Why Get a Meditation Coach?

Having a meditation coach can significantly improve the quality of your mindfulness practice and your life. I remember when I started meditating. I was just coming off of 4 years of antidepressants and I had read a book called Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan For Finding Peace in a Frantic World. After finishing it, and realizing how hard it was to develop a mediation practice on your own, I was lucky enough to find a local teacher who taught the 8 week program in my hometown. Long story short, I finished the program and it changed my life. Since then, I’ve spent months at monasteries, participated in many 10 day silent retreats, practiced and studied Buddhism all over Asia and had many challenges and difficulties along the way. That being said, I have no doubt that mindfulness is one of the most powerful habits you can get into in order to live a more peaceful, fulfilling and joyful life. There are a tremendous amount of benefits associated with meditation and, for the most part, anyone can take the time to learn this ancient practice.


In today’s world, YouTube, apps and other electronic mediums can be used to help introduce mindfulness and build a meditation practice for someone who wants to experience the benefits of the work. I have indeeed used YouTube to host some of my own guided meditations. That being said, almost all of my formal mediation training has been with another person or group of people. I practice what I preach here and I regularly study Koans with my Rinzai Zen master and also develop my more formal understanding of Zen Buddhism, it’s precepts, practices, open awareness meditation, and history with my Soto Zen master. These are just the two most recent in a long line of great teachers I have had. So, what is the advantage of having a real teacher or meditation coach assisting you in your journey?


There is SO Much Out There!

Most of the people I work with already have some experience with meditation or mindfulness. This could be from an online course, app or in person meditation class. Others have read books and enjoyed the wisdom distilled in the pages and are yearning for that same experience or way of living as the author describes. That being said, with all the resources, videos, books, etc. which is the best way? What authors are frauds? Which techniques really work? The reality is, the West has, in a lot of ways, commercialized and “watered down” a lot of the ancient practices and teachings of Buddhism for the benefit of western minds and cultures. In some ways this is good. For example, when I work with my Rinzai Zen Master, he has not included some of the Koans which require a good cultural understanding of the East. Also, there can be a lot of rituals and traditions in Eastern Buddhism that make it far less appealing for Westerners. In an ideal world, all that’s left is the pure practice which yields great benefits for those who engage with it. Unfortunately, that is not the case.


Relying on reading, podcasts, videos, apps, etc. to begin a practice is great. But to sustain a solid practice and really grow, it is far better to have a ‘system’ or consistent approach to cultivating joy and insight. If we continually bounce around, looking for more answers, trying to make sense of practice, reading the experiences of many others, we are going to miss the true heart of meditation which is the ability to develop and cultivate our own insight, not that of another’s. I have had many people come to me confused, lost, frustrated and not sure of what to do with their practice. They always were looking for answers outside themselves and as a side-effect end up missing the real jewel of this practice (inside you).


We Can’t Do This Alone...

In the East we talk about the three pillars of Buddhism, referred to as the “Triple Gem”. These include Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teaching) and Sangha (the community). These are highly interdependent and it is essential to have all 3 with you on your practice path. I like to make an analogy that the first pillar “Buddha” is like a coach. The second pillar “Dharma” is the practice and game time. The third pillar “Sangha” is the team, and in this sport (like most) you need the team to succeed. The books, podcasts, apps and videos do not have any intimate connection with you. They cannot see your blindsides, challenge you or help you get out of places when you are stuck. There is also a natural bond and chemistry that is created between a teacher or coach and their student or coach. This is based on trust and mutual respect so there you are able to present your authentic self to your teacher. With this in mind, a meditation coach can see very clearly into your heart and mind and readily assist you (and quickly) with areas that you need support or further growth in. This has been one of the greatest joys and benefits of my own meditation practice and spiritual path; having those with me who have climbed the mountain prior and know all the dangers, routes, crossings and areas we can get lost. I assure you, I am far better off with them than I am without. I have noticed after having met a lot of other western meditation teachers that they are stuck. They kind of plateau at a certain level and teach a milder, watered down and frankly more superficial form of meditation. I am not judging them, they are doing their best but there just isn’t deepend level of insight that gets cultivated when you work with someone more directly.

