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Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living course

My first Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living course is well underway in central Newcastle upon Tyne and we are now currently looking forward to our day of practice which follows week 7 of the course, which will be held in the rural, tranquil setting of Newton and Bywell Community Hall, near Stocksfield.

MBCL was developed by two experienced mindfulness trainers, psychiatrist/psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and meditation teacher/ health care professional Frits Koster who pioneered mindfulness-based work in the Dutch mental health services. I completed training over the course of 3 years with Erik van den Brink in 2017, and I am delighted to be offering  this deeply life-enriching course in the north-east.

The aim of MBCL is to deepen the mindfulness-based path to alleviate suffering and enhance physical, psychological and social well-being by offering a secular advanced training in compassion practice towards oneself and others. The programme integrates wisdom from the contemplative traditions with modern scientific insights drawn from neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, positive psychology and therapeutic models such as mindfulness-based approaches, Compassion Focused Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  The practices offered build on the skills developed in mindfulness practice and the course is suitable for anyone who wishes to deepen their personal practice with the heart qualities of  compassion.  The course is designed as a group training for participants who have previously followed an MBSR,  MBCT, Breathworks or equivalent programme and anyone who wishes to deepen their mindfulness practice with heart and the focus of compassion.

Compassion is defined as the capacity to be sensitive to the suffering of ourselves and others and the willingness to relieve and prevent it (Paul Gilbert, 2104). Compassion has a transpersonal quality, as it involves commitment to alleviate suffering, whoever is the potential sufferer. Therefore, when we speak of compassion, we include ‘self-compassion’ . What we do for ourselves we do for others, and what we do for others, we do for ourselves. Many recognise their tendency to overlook themselves while trying to be compassionate and the course helps to find greater ease in dealing with life’s inevitable pain and ‘dis-ease’, as well as developing a kinder and warmer attitude of receiving and giving of care, to self and others.

The emphasis on the course is on experiential work and building up the practice of compassion,  and participants are encouraged to spend 45 mins to an hour daily on the  formal and informal exercises in daily life.  A range of suggestions for home practice are given following each session, rather than specific homework. This enables participants to tune in to their deeper needs and to work at a suitable pace . Key practices include; soothing breathing rhythm; kindness meditation; compassionate imagery; dealing compassionately with resistance, desire, and inner difficulties; compassionate breathing; walking and moving and bringing kindness to the body; compassionate letter writing; practising sympathetic joy, gratitude, forgiveness and equanimity; cultivating a compassionate mind and inner helper and learning to work with  the ‘inner critic’; taking in what nourishes us and contributes to happiness.

The course is greatly enhanced by the key teaching themes of the MBCL curriculum, including the evolutionary perspective of the multi-layered brain; acknowledging pain and suffering as part of life; gaining insight in to the three basic emotion regulation (threat, drive and soothing) systems and how to recognise them in ourselves and cultivate a healthy balance in daily life; deepening understanding of stress reactions like fight, flight and freeze, tend and befriend, and their psychological equivalents; understanding how influences from outside  such as an ‘inner critic’ and maladaptive inner patterns  can easily cause imbalances;  seeing how to build an “inner helper” and compassionate mind. The course also looks at the process of over-identifying and de-identifying; our social connectedness and cultivating a sense of common humanity;  our capacity for absorbing positive experiences and perspectives that contribute to happiness;  and developing the Four Friends for Life (a secular naming for the Four Boundless States or Brahmaviharas): loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

The combination of practice and theory in the course  work beautifully together. The process enables a language and understanding  of compassion to grow up experientially, as an infusion of understanding and skills, rebuilding new perspectives in the inner landscape of the mind and heart and helping to  engage more compassionately with life itself. The course sessions are held weekly to fortnightly to allow space to explore and integrate the practices fully and regular calendar exercises are offered to help with practising mindful compassion  in daily life. A traditional metaphor of compassion that suits the learning of the course well is that from the mud of suffering, a new lotus is given space to bloom, each with its own individual patterns of experience and developing potential. The compassionate mind that is within each one of us is given space and courage to  connect with its own capacities and qualities, and find renewed expression and care.

“Out of the soil of friendliness, grows the beautiful bloom of compassion, watered by the tears of joy, under the cool shade of equanimity”.

