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Teaching meditation

SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
edited March 2015 in Meditation

I've been teaching meditation to beginners on and off for about 15 years and wondered if anyone else has tried this.
I certainly wouldn't claim to be a "meditation teacher" but I have done quite a lot of it, mostly basic stuff like mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana. I haven't got any qualifications to do this, but think I'm not too bad at it, I have a very simple approach.

Has anyone else been in this situation, either teaching or leading meditations, or maybe supporting other people? Are there any issues around not being "qualified"? I've picked up a lot from meditation teachers but haven't had any formal training.
And what about the difference between leading meditation and teaching it?

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Comments

  • As a failed YinYana Buddhist, I am not allowed to teach anything, only to learn.

    The YinYana only 'teach' to the enlightened but as they do not require instruction, no teaching occurs.

    . . . however [ahem] in the formal sense of posture, technique, common problems etc many people teach on this level and very usefully.

    I have only once briefly introduced a meditation technique at the end of a yoga class. Last year I did write to a local National Trust site about starting an outdoor non-denominational meditation but the insurance required and so on . . . just too many regulations . . . not compassionate/patient enough . . . :)

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    I remember when I was last looking to hire a room for the local Buddhist group there were all sorts of issues around public liability insurance, they wanted me take out a policy for the group, £150 a year. I said you must be effing joking, it's a small voluntary group with no income. I blame the Americans, this "sue everyone" culture! I ended up having the meetings in my house, but even then I had to check it was covered on my household insurance ( fortunately it was, though I had to explain what "Buddhist meetings" were several times ).

    I regularly hear about voluntary groups having to cancel events and activities because of the public liability insurance nightmare, it's very sad actually.

  • ^^^ :cry:
    Meditate at your own risk, please sign disclaimer . . .

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    I actually said to an insurance broker, "Is somebody going to sue me for making them calmer and happier?!" Grrrr!

  • I wonder if regulations could be dodged by saying it is therapy? most anyone can put up their shingle of whatever for example Reiki

  • howhow Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @SpinyNorman

    This might be a better conversation to PM but....

    I think there is a difference between simply giving meditation instruction for folks to try

    and

    being a meditation teacher where not only is there an active give and take within the fluidity of an advancing practice, a need to be responsible for guiding practitioners in specific directions but also the skilful means to harmlessly manage the student /teacher relationship.

    It is not that on one side is an instructor and on the other side you have the teacher because there is a lot of no mans land to venture into in between, but those two polarities do need to be acknowledged so you can figure out what is the needed qualification in a given circumstance and whether that mantle is really yours to assume or not.

    The most important piece of advise that I could offer anyone giving meditation instruction to another is

    the highest teaching of meditation that you can offer will always be how you **actually **manifest the selflessness of your own meditation practice.

    lobsterJeffrey
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    @SpinyNorman I'm doing some course work covering meditation teaching and counselling from a holistic level.

    I'm through the certificate aspect and I get a free years insurance as well as international accreditation. I think this is just a cover your ass tool.

    I think the issue only arises if somebody complains. You have no qualification to back you up. Likewise they have sent me through a whole heap of legal disclaimers for potential clients to sign.

    I personally would not teach meditation without any certification. I would with friends or family but not with strangers.

    I am from Australia and registered though the international meditation teachers association. IMTA
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    *** well the course anyway***
  • I think it would be neat if you could record some of your instructions and post them on here. We can listen, follow along, and tell you what we think? Not a bad idea?

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @how said:> > The most important piece of advise that I could offer anyone giving meditation instruction to another is> the highest teaching of meditation that you can offer will always be how you **actually **manifest the selflessness of your own meditation practice.

    Absolutely. I realised early on the point about walking the walk, not just talking the talk. In other words it's isn't so much about what you say as how you say it and the way you are with people, even being a good example. I think that's probably the real challenge, it's not so much about technical knowledge or experience, but those things also matter.

    lobster
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @namarupa said:
    I think it would be neat if you could record some of your instructions and post them on here. We can listen, follow along, and tell you what we think? Not a bad idea?

