Highlighting Our Students & Graduates – Finn McMillan
This month we want you to meet ACMM Graduate Finn McMillan! Finn works in Child Protection and also has a psychotherapy practice. He is also an ordained Buddhist priest in the Chan (Zen) tradition, and a professed Franciscan Friar in the Liberal Catholic Church. Finn has a current interest in developing meditations and groups that explore men’s unique perspectives towards spirituality.
Continue reading to learn more about Finn’s journey:
Hi Finn! Tell us a little bit about yourself
Hi! I have just finished the ACMM Advanced Certificate in Guiding and Teaching Meditation and Mindfulness with the specialisation in Mental Health and Wellbeing and am currently applying some of that amazing wealth of knowledge to my (part time) psychotherapy practice. I work in Child Protection and am gradually moving towards transitioning into my own practice full time. I am the father of three, and live in Melbourne. A bit chilly this time of year, but I’m passionate about open water swimming and cold immersion, so for me, it’s the place to be!
I am an ordained Buddhist priest in the Chan (Zen) tradition, and also a professed Franciscan Friar in the Liberal Catholic Church. Seems a little confusing on first hearing, I know, but my life long passion has been exploring the overlap between the contemplative and meditative practices of the great spiritual traditions, which first led me to majoring in Religious Studies many, many years ago. I later extended those interests into training with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and trying to dig down into how deep our universal spiritual impulses go. And since then, I have included in that passion the new wave of psychotherapies – especially the mindfulness based ones such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindful Self-Compassion – that use mindfulness as a basis for therapeutic interventions. I am trained in those, and am a professional counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist, and have a Clinical Qualification in Resource Therapy, which also sits really well with meditative practice. I learned about Contemplative Psychotherapy a few years ago, which is an approach which specifically melds Buddhist and other contemplative practices with modern psychology, and that is the main bedrock of my offerings.
I have also worked as a men’s counsellor and coach, and I’m very interested in developing meditations and groups which explore men’s unique perspectives towards spirituality.
So all of this has led me to where I am now, and as it stands I am avidly working towards developing my own business, the Big Sky Mind Centre for Contemplative Psychotherapy and Mindfulness. With this, I am aiming to draw together the spiritual and psychotherapeutic wisdoms of East and West, ancient and modern.
What attracted you to become a meditation teacher and study with ACMM?
Ever since I was a child, I was naturally religious – even in an avowedly atheist family. So I found myself drawn to prayer and contemplation in a Catholic environment, and as I got older and moderately wiser, I came to see in the contemplative traditions of my religion fascinating parallels with the same sort of practices right across the world, in many other faith traditions. And so, I always wanted to not only practice, but to teach.
When my interests also started to move into modern psychotherapy, I realised that my knowledge and practice of meditation was specialised to religious and spiritual practice – Buddhist and Christian mystical traditions in particular. I wanted to be able to take meditation practice beyond that confine and bring it to people who wanted to discover and explore their own mind and soul from a secular and therapeutic perspective, without necessarily any of the potential religious, or even spiritual, baggage and confusions. So I scoured the Internet, with a clear sense of what I wanted, and looking for who I thought provided the best and most comprehensive training.
And so, I found ACMM. And now that I have completed the training, I know I picked the right tribe!
How as meditation impacted you on a personal level?
In one sense, I could say I’m an old hand at this caper as it’s hard to really recall much of a time when meditation wasn’t a part of my life. But certainly, I acknowledge that it is only more recently that I have made meditation a committed part of my life, central to all else really. And the benefits, I see, are gradual and incremental. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said that becoming enlightened was like walking through a fine mist; at one point you’re dry and at some point you’re wet. When did that happen? Who knows? I think progress in meditation is like that – it’s hard sometimes to qualify the changes, as you simply change. But certainly, the changes relate to equanimity, acceptance, and tolerance. I think a key point in the journey is when you even start to tolerate yourself! And I can say it has been the approach of the ACMM, especially the electives I did, that really helped me finally see how utterly intolerant and unforgiving I have been of myself, all my life – and how that has impacted all my relationships. It is indeed a gradual process.
Another story that rings true: Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?” He replied, “Nothing!” Then he continued, “However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, and fear of old age and death.”
What does your personal meditation practice look like? What styles or types of meditation do you enjoy?
Ah, this is where I become a bit creative – and I suspect, a bit nerdy! My Zen practice is based on what is called in Japanese shikantaza, literally, “just precisely sitting”. It is a form of mindfulness practice that often describes itself as the “method of no method”. It is simply being constantly present, resisting nothing, holding on to nothing, trying to achieve nothing.
