I have been participating in an 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) course in Chelsea for the past 4 weeks and running a small meditation group in Wimbledon for the past couple of months, so I have been doing a lot of meditating and reflecting recently.
It has been nice to be on both sides of the fence – one as a participant being led through mindfulness exercises and two as a guide and facilitator. From these recent experiences, I have had several interesting insights and experiences.
From the mindfulness group, I have gained a personal perspective as to how difficult, but also rewarding, it can be to meditate in a group. The difficulty for me seems to lie in the fact that I am very aware that not only am I in a group, but that I am a member of a group of people all attempting to do the same thing – meditate mindfully. When I meditate in my own time, quite often on a bus, train or at home, I am mildly aware of other people around me, but because they seem to be getting on with their own lives and tasks, I don’t take much notice. It is at those times that I feel more quickly able to enter into my personal experience, and be present without thinking about what others around me are doing.
At the mindfulness sessions, on the other hand, I am very aware that we are all gathered in one space for a common, or at least related, purpose and that can sometimes lead me to focus more on the bigger experience itself which often causes me to drift away from my own personal noticing. I suppose, however, that the fact that I am noticing my wandering attention in and of itself means that I am being mindful.
There is, of course, also a reward of going through this type of experience in a group. Being in a group of likeminded people, all desiring a change to the way they feel and experience the world around them, is really uplifting and life affirming. The concepts and ideas of mindfulness, while heavily studied and backed by science, mean nothing unless one experiences them firsthand. And where better to experience them initially but in a group? I have and am benefitting from hearing other people’s experiences, good and bad. There is also a degree of comfort in knowing that your feelings are shared by other people, however intense or trite they might seem sometimes.
A further benefit of the mindfulness group is that I can be more present for my Wimbledon meditation group and share with them some of the techniques and insights that I am learning. It also gently reminds me what it feels like to be a participant, with all the uncertainly and fears that go along with that, so that I can remain in touch with how my group might be feeling and never try to push them to share anything they might be uncomfortable with. There is, I feel, an importance in maintaining a balance between student and teacher and for now I am grateful to have the opportunity to be both.
The 8 week MBSR course is run by Chris Gaia at http://www.mindfree.co.uk/about-mindfree
The Wimbledon Meditation group meets on Monday evenings at 7pm. More information can be found here by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.