I wrote the following blog reflection 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.
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.
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.
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.
I stumbled across this today, whilst reading Tristine Rainer’s ‘Your Life as Story’ (1998). Nin wrote the Preface to Rainer’s classic ‘New Diary’ (1978).
Anais Nin writes …
Why one writes is a question I can never answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me – the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.
“We also write to heighten our own awareness of life. We write to lure and enchant and console others. We write to serenade our lovers. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely … When I don’t write, feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.” – (‘The New Woman’, 1974)