Having just returned from attending the Bangor University, Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, "Mindfulness in Society" conference, this felt like a good moment to share some reflections from the weekend.
I attended Bangor's last conference two years ago (which was part of the inspiration to set up this site) and I was looking forward to this opportunity to reconnect with the mindfulness community. It was a pleasure to hear from internationally renowned speakers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Paul Chadwick, Shauna Shapiro, Willem Kuyken and Vidyamala Burch and to engage in a day's practice with Jon Kabat-Zinn. We explored what mindfulness is, theories about how it works and some of the latest research evidence, for example, results showing that mindfulness meditation impacts positively upon brain structure and function. We also saw some promising work using mindfulness for parenting and in schools, looking to give future generations an initial grounding in awareness and self compassion.
Mindfulness and heartfulness
We were reminded by several speakers that although we use the term mindfulness in English, it could just as easily be translated as heartfulness. While this was brought to our attention conceptually, what I took most from my experience at the conference was the felt sense of openness and compassion from those who presented and the attendees who I had the pleasure to meet. Compassion, or indeed heartfulness, was communicated most powerfully through being in their presence.
Shauna Shapiro, an internationally recognised mindfulness teacher and researcher, has written about mindfulness encompassing the dimensions of intention, attention, and attitude (Shapiro et al, 2006). She spoke about this at the conference and her own early experiences of meditation on a retreat in Thailand, highlighting that sometimes we practice mindfulness with a belief that awareness is the most important part, yet without considering attitude we may not be practising mindfulness at all. When we practice with the intention to focus on the breath or with any other focus, we will experience our mind wandering and notice a wide range of emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. Whatever our initial intention, what is central to mindfulness practice is bringing a curious, compassionate attitude towards whatever is arising in our awareness - whether pleasant or unpleasant, whether we are making judgements or getting angry, or feeling frustrated or bored. If we can begin to relate to these experiences as they arise and befriend them, this is the practice. Through changing this relationship with what arises we can begin to cultivate a new way of being that allows us to gain insight into what it is to be human and cultivate a more accepting attitude towards ourselves and the world around us.
Many of the speakers reminded us that this is an ongoing journey and whether you are just beginning to meditate or you have meditated for 30 years, this process of our minds wandering and making judgements or experiencing emotional reactions will continue. Rather than blindly letting this process govern our existence we can open our eyes, bring a kind attitude towards ourselves and our experiences and choose how to live in this moment, and the next, and the next.
Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373-386