Longchenpa

I will be offering the MBCL course again in the coming months.  If you are interested in attending this course, please register interest via the MBCL page on my website or drop me an email at gwennie@mindfulnessinlife.co.uk

 

 

 

 

The value of retreat

Retreat, however long a time we can manage to commit to, enlivens practice and it enhances life. It supports the development of practice and our own potential for living a meaningful and fulfilled life. Just as simple moments of awareness bring us valuable space, clarity and  perspective in our busy everyday lives, retreat offers a unique opportunity for time especially focussed on developing all the benefits that come from  cultivating this awareness. It allows us to simply extend our time for practice, in a way that compliments and benefits both our daily lives and practice itself.

In the time and space offered by retreat, and through being in an undistracted environment, we can renew our motivation, intention and inspiration for practice. We re-connect with that heart felt spark of intention that drew us to embark on practice in the first place. We have space to allow experience to unfold and open, without the pressing limitations of external pressures. Through retreat, we are able to dedicate our time in a way that supports our practice to develop and deepen, far beyond the time of retreat. We can become clearer and more simple in our intentions, and discover how this benefits us.  We become more familiar with the basis of our awareness and our capacity to pay attention. Through the continuity of practice, we remind ourselves, over and over again, how to pay attention and relate to our experience without striving to manipulate it,  make it something different or contrived.  We see more clearly what gets in the way, the places where we get caught up,  where we can learn to let go.

Being with the process of practice over an extended period of time, we rediscover how experience is impermanent and constantly changing, and how each moment unfolds into the next. We deepen our trust in allowing experience to be just as it is, and  ourselves to be just as we are. Through this, we develop greater  kindness and compassion for ourselves and how this naturally  opens  our understanding and compassion for  others. The many moments and opportunities for being with our experience more clearly, offer us a chance to slow down, quieten the mind and calm the heart. We learn how all our changing experience, including our mundane distractions, our sorrows and our joys, can be held in the space of a gentle and loving awareness, enabling us to come closer to ourselves and to the basis of life itself. We gain a deeper appreciation of our common humanity. Being with others in retreat, in itself, reminds us that we are not alone in all that we experience.

Renewing our capacity and willingness to be with our experience moment by moment, also gives us courage to work with the grit of our lives, to be with our rawness and difficulty, all that is tender and uncertain, our hopes and fears, the ways in which we resist life and feel held back. We learn to open to the full range of experience, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, rather than a selected, cautious part. We learn it is possible to step out of reactivity, and have courage to be with ourselves, feeling what we are feeling, and experiencing what we are experiencing. Moving into greater familiarity with the flow of experience, with its countless new beginnings, and kindly seeing its unfolding moment by moment, builds self-understanding, resilience and care. It has direct relevance to how we respond to life, how we learn to give ourselves space to breathe. Being in practice, in a supportive environment, enables us to step out of our busy, full and distracted lives, and see life with fresh eyes.It offers us the possibility of developing beneficial insight in to the nature of awareness and all our mental activity and perception. We allow time to rest our minds and hearts and fully be the human beings that we already are. Gently settling in to being with just what is, we allow ourselves compassionate space to open more fully to living the moments and the gifts of the unique life we have.

Through 2018, we are offering possibilities of different lengths of retreat in Northumberland, suitable for all stages of practice. This includes regular days of mindfulness practice, offered termly at Newton and Bywell Community Hall near Stocksfield, a two day non-residential retreat also at Newton, and a 5 day residential retreat at Shepherds Dene Retreat Centre. Further information about all of these retreats can be found on the Practice Support page of my website. All the events are listed on the Course Dates page and application forms will be forwarded through registration of interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Practice Alive Through Personal Practice Mentoring

As we continue our journey of mindfulness practice, it is vitally important in the long term that we keep our engagement and motivation alive, with a wind of enthusiasm and purpose at our back. We need to nurture a clear intention of why we’re practising and how we are engaging with what arises along the way. In so doing, we keep close to the possibilities that practice offers us for leading a meaningful life, of benefit to ourselves and others.

Whether you have recently completed an eight-week MBSR or MBCT course, or have been practising for some time, the journey of practice involves a continuous enquiry in to how we relate to our practice, as well as specific considerations about the experience of practice itself. It matters that we maintain interest in what happens, even when the journey seems boring, frustrating or irritating, when we lose inspiration or experience bouts of laziness and discouragement, when we question what we’re doing and perhaps encounter difficulties with practice.

