Reflections on Mindfulness Course by a Teacher

I wrote the following blog eflection three years ago on my experiences completing the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course at Cardiff Buddhist Centre.  It was posted as a PDF file available for download here.   I am re-publishing it today in whole so that it can be tagged for easier retrieval via searches etc.

I  have noticed that since completing this course, many more mindfulness courses are being made available to school teachers and school children.  For example,  recently in Wales the NEU teaching union is offering an 8 week mindfulness course to teachers.  Well done NEU and many other organisations.

Reflective account on 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course) undertaken by a school teacher

I recently finished an eight week Mindfulness Course in Cardiff facilitated by Vishvapani Blomfield.    In this blog I aim to reflect on the experience, consider what I have learned and how I could use this learning in my personal and professional life.

The course cost £200 and sessions lasted two hours per evening.  There were twelve participants.  We were given a course handbook with structured exercises and explanations free of psychological jargon, and templates to reflect on progress.  Although based at Cardiff Buddhist Centre,  this was a purely secular course.  It was based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course developed in Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s pioneering work at the University of Massachusett’s Medical Centre in the 1970s.     Kabat-Zinn (1994) gives the definition that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

Why take a mindfulness course ?

I work as a school supply teacher and wanted to develop a practice as a means of reducing my stress levels.  My brain is neuroplastic. In plain English, that means my brain is malleable and can be rewired.  I want to rewire it using mindfulness as a means to make it less prone to stress, to make it more resilient.

I wanted to learn mindfulness practice with an experienced practitioner having read much on the subject and experimented with mindfulness practice over the years.   From the course I hoped to establish a mindfulness practice embedded in my personal and professional life.

My first insight into the workings of the mind came from reading Duane Elgin’s book ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ in 1986.   In the Chapter entitled ‘Living More Voluntarily’ Elgin writes about the tendency of our mind to “run on automatic”.  The roots of Elgin’s thinking were in Buddhist thought.

Fast-forward another twenty years and I stumbled upon a book called ‘On Becoming an Artist’ by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer.    In this book I was introduced to principles of mindfulness applied to creative life and it was a revelation.   From this point onwards, I read many books on the subject and attended a few short meditation sessions and a workshop in 2009 and 2010.

 

The Course

On the course I learned many practical mindfulness techniques focusing on  mindfulness of breath and movement.    The body scan technique was particularly useful in grounding oneself and connecting with feelings and thoughts in a mindful way.

Each week course participants were given various exercises to practice as homework and as the course progressed more emphasis was given on sitting formally in meditation, and developing this practice.

Sessions usually comprised a variety of sitting practices and group discussion.  I found the group support invaluable in the learning process.  It is a challenge to meet twelve other complete strangers in a city and sit down in mindfulness practice with them, but in sharing personal insights and perspectives on mindfulness over the eight weeks we journeyed together and travelled much farther.

Deeper Learning

One of the most profound effects of the course has been to enable me to  slow down, noticing and appreciating more of the present moment wherever possible.   I realise how much my perception is dulled by ‘running on automatic’ (to borrow Elgin’s phrase above) and how rich and variegated life is in every, single moment.

I maintain a daily practice and whenever possible sit for around forty five minutes per day, usually in the morning.   This is not mindfulness though, it is a mindfulness practice.   Mindfulness is something I try to bring to the whole of my life, from washing the dishes to teaching classrooms of pupils in school.   Every moment is a mindfulness practice as every moment can touch my heart.

As a supply teacher,  I have noticed a greater sense of well-being in myself and contentment in my work since doing this course.  Mindfulness is a tool that helps me put all the ups and downs and challenges of supply teaching into a healthy perspective.    I would recommend this course to any fellow teacher looking to develop their practice.

How could I use mindfulness in future ?

The course ended with the advice that you should ‘weave your parachute every day’.  Rather than wait until a crisis develops, or stress levels become out of hand, it is better to practice small doses of mindfulness every day so that you are resilient.  Thus I intend to develop this as a lifelong practice.  This is not a fad.

I intend to share my mindfulness practice with others in my profession, so for example, I have set up a Mindfulness Network on the Hwb+ VLE (login required) available to every school teacher in Wales.   At a future date, I intend to train as a mindfulness schools practitioner, via a project such as the Mindfulness in Schools Project.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Vishvapani Blomfield for facilitating this course with such honesty, patience and humour and Cardiff Buddhist Centre for generously hosting the training.   

 

 

Autoethnography as Pot Noodle

Trying to avoid writing autoethnography as the academic equivalent of a Pot Noodle.  I want something intellectually nutritious, filling and fulfilling.  

I am also mindful of the risks of autoethnography becoming part of a narcissistic navel-gazing ‘selfie’ culture, becoming ‘mesearch’ instead of research,   and self-aggrandizement.

Autoethnography as Pot Noodle

 

Saving Seeds, Feeding Bees

Look at these happy bees feeding on the flowing kale plants in the garden…

You can see a honeybee with a full pollen basket and a busy bumblebee too.  Every year I leave and set aside different plants to go to seed. I’ve experimented over many years and found that kale is an excellent plant to leave to flower and form seed. I get to enjoy the beauty of the colour, watching the bees feed on the pollen, and later I dry the seedpods and harvest the seeds for next season. And the honey bumblebee and other creatures benefit from the pollen. As little energy as possible is wasted in this balanced, holistic approach to gardening. I waste very little energy in growing kale plants during the next season. I simply scatter the saved seed on a spare patch of soil and a few weeks later choose the strongest plants for growing on. This is not zero effort, but reduced effort.  The energy/effort I save can be creatively used for other projects.

Researcher as a Zombie

Zombie

I am haunted by the image of the half-dead, Zombie researcher, regurgitating  conventional, humanist research methodology.  Going through the motions of efficacy but not showing any emotions.  Or voice.

Over the years I’ve been socialized into a positivist research practice that suffocates me.  I recently re-read some academic writing I’d completed and it felt like I was reading the work of another writer.  It was dissociative and disembodied, the vain clunking steps of a dancing marionette.

Making good use of the things that we find

I can’t help thinking of Elisabeth Beresford‘s Wombles and the Wombling Song when considering bricolage as a research methodology, in particular these two lyrics fragments : 

Making good use of the things that we find [1]

Pick up the pieces and make them into something new [2]

[1] Theme of creating, recycling, serendipity

[2] Theme of creating, repurposing, tinkering, assemblage

Lyrics for The Wombling Song (1973) by The Wombles 

Underground, overground, Wombling free
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we
Making good use of the things that we find
Things that the everyday folks leave behind

Uncle Bulgaria, he can remember the days
When he wasn’t behind the times
With his map of the world
Pick up the papers and take them to Tobermory

Wombles are organised, work as a team
Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean
Underground, overground, Wombling free
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we

People don’t notice us, they never see
Under their noses a Womble may be
Womble by night and we Womble by day
Looking for litter to trundle away

We’re so incredibly utterly devious
Making the most of everything
Even bottles and tins
Pick up the pieces and make them into something new
Is what we do

Underground, overground, Wombling free
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we
Making good use of the things that we find
Things that the everyday folks leave behind

Written By – Mike Batt & Chris Spedding

A Literary Virus takes charge

I work up one morning earlier this week reciting the first few lines from Part II of John Keats’ poem Lamia. Some sort of literary virus seems to have taken charge of my mind. I haven’t read a Keats poem in years but it’s obviously still there, somewhere, in the darker recesses. In a box marked ‘do not disturb… please’.

Blog Update : Sculpture photos

I’ve added a few sculpture photos today…