The Long View – Perils and Possibilities

This morning I want to talk about the Long View.  Its said that all we are now, in this moment is the result of all that we have been.  And all that we will be tomorrow or even in the next moment will be the result of all that we are now.  This is true of us individually and it is true of us collectively as a community occupying a central role in how mindfulness will develop over the coming years.  Each of us has a story, mindfulness also has a story and I would like to begin my presentation with telling, at least a version, of the story of mindfulness as it began to  develop in our culture.  We are all part of that story. Every story has a beginning.  Some 40 years ago a relatively small group of westerners began to return to the west after years of studying and practising meditative pathways in Asia.  We began to teach.  It is not as if meditation was something new in western culture or contemplative traditions yet the mid 1970’s was a radical change in how ancient meditative pathways could be accessed.  The pathway of awakening was taken out of the monasteries, stripped of religiosity and ritual and made accessible.  We had retreats, open to all, that offered contemplative training in the classroom of their lives, emphasising the immediacy of awakening.  We had pathways that could be cultivated in the midst of our communities, our relationships, our work. We had means of translating an ancient teaching into our moment to moment experience.  We had ways to begin to understand distress and struggle, their causes and the means to their end. We were presented with a teaching that had at its heart a profound transformation of heart and mind, yet was dynamically engaged with life.

What has come to be called the insight meditation or vipassana tradition, that rest upon the development of mindfulness, in reality carries the imprints of many ancient lineages., practices and teachings.  In time this imprints have also permeated contemporary mindfulness in ways that are not always obvious to us.  It is perhaps equally not so evident, that all of us here, endeavouring to do our best to teach pathways of transformation, are part of a long contemplative tradition.

What are those imprints, what have we learned, what are we continuing to learn.  From the Tibetan community, in which some of us lived for a number of years we learnt to place compassion as the motivation at the heart of all that we do.  Living in a community of refugees we came to know a group of people who had the courage and resilience to meet extreme suffering without despair, hatred and blame, but with an unshakeable compassion.  Each person carried their own story of loss, separation from loved ones, violence, oppression yet their hearts were intact.  From the teaching we were exposed to we learnt that compassion, the committed intention to ease suffering was the highest motivation in any life, the deepest intention in any life of serving others.

We learnt that suffering could be turned towards rather than fled from, suffering could be understood rather than rejected and that compassion was not an emotion but an embodied way of engaging with a world we cannot always control.  Compassion we came to understand was the most noble and dignified way of being in this world where suffering and distress can feel bottomless.  Equally we learnt that compassion was a seed of potentiality that lives in every human heart.

Compassion has always been central to any path of waking up, the deep commitment to serve, the intention to understand and ease distress is as relevant to the contemporary teaching of mindfulness today as it was 2500 years ago.  As the Buddha put it – out of compassion we practice, out of compassion we teach, out of compassion we serve.  It is an intention and a commitment to important to forget. It is an imprint increasingly valued in contemporary mindfulness, understanding compassion is a behavioural gesture of the mind/ heart that can be cultivated as much as mindfulness can be cultivated. We learn to embrace the afflictions and adversities in our own minds and lives with compassion rather than with shame or judgment, we learn to turn outwardly and embrace the affliction and pain of another with a heart that can tremble with empathy and respond with immediacy. We learn the fearlessness of compassion, that allows us to meet distress with a responsiveness of care rather than with the patterns of fear and aversion that bind us to distress and helplessness.

From the Burmese lineage of U Ba Khin, carried forward through Goenka, we learnt first of the primary place that understanding somatic experience has in psychological transformation.  We learnt about the body scan and what it meant to establish mindfulness in the body and in present moment experience.  We learnt that the most significant lessons of transformation that are brought to understanding our world of experience and world of distress are learnt primarily with the body.  The lessons of impermanence, instability and unpredictability revealed in the life of the body can be met, not with fear and aversion but with mindfulness and equanimity.  We learnt experientially about systematically training the mind in non reactivity through bringing sustained attention to the life of the body with an attitude of kindness and curiosity. Through mindfulness of the body we learnt it is possible to come closer to the beginnings of our psychological and emotional constructions, to simplify and to know the body as the body, feeling as feeling, mind as mind rather than being entangled in the narrative and reactions to experience. Learning to distinguish the difference between felt experience and out narrative about that experience was a powerful lesson.

