– written by Rosalie Dores
I have been a mindfulness-based supervisor since 2013, and have received mindfulness-based supervision since 2006. The two are not mutually exclusive. The process of being in supervision informs the offering of supervision. They interact symbiotically.
My supervisor of nine years, Cindy Cooper, died in 2017 after a prolonged period of ill health. During the time leading up to her death, the quality of her presence became a teaching in itself. We discussed her impending and inevitable departure. I shared my sense of loss and grief. She told me, ‘Our work together is within you.’ At the time I understood this, but only to a limited extent.
Some months later, I understand, experientially, what she meant. Cindy’s strength in vulnerability, her transparency, courage, fierce compassion, capacity to challenge and confront and her deep integrity and commitment to the field of mindfulness-based interventions, stay with me as a benchmark for what is possible within the supervision relationship. Cindy cared enough to be personally uncomfortable in the service of my growth. She confronted me in my comfort zones and comforted me in my distress.
When deemed necessary, she was transparent about her own life challenges, the grit of practice. She was never anything more than human in our relationship. This allowed for a deep sense of trust to unfold between us. Knowing that this woman, whom I so admired and loved, had transformed adversity into wisdom and strength was deeply inspiring for me. It allowed me to recognise I was fit for purpose, not despite life’s challenges, but because of them. The quality of relationship that I experienced with Cindy provides a wellspring from which I draw in offering supervision.
Mindfulness-based supervision is fundamentally relational. There are professional boundaries holding the relationship, in terms of payment, time frames and confidentiality. However, there are no rules in terms of what might unfold within the session. It is a dynamic and vital process responsive to each unique supervision relationship. It is a process of mutual learning and unfolding. Although there may be pre-planned themes or topics for exploration, the primary emphasis is on meeting in the immediacy of emergent moment-to-moment experience. We enquire together in what Crane et al (2014) call ‘disciplined improvisation.’ This is essentially a maieutic process – the supervisor akin to a midwife, facilitating through elicitation, the tacit knowing of the supervisee into conscious awareness. I am reminded of the words of Italian sculptor Michelangelo who said, ‘ Every block of stone has a statue inside it, it is the job of the sculptor to find it.’ This is a relevant analogy for the supervision process. Supervisor and supervisee show up, exploring together what might emerge from the supervision process.
As supervisor, I inhabit various roles. I am trainer, supporting the individual’s development of teaching skills, as well as offering practical advice with regard to curriculum content and course themes. I am challenger, both in terms of protecting the integrity of mindfulness-based interventions, and exploring the supervisee’s working edges within personal practice. I am a friend, supporting in times of challenge, as well as offering encouragement and acknowledging strengths. I am also a learner. Confronted with the dynamism and unpredictability of the supervision process, I find ground in moment-to-moment experience. Sensing and listening with the body, not just the ears. This, so I might respond from the freshness of the moment, rather than from pre-conceived ideas, judgments or agendas. Knowing that I do not have all the answers, I invite conversation, and we enquire together.
This enquiry is nourished by the attitudinal foundations of acceptance, suspension of judgement, patience, trust, beginner’s mind, letting go, letting be, and non-striving. These are not fixed states, but part of an ongoing process of discernment and responsiveness. After all, we are both human, both learning. We build our relationship and cultivate trust and safety, through consistency of contact, reliability and embodiment of the attitudinal foundations. In this way, we can be seen in our failures, as well as our successes. This willingness to be seen, no part left out, is a potent space. This is where maturation of practice happens.
I am deeply grateful to have worked with Cindy in supervision. She gently nudged and provocatively poked me – out of the cocoon of the known, the familiar, the comfortable – into a much wider, open space of not-knowing, of potentiality. I carry the baton forward, her memory lives on.
Cindy Cooper Bursary Fund
This blog post is written in memory of mindfulness teacher, supervisor and trainer Cindy Cooper. The Cindy Cooper Bursary Fund has been established by the Mindfulness Network to help make mindfulness-based supervision accessible to mindfulness-based teachers, particularly those working with hard to reach populations or those with temporary financial difficulties.
If you feel inclined to support this work, a donation to this Fund would be most gratefully received.
Rosalie’s website is at http://www.optimalliving.co.uk/.