This last weekend I have been working with Choden, Fay and Heather Grace Bond from the MA tutor team and Graeme Nixon and Collette Savage of the University of Aberdeen on weekend one of the MSc in Studies in Mindfulness course. We have a full cohort this year, with even some people on a waiting list, which is fabulous news for this MSc Mindfulness Course, which has now been running for nine years. What an awesome weekend and an awesome team. We were beginning with the Mindfulness course, which will be followed by the Compassion course starting in January and completing the first year of the MSc. Then the Insight course will begin the second year of the MSc followed by a grounding in research skills in the Professional Enquiry course, ready for the Masters work based project or dissertation in the third year. Each year ends with a five day practice retreat on Holy Isle, including teaching skills in Years one and two and a writing retreat in Year three.
We explored our intention and motivation for practice, recognising the unsettled mind, settling the mind and the mindfulness sitting practice of settling, grounding, resting with mindfulness supports of sound and breath and mindfulness in daily life activities. My contribution was a session on the bodyscan and a session on kindness. There were also academic sessions – in preparation for the assignment – on a critical exploration of secular mindfulness, reflective and critical writing, accessing research papers online and the dreaded academic referencing!
The assignment for the mindfulness course is in two parts. The first is a reflection on our mindfulness practice experience, drawing on our journaling about our practice, on the cushion and in daily life, and critically analysing these reflections in relation to the mindfulness literature. The second is an exploration of a selected professional or life context, which may include the health, education, criminal justice or workplace professions, parenting, ageing, sport – basically any job or life circumstance – and drawing on the literature and evidence base to critically analyse whether mindfulness might be useful in that context.
Why not join us next year? All that you need is a first degree or equivalent professional experience and a job or life circumstance that you are interested in exploring!
Choden and I handed out pre-publication copies of our Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) Book to all the students, which we will be doing on all our Mindfulness courses from now on. The book is published on 30 November and you can pre-order a copy on Amazon and it comes with access to guided audio. The books were well received and I look forward to reading the assignments referencing the book!
I was excited and nervous at the start to meet the new cohort and met them at the door, welcoming them and giving them their name badges. After Graeme welcomed them and the tutors introduced themselves I was up. My job was logistics and ground rules. I try to do this with as much humour as I can so as to break the ice and begin to bond the group, who work in small groups and discuss ground rules and then offer them up into the main group to be collected on a flip chart. There is always a wide range of mindfulness practice experience – from beginner to over 20 years practice experience – and a wide range of academic experience – from those who haven’t written an essay in 20 years to university professors – and so I feel it is important to normalise this so that those with less experience don’t feel intimidated and those with lots of experience approach the course with beginner’s mind.
I love teaching the bodyscan; in particular, I love guiding it. This is despite the practice always being a challenge to me in my own personal practice. I either fall asleep or have restless legs, a situation I have come to accept – although not yet completely! I can at least accept my non-acceptance and continue with this practice, from time to time, with open curiosity when frustration does not get the better of me! This is the practice I get the most feedback about, as I also guide it on our mindfulness app and many people with insomnia use it to great success to help them get back to sleep at night. I think that this is a wonderful help for people, but I do have a sense that the bodyscan is about falling awake rather than falling asleep – but whatever helps is good! (Find our Mindfulness Based Living App for ios on the App Store or for Android on the Google Play store)
I also love teaching kindness. We start with the memories of kindness practice, when we bring to mind memories of when someone was kind to us, when we were kind to someone else and when we were kind to ourself. Before the practice, I asked the group for examples of when they had experienced such acts of kindness over the weekend and there were many examples from receiving lifts to receiving a cup of coffee and from gift giving to spider saving. It was wonderful to feel how the group were bonding through these many mutual acts of kindness over the weekend. I think that is one of the greatest strengths of the MSc – a diverse group of like- minded people embarking on a profound journey of inner exploration over a period of years. The strong friendships that develop will last a lifetime. As Heather GB said to me at the weekend, she had a sense that her MSc cohort of 5 years ago would be there for each other no matter what. There is a profound sense of all being in it together. In what? In the imperfect human condition tossed about on the ups and downs of life.
I love being a part of these journeys and their journeys are part of my journey. I love to hear from the MSc students years later, when I receive an email from them or when I bump into them at an event. The tales of how the MSc has transformed their life and their work. How their journey has impacted those around them. The wonderful work they do in their professions and communities to share the benefit of compassion- based mindfulness. What could be better?
At the close of the weekend we asked the students for an act of kindness – particularly if they liked the MBLC Book – to put a review on Amazon!
If you are interested in our approach to Mindfulness, then why not sign up to our free online Mindfulness course and see if our approach is for you.