Mentoring and the Aspirant Process

By Joanne Friday mb51-Mentoring1

When someone approaches me with an interest in becoming an aspirant for the Order of Interbeing, I give them twelve Questions for Reflection [see sidebar] to help them look deeply at their motivation and to decide whether conditions are sufficient for them to make a commitment to Sangha building at this time.

Then I meet with them so that they can share what they discovered when answering the questions. If they are clear that they want to become a member of the Order, the questions help them to see areas in their lives that need their attention, or areas of their practice that could be stronger. I always ask them to look deeply at what they see as the strengths of their practice and which areas need to be strengthened. This helps me to offer them supportive practices.

A Clear Aspiration

It also helps for the potential aspirant to get clear about their motivation. Many of us have been powerfully conditioned to want to “attain” something and make “progress.” Many approach the aspirant process as they would an academic program, wanting to complete the requirements and get the degree. This habit energy can be very strong and a real obstacle to stopping and getting in touch with our inner wisdom. When people can stop running after the answer outside of themselves, develop compassion for themselves, and learn to use the practice to take very good care of themselves and transform their suffering when it arises, they are able to be fully present and be of service to others. Then we can truly inter-be and build a strong Sangha.

Once they are clear about their aspiration, I ask them to write a letter to Thay (with a copy sent to Brother Phap Tri) outlining their spiritual path so far and explaining why they want to enter the aspirant process at this time. I invite them to ask an Order member or two that they practice with regularly to assist in mentoring them. I then try to connect with those mentors so that we can share the process of supporting the aspirant.

I share aspirant materials that have been compiled by other Dharma teachers (many can be found at http://mountainsangha.org/aspirant/). They include suggested reading lists and practices.

I talk with the aspirant monthly, in person or by phone, and help them to look at how they are practicing the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in their daily life. Our Sangha has an aspirant group made up of Order members, aspirants, and those contemplating joining the Order. We meet once a month and have a ceremony to recite the Fourteen Trainings. Aspirants become familiar with the form and the chants. We then have a check-in, during which the participants share which of the Fourteen particularly resonated with them or what happened during the month that gave them the opportunity to become more aware of their habits of mind, places they are caught, and opportunities to use the Fourteen. We then share a potluck lunch and hugging meditation.

Aspirants are also encouraged to attend retreats and Days of Mindfulness, take an active role in their Sangha, organize Days of Mindfulness, and share their practice. If they are not in my area, I ask that they attend retreats that I will be offering or attending so that we get a chance to practice together.

Flowering and Transformation

After the aspirant has been studying and practicing for at least a year (or two years, according to many Sanghas), and the Sangha, the Dharma teacher, and the mentors are all in agreement, the aspirant is invited to receive Ordination.

At that time, they complete an application to receive the Transmission of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. They write a letter to describe how they have transformed their suffering, some of the insights they have had during the aspirant process, and their motivation for wanting to receive the Transmission at this time. The Sangha writes a letter of support, the Dharma teacher writes a letter, and the mentors write letters. All of these letters along with the application form are compiled into a packet that is sent to Thay. Copies of the packet are sent to Brother Phap Tri and the Dharma teacher, and a copy is kept by the aspirant.

Also in our Sangha, we conduct a Shining of the Light ceremony near the beginning of the process and again two to three months before Ordination. [See “Shining the Light” on page 53.] Not everyone feels comfortable doing this; if not, it is better not to do it. When done skillfully, with love and compassion, the person who has had the light shone on them feels deeply loved.

That’s how we are supporting our aspirants at this time. As mentors, we practice deeply in order to be able to be available to the mentee. It is a true privilege to share the path and an inspiration to witness the beautiful flowering and transformation that occurs.

Joanne Friday, True Joy of Giving, practices with the Clear Heart Sangha, the Radiant Bell Sangha, and the Mind Tamers Sangha in Rhode Island. She lives with her husband, Richard, in Wakefield, RI.

mb51-Mentoring2Questions for Reflection

These questions for reflection were developed during the Community of Mindfulness, NY Metro aspirant process and were published in The Mindfulness Bell #21, April 1998.

  1. Why do I want to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings?
  2. Why have I decided to state my aspiration to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings at this time?
  3. How has my practice of mindfulness (understanding, love, and compassion) helped me to transform my suffering (anger, fear, depression, craving/neediness, despair, distractions, specific relationships, and past and current experiences of suffering)? What are challenges in the practice for me at this time? Where is my “growing edge”?
  4. What time and energy can I offer at this time and over the next few years to take responsibility for the well-being of the Sangha with which I practice? How am I communicating with my Sangha about my deepening aspiration, to encourage support and avoid divisiveness?
  5. Where am I with my relationships with my family? with Order of Interbeing members? with other Sangha members? In what ways am I practicing in the direction of “resolving all conflicts, however small”?
  6. Where am I in relation to mindful consumption of alcohol (as interpreted in Thay’s tradition); and other consumption, including consumption of TV?
  7. How long and in what contexts have I been practicing within Thay’s tradition (local Sangha, Plum Village, retreats, reading)?
  8. What is my relationship with my “root” tradition(s)? How do I see the connections in my life between my root tradition(s) and Thay’s practice and teachings?
  9. How long and in what contexts have I been practicing with other meditation traditions? How do I integrate these experiences with Thay’s practice and teachings?
  10. How do I use the practice of mindfulness in the context of my workplace and livelihood? How would I like to do this even more?
  11. What is my “socially engaged” practice and aspiration?
  12. Are there other questions and concerns about my practice, about the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, and about joining the core community of the Order of Interbeing?

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