    I would usually start with a few words about the practice, say mindfulness of breathing, explain what it's for and basically how it works, also the importance of a kind and gentle approach. I keep it very simple. Then a short guided meditation, an exercise I call "feeling your weight", basically body awareness, leading into placing attention on the breath, where to feel it, how to return attention to it when thoughts arise. Then say 1/2 an hour of meditation. After that a cup of tea and a discussion on a Buddhist topic.
    2 hours at the most for a "class", though it might be better not to call it that!

    I've been to Buddhist groups which don't give any meditation instruction at all, but I don't think that's a reasonable approach if there are new people coming along.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @Earthninja said:> I think the issue only arises if somebody complains. You have no qualification to back you up.

    I see what you mean, but I'd find it difficult to imagine a set of circumstances where somebody might complain about me explaining how to meditate. Also bear in mind that I am not charging anyone for this, it would just be a donation to cover room hire. Though perhaps I should think more about the distinction between "teaching" meditation and leading it? Also I am doing this with a couple of friends supporting, so effectively I am leading a Buddhist group.

    Earthninja
  • howhow Veteran

    @SpinyNorman

    It is not so much about what you perceive that you are doing but what anybody else's history is that you might unfavorably unleash and become subject to.

    It's about not placing yourself between the door and the person you are giving instruction to so that no one feels coerced or unable to freely leave.
    or
    understanding the difference between meditation instruction and counseling.
    or
    trying to make sure there is always at least one other sensible human being around when
    you are giving instruction to someone new.

    & on & on.

    lobster
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @Jeffrey said:> I wonder if regulations could be dodged by saying it is therapy? most anyone can put up their shingle of whatever for example Reiki

    The problem with calling something "therapy" is that it sounds like you're offering something and there may well be an expectation. Professionals would usually take out public liability insurance, but offering something free is I think a different scenario.
    Obviously it depends what you are offering, but I don't see how somebody could ever prove that they had been psychologically damaged by doing some meditation. Bearing in mind that it's basic stuff like mindfulness of breathing, nothing weird or obscure.

    Last time I was looking to hire a room for the Buddhist group they wanted us to take out insurance but that was very much about people getting injured on their premises, tripping on a carpet or whatever. I did explain that meditation is a non-contact sport!

    Earthninja
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    The course I did said the only safe meditation for most/all people is zen/Mindfullness meditation. Because of the subconscious muck that may arise during other forms :)
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    That's interesting. I've heard people complain that meditation made them more anxious or whatever, of course what they really mean is they've become more aware of the anxiety that is present.
    I wonder if I could get sued for making somebody feel anxious? ;)

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Are there any issues around not being "qualified"?

    @SpinyNorman -- Without trying to sound snarky or slick, I think the question can also be legitimately asked, "Are there any issues around being qualified?"

    The whole matter of whether anyone can 'teach' anyone else is a serious koan, assuming anyone consents to make it serious. Do you have the courage to fail? Worse, do you have the courage to succeed?

    In 1998, I built a small meditation hall in the backyard and made it available to those who wanted to practice zazen or seated meditation. People came in dribs and drabs. One or two were quite serious in a Buddhist sense. I could not sidestep the fact that I had built the zendo and I was the one who formatted activities. Sometimes it made me feel good. Sometimes it made me feel bad. But whatever I felt still, I was the one who banged the drum ... or was I?

    Institutionalized (read "qualified") spiritual life is a pretty good thing. It provides hand holds for what has no hand holds. It offers a method through which to see the truth in a carefully constructed lie. That's just my take. That, and, about the best anyone can do when it comes to 'training' is to resolve to be themselves. Anything else is eyewash.

    My teacher once told me that his sole job in Zen practice was to encourage students to do zazen -- nothing more and nothing less. Just zazen ... then the student (or is it the teacher?) will have an honest shot at a non-fabricated peace.

