislead people.  Knowing when to keep quiet becomes a major part of my personal path then!

Which moves me to my scientist role, a deep part of myself,  because it’s honest and I’m comfortable there.  As a scientist, I have to sharply distinguish what I (and others) know and don’t know – know in the sense of having good intellectual theories that seem to make good sense of stuff and/or are practicable  – versus what I believe or hope to be true, but don’t really have much observable or experienceable data to hang my beliefs on.  Sometimes I tease some of my “spiritual leader” friends by saying what an advantage I have over them, as a scientist I can say “I don’t know,” but as representatives of a spiritual tradition, they and their tradition are expected to know everything of importance.  It’s an all too human condition to tend to go along with those expectations, perhaps giving answers that don’t really help….

Scientist melds nicely into the Professor role for me.  Most people have fairly realistic perceptions of professors.  “He or she knows a lot about X, Y and Z, but is biased about D, E and F and has certain personal shortcomings.  I can learn a lot of useful stuff by selectively listening and evaluating, but I don’t have to buy the whole package (except maybe to pass the final) and then I’m done with this professor!”

That’s the role I’ve taken with students for these many years. ” I’m pretty smart about A, B and C, not so sure about lots of other things.  Take what I teach as stimulation, something to think about, but don’t just passively accept it.  If it’s important to you, test it for yourself.”

That’s what I’ve done in preparing the videos for the GlideWing online workshop.

“Here’s the best of what I know to introduce you to core formal meditation practices and mindfulness in life.  Here’s some core practices you can do.  Here’s a method of formal, concentrative meditation.  Here’s a method of insight meditation.  Here’s a method to become more awake, more mindful in life. Check them out!  Ask me questions on the discussion forum during the course when you need to, discuss stuff with your other classmates.  If some of this really resonates with you, here’s some suggestions for where to go for more advanced instruction with people who know more than me.  If it doesn’t resonate that much, fine, let it sit, some will be useful now, some you may find useful later on.”

This is moving into a relatively new medium for me, and I’m very interested in how well it is going to work.  When I first started teaching at ITP, e.g., eighteen years ago, I considered teaching mindfulness to the students there as an interesting experiment that might or might not work.  Why?  Because the vast majority of the students were what are called “intuitive” types in the Jungian sense, living in rather abstract mental spaces: would I have much luck in teaching them to learn how to also exist in the here-and-now?  (Not that we should always be in the here-and-now, but it’s a vital place to be able to tune into!)  I was very happy with how well it’s worked all these years, students reaching and loving this extra dimension to existence, so I’m looking forward to these online workshop results.

I expect to give the workshop once in late summer (Aug 4-26, 2012), maybe again a couple of times or so next year.  Registration and other practical info is on the www.Glidewing.com site.

So I as “Professor Tart” will be having a limited engagement where you may learn useful stuff about meditation and mindfulness.  He won’t pretend to be a spiritual teacher, and you’re done with him as Professor after a few weeks.

I’ll post occasional updates as we go along.

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