As mindfulness-based teachers, it is especially important that we keep closely connected to the roots of our own practice and maintain an active and clear interest in how our practice unfolds and develops over time, as this will naturally inform our teaching practice, and allow it to be authentic and vivid.

The Mindfulness Network has recently launched a new provision in the form of personal practice mentoring to facilitate the exploration of ongoing mindfulness practice in our everyday lives and work. The aim of this provision is to support ongoing personal mindfulness practice within a secular framework and context, through one-to-one sessions, with an experienced mindfulness-based teacher/supervisor.

As a mentor, I greatly value the richly creative space that mentoring offers for sharing the unique journey of practice with others, and enquiring into something that is so fundamental to our human growth, development and evolving potential.

Our mentors at the Mindfulness Network have a wealth of practice experience between them and they are all deeply committed to offering this opportunity for an enhanced focus on personal practice and to providing supportive connection and guidance along the way. However long you have been practising and however you feel your practice is going, practice mentoring can encourage you in your endeavours, and offers valuable space for reflection, fresh inspiration, and renewed enquiry.

Do you think this might benefit you? For further information about practice mentoring, how it works and who it is for, and to see a list of mentors, please go to www.mindfulness-supervision.org.uk.

Generosity

The 6 week Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness course which I have been running in central Newcastle upon Tyne has recently concluded. It has been a rich journey of sharing and reflection together as a group.  The course  has offered a more expanded “vocabulary” for exploring how practice can be applied in the fabric of day to day life, through greater familiarity with  the ways in which these qualities show up  time and time again in our experience of practice. This has brought new insights, and has opened the door to new possibilities for responding to what we meet in the flow of life, and through recognising the places where we habitually struggle.

The attitudinal factors of mindfulness have been described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “the pillars of mindfulness practice” (Full Catastrophe Living, Piatkus, 2004. )These fundamental qualities include: beginner’s mind, non-judgement, patience, trust, non- striving, acceptance and letting go. Together they constitute interconnected qualities of heart and mind which bring an essential attitudinal approach to how we relate to experience through practice, and which are naturally developed through the course of pracice itself. Recently Jon Kabat-Zinn  has included generosity and gratitude as additional qualities which are also essential to practice.

As a spontaneous expression of generosity, on the final evening of the course,  a participant  who runs a speciality bakery, brought along the day’s surplus of loaves, cakes, mince pies and Christmas biscuits which were bought by members of the group, and all donations made given to the charity Shelter, and also the food distributed that evening to homeless people on the streets in the vicinity of Neville Street and Central Station.

At Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham there has also been a recent collection made by the school Human Rights Group of second hand waterproof jackets, mens shoes, hats, scarves, gloves and toiletries for donation to  the Newcastle  West End Refugee Service (www.wers.org.uk) which is an established charity supporting assylum seekers and refugees in Newcastle upon Tyne. And right out in Northumberland National Park, the community of Tarset is running a donation “hub” at the local Holly Bush Inn for donations of children’s Christmas gifts and seasonal food treats that can be added to much needed food parcels at this time of year at The Newcastle West End Foodbank (www.newcastlewestend.foodbank.org.uk). This offers emergency support to local people in crisis as part of  a nationwide network of foodbanks, supported by the Trussell Trust working to combat hunger and poverty across the UK. These individual and community gestures make a direct difference in significant ways at a time of year when human need is at its greatest and needs to be remembered, and which we can all find ways of contributing to.

8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in central Newcastle upon Tyne

This autumn, I’m really looking forward to offering the next 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, which will be starting on Tuesday evenings from 27th September , 6.30- 8.45 pm in the Grainger Suite of the Mercure Newcastle County Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne, immediately opposite Central Station The course is a wonderful opportunity to build a strong foundation of mindfulness practice in daily life, and to develop and reflect on the experience of this in a supportive group learning environment. The course is completely secular and no previous meditation experience is required. It can also provide a way of  integrating a more established meditation practice more deeply in to daily life.

Bringing awareness and acceptance to our immediate experience can help us to notice stress developing and to respond skilfully. Developing this awareness through practice is the process through which change and transformation become possible. The aim of the course is to learn new ways of handling challenging physical sensations, emotions, moods and life situations by helping us move towards greater balance, resilience and self -care. Challenges and difficulties are part of life, but by changing how we respond, rather than react to them, moment by moment they can become workeable. Each moment is a new beginning. This continues to be a profound inspiration for me in my own personal practice and daily life, and in sharing the benefits of this course.