    Just noodling here.

    Earthninja
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Actually, the question is a lot more basic. When you conduct sessions of this kind, it is sometimes a requirement of the establishment you are intending to hire or use, that you present certified certificates, diplomas or qualifications to prove you've done a course, attended lessons yourself and are sufficiently authoritative to be able to sit and do nothing, as you 'claim'.

    In the UK, Organisations are 'big' on academic proof.

    Never mind that a great number of those with the necessary paperwork are bloody awful at it.

    never mind that a great number of those equipped with thing more than an generous and enthusiastic sense of sharing, are brilliant at it.

    if you ain't got the right paperwork, sorry, but it's no go.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    Thanks, interesting to hear about your experience, and your thoughts. I guess much of what I've learned is from watching a lot of other people teach / lead meditations, particularly in the "real world". And of course a lot of personal experience of meditation, a wide experience in different traditions. Also I've learned a lot from doing it myself, trying out different approaches and seeing what works for people.

    Interesting on the last point, encouraging people to practice. I would of course gently encourage people to meditate regularly but the excuses were quite amusing at times, a bit like a primary school child explaining to teacher why they hadn't brought in their homework, like "The dog ate it, miss." ;)

    lobsterEarthninja
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    if you ain't got the right paperwork, sorry, but it's no go.

    @federica -- A 'certified,' 'authentic' and 'transmitted' teacher once urged me -- and I think she was trying to be kind -- to "get your ticket punched" ... i.e. go through the Zen hoops that might provide the paperwork. She felt confident I could do it.

    And it was at that point that I realized I was not cut out to be whatever it is that qualifies a "teacher." I had neither the patience nor the sacrifice nor the credulity to cut that mustard. I said thank you, but I had three kids and a job, no matter how much I appreciated and practiced Zen. Also, indefinably, the whole thing felt wrong.

    So it goes.

    lobster
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @federica said:> In the UK, Organisations are 'big' on academic proof.
    if you ain't got the right paperwork, sorry, but it's no go.

    Oh well, I'll just lead the meditation then. With a few handy hints! There is nobody else in the group with the confidence to lead meditations, and I wouldn't be happy with new people turning up and not being given any guidance at all.

    I'm not closely involved with any established Buddhist groups these days and don't want to be, so there isn't an obvious route to get qualified or approved anyway. Also if you train with a particular school you're expected to deliver instruction in a very particular way, and I wouldn't really want to be limited in that way.

    But thanks everyone for the thoughts, it's been helpful for me to hear those, to get my thinking clearer.

    Earthninja
  • @SpinyNorman said:

    Very nice. I was thinking maybe you had a guided meditation video on youtube. Good enough.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited March 2015

    Well what happens to charlatans that abuse their students or do drugs or womanize? Doesn't seem to be much legal trouble. I like what others say about the actual issues with leading a group aside from legal trouble but granted that the charlatans do not have legal trouble I wouldn't think it was a worry. Do other teachers take out an insurance policy?

    I like your idea of just leading rather than being a teacher.

  • NeleNele Veteran

    The Hot Yoga fellow is in a peck of trouble over his abuse of students...of course, not meditation practice, but not unrelated. http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/25/us/bikram-yoga-sex-assault-lawsuits/

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Yes, @Nele, well done, I was about to point that out...I even posted a thread about it....

  • zenguitarzenguitar Bad Buddhist New England Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    I blame the Americans, this "sue everyone" culture!

    As one of these excessively litigious Americans, I can assure you that nothing disturbs me more than the idea of unlicensed, uninsured meditation instruction happening on the other side of the Atlantic. :lol:

    EarthninjaSpinyNorman
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    We'll be doing meditation first and discussion afterwards. It occurred to me that I don't have to give any instruction at the beginning of the meditations, we could discuss approaches to meditation later in the discussion period if people are interested. That would be easier for me, it also means that regulars wouldn't have to hear the initial instructions repeatedly and get bored!

