The consequences of the current pandemic have been devastating for many people, with much death and serious illness, leading to many being bereaved or having more caring responsibilities, but also with much economic hardship, with many losing their jobs and businesses and finding an inadequate safety net. These consequences should not be under-estimated and we can all play our part in helping those in our communities who are struggling. If we each choose one way that we can help, playing to our strengths, that will bring significant benefit.
Having said that, I do notice in conversations with fellow mindfulness teachers and practitioners, that the circuit break in the busyness of life has resulted in positive consequences. I have joked a few times with people about the enforced retreat opportunities afforded to many of us, especially those of us who live alone.
One of these positive consequences was the second online mindfulness weekend, offered for free to our members that took place at the weekend. At times over 150 of us came together on Zoom as a community of practice in mutual support. We practiced mindfulness, compassion, insight and wisdom practices together, with some joining in for the whole weekend and others popping in and joining for specific sessions.
Over the life of the Mindfulness Association, more than a decade, we have been doing our best to create and support a community of practice, but this has only come to fruition as a result of the pandemic. In March when the pandemic hit, Kristine and I simultaneously had an idea of a free daily online sit. We asked our team of MA tutors if they would like to be involved and many were more than happy to volunteer this time. We set this up at 7pm each evening, including weekends for anyone – member or non-member – to join us. The sessions were an immediate success, with regularly 100 or more people joining us, which went down over the summer months, but is now rising again. Not that the numbers matter, what matters more is the community of mutual support that has arisen and that for many people the community of practice we have created together has been a lifeline. As we have shared together, our ups and downs, we have been there for each other in presence and in kindness.
Then there were people with childcare responsibilities who couldn’t make the evening sessions and so we extended to have a second sit on weekdays at 10.30am. Again, our tutors responded to volunteer to hold these sits and these sessions have also turned out to be very well attended.
Our intention is to continue them, so long as they are needed. Even at holidays times such as Christmas and New Year. I think they are needed more than ever at these times, especially this year. We are doing four practice days between Christmas and New Year and you can find information about the one I am doing one on 27th December to be followed by practice days led by Alan, Kristine and Jacky.
For myself, these have been some of the most nourishing and energising experiences of my mindfulness teaching career and they have helped me through the isolation of newly living on my own. It feels a privilege and wonderfully uplifting to be at the heart of this community. It makes my heart sing whenever I think of it – it is also one of those ‘pinch myself’ moments, where I cannot believe that this is part of my life. I know many of my fellow MA tutors feel exactly the same way and look forward to their turn to lead the sits.
It is the end of our financial year – and I am so very proud of our MAHQ and tutor team – we came together in March, all hands to the pump, moved everything online, started the sits and our regular practice days, and we have managed to survive and thrive as a business through the pandemic. This is a massive relief to me and I thank goodness for the wonder that is Zoom, without which all would have been so much more difficult.
Choden and I have also worked hard during lockdown to get our second Masters degree up and running in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland (UWS). Most of this we have done by meeting on Zoom – thank you again Zoom. I am really looking forward to meeting some of my key UWS colleagues in person, down in London, hopefully some time next year. I was filling in my 2021 diary yesterday and couldn’t believe I was adding the weekends in for this new venture. In this degree we will train people to teach mindfulness and compassion, within an academic context of psychology, so I am delighted at the potential benefit of so many new teachers going out into the world to spread the benefit.
We also have a bumper cohort of excellent recruits this year on the University of Aberdeen MSc in Studies in Mindfulness. I think this is because the experience of lockdown has given people a chance to get off the hamster wheel of 20th century life and re-evaluate what is important to them and how they want to live their lives. The other factor is that this Masters degree is now available as a completely online option, thank you again Zoom, making it more accessible.
So, onwards and upwards, continuing our journey, confident that we can make the obstacles the path and that the challenges we meet can be the beginning of magical changes in our lives and the lives of those around us.