From the lineage of Mahasi Sayadaw we learn to develop an inner literacy that had a vocabulary for the stream of psychological and physiological events of the moment.  We learnt the ways in which mindfulness slowed down the processes of mind so they could be seen without being identified with. We learnt of the ways that our capacity to meet each present moment of experience with skilful attention was a powerful way to protect the mind from the surges of impulse and habit that lead us to dissociate from the moment as it is.  We learnt that an attitude of kind befriending could be cultivated in all moments of aversion. We discovered the ways in which the mind and all its processes could be turned into an object of mindfulness, held within sustained attention and investigated.

From Munindra we learnt about mindfulness in the marketplace – how to bring mindfulness into every moment as an embodied way of being.  The simplicity of his person and way of teaching stressed that if understanding, compassion and change could not be found in the lived experience of our lives, it would not be found at all.  Munindra embodied the core teaching of the Buddha that life was our classroom of awakening and that there was no curriculum apart from learning to live a life wakefully, wholeheartedly, with patience, kindness and perseverance.  Buying a cabbage in the market, with mindfulness and care, was to him, as important as an hour spent in meditation with ones eyes closed.  Through his teaching and way of being we learnt something profound about the art of being present, something greater and broader than a technique or practice, but a way of being in the midst of a chaotic world without being overwhelmed.

From the Zen tradition the lessons of perseverance, humour, spaciousness and developing a malleable, responsive mind that could question all views was woven into peoples practice.  The lessons of continuing to show up, to be undeterred gave a strength and courage that was inwardly generated, to the practice and to life. Soeng sa nim who taught many western teachers and students, directly spoke to the possibility of not taking it all so personally, that it really is not all about me.  The possibility of seeing the transparency of our constructions, beliefs and fabrications delivered a powerful message of liberating the mind from distress and its causes.

The story of mindfulness does of course have a much earlier beginning, 2600 years ago the Buddha placed mindfulness as the cornerstone of waking up and transforming our mind, our societies, our communities.  Mindfulness is presented as basic tool of meditative development, not an end in itself, but a means of establishing a calm, receptive, intentional way of being – the climate of mind most acutely receptive to understanding.  The discourse on the 4 ways of establishing mindfulness is the discourse that has probably most directly affected mindfulness based approaches today.  It is a discourse that describes the establishing of mindfulness in body, feeling, mind and mental process as a direct way of liberating the mind from distress and discontent, through understanding.

Beginning with Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970’s, mindfulness began to meet science.  Jon’s  realization that these ancient and classical teachings could be placed under a microscope, examined, translated into a format that could be applied to the world of physical and psychological distress has indelibly changed our cultural understanding of distress and health.  Jon’s brilliant capacity to present mindfulness in a language and format appropriate to our culture has in very real ways contributed to the well being and healing of tens of thousands of people. There is a thirst in our culture to live a more wakeful, compassionate and insightful life. The accessibility and simplicity of mindfulness as we know it today, allows people to be a conscious participant in their own healing and well being.

Beginning with Jon, continuing with Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindal Seigal and many others, many of you her and too many to thank individually, science has brought a rigour to the world of mindfulness – it can be scrutinised, not only its theory but how it works can be researched and  understood, the effects on peoples well being can be measured.  Just as many western psychological approaches are increasingly incorporating mindfulness, so too have teachers of traditional mindfulness in meditative settings been challenged to clarify their own understanding of what this word mindfulness actually means. Probing the word mindfulness we discover how difficult it is to produce an adequate working definition.