    But I really do appreciate the comments you've all made, that's why I started the thread, I really wasn't sure how best to approach this. Or rather I'd been doing it in a certain way for quite a while and wanted to re-assess, see if there were other approaches and what the issues might be.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @namarupa said:> Very nice. I was thinking maybe you had a guided meditation video on youtube. Good enough.

    No, like I said I'm not a "meditation teacher", and I wouldn't want anyone filming me, I like to keep a low profile.... ;)

    ( sound of hedgehog disappearing into convenient hedge )

    Earthninja
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @SpinyNorman

    Most importantly....Don't forget your keisaku...It wouldn't be any fun without one :D

    SpinyNormanzenguitarEarthninja
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 2015

    Yes, I must get myself a stick! Stroll round like a drill sergeant..... "Come on, let's be having you, straighten those backs!"

    lobster
  • Well what happens to charlatans that abuse their students or do drugs or womanize?

    I did not realise this was an option covered by insurance. I may consider teaching meditation . . .

    However I feel I might go for amuse rather than abuse, provide legal highs such as post or pre tea/coffee . . . I feel many men would benefit from being womanised. Those of other persuasions could be mensched up . . .

    I feel a master plan coming together nicely [cue evil laughter]

    May all be auspicious even the suspicious

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Yes, I must get myself a stick!

    With the stick in hand, (in a threatening manner) you will have complete control of the sessions guaranteed...

    SpinyNorman
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @lobster said:> May all be auspicious even the suspicious

    Well, there was this rather nice lady who let us use her house for meetings..... ( blush )

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @lobster said:I feel a master plan coming together nicely [cue evil laughter

    lobsterEarthninja
  • howhow Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @SpinyNorman said:
    We'll be doing meditation first and discussion afterwards. It occurred to me that I don't have to give any instruction at the beginning of the meditations, we could discuss approaches to meditation later in the discussion period if people are interested. That would be easier for me, it also means that regulars wouldn't have to hear the initial instructions repeatedly and get bored!

    But I really do appreciate the comments you've all made, that's why I started the thread, I really wasn't sure how best to approach this. Or rather I'd been doing it in a certain way for quite a while and wanted to re-assess, see if there were other approaches and what the issues might be.

    @SpinyNorman
    Not sure how you could do it without giving new folks instruction first?

    We tend to do a couple of formal 30 minute meditation sittings inter spaced with 5 minutes of walking meditation. New folks get basic meditation instruction in another room while the first sitting period is going on and then join in with everyone else for the second sitting. We usually have tea, munchies and conversation afterwards.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @how said:Not sure how you could do it without giving new folks instruction first?

    Yes, that's the issue, I was unhappy just to let newcomers sit there and not know what to do.
    This does happen in some Buddhist groups, they say you have to go on retreat and be taught meditation "properly" by a monk or qualified teacher. But of course beginners might not be ready or inclined to go off on retreat, particularly if it's in a distant location ( which it often is )
    As I said, I could take the view that meditation technique is something which can be regularly covered as part of general discussion. Or just do a very brief lead in to watching the breath, explaining where to feel it and saying that when thoughts arise just gently return attention to the breath, something along those lines?

  • zenguitarzenguitar Bad Buddhist New England Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Yes, I must get myself a stick! Stroll round like a drill sergeant..... "Come on, let's be having you, straighten those backs!"

    That's exactly why you need the insurance! What if you accidentally (purposely?) bean the student on the head instead of the shoulder? Then you can expect a meditation malpractice suit coming your way tout suite. :tongue:

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    They need a bit of discipline, bring back National Service, we had it hard, and so on and so forth, you were lucky! ;)

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Kids today, don't know they're born....... Oh..... wait.......

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:Or just do a very brief lead in to watching the breath, explaining where to feel it and saying that when thoughts arise just gently return attention to the breath, something along those lines?

