Bill Meyer is a meditation teacher and school teacher with a focus in the school environment, teaching meditation to school teachers, parents, student groups, and introducing younger children to meditation. He original trained as a school teacher and has taught history, economics, and humanities in urban and suburban high schools. Bill has been meditating for more than thirty years, is the author of two books on meditation, and is currently completing a PhD from NYU. Clay Hamilton interviewed Bill in autumn 2019.
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Briefly describe yourself as a meditation teacher.
I’ve been meditating for over thirty years now and have worked with a variety of groups from teachers, parents to student groups. However today I find my focus more and more directed toward introducing meditation to young kids. I love leading guided meditations that help young people with emotional challenges like anxiety, depression or loss. I’m also finishing a doctoral degree at NYU that explores how contemplative principles that are underneath many of these practices can be integrated more fully into a contemplative curriculum. I live in New York and work in a suburb outside the city as a high school teacher.
How did you first learn to meditate and why/how did you become a meditation teacher?
I was first introduced to meditation by my uncle in sixth grade who took me into Detroit to meet with a Buddhist monk in the city. From that first conversation I was hooked and meditation became more and more a part of my life. Sometime in 2012 a student who knew I meditated asked if I’d be willing to lead a guided meditation to a small group of students. I reluctantly agreed and then from there word got out and another group asked if I’d lead a meditation to the whole class. Without any formal training, just my own experience, I began leading meditations to students, then teachers, and eventually even parents.
What types of meditations have you studied or practised, and what method do you mainly use or teach now?
I’ve studied many of the contemplative practices of Christianity and Buddhism. Two authors and meditators who I see as mentors include Thomas Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve had the chance to hear Hanh speak, and to actually visit Gethsemani where Merton lived. Both were profound experiences in my life.
Is it more useful for people to know many meditation techniques, or to learn one/few and focus efforts on practising that one?
I think you just have to find which technique works for you, but I’d also encourage a little variety to strengthen other parts of your meditative mind – kind of like cross training. A little variety can sometimes deepened the practice you use the most.
What important aspect of meditation do you find yourself teaching over and over again? Is there a phrase or message or quote you repeat to students again and again?
“Take three breaths, and begin”.
Is there anything different about teaching children and adults? Are children more receptive, or find it more difficult to be still? Have you learned anything about teaching children specifically that would be useful for other teachers or parents?
Yes, I find children are often far more receptive to meditation than adults. They are able to drop in much quicker and with greater ease. Yes, there might be the initial laugh or two, but beyond that is a real willingness to explore the unknown. I’ve learned that when working with kids to keep it simple and use very vivid imagery. This translates well to adults as well. I often get a very positive response from the adults I work with when I do lead them on guided meditations versus breath work or silent ones. I think we all have that little kid inside.
What misconceptions about meditation do you hear in the media or popular culture?
It gets commercialized, and often in school we become obsessed with the promise of higher test scores and better student behavior when in reality there is so much more and so many deeper insights.
Should someone have a goal in mind when it comes to a meditation practice? If so, how should someone think about goals?
I think the most important goal to meditation practice is regularity. This, above all else is most important. There is more value in meditating six minutes a day than waiting for the weekend to meditate forty. This regularity often leads naturally into longer sessions anyway.
What meditation books have you read and admired, re-read, or do you recommend to others (they can be directly or indirectly related to meditation)?
“Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and “Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton
What books/courses/resources do you have available? What makes them special and how can they benefit a reader?
“Three Breaths and Begin: A guide for meditation in the classroom.” “A Big Breath: A guided meditation for kids.” One helps teachers bring meditation into the classroom and the other is a guided meditation for kids.
How can readers get in contact with you or find out more?
Is there anything we forgot to ask? Anything else you want to explain about your practice or meditation in general, or advice to give?
Meditation is the beginning, it isn’t the end. Re-imagining education which incorporates a reflective component is what is more important.
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[This interview is an extract. You can read Bill’s full interview, plus 29 more interviews, in the book How Do You Meditate? Interviews with 30 Meditation Teachers. Available from Amazon.]