What is clear in the early teachings is that mindfulness is a spectrum word that includes being able to hold an object in sustained attention.  The capacity to do this protects the mind from the governance of impulse and habit, allows discernment of what is helpful and what is unhelpful to arise, allows us to investigate what is present and to re-frame our views.  On the bases of this we learn to walk new pathways psychologically and emotionally that are rooted in a present moment responsiveness resting upon an attitude of care.

8 week programmes were devised, tailored for people with chronic pain, depression and the abundance of applications that have been born of those 8 week programmes. Rigorous training centres for training teachers have been established. It is another step in the translations of these ancient teaching as they shift from culture to culture. An ongoing exploration in which many people here have and are playing a significant role.

All that we are now is a result of all that we were, all that we will be tomorrow will be the result of all that we are now.  What are the perils and what are the possibilities.  There are many parallels between the naturalization of meditation into our world and the spread and growth of mindfulness based applications.  In the early days meditation gained a popularity, long lost in Asia, books proliferated, retreat centres were built, journalists smuggled themselves into retreats, it became rather trendy to meditate. Nirvana became the name of a rock group and samsara the name of a perfume.  Many people felt daunted by a path that would be life long and short cuts were sought for.  There was a proliferation of techniques to alter the mind, sometimes just a newly disguised strategy to find a quick solution for inner discontent. The fast track to awakening was presented as a real possibility.  Meditation was at times presented as an answer to all of life’s afflictions.   People with sometimes very little understanding of the teaching presented themselves as experts, there was no system of accreditation of competency guidelines. It seemed a lot of people were searching for ways to understand themselves, to bring alienation and distress to an end and to find ways of befriending their minds.  Does any of this ring any bells for you in seeing how mindfulness is developing in our culture?

Meditation seemed filled with promise, its perceived promise also held the seeds of its implosion.  In establishing this ancient teaching in the west, meditation was abstracted from a path of awakening that included every aspect of our lives and gained primacy. The foundations of ethics, compassion and generosity were at times given only a cursory acknowledgement.  Retreats became the primary container for developing meditative skill, easily forgotten that this is a training for our lives. Meditation became equated with  techniques rather than a pathway of understanding that invited us often to change our lives and our ways of relating to the world.  Became something you do, not necessarily something embodied in every moment of experience.  Sometimes just as I have reservations about the word sati being translated as mindfulness and becoming one dimensional rather than a ground for understanding, so too I deeply regret the word bhavana (from the pali of the early texts) being translated as meditation rather than its more accurate translation of cultivation, or bringing into being.

The last forty years has seen some maturing of meditative traditions.  We learn to be more honest with ourselves and the meeting with science and western psychological teaching encourages that honesty.  We established agreed upon internationally recognised ethical guidelines.  We have learnt the importance of paying attention to diversity and inclusivity. We have learnt to offer much more rigorous training programmes for new teachers.

Forty years ago some of us asked the question – in establishing this teaching in this culture – what is it important to retain and what is it important to relinquish.  Today we asking those same questions.  I believe the mindfulness community is asked to examine the very same questions in its own development.  What is important to keep and develop, what is important to let go of in the service of making this pathway culturally appropriate. My sense has always been that teaching is a great privilege, it also comes with great responsibility.  Both meditation and contemporary mindfulness have plenty of sceptics.  This is a good thing.  Sceptics encourage us to place what we do under the microscope of investigation.  To question what we are teaching, to be honest about its possibilities and outcomes and to continue to learn. The future of this teaching that holds so much promise, truly does lie in our hands.  The great explosion of mindfulness in our culture may also hold the seeds of its own implosion.

