Should There Be a Fee for Meditation Instruction?

Should learning to meditate be free? Should instructors be paid for sharing their expertise?

I’ve been thinking about these questions intensely since attending a recent meditation teacher training in which the answer was a resounding NO.

Without naming names, this training was offered for free by a local non-profit that has brought meditation into public schools, churches, the military, large corporations, prisons, hospitals–you name it. Although I already had formal training as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher and other forms of meditation, I wanted to learn more about best practices for working in the public sector.

But the day left me feeling very frustrated and discouraged. We were told that we were not being certified as representatives of the organization, that they did not want any volunteers, and if we wanted to teach meditation on our own, we should should still follow their provided script and not bring in any other wisdom or techniques. They reiterated again and again that we should not charge for meditation instruction, period.

I felt confused. While I feel that meditation should be made accessible to all, those sharing their skills also need to make a living. How to balance those issues?

At the lunch break I sat with a few participants and informally polled them about their reasons for attending and intentions to teach meditation. Everyone had noble aspirations, from teaching their grandchildren to meditate, to working with battered women’s shelters, to making meditation available to non-English speakers. Sharing the benefits of a meditation practice with others is a beautiful thing; with that I could not argue.

Yet I had invested $2500 in my training as an MBSR teacher, not to mention the money I had spent learning bodywork modalities, yoga teacher training, and personal enrichment, trying to make myself a well-rounded teacher. Was I wrong to want to be compensated for my hard-earned expertise and experience?

I decided to press the instructor further on his financial model. If his organization has no outside funding, there are no paid employees, he doesn’t charge for his services, and this is his full time career, how does he support himself? I asked him this pointedly in front of the group and he replied, “How do I live? I live peacefully and happily.” It was all I could do not to flip him the bird.

I felt insulted, frankly. I am serious about my meditation practice and about sharing its benefits with others. I am just as serious about paying my rent on time and wanting to secure a future for myself. Money is not a dirty word; it’s just energy. Exchanging money for instruction in meditation seems acceptable to me. I have always donated some of my time and services to underserved populations, which is my way of making them accessible to those who might not be able to afford them.

After this experience I began to wonder, should people charge for meditation instruction? I mean, what could be more simple than focusing the attention on the breath? It’s the birthright of everyone on this planet. Everyone has the tools, yet I hear from people all the time that they want help in developing the skills, and some are willing to pay for that expertise.

But not all. Twelve years after starting my massage practice, two years after my yoga teacher training, and a year after my MBSR training, I am barely getting by financially. I am in my mid-40s and have never made more than $20k per year. I’m over it! I don’t aspire to be rich and enjoy living simply, but I would like to feel secure, knowing that I can pay my bills and be planning for my old age. Mindfulness was recently on the cover of Time magazine, evidence that it has become mainstream, yet here I am.

I’m not sure what I want to do with all this. I am planning to go back to graduate school in the fall and finish my master’s degree in library and information science, hoping it might lead to a better job where I can still help people. I’m not sure what to do with this blog, or my website, whether to market my teaching or where to put my energy.

I would really like to hear from people about whether meditation instruction has value, and whether to charge a fee or not. If you are “making it” as a spiritual teacher, let me know how. Is there a model that you think works well (e.g. a corporation sponsoring meditation instruction made available for free to participants)? Teachers, students, I want to hear from everyone.

Thank you!

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Is Your Spiritual Practice as Good as Your Dog’s?

In your spiritual practice, can you honestly say that you are 100% present all the time? As you go about your daily life, are you unconditionally loving to everyone you meet? Are you able to forgive easily? These are ideals that most of us strive for in our lives, yet we may only catch glimpses of our goals over the course of a lifetime.

Our pets, on the other hand, seem to have mastered these qualities and practice them without hesitation. Animals can teach us so much about our own true nature, since they have never disconnected from the awareness of themselves as eternal spirits.

Animals are masters of living in the present moment. They don’t worry about tomorrow, nor do they resent what happened yesterday. There is no ego with animals, only being in the now.

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My spiritual teachers, Molly and Gilligan.

I live with two house rabbits, Molly and Gilligan. They are my best friends, my family, and, I’ve come to realize, my spiritual teachers. Molly doesn’t need a glass of wine, I observe, to relax on her rug. Gilligan doesn’t need stimulants to express his joy while running in the yard first thing in the morning. They know who they are and they express themselves without hesitation.

Man is equipped with a mind, which gives him the ability to think, perhaps too much. Many of our abilities and senses, especially the intuition, can be blocked by our thinking. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of our true nature and essence.

Many people who grew up in a situation where they felt unloved find it easier to relate to animals than to other people. They may tend to love their animals more than themselves. It’s easier to be less judgmental of animals than we are of ourselves or others. Yet animals will bring us back to our spirituality and soulfulness ¬≠to help us remember that God loves us just the way we are. In some ways, an animal may be like the parent you never had, letting you know you are worth loving.

I’m reminded of this again and again when Molly and I visit nursing homes for Love on a Leash pet therapy. The reason animals are so effective with people with handicaps, in nursing homes, and with illnesses is because they teach us what we should have known as we were growing up: that we are loved; that we are forgiven; that we are an individualization of God.

Animals help us learn that we are God’s creation. We may do dumb things and act in strange ways but we’ll always be forgiven. In this knowledge we can go on, and keep practicing and rehearsing as we become the person we want to be.

It just goes to show, you can teach an old human new tricks.

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