Health and Wellbeing, Mindfulness

What I’ve learnt from my mindfulness training so far…

Quite a while ago I blogged about starting a mindfulness course with the hope to become a teacher of mindfulness.

I found a course run by the Mindfulness Association  which runs ethical mindfulness training which was important

The course is in three parts; the actual ‘mindfulness’ bit which was four weekends, teacher training skills and a five day teaching retreat. The main body of the first part of the course is run in Scarborough which gave the added bonus of training by the sea. So win win really! The course is secular, but is taught by two fabulous women, one who is a Buddhist Nun and the wisdom and compassion that came from them both had a massive impact on me.

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Samye Yorkshire ; Buddhist Centre in Scarborough where I have completed my training

Oh how naive I was when I started the course. Swaggering into the Holiday Inn where the foundation weekend was held thinking ‘I know all about mindfulness and I am just coming to this so I can get onto the Mindfulness Teachers list’. Cue a year later having had my eyes opened beyond measure to how blind I was to the depths of mindfulness.

I had already done some mindfulness training which to be honest changed my life. Before I I came to mindfulness I suffered with depression, anxiety, I impulsively spent money, and I lived in a chaotic whirlwind of emotions. Having completed an eight week mindfulness course I started practicing the techniques I’d learnt and started seeing the benefits almost instantly; I felt calmer, clearer headed and started learning to live in the present. I found it so life changing I wanted to help others come to mindfulness.

Back to the Holiday Inn…another intensive mindfulness course that would be the first step on the pathway to teaching others. The first weekend covered many basics I already knew; living in the present, meditation and awareness. Nothing too new. Then weekend two came along and oh boy…compassion.

Now compassion is something I have in spades usually. For others. Ask me to be compassionate to myself and then we start to have a problem, but a big part of this course was about self compassion. A lot of self compassion. This course was where I realised I really didn’t love myself. I wasn’t even sure liking myself was even part of the  equation, and it hurt. It really hurt. I pushed against it, I felt blocked in trying to do the exercises. I rebelled against the silent practice and went to sit with the seagulls. I cried in front of a lot of almost strangers. Two weekends went by where compassion were a big part of the work we were doing. Compassion to self and others is a big part of mindfulness , as it should be, to be able to be kind to yourself and to others, even those you really don’t have much time for is a great gift, but it’s not easy.

In between weekends we had to practice the different practices we were learning, read books on mindfulness, meditate and generally open ourselves up the mindfulness journey we had started. I could do this for many areas; demonstrating mindful movement in the practice groups I run, reading more and trying to get a regular meditation practice in place, but somehow I skirted around compassion, finding it too hard to contemplate.

I loved the other work, the acceptance, the mindful movement, the meditation practices, the observing of thoughts, and even though it’s a work in progress I have started to make peace with myself. Weekend four was this last weekend. We pulled together everything we’d been learning and practicing, and suddenly something shifted. I felt ready to start being kind to myself. After all why don’t I deserve that? There’s something fundamental in most of us that feel being kind to ourselves is indulgent but it’s absolutely crucial to our wellbeing. Without compassion to ourselves and to others how can we bring out the best in ourselves and others?

Ironically I now feel ready to have a full mindful practice. I will talk more in another post about the changes that I have already put in place this week to find joy in the present moment.

Are there any parts of mindfulness you are particularly interested in? What have you struggled most with?

Looking forward to my teaching skills weekends starting in June…watch this space!

Mindfulness, Minimalism

What a weekend in a Buddhist retreat has taught me

I went to a retreat this weekend. This is something very new to me, and something I’ve always wanted to do. Why a retreat? And why go all Buddhist retreat to top it off?

Well…I’ve always liked the idea of something very simple, time away from home to reflect on life, on where you’re at, and what you want to achieve. I also came to a really big and exciting conclusion recently which I believe all this minimalism has helped lead me to. I want to teach mindfulness to others. It’s something that has changed my life beyond measure, and something I am incredibly passionate about and I want to help bring it to other people. I also believe mindfulness goes hand in hand with minimalism. In fact in my world the two are interlinked and could be called mindfulness or minimalism and still mean the same thing to me. Make it up as you go along I say!