Learning to live a more wakeful life, to be increasingly emotionally intelligent, to reclaim our capacity to be a participant in our own healing and freedom are the great gifts that lie at the heart of this teaching.  Learning what is means to be an embodied human being, where compassion, intentionality, dignity and responsive pervade our thoughts, words and acts is the genuine invitation of this path.  Relearning the timeless lessons of what leads to distress and what leads to the end of distress we learn through the willingness to turn toward our lives, our minds, bodies and hearts.  Changing the shape of our own minds we can contribute to changing our society and world, through the understanding, wakefulness and compassion we develop within.  This pathway holds great promise for our own well being and the well being of our society.  For that promise to be fulfilled we also need to embrace the perils.

I would like to share with you some of the lessons I and colleagues have learned and are continuing to learn in 45 years of teaching about perils and possibilities.  They are I sense the same lessons the contemporary mindfulness community is learning.  Perhaps we are all asking important questions that will shape how these pathways develop in the future.

Traditionally it is said that generosity and ethics protects the integrity of the teaching and the path.  In meditative communities there is nothing that does so much harm as a failure of ethical guidelines by the leaders and teachers in those communities.  Yet integrity is difficult to define and perhaps even more challenging to embody. Colleague – if the investigation of ethics does not make you uncomfortable you haven’t understood the question correctly.  Classically ethics is much deeper than a set of rules although in traditional meditative communities ethics is formulated in agreements and guidelines just as they are in many of your professional organisations, there are of course also many teaching mindfulness that no formal ties to professional organisations and their ethical standards.

Classically ethics is described as an embodied way of living in which all of our thoughts, words and actions are rooted in kindness and compassion.  Integrity is concerned not with obedience to rules only, but with a commitment to care, respect and dignity.  Mindfulness itself is sometimes translated as to care, as an embodied ethical way of being.  What is the place of ethics in contemporary mindfulness, is it a set of rules our a shared commitment you consciously and collectively make as teachers and trainers

In contemporary mindfulness in our culture, just as in meditative communities, I feel the question of ethics is too important to ignore and has nuances not known in ancient Indian communities.  Non harming is the heart of integrity but there are other dimensions of ethics that raise challenging questions for us all.  Teaching mindfulness could be described as wise livelihood but no livelihood is implicitly wise or skilful – the skilfulness in teaching meditation or contemporary mindfulness is I would suggest directly linked to our own motivation, our deeply felt sense of our work being guided by compassion and a wish to serve.   In meditation communities today we are asking important and difficult questions, they are ethical questions.  Do we want our retreats or our programmes to be populated primarily by white middle class who can afford to attend.  Do we have a responsibility to reach out, to commit to inclusivity and diversity – to find the ways to remove the barriers, real or perceived that exclude people.  Teachers need to make a living, do we find the ways to provide places in programmes for those who cannot afford to attend, to understand cultural differences in which our language, our poetry, our stories feel to be exclusive.

Money is a real question, not always a comfortable question – it raises I think an even deeper and more possibly troubling question.  Is teaching mindfulness a career choice or is it a way of living, serving and working born of a deep inner commitment to contribute to the healing of distress. – it is possible , as one newspaper remarked recently, to make a lot of money teaching mindfulness, just as in Asia it is possible to be intent on being a rich monastery or a monastery deeply committed to serving all. I am also aware of how many of you offer endless hours of unpaid service and work out of generosity and a deep commitment to making this path inclusive. We live in a time when financial hardship and all of the difficulties that come with it plays a major contributing role in psychological distress, despair and depression.  So many young people face levels of pressure that they crumble psychologically, so many in our society feel excluded and disaffected.  Mindfulness as an embodied ethic teaches us to widen the circle of concern, to contribute to a culture of health, a healthy society.  Its ability to do this rests upon our capacity to include the whole of our communities and societies in the work we do.  There are no easy answers to this question of inclusivity and accessibility and I am not proposing solutions – but it is an important question and a responsibility that will have much to do with protecting the future of mindfulness and let us sleep at night without regret.

