In 2005 the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich That Hanh, was asked: “You will be 80 this year. Do you plan to retire as a spiritual teacher at any point?” His answer was eloquent and concluded with these words: “When people are exposed to (mindfulness practice), they are inspired. You don’t need to talk in order to teach. You need to live your life mindfully and deeply. Thank you.”
St. Francis of Assisi has been quoted as saying: “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” Most scholars of Francis state that this is likely an apocryphal story, but it is certainly suggestive of the kind of man we believe Francis was.
Chuck Knox, NFL Coach on a variety of teams including the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams died last Saturday at age 86. He once told his team “What you do speaks so well there’s no need to hear what you say.”
In their own way each is giving us the same instruction.
Years ago I was involved with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at a Catholic parish in Newark DE. When I first joined the RCIA team the facilitator of the group was a wonderful gentleman named Jim Gilmore, who was a recently retired engineer at the time. Jim passed away a few years ago, but I’ll never forget his answer to this question: “Why do you give so much time to the RCIA?” He told me that a few years earlier a work colleague had asked him what religion he belonged to. He recalled that he told the man that he was a Catholic, and the man replied “Oh, I didn’t know.” Jim told me “that shook me up. If I’m a Catholic, shouldn’t people be able to tell? Ever since then I try to live my faith. Not proselytize or preach, just live the way a Catholic should. And that means trying to help people, be kind and loving, and RCIA is how I do that.”
I’ve heard the same more than once from men and women attending their first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. “I’m not sure what the program is about, but I want what that person has.” And what that person “has” is typically grace under fire, calm in the midst of a storm, kindness in the face of antagonism, good humor no matter the stress level, the capacity to love even when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
It’s not “I’ve got this mindfulness, see, and when I need it I can do it and I feel better.” Rather, it is a matter of being mindful, fully present in each moment, open hearted and open minded. You should be able to tell that a person is living intentionally and mindfully by their presence with you, from his/her simple intention to be that kind of person.
Live mindfully moment to moment. Fail at it often, learn from each mindless moment. Then form the intention again. Intend to BE mindful; don’t worry about explaining it.
And, if you do that, then you ARE a mindfulness teacher.