An unexpected thing I’ve discovered about meditation – and practice in general – is that one of the best ways to deepen our practice is to share it. And I don’t mean just tell someone about it. I mean guide them in it.
People often panic when they imagine sharing practice. They get all up in their heads, wondering if they’re doing it right, thinking they’re not worthy, imagining the thing they’re doing is a great esoteric mystery that requires years of yogic cave-dwelling and wrestling with the demons of Mara. “Only once I have purified the golden reaches of my True Self can I come down from this mountain and share these pearls of wisdom with regular mortals.”
This is balderdash. You don’t need to be an expert meditation teacher to share a simple practice any more than you need to be an expert cook to show someone how to boil an egg. The basics of guiding practice are common-sense:
“In a light way, pay attention to X. If your mind wanders, come back.”
The skill involved in guiding this instruction is not the skill of the expert, although an expert will of course also possess it. It is far more democratic. It is the skill of being human. It’s knowing how to be present and patient and available for another person.
That’s the first way it deepens our practice. When we’re present with someone, we give them confidence in their experience. Their trust, in turn, gives us confidence back. We show up for others – zing! – in a way we often don’t for ourselves. Now we have a reason to be present. We start to notice what “being present” feels like, and suddenly we’re hanging out at the very destination most meditation practices are trying to get us to.
Then there’s the creativity. I host workshops that are about empowering regular neurotic humans (my people!) to invent and share practice. I’m always moved by the personality and originality of what emerges. In groups of two or three, people take turns guiding each other in simple 10-minute practices. At a past workshop, one guy told his group to imagine sucking a lemon – making the full lemon sucking face – and then to relax. Back and forth they’d go: lemon face! relax, lemon face! relax. It was hilarious, and weirdly cathartic, and, yes, it was a practice. Another woman got her charges to wind a string very slowly around each finger, honing their concentration and the delicacy of their attention.
When we know the common language of practice – the simple and elemental skills that are trained, again and again – then we can reconfigure them any number of ways. In this sense, practice is the ultimate creative medium. It becomes a reflection of who we are and what’s important to us. Practice is allowed to be that. The more true we are to the practice we share, the more the person receiving it is empowered to think of their own practice in this more dynamic and creative way. They develop the confidence to find – or invent – a version of practice that works for them.
For myself, sitting in the middle of the room, watching people take turns caring for each other in their own weird ways … I get choked up. I think: this is what caring looks like when it propagates through the culture.
Each guide feels the privilege and the sacredness of the trust they’ve been given, and they honour it. This happens naturally, in a way that isn’t lofty or grandiose. And guess what? Doing this helps them every bit as much as the other person. Giving is getting. Separation falls away. At this point, I can’t even tell where the care ends and the healing begins. And so it goes, like a wave around the room, a wave around the world. Every new guide is a lineage in waiting.
Does this mean we don’t need experienced teachers? Of course not. As we navigate specific challenges and techniques and traditions, we need them more than ever. Thank you teachers, thank you certification programs – we want more of you. We want all levels of professional. And, when it comes to connection and love and the capacity to be present with each other, we want everyone else too.
Practice, self-regulation, self-understanding — these are too idiosyncratic, too personal, too fundamental to depend on specialists only. We also need to depend on ourselves and each other. In my mind, nothing will accelerate this more than recasting “teaching” as a creative social activity that any informed person can engage in.
Release the amateurs!
FURTHER ACTION – I’m interested in making mental health practices and support structures more accessible. Here’s what you can do: start your own community practice group, and guide each other. The Consciousness Explorer’s Club has a free Community Activation Kit – please think about supporting the CEC as we prepare for our first fundraiser. Also, consider attending one of my rabble-rousing workshops. In 2020, there will be two at Omega Institute in New York, one in May and one in September. These trainings are, without question, some of the most thrilling and profound group experiences I’ve been a part of. Finally, spread this note around. A life of practice has incalculable benefits. We can help each other get started.