Some twelve months ago I received an email which simultaneously excited me and made me very, very nervous: I’d been accepted into the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) Teacher Training program. This meant that I would spend the next year learning how to teach the material I’d just read in Chade Meng Tan’s excellent book Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace). The book had appealed to me both because of the engineering-based approach it took to developing a personal mindfulness practice, and because it was deeply rooted in the larger movement towards a world united by our common humanity, rather than divided by our beliefs. The fact that the program was born at Google piqued my interest: despite my unwillingness to be tracked by all things Google (I refuse to use Chrome or Google Search for example) I couldn’t deny that they knew a thing or two about building cohesive, successful teams.
I knew from reading through the SIY Teacher Training agreement that this training would be challenging in terms of time, as well as the depth of knowledge and personal commitment to mindful practice that was required. I’ve written about what a time-challenged time this was in my series on Time Scarcity. The depth of knowledge was something I was looking forward to: I’d been practicing meditation on and off since the early 1990s and in the last five years had completed a 10-day silent retreat and focused mainly on Vipassana practice.
As mindfulness had exploded into a multi-billion dollar industry in the US I found myself increasingly struggling to separate the sales hype from the well-researched and deep knowledge of the most experienced teachers within the movement.
This Teacher Training promised exactly that – a hard look at the neuroscience of mindfulness, separating good science from “a bountiful harvest of data, refried as sales hype¹”. It also offered me an opportunity to formalize and deepen my own practice even as I learned how to help others become more effective leaders.
For me the Teacher Training began with attendance at a 2-Day SIY Program, which is the flagship workshop that is taught by SIY Certified Teachers. It was a fabulous revisit of a lot of practice and theory I already knew. It also added a lot of new-to-me knowledge that further deepened my understanding and commitment to Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence. From there we went straight into a multi-day Teacher Training opening session.
What struck me as we moved through this first session of becoming familiar with the program and starting to learn how to teach it was the way SIYLI (the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute) highlighted reliance on community as part of the Teacher Training journey. I have teaching & coaching certifications in a host of other disciplines, but this is what made SIY really stand apart. From the get-go, we were divided into learning “pods” made up of other teachers-in-training in our geographic area – shout out to my “lucky 7s” poddies, Tay & Val from M Meditation, Barbara Castro Puente and Holly Walker. Throughout the following 4 months, these pods, along with our 1:1 “buddies” shout out to Keally DeWitt – were our support and lifeline as we went through the process of practice teaching the SIY material to “friendly” audiences. Shout out here to my former Stratolaunch colleagues Dustin Kaiser, Greg Seymour, Stacey Plum, Kimberly Pettit, Brian Morse, Zachary Krevor, Stephanie Greenberg and others for being such curious and forgiving “practice” students.
The experience of teaching this material to my colleagues, and then seeing them immediately put their learning into practice, was instrumental to my success. It was great validation to see the tools I had taught put to use in our own work environment.
By building community into the teacher training, SIY headed off the most common complaint about the mindfulness movement in the US – the accusation that it is nothing more than affluent narcissism, aka McMindfulness.
Throughout the training we were encouraged to think about the wider impact of the work we were preparing to bring to the world, on not just the work environments and home lives of our program participants, but also social justice, the climate problem, gender equality and other social issues.
This focus on community building is something that continued through the teacher training – into session 2 and later as we moved into the Practicum portion of the teacher training.
During the Practicum portion we each had to teach a full 2-day program to an audience of our choosing. This was not just a practice of teaching but more crucially, a practice of building community. Shout out here to my SIY Practicum co-teachers, Barbara Boselli and Alexie Dossa. Those first workshop participants have, in my experience, become strong advocates for the SIY mission and program. Additionally, SIY encourages us to teach the program not just to corporate clients, but also non-profits, hoping to widen the mindfulness practices beyond the affluent corporate audience within which the program was born.
Another aspect of the training that really struck me during the process and has continued afterwards was the insistence on critical thinking about claims made by publications and media surrounding the neuroscience of mindfulness. Not only were we encouraged to think critically about the science that was being presented, but also about how we personally talked about the science. The importance of checking our sources and doing the deeper research of reading the actual science papers, as opposed to media summaries or snippets, was emphasized throughout the training. Great importance was also placed on additional reading outside of the course materials – the deliberate deepening of our own body of knowledge and breadth of experience. This was the most enjoyable part of the training for me, since I have a love of learning that just won’t quit.
Reflecting back on the entire journey, as an introvert this aspect of community and reliance on others was probably the most challenging – and growth creating – piece of the training for me. As a scientist by training I didn’t struggle with the neuroscience reading and synthesis, and as a lifelong lover of public speaking the getting up in front of an audience piece was completely natural for me. What I did find was that by bringing deep mindfulness into the act of workshop facilitation I was able to find and embody something I nicknamed “the bottomless spark” – a depth of presence and lightness of being that had hitherto eluded me on stage.
Ultimately, this is the beauty of how SIY prepares its Certified Teachers. The programming and course design has such depth and scope that no matter their preferences and strengths, there is a way that the teacher-in-training will grow and stretch their boundaries and comfort zone.
So earlier this month, almost exactly a year after the first email arrived, I received another email: I had met all the requirements on first submission and was now a Search Inside Yourself Certified Teacher.
What does this mean in real terms?
It means that I now have the tools I need for the two-pronged approach of my vision for the future: SIY programs to build workplaces that are more collaborative and inclusive in addition to the training I am providing to accelerate women into positions of needle-moving personal and professional leadership.
And engaged employees create a great bottom line, which means everyone wins.
And the only way we will overcome the challenges facing us as a common humanity is by working together.
Incidentally, great rebuttal of the McMindfulness accusation is a paper titled “The Myth Of McMindfulness” published in December 2019.
Of course, a huge shout out and thank you to Sara Solomon and the entire SIY team, and my Cohort 7 peers.
¹Professor Evan Thompson, ISCS 2016 Closing Keynote