What can we learn from Carl Rogers for teaching mindfulness?
There are many parallels between mindfulness and the theories and concepts expounded by the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. While he has much to say about opening to experience in the present moment, for example, reflecting some of the key teachings of mindfulness (and which I will discuss in a future article), my aim here is to focus on some of his educational ideas. I will focus on four concepts that I think are helpful for mindfulness teachers to consider when interacting with participants. These are:
- unconditional positive regard
- empathic understanding
Rogers person-centred philosophy towards education and psychotherapy underpin these four concepts. For me, reflecting upon these concepts (whether you subscribe to a person-centred view or not) can enable a healthy attitude toward one's participants, ensuring that they feel safe, accepted and that their views are heard.
Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR)
UPR is the ability to relate to people with acceptance, care and on-going support, no matter what they do or say. For Rogers this can help facilitate optimal functioning in a person. As mindfulness teachers, we may find that, as participants practice, they develop a need to share deeply personal experiences and reflections. Whilst participants may not wish to share all, especially within a group setting, holding such an attitude may help provide the safe and trusting environment needed for participants to open up about their experiences with honesty, thus helping them to make progress in their understanding of practice.
For Rogers, the ability of the facilitator to be genuine in their engagement with clients is a core condition for the facilitation of effective learning. The facilitator is mindful of her feelings, emotions, reactions, etc, and has no intent to put on a face. This may break down any sense of hierarchy and make the encounter one between two human beings. The clear intent of the facilitator is to relate with realness and kindness to the other. As teachers of mindfulness, we can perhaps cultivate this attitude of realness by sharing our own life challenges with our participants and maintaining an openness to how we feel at any one time - perhaps even communicating how we are to participants. Being in touch with ourselves without trying to mask how we are can help enrich our ability to talk about the challenges of life and mindfulness practice, but it can also help participants to realise that you, like them, have similar daily life challenges. This may help dispel any assumptions on the participants' behalf that you have your life completely sorted an that you have all the answers. Whilst one must judge carefully when to divulge personal experience, a certain degree can help build trust within a group.
Prizing, according to Rogers, is about recognising and accepting a person's limitations, whilst at the same time trusting in their human potential (with the view that the human organism has great capacity for growth). For Rogers, this means valuing the opinions and feelings of the other person - as being worthy in their own right. As mindfulness teachers we may naturally recognise the potential for development in others, seeing it in ourselves, but holding a space of care and trust for each individual (with UPR!), so that they feel valued, can also help maintain and develop the trust and honesty required for successful learning.
Empathic understanding (EU)
EU, for Rogers, refers to the ability to understand the other person from their own, not the teacher's, perspective. Being alert and sensitive to how participants may be experiencing learning at any one time, can help us to make the adjustments necessary to respond skilfully in the moment. By not making assumptions, and entering into dialogue, as mindfulness teachers, we may facilitate a deepening of understanding of what it is we are exploring, but also of the particular needs of the person we are teaching.
I would suggest that UPR underpins the other three concepts, which together provide conditions that help support effective learning within a mindfulness context.