However, from a Christian contemplative practice, there is (or can be) something a little lacking in that; specifically, a heart focus. Where Buddhist practice tends to specialise in deconstruction (seeing what all our thoughts and feelings and sensations are doing, where they come from, how they rise and fall, come and go) many other traditions (Christian, Judaic, Sufi, the bhakti traditions of Hinduism, etc) focus more on the constructive, the building up – rather than breaking down – of particular mental and psychological states. My favourite meditation teacher, Shinzen Young, describes this as the expansion and contraction duality (or, better, movement)
So, for me, my practice is usually two periods of meditation a day of thirty minutes each. Shikantaza in the morning, and in the evening a meditation on what I describe as fundamental heart qualities; Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Peace, Gratitude, Joy and Beauty. During my ACMM journey, I created a meditation where I focus on the feelings of these and breathe them into my heart, resting in that feeling of those qualities.
I find the combination incredibly beautiful and beneficial.
Do you have your own meditation/mindfulness/holistic business, plans to start one?
With Big Sky Mind, I am exploring how meditation and therapy work together. Although the best research is fairly recent, it is clear that it is all pointing towards how counselling and meditation work amazingly well together. It gives a real therapeutic basis to meditative practice, and also takes classical therapy into truly transpersonal and spiritual dimensions.
I remember, way back in Session 1 I think, we learned about mirroring. How the benefits of meditation, of peace and equanimity, spread around you. I think St Francis once said “Go and preach the Gospel. And, if you must, use words”. I love that. Your deepest teachings often come from simply being the example of your practice. And even over the course of the last year, I have clearly seen how much better I work with children and families in the highly challenging and stressful environment of Child Protection. I think my meditation practice has made not only my life, but the lives of the people I care for, that much better. I’m incredibly grateful for that.
I also have various workshops coming! As my coach Leanne came to see, I’m generally bubbling with new ideas that keep me excited, and everyone else entertained!
Of particular interest to me right now is developing a men’s meditation practice which I call The Iron Mind Lion Heart program. It balances the deconstruction aspect of mindfulness with the construction focus of heartfulness in a way I believe is particularly relevant to men.
What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a meditation teacher?
Gandhi said it best; “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We live in times of increasing stress, increasing confusion, and increasing polarity. Finding a solid anchor, a North Star to fix our compass to, is becoming more and more difficult. But ultimately, we can only find that place of solidity and inspiration in ourselves. As a meditation teacher, one is offered the incredibly privileged position to being able to aid people in finding that peace within themselves.
But really, first and foremost, focus on being genuinely authentic. What drives you, what inspires you, what awakens your heart – this is where your power lies, where your magnetism lies, where your offering lie. I would suggest, don’t try to follow a market or an audience; rather, establish – in your own self – what it is you want to be, and say, and offer and allow that inner truth to radiate out magnetically. The people you can help are the people who will gravitate to the authentic person you are. Don’t look for them; trust, and let them find you.
To learn something well, teach it. And don’t we all want to learn, and keep learning? Especially in this most important of life. Basically, the world needs you … and you need the world.
What have you enjoyed about studying with ACMM?
I own it; I’m a nerd and I tend to the precise when it comes to personal and spiritual development. I baulk at too much “whoo whoo” and overly sentimental and woolly approaches to things I consider important in the spiritual life and self-development in general. I really didn’t know exactly how ACMM would satisfy my probably overly demanding expectations, but it did. It was challenging, it was eye-opening, and it made me think deeply about aspects of meditation and teaching I had never considered before. I became incredibly enthused about simply learning again. The old Zen story about the student who went to the teacher and the teacher poured the tea into the students cup until it was overflowing comes to mind. The teacher told him, I cannot fill your cup if your cup is already full. That reminds me a bit of me, starting this course. And I came to very happily and gratefully realise I could empty my cup, and learn anew. ACMM made this possible.
And specifically, it was the constant patience, forbearance and insight of my coach Leanne who exemplified all this the best. And each one of my three elective trainers were brilliant as well. All four provided me with valuable feedback and insights as my journey progressed.
We provide Teaching Certification right up to Diploma and Masters level training that includes supervision. A range of post graduate training options and support, are also available, including our Community Work Placement Program and Business Lounge Program which supports new meditation teachers to begin or expand their teaching practice. Download a prospectus for all the details.