Meditative communities in the west have faced true difficulty when teachers have forgotten to be students – instead becoming identified with a role and forgetting that this is a journey of a lifetime.  Forgetting too that our capacity to embody this teaching is directly linked to the aliveness of our own practice.   Mindfulness I think is something much deeper than a technique we learn solely as a means to teach others.    In developing and deepening our understanding of mindfulness there are two simultaneous journeys being made.  One is the journey of learning and developing the skills and practices that support the development of mindfulness based applications.  The second journey, equally if not more significant, is the journey we make inwardly in understanding how our own world of experience is shaped, understanding what it means in that experience to find a freedom from being governed by habitual patterns and narratives that create personal distress.

Through dedicated and sustained personal practice we begin to develop an inner awareness of our own mind/heart processes that is the root of compassion, warmth, acceptance and understanding we are able to bring to being with others.   Through the development of our own practice and investigation we begin to learn not only what it means to be established in a mindful awareness in our own life but what it means to be a mindful teacher, a mindful clinician who is able to embody the qualities we encourage clients and patients to develop.  This is a learning of a lifetime.

The greatest and most frequently repeated complaint I hear from those teaching mindfulness is the uncomfortable awareness of the moments when they are asking their clients to develop kindness, compassion, intention and investigation, yet are not developing and applying those same skills and qualities in their own lives.  Some mindfulness teachers report feeling fraudulent.  They lead a group and go home find themselves snapping at their partner, irritated with their children and so busy they cannot find the space for personal practice.  I welcome these reports.  Dissonance is an uncomfortable awareness – the gap between our aspirations, our intentions and indeed what we emphasise in our teaching and how we ourselves live, act and speak.  Dissonance is not to be judged, it is the classroom of a dedicated mindfulness teacher and student.  We need critical friends, to develop a critical mind within ourselves to know when dissonance is not being attended to.  We need to develop our own capacity to receive feedback and criticism.  We may benefit from seeking out peers who can guide us. We need to know when it might be important for us to stop teaching for a time and attend to our own well being.  Dissonance judged or unattended to disables our capacity to be with ourselves or to be with others in a skilful and kind way. We do not need to be perfectly mindful, perfectly compassionate, perfectly calm in order to teach.  We could wait a long time.  But perhaps we do need to hold embodiment as our aspiration and the heart of the teaching.

What do we mean by embodiment.   Mindfulness has key elements – kindness, unconditional positive regard, intentionality, sensitivity, investigation, empathy and present moment attentiveness.  My current working definition – the willingness and capacity to be equally near all events and experience with kindness, curiosity and discernment.  These are not abstract theories or qualities – the invitation of this path is to live in this way, to embody these qualities in all moments and relationships as a direct way of caring for ourselves and others.  This can almost seem a frightening invitation as mindfulness reveals to us all the moments of heedlessness and reactivity in our own lives.  Embodiment in my understanding is not a future, remote goal it is a present moment invitation and commitment that is developed nowhere else except in the moments of dissonance.

There has been sufficient research done to draw clear parallels between the embodied mindful presence of the teacher and the positive outcomes for the clients.  We can never guarantee positive outcomes and indeed it would be unhelpful to assume that exaggerated responsibility.  Yet in teaching vulnerable populations who may have life long patterns of self judgment, despair, depression and anxiety there comes a huge responsibility. We may teach people who have no life experience of what compassion or acceptance feels like.  In teaching session people absorb the clues and change in attitudes that are embodied in the accepting, welcoming, empathic, compassionate teacher.  We cannot pretend or contrive these qualities, they have been developed in the classroom of our relationship to ourselves.

It is not the skills or techniques alone that have the power to transform suffering, it is the shift from aversion to befriending, from fear to capacity, from habit to mindfulness, from reactivity to responsiveness, from patterns of abandonment to relationships of curiosity and connectedness that transform suffering.  The most significant shift I ever see anyone make in mindfulness training is the shift from aversion and abandonment to the capacity to befriend their minds and lives. These primary shifts in attitude are guide by the teacher, embodied by the teacher.

