After being our interviewer for the MA Q & A last year, we thought it a good idea to put Megan Spencer in the other chair and ask her all the questions, enjoy!
How long have you been teaching, what type of meditation do you teach and where?
I’ve been teaching since 2015 and meditating since 2009. I initially learned to meditate (and teach) at The Gawler Foundation in Yarra Junction. I was taught mostly by Paul and Maia Bedson. I’m really sad it’s closing. It was formative for me and brought so much good to so many people. I feel very grateful to have started my meditation ‘journey’ there. I met some nice people and really loved the environment. It was a good foundation.
I’ve done subsequent teacher trainings in Mindful Self-Compassion (the program founded by Kristen Neff & Chris Germer), and with Breathworks UK, the mindfulness-based pain management and compassion program pioneered by Vidyamala Burch.
I’d also like to mention Kristy Arbon, with whom I’ve done several trainings, including MSC and trauma-informed mindfulness for contemplative teachers. She is a kind, wise woman and an excellent teacher.
Suffice to say that I teach mindfulness-based meditation and have a bunch of amazing tools in my kit!
Over the years I’ve taught courses, workshops, drop-in sessions and have done some consulting, my first gig being at Paypal Berlin in a room full of very sceptical office workers from all over Europe (that was a hoot!) I lived in Berlin for a few years and started teaching there, then at various places around Australia, at orgs like The School of Life, in people’s homes and on the road interstate. I’m based south of Adelaide now. I like to be mobile, go where I’m needed and adapt as needed (I love teaching online too).
Sometimes I collaborate (recently I co-taught a day-retreat for menopausal women with a naturopath colleague). As a teacher I have a particular interest in bringing mindfulness and meditation into the workplace. I also love teaching people to rest well, active listening, self-care, empathy and how to ‘wake up’ their creativity.
These days I tend to do more 1:1 meditation teaching than in groups; I really enjoy customising sessions to the particular needs of individuals. I was teaching at my home studio and a few venues close to my home in SA, but COVID put a stop to that! While I’ve missed face-to-face I really do find teaching online very rewarding – and intimate. It’s how you set it up that counts.
I also combine meditation-teaching work with my other media-making work (I’m a broadcaster and make podcasts; these days I find myself often working in the remembrance and veteran space). In a strange yet excellent way, I find that they complement and feed each other.
What is the story behind your first meditation experience?
My mum had dealt with cancer and found her way to The Gawler Foundation. She did a cooking course there while she was in treatment and then found an interest in meditation, which helped with the stress she was going through (and discomfort) during her illness. I went with her to a few meditation sessions close to her home and resolved to pursue it ‘one day’.
That day came after I got sick from sustained stress in my job in the media (I call it a workplace injury). I remember seeing an interview with Ian Gawler on ABC show Compass. It came at the right time. I called TGF the next day and went and did a meditation retreat with 40 other people, most of them dealing with cancer. That’s when I had what you could say was my own deep experience with meditation and the liberation that it could offer with practice and integration.
Later, after ‘getting stuck into’ practice, and making it a regular part of my life, I figured it would be a good job in the future – “right work”.
I’ve had the great fortune to be able to study and go on retreat in many of amazing places – be it high in a mountain in Sagunto, Spain while the wind tried to blow us back to the sea; laying on the floor of an old hall in Manchester surrounded by health care workers and listening to jackhammers rip up the road just outside our door, in the Atisha Centre in Bendigo on a retreat about death and dying with Robina Courtin to a silent day of mindfulness at Plum Village in France.
All of these experiences infuse my practice and teaching, as I go. I’ve also been fortunate to have a number of amazing conversations about practice with those who do teach.
I’ve learned from many – most importantly, those I’ve been humbled to teach.
How long did you meditate for today?
Twenty minutes so far, lying down with another twenty to come tonight. As it’s Saturday, I may also go for a mindful walk along the beach this afternoon, to drink the warm white light in through my skin before sunset.
Do you use a mediation app?
I think apps can be really useful to get people in the habit of meditation, especially when starting out. And as a tool for particular issues. They can be really handy, but having a teacher – at least when you’re starting out – is always best in my opinion.
Personally, in my experience so far, I feel that having your own practice is best, and also having a teacher to guide, so you can ask questions, ‘trouble shoot’ and dig into the deeper stuff that comes with meditation, as you go. Apps can approximate some of this, but can never replace that kind of interpersonal benefit. Online sangha can also be great, but I still reckon person-to-person is best, with more time built in.
The only time I really use an ‘app’ is in the night when I can’t sleep (I’m a very light and interrupted sleeper). Then I tend to go to Soundcloud and take my pick. I find Richard Miller’s iRest guided meditations really useful for this, and Body Scans, the longer the better! I find that I don’t sleep during them, but at the end I’m so relaxed that if I don’t drift off to sleep I rest in a much deeper way.
Inspiration – What or who inspires you?
Anne Lamott’s Ted Talk ’12 Truths I’ve Learned From Life and Writing’ is something I continually return to when needed. She is utterly hilarious. And wise. Her jokes are killer.
Another Ted Talk I’ve returned a lot to is the ‘My Stroke of Insight’ by Jill Bolte Taylor. I remember seeing this for the first time in one of Paul Bedson’s classes at TGF. If ever there’s a case for going within and getting in touch with our deeper universal awareness, she makes it. Plus it’s one of the most moving personal stories I’ve ever listened to.
Listening to nature is probably my greatest teacher, and to our First Nations peoples on their land (I live on Kaurna Country). And having regular spiritual conversations with people I’ve stayed in touch with from my travels in meditation, including here in Australia.
Rick Hanson is another inspirational, kind person who lives what he teaches. He offers an extraordinary bridge between science and the spiritual.
Sharon Salzberg; I love her ‘Street Loving-kindness’ practice and her book, ‘Loving-kindness’.
Books I’d say ‘The Exquisite Risk’ by Mark Nepo, ‘Wherever You Go There You Are’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, ‘Mindfulness and Compassion’ by The Happy Buddha, ‘Broken Open’ by Elizabeth Lesser and anything by Pema Chodron. But there are just so many.
Talking to people wherever you go is another great joy. I’m a big student.
Wisdom – What’s a golden key you have learned about teaching or facilitating mediation?
Listening with an open heart and an empty mind. Your ‘students’ will be your greatest teachers. They will constantly surprise and guide you. They will move you and push you to go beyond – to tune in deeper to your own awareness. Never think you know it all. Dig deep. And be humble. Get out of your own way and leave ego at the door.
Offer people choices – never assume. One size does not fit all.
Be honest. Be humble. Be yourself. Be real. And don’t compete with other teachers. We actually are all in this together. It’s not just a business. It’s something much bigger and better.
Gratitude – What fills your heart gratitude?
What was the last thing that made you smile or laugh
A head-banging cat video I saw on on Facebook.