Recently, I travelled to Poland to assist on a Mindfulness Foundation course that was being offered in Warsaw. For me, this was quite poignant as my family left Poland at various stages of Russian persecution. Some left at the turn of the 20th century, while others left later. I would be the first family member to return. Moreover, there were many ‘moments’ throughout this journey that grounded me in my body, and had me noticing my inner environment in regards to thoughts, emotions, sensations, as well as my external environment and the beauty that surrounded me.
This ‘noticing’ happened immediately upon landing at Warsaw Modlin. The first thing that I saw were birch trees lining the runway and I immediately felt a warming in my heart centre. The place where I was born and return to every summer in Canada is a small Northern town that is nestled in a forest made up of birch and pine. Therefore, birch trees have always been precious to me. My thoughts flashed to my grandmother and her stories of childhood and I soon came to realize that my experience in Poland would be a returning of sorts, only I would be returning and experiencing things through the lens of beginner’s eyes. How lucky was I?
As this was my first time in Poland, I was surprised to notice other familiarities, such as the many lilac trees that were dripping in blossoms. Warsaw was definitely in bloom, and the lilac’s pale hue of purple and their gentle fragrance enveloped the city. For me, these were the first lilacs of the season, and seeing them in this new ‘old’ land, I really noticed the shape and colour of these fragrant flowers. Their vividness and familiarity seemed to ground me and announce the new season of summer and the warm air confirmed it.
The theme of new ‘old’ land surfaced many times and I came to hear many stories of life and culture in Warsaw told to me by my translator, Monika and my housemates Eryk and Ashka. Much of Warsaw’s old town had been destroyed during the Second World War, and their old town had been rebuilt to replicate its former glory. As we walked its streets, and various buildings were pointed out, the term ‘new ‘old’ town’ became a mantra. For my Polish friends, they too were experiencing a Warsaw that was different, yet ‘familiar’ to their ancestors’ experience. The mindful conversations we had where we shared stories and expressed deep emotion talking about the past that had shaped and brought us to our present moment experience were inspiring. My new friends’ warmth and honesty put me at ease and I returned to my body many times with the deep realization that I was in Poland tasting, touching, smelling and hearing my ancestral land for the first time.
I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it hadn’t have been for Anna Zubrzycki, who brought the Mindfulness Association to Poland. Together with Angie Ball and many supporting Polish practitioners, she has been delivering the 4 weekend Mindfulness course in Poland for a few years, now. It was such a joy to work with Anna and Angie. They had everything sorted and all I had to do was literally show up. On top of this, they were inspirational to watch as they delivered their lessons. These ladies clearly embody the teachings and have a passion for bringing them to Poland. It was a privilege to work with them.
Moreover, as our weekend progressed and we got to know the participants, I was overwhelmed by the genuine hospitality that I felt from everybody in our group. So much so, that when we all brainstormed on the pleasant moments in our lives, the group included my own reflections of birch trees and lilacs into their list of things to be grateful for. In all sense of the word, we worked side by side, learning and journeying together- and most importantly, seeing things through beginner’s eyes!
Visiting Poland as a mindfulness teacher was more that I could have imagined. Not only did I get to teach alongside two fantastic teachers, I was welcomed and treated like a long lost friend. I can hardly wait to return one day!
For more information on our courses in Poland: