The Mindfulness Network (MN) annual gathering took place a couple of weeks ago at Gilwell Park in North London. I wasn’t sure I would make it. General busyness, a major home relocation booked for 8thMarch, and the gathering beginning on the 9th, it all seemed a bit too much to be honest. However, the emphasis at this gathering on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) provided me with a significant motivation to attend. Addressing this area, particularly in our socio-political climate feels too urgent to be side-lined. An ethical imperative, in fact.
As the date for the gathering approached, I received news of the death of a dear friend and MN colleague Nick Diggins. Nick was a bright spirit, wise, kind and very, very funny. It feels a tragic and untimely death. An email arrived from MN director Alison Evans acknowledging Nick’s passing and inviting time for reflection at the forthcoming meeting. I felt a palpable sense of relief. I didn’t have to grieve this alone. There was a community, sensitive, kind, who would ‘hold’ this, together. Further affirmation, if I needed any, that this gathering was worth the effort of attending.
Death was close by. Upon arrival at Gilwell, I learnt, that another dear colleague Elaine Young had died. This was such sad, sad news. Elaine was a beautiful, kind, wise and grounded woman and her death process so fast, shocking, for me. Mary Oliver says, ‘Life is beautiful, if you don’t mind a little dying.’ Dear Mary, I hear you, but I do mind. I do…
Around sixteen of us gathered in a large wooden cabin on that first day. A cycle of return. This was our fourth year of being together in this place. Oh, the joy of connecting, hugs, smiles, laughter – the bustle of arrivals. Eventually, the dust settled, and we joined together in a silent circle. Slowly, deliberately, we turned our attention to the losses. We had gathered here in 2017 in remembrance of dear Cindy Cooper, now Nick, Elaine.
The word ‘mindfulness’ derives from the Pali word ‘sati’– ‘to remember’. To remember to be present, and in this presence, recognise that everything is arising, passing, impermanent. We sat in remembrance. Words, silence, tears emerged… reflecting on those dear ones, present in absence, who had so touched our lives. We sat in common humanity. In recognition of our fragility in the face of death, the immensity of loss. It was tender, poignant, bittersweet. A palpable empathic dwelling together. I felt comforted in companionship.
I have been reflecting for a while, on the ways in which vulnerability creates connection. I see it in my groups, in my supervision work, I felt it at this gathering. Vulnerability opened us, drew us close, right from the beginning. This laid a foundation for the work that we were to do together. Our days were framed by practice, Taravajra and Julia Walland led formal practice in the mornings. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were opportunities to ‘break bread’ and catch up. It felt seamless, groups formed and re-formed, threads of connection knitting together, weaving community. Death is a great leveler, I experienced none of the usual awkwardness, around belonging, or not belonging. We were a community, a living organism, gathered in mutual understanding and purpose, rather than a collection of isolated individuals. Each one of us dedicated to living mindfully and serving our wider community.
Our numbers ebbed and swelled. Such are the cycles of life. Some supervisors departed, others arrived, along with members of the fabulous MN organizational team. New faces, old faces. A real joy to witness this organization growing in integrity, strength, reach and number.
Bethan Roberts led an incisive day on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. At the outset, fears were shared. Fear of harming others, of being exposed in our ignorance, our blind-spots. Bethan’s skillful, sensitive, grounded facilitation, evident expertise and fantastic sense of humor provided the light-touch needed to guide us through this, at times, thorny terrain. We explored the legal protections in place for marginalized parts of our wider community. We looked at case studies and tested our understanding of EDI in the face of these. It felt vital to be doing this work. The EDI laws have been put in place to protect vulnerable, marginalised members of our community. It is essential that anyone teaching mindfulness is aware of these protections. This training put that firmly on the map. I feel deeply encouraged by the sincerity of the community, that I am a part of. The MN is deeply committed to nurturing diversity, both directly within the organization, and within the wider mindfulness community.
Our final day together was dedicated to exploring the supervision process itself. It was deep and supportive. We shared challenges. We shared good practice. It felt nourishing, it felt good to be part of something bigger, to draw from a communal well of wisdom and insight.
This is the opportunity of the network gathering, the possibility of being replenished, restored, emboldened in the work. Firmly grounded in a commitment to rigor and professionalism, that can be carried onward and outwards into the wide community. I look forward to returning to the circle in 2020. As is said in Islam, ‘Inshallah’ or in Christianity, ‘By the grace of God’. I, like you, never know when my time will come…