As I write this blog today, I am reminiscing – my mind is pulled to the past, to what seems distant and luxurious memories of a pre-pandemic retreat on Holy Isle. And as I prepare to write I am aware of distraction in the mind closer to home. But there is good reason for my distraction this week. The sounds around me are different; I am aware of my awareness drifting through into the rest of my house – my family have come for Christmas. The sounds of squeals, cartoon crashes and children’s voices are pulling me away from the task in hand, and I feel a bit guilty – the children are so excited to come to see me and here I am locked away. They are big enough to understand. I gave them a hole punch and some coloured paper to make confetti for our home made crackers!
I’ll begin with the reminiscence. I’m noticing how the edge of anxiety has softened, blurred and has become part of a whole atmosphere of heightened awareness, keen clarity and togetherness experienced during our first year end of year retreat on Holy Isle. Part of the reason I chose this particular course was because it is delivered at Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre, and because of the Holy Isle retreats.
As part of the Aberdeen Masters Course in Mindfulness Studies, we complete part 1 of the teacher training at the end of the first two years on retreats which usually take place on Holy Isle. I was lucky to attend the first one– the second – last July was delivered online. Our teacher training sessions began with worderfully manageable bite sized chunks. I think the way we are gently cajoled into offering our voice has been so well crafted. Had I been made to deliver a whole Settling-Grounding-Resting session from the get-go I would not be sitting on that cushion. I knew I didn’t want to teach, so I thought it would be interesting to join in, without the pressure. Sometimes we have to circumnavigate our own egocentric preference systems with subterfuge. We are complicated beings that’s for sure. Of course I speak for myself. Something also taught – speak from your own experience. For that is all we can know for sure. The Buddhist teachings say we must find out for ourselves never just blindly accept what is told. This is why we must do practice before we can teach, and while we are teaching, we need to continuously go deeper into our practice to deeply understand the workings of our own minds. In this way we can deliver embodied practice sessions and understand them fully. I am happy to go slowly with this. I want to do it properly. Even though I don’t want to teach.
Our tutor group was allocated the little shrine room on what feels like a tiny attic above an old boat house away from the main house and under some trees by the enchanting gardens on Holy Isle. The tiny room is cosy. We sit on mats and cushions and it’s like we are in a den and we all feel a flutter of exhilaration at taking our first steps. There was around 8 or 9 of us. By this time, the group has bonded and knew each other well enough to not be too bothered about messing up. But as the time comes round to my turn, my whole body has turned into a pulsing heart and I can barely listen to what’s being said. Even the reminiscing is raising the pulse. The thoughts have a way of rekindling the visceral reactions.
So our tutor was Kristine. So kind and gentle, and definitely not scary! We would deliver a Settling, Grounding and Resting practice between us all. What a great idea! Where will I sit? Which bit do I want to do? Before I knew it I was ¾ way round the circle and who knows which bit I would end up with. The first person talked us through posture the next person spoke of our intention and motivation. We then slowly moved round the group each taking a turn. I have no idea what I said. I was overcome with pounding heart! short term memory loss! And a massive relieved sigh as the wave passed through me and the next person took us through the final stages of the practice. I will go into more detail about the practices as I go through them one by one in future blogs.
Most of my fellow students agreed that as the turn moved towards us the anxiety and tension increased. We all laughed at the sometimes funny things that people said, and when Cathleen had nothing to say when it was her turn (as “everything had been said”) and her silence was perfect. Nothing wrong. But very funny. We are still laughing about her jammy escape.
The next session I made sure I was in the number one position in order to get the deed over and done with to avoid anxiety! That worked really well. (For me! How selfish!) We went round again, this time palpably more relaxed, and we then practiced our inquiry into the meditators experience. This is much harder than it looks. I can see why this is an extra skillset to be learned alongside the actual teaching practice. An integral part but is really the key to helping others through their own process with a light touch. Notice your own projection onto the practitioner’s experience. Notice how we mirror, how we pick up on and mirror emotions which may in turn trigger us. Notice how we or they may become defensive. How do we answer without answering, in a way that nurtures further enquiry…One or two people would come out of the zone and offer artificially created difficulties, obtuse answers, which could be challenging on top of the already challenging situation. Generally collectively we weren’t very good at this part, but we were all equally challenged – so it was completely ok and it was a real eye opener as to the skills of the Mindfulness Association teachers and their well honed enquiry skills. And where did I feel that in my body? And How did that make me feel? And how do I feel now?
This week’s challenge.
Come back to the basics.
Body: Am I being kind to my body? How can I look after my body this week?
Intention: When you wake up in the morning remember to set your intention for the day.
Motivation: Why are you doing the things you set out to do today? Is this in your deepest interest?
I’d better go and check out the confetti Christmas cracker situation in the living room and see how hungry everybody is. I forgot how little people just seem to eat the whole fridge in one sitting!
Take care of yourselves this week,
And I wish you a wonderful sparkly and cosy Christmas wherever you are.