Part of the ongoing good practice for teaching mindfulness is going on retreat. At this point there are no mindfulness teaching courses starting until later in the year and so I thought I would get ahead of myself. We’re also in the process of moving, which as anyone who has moved knows is about one of the most stressful life experiences after bereavement. So I am needing some pretty zen vibes right now. So I had a look at retreats and lo and behold quite near to where I live is a Buddhist centre which offers Learn to Meditate weekends. As a meditator who could definitely do with a kick up the bum to practice more often I thought this might also combine peace and quiet and reflection with something quite useful. Reasonably priced, and only 45 minutes from home it seemed a winner.

Cue Friday evening sitting in the car thinking ‘What have I done?’ I’m not a Buddhist, I have to share a bathroom with virtual strangers, there’s unlikely to be any caffeine all weekend, certainly no alcohol and I am going to have to sit in a room all day chanting ‘Om’. Why was this a good idea again? I was all set for turning round. Luckily I have a very persuasive and supportive wife who talked me up and pushed me out and off I went.

I couldn’t have got it more wrong…well there was no alcohol but I don’t drink much so that didn’t bother me. The welcome was incredibly warm, not a hippy in sight, just normal people who like me are looking for the peace and calm that comes from meditating. The centre is sent in grounds of green fields, woodland, with a beautiful walled garden and all you can hear is birds singing. It was just the kind of peace I needed.

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The Woodlands at Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre

I lucked in on the first night, connecting with three people who like me were scared stiff they might have entered some sort of cult and had no idea what to expect. They were great company, and we all had a chance to talk about how each session made us feel, what we might take of it and to ask for clarification bits we didn’t quite get.

I got a lovely single room and although I had to share a bathroom it was only with four other women and perfectly fine.

We meditated first on Friday evening after supper, and through four sessions on Saturday. Starting with a breathing meditation, a teaching on meditation and then a further meditation; a bit of chanting, a body scan, some breathing, all very mindful based. Contemplation and meditation on ‘virtuous objects’  was fairly Buddhist stuff and new to me, but actually something I am definitely going to try.  The great thing about each meditation as well was the break of an hour in between…I got to walk through woodland, think about what I wanted to take from each session, how amazingly calm and relaxed I felt, and to plan how I would move forward.

The peace of being in this beautiful countryside coupled with a lot of positive, enquiring, like minded people made for a really treasured experience.

Madhyamaka Buddha

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So…have I become a Buddhist? No. I love some of the Buddhist concepts but organised religion is not for me, but I love the thought that our mind is something we can develop into a calm space. My wife noticed a difference when she came to pick me up. Apparently I looked rested, and even talked more slowly!

I think giving myself those two nights away was like a gift to myself, and something i have never done before. Until recently I would be petrified of spending a weekend in the company of strangers. I took to it like a duck to water

So what have I come away with from this retreat? And would it benefit you to try one?

I’ve come away much calmer, and with more peace, and with the clear expectation that this has to be maintained by a daily meditation practice, not just a hope it will last.

I’ve come away with a plan to practice meditation daily, with the expectation I will do it, not just a vague intention as previously.

I have a respect for the Buddhist religion and teachers but an understanding that the mindfulness aspect is right for me, and an even greater desire to teach non-secular mindfulness to others.

I’ve come away knowing I will definitely retreat at least every 6 months. It’s like a gift to yourself, of time away from ‘reality’ to recharge, revive, reflect and see that ‘big’ problems are actually not.

I have also started minimising even more since I got home…witnessing the amazing volunteers, nuns and monks who live in the centre with so little, and realising that there are still so many things I don’t need, don’t want and that don’t serve me.

Most radically it’s made me realise how much we, and especially me allow the external world to influence us, and how much I want to turn that around and allow my mind to influence how I feel, not others, not a new car, not new clothes or even people.

I would highly recommend a trip to a retreat, technically I think you could get away with a spa weekend being called a retreat…but go on your own. As hard as it is to walk in alone and strike up that first conversation, being alone with yourself is a gift none of us get very often in this busy world.

If you’re interested on going on a Learn to Meditate weekend at the Madhyamaka Centre, you can check it out here