Teaching the dharma…

13 Jul

Things have been very slow in my therapy practice and I have been feeling unfulfilled. Lots of potential just idling away is a recipe for anxiety. Plus, the local community has few opportunities for Dharma practice which has long been a staple for feeling connected to myself and having a meaningful life. To work on both these fronts, in April I undertook to offer an Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation 6-week series. Ran a community listing in the little local paper and whala… 16 people showed up for the first night. I was asking $30 for the series as a token of commitment to help stabilize the group numbers and I found the group to be eager and receptive to the basic teachings of mindfulness.

Being in the front of a group and giving presentations has always been an uncomfortable position for me. It’s not something that I ever wanted to do much of. In this case if I did not start a sangha there would not be one for me to attend. The discomfort of stepping into the role of a presenter was matched with the discomfort of having no mindfulness or Vipassana style meditation group to attend.

Initially, I set out to make a clear distinction between about my role. I was uncomfortable with the label of teacher so I pointedly referred to myself as the “presenter” of this material. During a week long retreat with a Thai meditation master in June I had a discussion with a seasoned western buddhist nun. She urged me to drop the issue, let people refer to me however they liked, and furthermore, “If you sit up front and talk the dharma, you are the teacher.” Since then I’ve begun to refer to myself as a Buddhist teacher, at least for purposes of the flyers I’ve posted around our little town.

When that series was finished I opened the time slot to the larger community. We now have a pretty solid group of committed meditators every Tuesday evening 7-8:30. I’ve started a second introduction series on Wed. evenings and already have people asking when the next one will start.

Now here’s the real payoff… the boost to my own practice! My daily sitting practice has gone from once a day to usually 3 times a day now. Every week I prepare a dharma talk by listening to the talks of respected teachers in this lineage, comb through the Pali Text Society’s site if I need to get the original teachings, and ponder the material from my meditation background. I have not felt so close and intimate with the dhamma since the two years I spent living and working at IMS in Massachusetts. Almost over night my whole life feels changed and revitalized. I can’t easily say how important this is to me. I never have imagined myself as a dharma teacher and now I kind of wonder about that, about my view of my own practice and how it might benefit others. My background in Buddhist practices is significant. In the 27 years since I sat my first retreat I’ve sat more than 5o 10-days or longer which adds up to more than 2 years of silent intensive retreat practice with a long list of great teachers. Looking back on this now I feel exceeding fortunate. And now I feel even more so.

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One Response to “Teaching the dharma…”

  1. JoAnn August 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Thank you for your heartfelt and open communication about your path to becoming a teacher. I’ve recently stepped into the role of mindfulness teacher and live in a small community. I too was looking for a sangha as my base one, spirit rock meditation center, is 3 hours away. I’m curious to see how my next course goes after expanding it to include more mindfulness. Would love an update on where you are with your teaching and practice.

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