I was first introduced to meditation in the early 1980’s by someone I now realise was a very forward thinking and radical Deputy Headmaster of a Catholic School. Thank you Mr Consterdine, you truly changed my life!
It would be great if I could say that I had been regularly practising Mindfulness for the many years since, or that I had gone to the gym everyday, or that I had always eaten my 5 a day, I coulda, maybe I shoulda but I didn’t, but hey I am only human and I have not always done what was best for me.
Anyway back to Mr Consterdine, basically if a teacher was off sick or on training he would take the class and tell us camp fire stories or lead a meditation. The two meditations I recall I now know as Body Scan and Breath Awareness. At various times throughout the next 30 years I would use these techniques informally to deal with particularly stressful situations and circumstances. I did not know the term mindfulness, I just saw it as checking in with myself.
I took myself off to university, initially to become a civil engineer, ended up coming away with a sociology and psychology degree and embarked on a career working with offenders, homeless, people with addiction issues and mental health problems. Explored NLP, CBT, group work, counselling, fell in love, got married had kids. Developed quite a good career, earned enough to get by and was well respected by my peers and even achieved national recognition within the homelessness sector. All in all life was pretty good but… I had become complacent, particularly at work, I was on autopilot unaware of what was happening around me. My value in my boss’s eyes had gone from priceless to worthless in what seemed like the blink of an eye. A relationship that had been strong for five years had somehow disintegrated without me noticing anything was wrong.
Following redundancy I decided to retrain, I enrolled at college to do a teaching qualification and returned to University to complete a post graduate qualification in Coaching for Leadership and Performance. At approximately the same time my wife received two books in the post from her brother. Many of the people on the University course were practicing coaches and when discussing their practice would occasionally mention Mindfulness, everyone seemed to know exactly what that was, I smiled politely pretending to know what they were talking about!
Back home my wife was raving about these books, how they had changed her brothers life, how they were already helping her sleep better and that I needed to read them. I was busy embarking on two qualifications and had plenty of reading material, I will be honest, I didn’t think I would learn anything useful from a couple of ‘self help’ books her brother had sent. How wrong I was, the books ‘ Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn and ‘Finding Peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman are considered by many to be two of the most important texts on Mindfulness in past 20 years. I was intrigued, I read both books and followed the guidance and recognised that it seemed to come naturally to me, as I joined the dots I traced my journey back to the classroom with Mr Consterdine and realised I had occasionally, intermittently and very sporadically been practicing something called Mindfulness for much of my life.
It was then that I decided to start practicing properly and regularly, I felt it was something I needed to do, and that was the problem… oh I forgot to mention I had lost a lot of weight, was feeling anxious and useless and was filled with resentment and anger regarding losing my career. The Mindfulness really helped, my confidence returned and I got a great job managing a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit which operated as a therapeutic community. It was a wonderful, enlightening and humbling experience. I worked with some fantastic people who were truly motivated towards changing their lives for the better, and so many of them did. Alongside the structured programme, a range of holistic therapies including Yoga, Tai Chi and acupuncture were used, things were great and I stopped meditation because I no longer felt I needed it. Then due to financial pressures and organisational strategic change the unit closed and I found myself redundant for the second time in two years.
I began meditating again!
Whilst managing the unit I worked with a documentary film maker who offered me the opportunity to become a business partner. One of the first jobs we had was filming for an organisation called Space For Peace who also asked me to get involved in developing the charity. The aim of Space For Peace is to tackle conflict in local communities using peace related initiatives, this includes creating physical spaces, peace gardens etc and helping people find inner peace – cue Mindfulness.
That was 2012, I began looking into local Mindfulness organisations and met Dr. Rachel Jones-Wild in 2013, who had just set up Mindfulness Based Therapies, I enrolled on an 8 week course and liked it so much I joined the company!
Mark Sidney is Business Development Director at Mindful Therapies, www.mindfultherapies.org.uk