6

My meditation mentor is convinced that I do not practice at home, while, in truth, I do practice regularly.

Her argument is that, in her eyes, I have not improved my attention span, nor my mindfulness seems to have increased (also according to her).

Yes, I am a very lively person, very direct, and I will not pay attention if I am not interested. On the other hand, I feel a great deal of benefits from meditating, including developing patience in listening, which used to be even shorter, and gaining more interest toward the world surrounding me. Some of my colleagues at work also noticed a change to the point that they mentioned it to me.

Exposing these facts was the core of my reply to my mentor, but she gave a rather snarky comment that, instead of looking for justifications, I should be more truthful to my commitments, meditation being the topic of the conversation.

I wish to tell her that her remark about my truthfulness was unwarranted and hurtful. I would also like to defuse the rising tension. At the same time I would like to avoid a direct confrontation because I still respect her as a mentor, and I think that she may be trying to tell me something, perhaps even being helpful, but our dialogue has just become more difficult since she entrenched in her position of doubting me.

4

I think that the two of you actually have a communication problem, no more. And it is a very particular kind of communication: giving and receiving feedback.

I know from my own experience, and from many statements in books and on the internet, that us people are very bad both at giving feedback, and especially at receiving it.

When we give feedback, we concentrate on the core message, and forget about how the other person receives it - we do not "dress" it properly.

When we receive feedback, we tend to consider it as aggressive, as an accusation, and therefore we react with fighting against it.

When we receive this kind of information, it is best to NOT give in to the automatic defense mechanisms. We do not even need to react immediately after receiving the feedback, if we are not ready.

But whenever we are ready, we should go back to the person that gave us the feedback and ask for more details, especially about examples. It will not be always easy, but it will lead to beautiful results.


My own example:

I had a girlfriend and she used to get upset every other day, sometimes every day. Just like that. Confronted, she told me that I talk to her like we have an argument, that I "scream" at her etc. My first reactions were just that: "But I have no intention and no reason to scream at you, therefore it is obvious that I do not scream at you!"

But I got smarter (I remembered the theory) and asked her to give me examples, and more importantly, to give me examples exactly when they happen, so I can analyze myself.

It was difficult, but I kept this task with me always, to monitor myself while speaking. I was shocked at the tone of my voice once when I answered the question "what time is it?" in a very relaxed situation, with several people around. They were surprised, but I was under real shock.

That is when I understood that my "DNA", by default, instructs my lungs and my vocal cords to use excessive force. And therefore I started controlling my voice more actively, and reduce the force of my statements.


In your case, you need to do just that: ask your mentor what he / she means with that feedback, and what is the more explicit expectation.

1

The easiest way to tell her is to just tell her. But consider what she is trying to express to you rather than focusing on the specific wording she used to express it.

Your mentor wasn't really commenting on your home practice of meditation, at least not directly (even if she expressed this poorly). It's clear that she expects specific results in terms of improving your attention span and mindfulness, and she believes that you have not achieved those results. She apparently feels that the explanation for that outcome is that you haven't been practicing (or have not been practicing very well), but this is not the thing you should respond to.

The on-topic, direct response to your mentor is to explain why she's mistaken about the results you've achieved, or offer an alternative explanation for why you've not reached the level she expects. The response you did offer, as described in the question, contradicts everything about what your mentor expressed: you claim that you are practicing (in the way she expects), but are achieving inferior results (compared with what she expects), and have offered no response explaining why her expectations are wrong or your performance better than she thinks. Assuming that she is a nominally rational person (she won't just make things up for no reason), the possibilities for explaining that can be grouped broadly into:

  1. You are not practicing, and therefore are not achieving the results she expects

  2. You are practicing, but incorrectly or poorly, and therefore achieving some results but still falling short of what she expects

  3. There is something unusual about you, which she cannot perceive, which causes you to progress more slowly than a "typical" person would (that is, her expectations are wrong in your specific case)

  4. She is not knowledgeable about meditation, and therefore is not equipped to teach you about it or assess your level of ability (that is, there is no reason to think that her expectations are realistic or valuable)

Given that she is, presumably, more of an expert on the topic than you (that's why she's your mentor, rather than the other way around), it's more sensible to accept her opinions than yours when they conflict. So (4) seems like a poor candidate to describe the situation. (3) is basically invisible, and if she's taught or mentored many people in meditation it becomes less and less attractive as a possibility (though it remains possible). (1) or (2) are attractive as potential explanations, if only because meditation is difficult.

If you are absolutely certain that (1) and (2) cannot be the case, then it's on you to express why you feel that your progress would be inherently slower than for others, or why her judgement is off. You'll have to explain why your practice has not produced the results she expects. Otherwise you're just meeting her (expert) opinion with your own (non-expert) opinion and expecting her to believe you instead of herself. That's a big ask, and an odd thing to demand in this scenario.


My own experience:

I've tutored many people in various subjects over the years, and I've almost never assigned an amount of time to spend studying. The criterion I judge progress on is whether or not specific learning goals are met, and if they are not, then the student has not studied enough.

Several years ago I was tutoring someone in Biology and instructed her to memorize the definitions of a set of vocabulary words. Those words were necessary to discuss the content she needed to learn, which was the real focus of the tutoring. When we next met and she had memorized between 5 and 10 of the 30 (or so, it was a while ago) words, there was no way to pretend that she was prepared for our session. I helped her review them, but that was an inefficient use of the time: she could have looked at flash cards just as well on her own, while she would have no chance to discuss and ask questions alone.

It would not have been appropriate for me to say that she hadn't studied at all, but clearly she had not studied enough (or efficiently enough) to stay on track with the schedule I'd planned. She'd made progress, but not as much progress as she wanted me to help her make. Had I said

You need to study more

and she responded

No, I study enough

she would have been obviously wrong. The standard was the outcome, not her effort, and I'd laid out that standard in advance. If the outcomes were falling short, more effort would be required.

Had she said

But I studied for five hours every day!

I would be extremely skeptical, not because that couldn't be true but because I would absolutely expect 35 hours of study to be enough to memorize those definitions. She could resolve that seeming disconnect by saying something like (as hypothetical examples) "I'm dyslexic" or "I have ADHD", something which would suggest that she might get less out of an hour of study than someone else. But absent a way to resolve my expectation with her observed performance, I would not believe that she had studied for 35 hours.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.