For further detailed information about the course, or to check availability,  please read the course information on the courses page of the website, where there is also a link to a booking form.

 

 

Warp and weft

In the last Staying Mindful: Monthly Practice Group meeting we explored the attitude that we develop towards practice as we continue to practice over a period of time  beyond our initial training. While the regularity of daily practice, what and when and where we choose to practice, and how we build this in to  the routines of daily life, is of continued importance in the long view of practice, our attitude to practice is just as important as the patience, effort and discipline required. Like the warp and the weft of a weaving, both directions are needed to bring things towards a balanced whole. We need the structure and routine of practice to build the habit of awareness in our lives, but we also need the kindness and care  towards our practice and life experience to help us become clearer, more open and compassionate. Both are mutually independent.

Pema Chodron, in her lovely book “How to Meditate : A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind”(Sounds True, 2013) talks about steadfastness and loyalty towards ourselves as one of the primary qualities that we cultivate through regular meditation practice. We cultivate steadfastness through continually allowing whatever is happening in our experience to be there, and through staying with the experience. The “practice ” of meditation means that we are helping this attitude and quality of mind translate itself in to our life experience at other times.

“We have such a tendency to lay a lot of labels, opinions, and judgments on top of what’s happening. Steadfastness- loyalty to yourelf – means that you let those judgments go. So in a way, part of the steadfastness is that when you notice your mind is going a million miles an hour and you’re thinking about all kinds of things, there is this uncontrived moment that just happens without any effort; you stay with your experience.

In meditation, you develop this nurturing quality of loyalty and steadfastness and perseverence towards yourself. And as we learn to do this in meditation, we become more able to perservere in all kinds of situations outside of our meditation, ot what we call postmeditation.”

In our meeting,  we reflected on what cultivating steadfastness and loyalty might really mean to us in our practice, and how it might be relevant to the reality of how we practice from day to day. Does practice become a rather hard, rigidly carved out space in daily life? Do we contrive things so we only sit when we feel like it, or wish to feel good? Do we give oursleves a hard time when we don’t manage to practice when, or as long, or as regularly as we would wish? How can we more loyal to the process, to the experience itself? What would steadfastness in practice look like to each of us individually? Would it involve a change in what we choose to do, or how we approach our practice, the intention we bring to it, the way in which we relate to oursleves?

A word that came up in our reflections was “relationship”, a sense of how we build relationship with ourselves through practice, through beginning in the moment, with whatever is here. Some of us thought that “steadfastness” seemed like quite an old-fashioned word, but that it had qualities of rootedness, holding, persistence, not giving up, a sense of honesty and truth with ourselves. Staying close to our values and what really matters. Choosing to sit with ourselves  on a regular basis is a way of developing a steady relationship to the ups and downs of experience,  but it is also a gateway to a less contrived way of living and perceiving, in which honesty and steadiness are allowed to flourish without striving for things to be other than they are.  It can perhaps be helpful to hold both the warp and weft of practice in mind, as we continue to open to the journey of practice in daily life.  We can think about our practice freshly and consider if we need to give more nurturing care to the warp or the weft. We can begin to see the way the weaving holds together with an inbuilt strength and integrity, instead of flopping and unravelling and dropping out and all the million ways our energy is dissipated when we do not pay attention. We can perhaps see our practice more clearly and value it more deeply.

Staying Mindful Monthly Practice Meetings take place monthly in The Grainger Suite of the Mercure Newcastle County Hotel (directly opposite Central Station) 6.30pm- 8pm. The next meeting will be Thursday 19th May. The meetings offer a chance to drop in and continue to practice together in a friendly group environment  and reflect on practice together (with all its many new beginnings)  in a supportive, non-judgmental way.

 

 

 

Mindfulness course in central Newcastle upon Tyne

The next 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course will be commencing on 26th April on Tuesday evenings  from 6.30 to 8.30pm at the Mercure Newcastle County Hotel on Neville St, Newcastle upon Tyne, immediately opposite central Station. Booking is now open and full course and booking information can be found on the courses page of this website.