As we all know there are numerous lively and at times difficult conversations about competency taking place.  They are necessary conversation if mindfulness is to have a viable possibility of becoming more deeply integrated into our society.  You can take a week long on line training and become a mindfulness teacher.  You can take a postgraduate training that will incorporate personal retreat experience, supervision, understanding the core Buddhist psychological underpinnings of mindfulness and academic rigour.  There are pressures from services and organisations that people work for to present mindfulness training to clients even if they have done little training themselves.   There are pressures from services to deliver shortened trainings in order to meet demand.  We live in interesting times.  Competence may simply be another word for embodiment, it can and most likely will be increasingly regulated outwardly, most significantly I feel it needs to be honestly regulated inwardly.  Competence means more than accreditation, it is the primary way of protecting our own well being, safeguarding the well being of all those we teach and protecting the integrity of the path so mindfulness is not just the trend of the moment, but a genuine way of  easing suffering, facilitating healing that has a future.

We may need to hold the long view for the practice, ourselves and those we work with.  Understandably service and organisation will be primarily concerned with the measurable outcomes of mindfulness training and the economics of mindfulness.  We are easily drawn into being solution centred.  Mindfulness can be seen as a therapeutic tool for managing life or can be seen as part of  transformative pathway concerned with understanding and uprooting the causes of distress and developing liberative understanding.  There are those in more traditional meditative lineages who see contemporary mindfulness as a movement that has abstracted one aspect of the path from the training in liberation and presenting that fragment as being the whole of the teaching.  There are those in contemporary mindfulness who feel misunderstood and judged by the traditional communities, who are unaware of the ongoing investigation in secular mindfulness into ethics, and the whole of the path of awakening.  There are the voices that suggest that to deeply understand mindfulness relies upon deeply understanding core psychological process outlined not only in Buddhist psychology but increasingly in western psychology.  There are voices that suggest that understanding the origins of mindfulness in the ancient teachings is irrelevant.

The perspective of mindfulness being a skill and attitude that helps us to navigate our way through life and the perspective of mindfulness being one significant feature of a path of transformation are not in my mind mutually exclusive.  There is an immediacy to mindfulness and there is the long view.  Any of you who have undertaken a serious path of cultivating awareness, stillness, calm and understanding know this is the work of a life time.  8 week courses are offered to people who often come to startling understanding and changes in a short period of time.  Yet it is a beginning.  Just as for someone doing an introductory course in meditation or a week-long retreat – it is a beginning. We have yet to fully develop a comprehensive way sustaining and supporting  people over the long term.   In traditional meditative communities in the west we were good at establishing centres and offering retreats.  We have also come to understand the need to provide means of people feeling supported and inspired in their lives when retreats come to an end.  Post an 8 week course how do we continue to encourage people not just to survive but to thrive, to build upon the learning that has taken place in the 8 weeks.   It is a work in progress just as I feel it will be another significant step in developing contemporary mindfulness in our society.

Perils – what we have learned in developing meditative pathways in this culture is the peril of sectarianism.  One lineage claiming supremacy over another, one tradition disdaining another.  A similar peril exists in the contemporary mindfulness world.  Whose teaching is better or more comprehensive.  We can take it all to personally.  The heart of all transformation rests in learning to take the self out of the centre of experience.  We need to learn lessons of respect and dignity.  Rather than personalising it perhaps we can, as is happening, simply outline what the components of good teaching and practice are and commit to developing those components.  At the heart of all that we do is compassion, the commitment to understanding the ways to the end of distress and learning to be a conscious participant in the healing and awakening of our world.  Effectiveness relies upon skill and upon understanding.  This is what we commit to.