Insight Must Be Tamed

Those who meditate long enough and deep enough, eventually are going to encounter some kind of satori or “enlightenment”. When this happens it can be beautiful, transformative, revealing and unforgettable. To that end, the way enlightenment is discussed in the West is often wrong and very counterproductive to living an awakened life. Our ego’s first desire is to “hold on” to such an experience. Try to “keep it” and continue that feeling or state as long as we can. Once we ‘lose’ it, we feel disheartened, lost and sometimes angry. This just builds on our delusions and prevents us from attaining a more long lasting, penetrating and interconnected state of being. I won’t explain it here much more (it can’t really be explained in words or understood by the rational mind) but an experienced meditation teacher or coach has likely gone through many of the traps that are along the path and can see very clearly when another is stuck. There is no “Grand Awakening" or state of being that we can hold onto forever and eventually, we come to realize that ALL of our experience (including delusion) is enlightenment. Knowing when we are stuck is a great advantage to enhancing our self-awareness and understanding of the world. Not knowing can be counterproductive, frustrating and in some cases, dangerous. And, frankly speaking, we are fundamentally incapable of seeing our own blindsides. This is one of the great benefits of working with a coach.


We Get Caught in Our Own Delusions

As mentioned previously, delusion is part of our experience. The key to a really sustained, meaningful and transformative practice is not getting caught in our delusions. There are many traps or “enemies” of meditation that have been identified centuries before by great Zen masters and Buddhist monks. These traps manifest from the inside out and unless we can really begin to separate our ego from who we really are, there is a good chance we will get stuck. It is great to have a coach or teacher there, with you able to notice this and help you avoid these common traps.


There is FAR More to Meditation Practice Than Just Meditating

If all meditation practice was, was single point concentration or sitting in open awareness, then not much good would come from it. It’s the results of the practice that start to impact our life in a profoundly positive way. I used to say to students that meditation doesn’t give us anything, it just takes away the garbage (fear, anxiety, depression, etc.) that prevents us from seeing ourselves and the world as it really is (not knowing mind). I have learned a lot since then and I would like to add that, although it does “take it away” those aspects of ourselves are also a part of the experience of realization, fulfillment and joy. To that end, making sense of our increased self-awareness, improved empathy and greater joy can be confusing, challenging and discouraging. Sometimes, meditating can bring to the surface old traumas and very intense painful emotions. Left to their own devices, I have seen students stop practicing, get disillusioned and move away from the very same emotions they should be feeling out and moving into. Someone who has been in that situation before can actively empathize and really meet you where you are. A teacher or coach can be a wonderful source of comfort, insight and practical advice when things get challenging and confusing.


Building Mindfulness Into Our Lives Can Be Challenging

I already emphasized that a truly fulfilled meditation practice involves a lot more than just sitting and meditating. As we develop self-awareness, self-regulation and insight, our understanding of who we are and the world around us changes. Trying to bring our practice into our day to day lives, presents a unique opportunity to not only deepen your transformation but also actively change your life. This can involve dealing with old or new relationships, making shifts in your habits, building a different life, working with a team, leading an organization, developing policy, learning to grieve or all kinds of different applications. Having a solid grounding in your practice and a trusted, intuitive guide who knows you is essential. They can help you integrate your practice and life, so eventually they are inseparable. This is extremely beneficial for attaining the maximum benefits of this work.


Conclusion


Mindfulness and meditation has the power to gradually but profoundly change your life. It is a path that continuously unfolds before us and is a source of never ending growth. We can truly find far more joy, peace, forgiveness and compassion with this work and channel our new found wisdom into creating a meaningful and profound impact on the world. To take the first step is a real blessing and privilege. To climb the mountain, you’ll want a guide.


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