The 8 week course offers a unique opportunity to develop a strong personal foundation of mindfulness practice in everyday life. At times of stress we can feel overwhelmed and react in ways that are automatic and reinforce unhelpful patterns, leaving us feeling stuck. Bringing awareness and acceptance to our immediate experience can help us to notice stress developing, and to respond skilfully. The aim of this course is to learn new ways of handling challenging physical sensations, emotions, moods and life situations by helping us to access our own powerful inner resources, developing greater awareness, understanding and resilience.

Mindfulness practice can support us in moving from reactivity and being caught up in trying to fix or solve our difficulties, to responding to life’s challenges with greater wisdom, skill, kindness and self-care. By being present in more of our moments, we can open to more skilful responses, choices and possibilities and enrich our experience of life, reconnecting with ourselves so that we can  live more fully and clearly.

The course is completely secular and takes place in the supportive learning environment of a group, with time within sessions to share and  reflect on individual experiences of practice.No previous meditation experience is required.  Participants are encouraged to commit to a daily home practice sessions which is supported by guided practices on CDs. The cost of the course includes a full set of CDs with guided practices for use at home, course handbook, in between session practice support from your teacher if required, and the opportunity to deepen and integrate learning from the course with a day of mindfulness practice after week 7, on Sunday 19th June  at Newton and Bywell Community Hall, Stocksfield (15 miles from Newcastle).

Following the course, participants are offered the opportunity to attend monthly practice support sessions, further days of retreat and an annual residential retreat in rural Northumberland.

“Anyone can learn mindfulness. It’s simple, you can practise it anywhere, and the results can be life-changing.”

Be Mindful ( www.bemindful.co.uk)

Revisiting autopilot

In our last “Staying Mindful” practice support meeting last week, we reflected  a little on working with distraction and how we can go about renewing an interest in habitual patterns of mind and activity where we have an ongoing tendency to drift out of the present moment. At the start of an 8 week course, we begin with recognising the difference between  autopilot and mindful awareness, and what is revealed to us when we begin to intentionally bring mindful attention to our experience.

We’re all on a continuum between distraction and awareness, and the practice of mindfulness helps us to lean further towards a fuller attentiveness in our lives, and also towards  being  more readily able to recognise when and how we get caught up in habitual and preferential mind states, in the many forms this can take.

As practice becomes more established and embedded in our lives,  we develop our capacity for awareness and get used to the renewed effort, patience and intention that is required to bring ourselves back to the  present moment when we have drifted away, both in our formal practice and everyday life. But as  the process evolves over time, how can we maintain a curious, yet gentle interest in  continuing to see  how our well worn habits and patterns play themselves out? How do we open up to working with the thoughts and emotions that come round and round again instead of switching off?  How do we remain alive to the impulses and tendencies of liking , not liking and finding downright good old boring, that so readily hook us out of where we are  and that block or obscure  our ability to  experience the full vitality of life in any given moment? Where do we go when we are not here? How do we drift? What habitually hooks us out?

When we start training the mind through the small steps of practice, we embark on a journey that  requires  kindness and honesty as we begin to see ourselves and our neurotic, human patterns  more clearly. We’re such creatures of habit, that even our practice can become routine and familiar, and sometimes a bit dulled and lacking in focus at the edges. It can be helpful to refresh practice from time to time by renewing an interest in where  the camera lens habitually goes fuzzy in our lives, where  we tend to  zone out from and drift off to, the places where we get habitually hooked and entangled. Our whole life becomes an arena for wonderful and rich learning through becoming more aware of the geography of habit; the places, people, situations, thoughts, feelings, activities, things we like and  avoid, and are indifferent to.  By waking up to the force of habit, we reclaim  the vitality and colour of life from the dead space of unawareness and reel more of our moments in.

So perhaps, in daily life, we can begin to notice again, how much we still drift in to the grey zone of autopilot, and perk up and notice what it is actually like. Does it feel like a sort of inert dullness or does it take the form of busy, multi-tasking whizziness? Where do we go when our minds drift? Is it to planning or re-hashing the events of the day, or drifting towards a dreamy wanting, or analysing how things could be different? Do we surround ourselves in  subtle entangling veils of “if”, “but”, “when”, “could”and “should” and “can’t”? Do we lean forwards to the future, or lean back to the past? Are there strong areas of habit we exercise without questioning  in our daily life? When do we check email? How and where do we have our lunch? Where do we sit? What do we snack on? What do we google? What do we do if we get a free moment and nothing is happening?

