Saturday, September 28, 2013, 3pm: The public lecture on the mindful brain is supposed to start; it is a charitable event for the ILC foundation. Over 60 people turn up and some are still at the door. We begin 15 minutes late introduction by Robyn; I then guide a short meditation before embarking on my lecture. A break, and then Q&A. Instead of finishing at 5:30, questions from participants keep coming until 5:50. Robyn and I have never done this before we invited a panel of experts to participate in answering peoples questions. They are all sitting and movement meditation students of ours with years of experience in mindfulness practice, all of them also accomplished professionals in different fields (doctors, psychotherapists, teachers and more).
I have taught these students for years. We have gone through many trials and tribulations together, exploring the vast landscapes of human suffering and joys, the great spaces of human experience. Over time, every single one of these students taught me as much as I taught them. At times some disliked me, or they disagreed with me. They protested, complained, inquired, doubted, disappeared, came back, opened up, feared vulnerability, took risks, mustered courage, criticised, admired, fell in love, became passionate, experienced anger, rejected the teachings with frustration, fell into despair, got lost, found a new identity, settled, calmed down, became tenacious, became patient, began to accept with curiosity, gave themselves space space space (a sigh) contemplating, reflecting, holding in awareness, reserving judgment, open to the unknown, beginners mind, waiting, watching, knowing that everything worthwhile takes lots of sweat and time wisdom.
They were experts not because they passed an exam or published intelligent papers. They were experts in the humble ways they engaged with the audience asking questions. They spoke from experience, an experience based on the foundation of thousands of hours of mindfulness practice. They gained experience in taking themselves seriously and knowing that they are the instruments of their lived lives. They often gained their expertise despite themselves, against their grain and against all odds, pushed by the winds of destiny. This enabled them to be profoundly connected with the participants from the audience asking questions, fellow human beings on the same journey to peace.
These panel members have lots of experience getting lost or stuck and not giving up, but know to work all the harder at investigating their predicament. They have experience in failure and learning from setbacks and dead ends. They are experts in circling around the grail of vulnerability, opening, softening and penetrating deeper and deeper across endless layers of conditionings and releases. All that has made them experts in presence, just being; and when they forget, lose it, turn reactive and fall into autopilot, awareness kicks in quickly and repair is possible. They are experts in flexibility, knowing there is no perfection, knowing there is more to unlearn, knowing that being free and easy in the market place is the name of the game.
In this way, they are transparent to themselves and to others, not dogmatic, but connected and open to the complexity of existence, and able to give freely of themselves. They know that the highest form of knowledge is love.
In the presence of such distinguished students of life, I cannot help forgetting the distinction between teacher and student. This is what mindfulness does to all of us. The layers of ignorance and pain soften, and the foundations of wisdom come to bear and inspire our journeys together. In fact, there was a point where teacher, panel and audience were one, a large cauldron of accumulated life experiences interweaving in a moment of cross-pollination. Many members of the audience were experienced students of mindfulness themselves, and the newbies, those who had never yet had exposure to this work, through their curiosity were already unsuspecting teachers of beginners mind. Dont we all know that asking a question means we intuitively already know the answer? There was a moment, a long moment in fact, when bodies, hearts and minds opened beyond the layers of distortions and fears, filling the whole atmosphere of this creating-space-yoga room, and where audience, panel and presenter were all experts beyond the limiting categories of our puny egos. There were so many moments, where it seemed to me we all felt how the only answers worth giving are the ones that lead to better questions.
Thank you all, audience, panel, Sandy, ILC and Robyn for the gift of your presence.