Great question! As a certified MBSR teacher and teacher trainer – for the UMass Center for Mindfulness and a mentor for the UCSD Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute (MBTI), I get asked this question more and more. If you look at the prerequisites for teaching MBSR or other MBI’s all over the world, the recommendation for personal retreat practice is consistent. To answer the question, I may start by quoting the originator of MBSR; Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (from his article “Some Reflections on the Origins of MBSR, Skillful Means, and the Trouble with Maps.”
“I personally consider the sitting of relatively long…teacher led, silent retreats to be an absolute necessity in the developing of one’s own meditation practice, understanding and effectiveness as a teacher… it is a laboratory requirement.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
But really I have to answer this question for myself, just as the heart of Mindfulness Based Interventions are an invitation to access one’s own wisdom, I need to turn within to answer it. In order to ask people to face the difficulties of their lives, chronic pain, sick family members, financial stressors, “The Full Catastrophe,” I need to know and have the confidence that I can do this myself. With the help of a good teachers in a supportive environment. I have found this capacity on the many retreats that I have attended. Mindfulness and the teaching of mindfulness are “inside out” learning and teaching. So while we hold the written curriculum with great integrity, and educate ourselves about the research, and understand the foundations of experiential learning, ultimately we have to know the interior landscape of our own hearts, minds and bodies. This is where the real curriculum lies.
If we are asking people to go inside to find their own wisdom, to face pain and loss with openness, curiosity and kindness (a very tall order) then it is important that we do this ourselves. Not just to be good teachers- of what has been described as “Intensive training in meditative practices”, but to really know and live our lives fully. For thousands of years people have found the silent container of retreat, held by strong teachers – who have sat on their own cushions for many hours, to be an effective way to see into the changing nature of things and to build resilience to face whatever comes in our lives with some degree of equanimity. In the age of technology and heightened busyness and distraction, it feels more important than ever, to find this silence and stillness where we can study the real curriculum that lies within.