Our habits are part of us and it is through our habits and learning to see them more clearly, that mindful awareness offers us different possibilities. We need to see them, to work with them.  We’re in partnership with them, whether we like them or not. But if we can begin to see the pieces of the jigsaw a bit more clearly, the picture begins to open up to something a bit more wider, spacious, giving and flexible. What we practice grows stronger. We can become part of something bigger,  less constrained and predictable. New pathways open up through the woods, small little trails leading between the trees that we haven’t been down before, but which perhaps take us somewhere new.

On BBC Winter Watch recently, I was fascinated to see how they tracked the flight patterns of a golden eagle and a sea eagle by attaching cameras and GPS technology to them, which, by some miracle, were then  linked up to computers on the ground. Sure enough, as each eagle climbed the thermals,  soaring in to the sky above the Cairngorms, squiggly patterns began to appear on the tablet screens of the researchers on the ground. “Look at those tight spirals!” they exclaimed .”Wow – she’s going at 46mph!” The information was all there in patterns and numbers  and data appearing on the screens, constellating in facts, figures and diagrams, moment by moment.

But what I found incredible was the totally new experience of being able to see the world from the eagle’s point of view as it flew – the way the mountains tipped and the sky veered and whole valleys and rivers flew like ribbons in some enormous overview rushing underneath its soaring wings, tilting, adjusting with the detailed movements of its body and head, which you could just see below the positioned camera, pointing to the hugeness of the world below its crown of chocolate-layered feathers.

Afterwards, I reflected how in a parallel way, through mindfulness practice, we’re leaving the confines of pattern and construct behind, the gathered data and predictability of our lives,  and opening to the spaces where limitless possibilities, viewpoints, and perspectives exist, that perhaps we never knew could be possible. Perhaps, just by doing something differently, we can consciously participate in creative change, rising above the drift of our lives with renewed clarity and vision. We don’t have to be down there, glued to the graphs on the  computer, we can be up there with the eagle experiencing the sky.

 

Mindfulness in Education Conference 2016

I recently attended the Mindfulness in Education Conference 2016 at the Institute of Education in central London, organised by the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP), which was attended by over 700 delegates, from all over the UK and abroad. It was a stimulating day of presentations and break-out sessions and a chance to find out how mindfulness is beginning to make a difference to the well-being of staff and pupils in schools. Although not a school teacher myself, I have teenage girls going through exam years at GCSE and A level, and know from our own experience as a family, the pressures and stresses that young people go through. I have recently trained in delivering the .b Foundations course for  school staff through the Mindfulness in Schools Project.

The day was introduced by Professor Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor at the Universities of Southampton and Exeter, and a freelance consultant. She described mindfulness as the “WD40 of education – it unlocks doors”, and  “helping people to live the lives they want.” Professor Mark Williams, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), gave a wonderfully clear talk about the origins and applications of mindfulness, tracing mindfulness to its roots in the long river of practical philosophy from Asia, through to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering work in the Stress Reduction Clinic which he founded in 1979 at the University of Massachussets Medical School, and to the emergence  of mindfulness today  in diverse contexts right across the spectrum of society, offering a  life-changing “way of cultivating a sense of changed narrative from self-criticism to self-care that is foundational for being fully human.”

Richard Burnett, Co-founder and Director of the Mindfulness in Schools Project, talked about how the possibility of introducing mindfulness in schools has now shifted from a field of possibility to a dawning growth of massive potential through the introduction  of mindfulness courses into school curriculums ,  through the development of Paws.b and .b  mindfulness courses for junior and secondary schools, and the recent .b Foundations training for school staff. He described  how these courses  offered the evolving  possibility of “putting well-being at the heart of school” and “nurturing staff to nurture children”. He cautioned that mindfulness should not be adopted as a “panacea” and that it would be “token-istic” if a school were not embedded in mindfulness, through the thorough training of staff and the gradual development of a mindful culture within a school, a process that needed time to evolve and to be effective, and to grow in to place through the principles of established practice.

