The Guide on the Side

BL00 - The Guide on the Side

By Piero Falci

While reflecting on the process of training and certifying individuals to become teachers of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program that he created, I once heard Jon Kabat-Zinn say, “There are times when I ponder: ‘What makes one a capable mindfulness teacher? Who is capable of transmitting the teachings?’” I think about what he said, and I often ask myself: “Am I capable?” 

When I began teaching, I was not sure I knew enough. I was insecure. I was afraid that I would forget what my teachers had taught me. But as I continued to teach, I came to realize that my peaceful and centered presence was more important than all the information I could impart.

Now, I allow myself to not know, and I am at peace with not knowing. I bask in the liberating feeling of not having to know everything. I looked back at my life, appreciated its richness and the variety of life experiences that I have had, and came to the conclusion that I have been preparing myself to teach mindfulness not only from the moment I first enrolled in a mindfulness course, but since the moment I was born.

My self-confidence grew when I realized that my inner wisdom, and the wisdom of my students, would always be available to help us when we needed it. I came to the conclusion that what was truly important was to embody and exude the qualities that mindfulness brings about, and that what I said was less important than my essence, energy, and demeanor. I realized that my main job, besides embodying mindfulness —and showing up completely vulnerable, without the need to protect my ego, or aggrandize it—was to create and hold a safe space for my students to explore, discover, and learn by themselves.

I realized that I am not the teacher, but that life itself, with all its messiness and wonder, is the teacher, the curriculum, and the practice. My job is to honor my students—who they are, as they are—and create conditions that make it easier for them to learn about themselves from their own lives.

Sometimes I reflect on my own journey of transformation—‘The Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Piero Falci,’ as I call it—and how I have changed. I ask myself, “Am I capable of transmitting the essence of the mindfulness teachings in a way that truly contributes to the alleviation of suffering?” Well, I don't take this responsibility lightly: not at all. For me, it is not, and it cannot be just another thing that I do: No! To the best I can, I live out the teachings, knowing that this is what may give me the ability to transmit them properly.

Some say that I am a good man, but aware of my flaws and limitations, and that I am on a journey like everyone else, I prefer to remind myself that I’m just trying to be a better man: this sounds truer for me. I know that my commitment to practice, study, observe, ponder, write, and learn everyday from life itself, is present and strong in me. I keep approaching the present moment with renewed interest, curiosity, and freshness, and this makes my life vibrant and energized. And I know that this energy shows up in my interactions with others.

I often ask myself, “What breaks my heart? What are my heartfelt desires for this world? What do I have to offer to make people’s lives better and bring about a better world? What is important at this stage of my life, now that I am approaching my seventh decade of existence?” I guess that, among other things, what is important is to cultivate humility, humble myself, perfect my craft, practice mindfulness, impart the teachings with kindness, and live as mindfully as I possibly can, for my own liberation and the liberation of others. 

And that’s what I bring to my classes. I plan them, but remain open. I am attentive to what is called for in each moment. If I have to toss away my well-crafted lesson plans, and do something different, I’m OK with that. As my mentor told me, “Pay attention to the students and to what they say because what comes out of their mouths is gold!” Therefore I trust the intelligence that arises from the group in each moment, and do my best to create and hold a container for them where they feel safe and can be brave. I try to be present, sensitive, and flexible, surrendering control, and striving to get my ego out of the way, making sure that my intentions remain pure. I offer myself as a clean conduit for the intelligence of the Universe to flow through me. I try my best to be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage, and I keep reminding myself, “It’s not about me: it’s about them.”

“I teach. What’s your superpower?”

Those words were in a plaque hanging on the wall of a school where I used to teach. For years, I read them every time I entered that building. Well, I can say that I have found my niche, and that I feel very much at ease in it. I found my way of contributing to make lives better, and to make this world of ours a kinder place. And I feel fortunate because I do what I like, and I like what I do.

Robert Frost said, “I’m not a teacher, but an awakener,” and that’s what I feel I am: I help people awaken and see. I help them get to a place where they can look deeply and see clearly. I help them reach a place where they can consciously unlearn the wrong views that they have unconsciously learned. I help them tame their greed, ill will, and delusion, and develop their generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom. Yes, that’s what I do. That’s my superpower. And I feel blessed and grateful for the opportunities that were given me to apply it.


Join Piero for our upcoming Fall 5-Day Meditation Retreat as well as his next MBSR class that starts on Monday, July 24th. 


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