I have been really enjoying the opportunities to train therapists (social workers, mental health counselors, and psychologists) on Mindfulness. My area of expertise is in combining Christian spiritual formation practices and Mindfulness.
What I have been noticing over the years of training folks is that the skill-building practices are better done in community and in person. Sure, there are apps and online trainings in mindfulness. Heck, I even created 12 audio modules that folks can listen to on their own individually. But, there is something about practicing these skills together that really furthers the work. In fact, there are a couple of reasons why I think community is the best place to learn Mindfulness.
Learning Mindfulness Together Ensures Better Practice
Today, I had the privilege to lead a terrific group of social workers who are working hard to serve the Chinese American population (a very underserved group). These folks are very busy in their daily professional lives. Both patients and other staff rely on them for support, so they give of themselves over and over again. And, as a Chinese-American social work professor myself, I feel even more compelled to train these folks in Mindfulness for self-care and as intervention.
In the training, after I lead any part of the practice such as breath-meditation, or body scan exercise, we reflect on the practice. We discuss out loud to each other what is working, where are thoughts are going, what is distracting us from the present moment.
This discussion helps in Mindfulness. Learning the skills together provides merging of thoughts, reinforcement that I, as an individual am present in the room along with other who are practicing the same things. It’s easy to be in a room, but not present in the room–does that make sense? Having others to share a breath-meditation, helps us become more aware that we are together. We are breathing the same air, we can hear each other and our bodies naturally sync up to each other. The rhythm of our breaths becomes more alike, our hearts beat to the others in the room.
Shared Experiences Are Meaningful
When we share in Mindfulness practices, we also begin to see our own thoughts–our minds, our concerns, our worries, our values–individually and corporately. We notice that we have similar concerns, shared worries, and can more readily acknowledge shared values. Every time I conduct a training in Mindfulness, I am aware of all the folks in the room.
Each person comes in with their own stresses they carry, as well as hopes and dreams. Mindfulness helps them tap into all those things. It helps to have others to prod them out of us. I will share a short composite example of a couple stories I know. In a training I conducted in the past, there was a person who was transitioning out of a job in the same agency with lots of responsibilities to a position without many of those responsibilities in the same place.
As she sat with her colleagues, she began to notice that she was aware of the sadness and the end of a role that she had poured many years of her life into. In the room were many of the faces and stories she had become accustomed to knowing and hearing. She recognized that in her new role, she wouldn’t be privy to those stories in the same way anymore. Her role as a supervisor and confidante in many ways would shift. She therefore found herself in a state of gratitude for the lives she was able to touch in her workplace as she practiced breathing in silence, listening to her thoughts, connecting to God in that space.
Mindfulness resulted in her being aware of those feelings. She could then grieve the loss, and prepare herself for the transition to the new role. I am certain that she could not do this if she were not in the same room as these people. There is something about learning and practicing Mindfulness with others in the room. As a Christian, I believe that God made us for relationship. God is contained in the trinity and therefore functions in community.
Learning Mindfulness in community can result in deep reflection with yourself, but also how you connect with others. What are your hopes and dreams in relation to others? How do others in the room–familiar and unfamiliar–share in those dreams with you? Other people help us form the connections that we often do not see in our own mind when we enter into awareness in Mindfulness. And, it’s people that can help sustain us during periods when we feel mindless and restless.
So, consider practicing and learning with others. In community is where the meaning of Mindfulness is recognized and played out.