What is the role of a Mindfulness Practitioner?

Currently, people are teaching mindfulness from lots of different backgrounds and for lots of different purposes.

Some clinicians teach mindfulness as a treatment for psychopathology, there are school teachers that teach mindfulness to foster healthy learning environments and there are spiritual teachers that teach mindfulness to facilitate transpersonal growth. However, something that we occasionally observe is that mindfulness teachers are not always clear about their role and participants can become confused about whether they are receiving a psychotherapeutic intervention or Dharma teachings.

Mindfulness is an introspective process and even when it is taught in clinical contexts, it often brings people into contact with their more ‘subtle self’. Therefore, participants or patients referred to receive mindfulness training in order to overcome a specific issue such as stress, depression or addiction may end up asking questions of the mindfulness teacher that are explicitly spiritual in nature. This scenario can put mindfulness teachers in a difficult situation—especially if their mindfulness training was explicitly clinically focussed. However, it is our view that mindfulness teachers should avoid feeling that they need to have an answer for everything and from the very start, they should be absolutely clear (with themselves and with their students/patients) about their role.

The same applies for spiritual teachers that are asked questions relating to issues of a clinical or medical nature—being honest with participants by avoiding trying to have an answer for everything helps to build trust and makes for a healthy learning and practice environment. In fact, consistent with the traditional Buddhist approach to teaching mindfulness, the teacher-student relationship should be one where both parties are open to learning from each other and where the teacher always strives to have a ‘beginners mind’ (i.e. a mind that remains completely open so that it can experience everything as fresh and as an opportunity for acquiring wisdom).