In times of greatest distress the first capacities and qualities to disappear are kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.  In times of greatest distress these are the very qualities that are our greatest allies that guide us though the landscapes of bleakness, depression, anxiety and pain.  In traditional Buddhist psychology these qualities were sidelined for the last 1500 years.  Seen to be secondary to mindfulness and insight.  There is considerable change currently going on through the exploration of the early texts where the Buddha describes kindness and compassion as a mindfulness and a path to awakening in themselves.  They are qualities that can be cultivated, trained and rest upon the same intentionality as any form of mindfulness.

In the first decades of contemporary mindfulness it was accepted that kindness and compassion are implicitly interwoven in the 8 week programmes.  Mindfulness is not the cold stare of attention but imbued with the willingness to welcome, accept and befriend all experience.  We cannot assume that we instinctively embrace pain and suffering in our lives with compassion.  We are hard wired to primarily perceive what is wrong and broken.  We respond far more easily to suffering in others with compassion than to the suffering we encounter in ourselves. The shift from aversion to kindness is a transformative one, but deeply challenging.  Much research is going on focussed around the ways in which these core attitudes of kindness and compassion can be cultivated and trained.

Clearly the attitudinal presence of the teacher is central to communicating the significance and centrality of compassion and kindness in the deepening of mindfulness and changing the shape of our minds. Is a mindfulness teacher automatically a compassionate teacher.  Does this rely upon the lessons of compassion they have learnt in the classroom of their own distress and resistance to distress.  Learning inwardly to release our own judgmental, aversive and blaming tendencies is perhaps the ground of the ways we learn to engage with those we teach. We cannot pretend or contrive kindness and compassion, it would never be convincing but we can commit to them. Mindfulness teachers are frequently working with people who’s lives have been bereft of compassion and kindness.  The look to the teacher for the clues of what compassion looks like.  How do we bring this into our teaching other than through having learnt to make that shift from aversion to befriending within ourselves..  Yet we are aware when this is possible it is what creates a container of safety and respect in which people can deepen.

I think we can acknowledge that contemporary mindfulness as a therapeutic tool and path of healing is still in its infancy.  I do not say this in a pejorative way – in a very real sense that is its strength.  We are learning together, exploring together, finding together the ways of deepening in mindfulness inwardly and offering it to others in ways that can be most effective.  Yet we are asked I believe to walk this path with care.  To be open to scrutiny, to be honest inwardly, to be the best teachers we can be.

My understanding is that a gathering like this offers us the opportunity to support one another, to learn from one another and to inspire one another.  It also offers us a moment to stand back as a community with a shared commitment to the development of mindfulness, and take an honest look at how mindfulness is developing in our society.  We all know this is some wonderful and significant work being undertaken, there are countless people committed to serving others from the basis of their own rigorous training and understanding.  You do not need me to tell you, please don’t be offended, that there is too much flakiness out there under the umbrella of mindfulness.  If this field is to flourish it needs its scientific basis, it needs competence, it needs people willing to consistently examine their own motivations and embodiment.  We can all do our best to take personal responsibility for our own teaching and practice.  Yet if mindfulness is truly to be embedded in our culture, the services and organisations we work for will ask us to take collective responsibility for good practice and competence.  What do we do when we see bad practice, untrained teachers or trainings that are not comprehensive.  Compassion can be receptive, it also can be fierce if it is to protect people from harm.  These are difficult questions – yet they are raised on a regular basis from our mainstream organisations and service and we need not flinch from the difficult.

All that we are now is a result of all that we have been, all that we will be tomorrow will be the result of all that we are now.  Mindfulness is a rigorous training, developed in the midst of confusion and adversity.  We cannot take responsibility completely for the outcomes of any teaching we offer.  We can take responsibility for the comprehensiveness of our own training and practice.  We can take care to root our teaching in the deepest motivations of service and compassion.  We can widen the circle of our concern to include those in our world who would or could not walk easily through our doors.  We can commit ourselves to learning the craft and the art of mindfulness that allows the seeds of empathy, integrity, compassion and care to deepen in ourselves.  We can commit to being students of awakening and compassion.