I have two clear memories that I want to share. The first was when I participated in my first 9 day Vipassana meditation retreat. I was a senior at the Johns Hopkins University and my brother had been attending a number of silent intensive meditation retreats. My whole family found his attending these retreats a bit disconcerting, not knowing much about it, and so I was sent as the family emissary to investigate what this "strange" practice was.
While my first impressions were that this was a Buddhist thing, as there was a big Buddha statue sitting at the front of the meditation hall, I later came to realize that actually, this was really just about awareness and our internal life mind-life.
Tears came to my eyes, when I realized that I was (finally) being taught the skills to pay attention to what I was feeling, and taught how to relate to these internal feelings, emotions, etc. with skill and care. This was an area that I had certainly never been taught before, despite a great Western education at The Johns Hopkins University and Scarsdale High School.
During most of my formal education, I had been expected to "perform", without anyone really teaching me how to manage my internal landscape. And, here, on this retreat, there were a group of people dedicated to developing this skills within themselves and serving as guides for others. It was quite an awakening for me.
Flash forward, 10 years later, after my first semester at Wharton Business School, I returned to Myanmar to continue my training with my meditation teacher, Sayadaw U Pandita, and for the few weeks of our break, I had decided to ordain as a temporary Buddhist monk. This allowed me to devote myself whole-heartedly to meditation and live a lifestyle that fully supported this mind training and mind development.
As I walked barefoot through a rural village on my daily alms round (worried that I might get some worm through my bare feet), tears again manifested in my eyes as I realized that for Business education, Wharton was best, but to really learn Mindfulness, it was in Burma (one of the poorest countries in the world) that I had to go to study with a true master in this area. Why would someone have to go from one of the richest countries in the world to one of the poorest countries, and why did someone have to travel this far to learn learn this essential skill from a qualified teacher?
Another ten years have passed, during which period I have worked in Wealth Management and lived in Singapore for the past 7 years to be closer to my teacher, who is 93 and still lives in Myanmar. I am now relocating back to the US.
With the increasing popularity of Mindfulness meditation in American culture today, many people are putting themselves out there as mindfulness teachers.
To teach others, it is essential that one has developed this quality to quite some extent within oneself, and then only, help others discover and develop the quality within themselves.
While the instructions are seemingly simple, it is a very difficult to teach effectively. It would be like guiding someone down a path a night with no lights. And, unfortunately, if the teacher does not possess the knowledge themselves, they will not be able to help others develop it, no matter how smooth a talker or orator they may be.
Organizations are being created, certifications are being developed and many are getting on the bandwagon, without having dedicated the time necessary to develop mindfulness within themselves.
I am delighted to see the increasing role and attention that mindfulness is getting in America. I do hope that people with interest seek out qualified teachers, ie. those who have developed mindfulness to a great extent within themselves.
Andrew has spent more than 3 years of his life in silent intensive meditation retreats with Sayadaw U Pandita, one of the greatest teachers in this area.
Andrew has dedicated nearly 30 years studying mindfulness with many of the world's greatest teachers. He has taken the most beneficial of the practices that he has studied and verified and integrated them into a life with children, and a career in wealth management at global corporations . He is now dedicating his time to sharing these methods with people in all walks of life who are interested to discover ancient wisdom that is applicable and beneficial to modern life.