    I'll chat about this further to the couple of friends I'll be doing this with, but I think this is probably the approach I'll go for. Not saying too much before the meditation, but inviting questions in the discussion period which follows. The middle way! ;)

  • howhow Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    This is probably obvious but since it was not mentioned.....
    If there are new folks, I think you also need to also show them the range of possible sitting positions so that un nessessary physical discomfort needn't be the** main** thing they remember of this experience.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    People usually sit on chairs unless they have a preference to sit on the floor.

  • zenguitarzenguitar Bad Buddhist New England Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    People usually sit on chairs unless they have a preference to sit on the floor.

    You don't even give them cushions?? :tongue: More seriously, we have a coworker who leads short mindfulness meditation sessions for us at work, during lunchtime. She is actually encouraged to do so by our boss. I don't believe there are any insurance or licensing issues.

  • howhow Veteran

    Most folks who come to meditation, do so because something wacky is going on in their life that they would like to change. That makes us all potentially unstable compared to all the other nutters out there, unlikely to show up because of complacency issues.

    My concerns about leading/teaching a meditation group have less to do with insurance or licensing issue and has more to do with not setting up situations where misinterpretations or misrepresentations by your fellow deluded, ends up being needlessly blamed on , or complicated by you.

    Not so much of an issue in a public group situation but much more of a potential one when the instruction occurs in a more private setting.

    lobsterShoshin
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    Yes, people often do have a need when they turn up at a meditation group. and sometimes unrealistic expectations. I was aware of a couple of people with mental health issues who came to the group, though nothing too serious fortunately. I made it clear that while they might find meditation helpful in a general way it wasn't a "cure" for depression or whatever.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    I've now talked to my friends and we've agreed to hold monthly meetings at the local Quaker meeting hall. We're going to keep it very simple! As I was saying before I'm going to do a very brief introduction to the meditation at the beginning and invite questions in the discussion that follows. We'll probably use "What the Buddha taught" as a basic study text, but keep the discussions quite informal.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    I think we're going to run an invitation-only group, the general feeling is that we haven't got the energy to spoon-feed beginners any more. From previous experience running an open group is quite hard work, you can get a random succession of strangers dropping in once or twice and then disappearing, it's very disruptive. Invitation-only would mean a smaller and more stable group with regular members. I think we'll end up having the meetings in my front room, so there's no need to hire a room and it's all much simpler to manage. Also we had some practical issues with hiring the Quaker meeting hall which I won't bore you with here.

    I remembered that Triratna run beginners courses in a town about 10 miles away, they are well set up to teach beginners, so I feel OK about leaving that to them.

    So the issue in the OP is no longer an issue! Sometimes moving the goalposts isn't such a bad idea.... ;)

    lobster
  • howhow Veteran
    edited March 2015

    @SpinyNorman

    If spoon feeding newbies has one feeling that anyone's meditation is being disrupted then
    perhaps it is time to revisit what one thinks actually thinks meditation is.

    Consider......
    giving meditation instruction to new visitors 1/2 an hour before the regular meditators gather to start sitting. Then have newbys & oldies sit together
    or
    Have the regulars sit two periods of meditation while you take the newbys out of earshot during the first period for their instruction. After that, they can join the regulars for the second period.

    No point offering the merits of your meditation to all
    when you actually don't.

  • @how said:

    Most folks who come to meditation, do so because something wacky is going on in their life that they would like to change. That makes us all potentially unstable compared to all the other nutters out there, unlikely to show up because of complacency issues.

    Good point.
    Personally I am too near wacky to be a suitable meditation facilitator. I don't think I could take the regularity and being credible.
    I would probably feel happier with a bunch of quackery oaties, mental health patients, ex-gurus or high performing zoo animals coming to terms with monkey mind . . .

    Earthninja
  • How many days/week? I took Kung-fu and I wonder if it is much different from meditation classes? There were times for experienced students and times for beginners.

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