Anthony Selden, the biographer and historian,  then chaired a lively  panel discussion with children and teaching staff of schools where mindfulness has been successfully introduced, with an inspiring and realistic discussion of the challenges of introducing mindfulness to schools and the deep benefits it brings, not only to the  core well-being of staff and  children, but also to  the children in terms of their capacity to handle their emotions, stresses and difficultes through the effective skills that mindfulness practice  gives them for approaching life in general, as well as encouraging a creative response to learning with greater focus, resilience and increased performance ability, confidence, and emotional self-regulation A teacher who had experienced the 8 week course for staff said: “It was really holistic. It helped me with everything I had to deal with”.

The panel discusson was then followed by Tim Loughton MP who had worked on the All Party Paliamentary Group “Mindful Nation Report”, and cautioned that the increasing mental health issues of young people were “at risk of being seen as normal rather than as  a crisis”. He highlighted  mindfulness as “non-stigmatising, practical and popular” and that it wasn’t just a potential add-on in education, but something that needed to be “mainstream at the heart of education” with its researched benefits in supporting” health, creativity and productivity” and that this was “firmly on the radar of government now” as an important innovation in education policy.

A comment that summed up the potential for mindfulness supporting future generations came from a young girl, possibly aged 8 or 9, who sat calmly and quietly on her chair on stage in front of the 700 delegates and listening attentively throughout the long banter and  discussion between panel members. When finally asked how mindfulness helped her in her school day, she  simply replied “it just helps me  to feel calm”.

For further information, go to www. mindfulnessinschools.org.

 

Caring Connection

The recent horrific stream of events in Paris and Lebanon  has brought us face to face with unimagineable brutality and its consequences. It seems as if this has brought a heightened awareness of both terrible human suffering in its many shocking and tragic forms, but also of human kindness  from countless strangers who were prepared to support victims of the bombings in the street, opening their doors, donating blood, comforting, and even shielding others in the face of attack. And kindness in the form of  world-wide gestures of caring connection and solidarity, the many impromptu  street gatherings and vigils, and city lights.  An image which has particularly stayed with me is the photograph of the lights from thousands of mobile phones held up in the darkness in a spontaneous vigil that took place in Trafalgar Square. Somebody had taken care to initiate the gathering through social media, and thousands responded. The light of each phone represented someone who had cared  enough to make the decision to travel to central London and attend. Collectively, they lit up the whole square with a sea of lights and a shared expression of caring humanity; a conscious wish to connect.

These simple gestures of caring connection bring meaning and hope when not much else makes sense in the midst such  of atrocity. They arise from a basic, innate human capacity for compassion, and a wish for others to be free of suffering. In the wake of these recent atrocities, the countless stories of courage, kindness, caring and empathy that have emerged,  have emphasised the power of caring connection to sustain and nurture core human values in the face of despair and unimagineable suffering. In the questioning that inevitably follows events such as these, the mixture of horror and kindness has caused me to reflect deeply again  on the value of practice,  and how the many simple moments of caring connection that we make in relation to our own experience and  and in relation to others,  resonanates immeasurably through the sphere of our individual lives. Each moment of awareness flexes the muscle of mindfulness and compassion and builds  an inner strength to deal more effectively  with our own difficulties  and to be more able to support others. These times call us to stay connected and to make conscious caring connection, rather than falling into disconnection, or  simply feeling overwhelmed and powerless.

In last Thursday’s Staying Mindful  monthly practice group meeting, held at the County Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle upon Tyne,  we practised and  reflected together on  how our intention and motivation to practice helps us to sustain caring connection, in ways that make a difference to ourselves and others in our daily lives. It felt helpful to give space for this reflection at a time when there is so much concious unease, fear and uncertainty. Wholesome qualities of mind are developed whenever we welcome our experience with kind attention and can remain open. Each drop makes  a difference in the accumulative  flow of our  conscious lives, and brings something to the shared collective. We start with just this; conscious, caring conection in the middle of whatever is going on.   I was reminded of a beautiful passage by meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, in which she talks about the value of practice:

This is why we practice meditation—so that we can treat ourselves more compassionately; improve our relationships with friends, family, and community; live lives of greater connection; and, even in the face of challenges, stay in touch with what we really care about so we can act in ways that are consistent with our values.”

(from “Real Happiness: the Power of Meditation”, 2010).

We can learn to trust the secure holding of being tenderly and mindfully present, no matter where we are, whatever is going on in our experience.  What we practice grows stronger and influences life around us in simple and meaningful ways. Perhaps, in these troubled times, our motivation and intention to practice can be strengthened, and our practice be of even greater value to ourselves and others.