Image from walkingroutes.ie
The Mindful Living course owes its existence to me and my family getting lost on the Hill of Howth. Howth, if you don’t know, is a beautiful fishing port north of Dublin city, easily accessible and well worth a visit. Whenever I go to Howth I feel I have actually been somewhere, that I have got away, even though it’s a fairly short journey on the DART, Dublin’s suburban railway. The Hill above the port is a popular walking area for organised groups and for, well, disorganised groups like mine.
Actually, I’m lazy about walking the Hill, preferring a stroll around the port followed by fish and chips or a seafood chowder before I return to the real world. But on this particular Sunday about three or four years ago, we decided a family walk on the HIll was called for. The day was sunny and breezy and as we walked we had a beautiful view of the sea.
Then we managed to get ourselves lost and we ended up on a road that led to – nowhere?
Actually no. As we found out after half a mile of wandering, it led to a shop that sold ice cream. There, we learned we had another mile or so to walk into the train station. By consensus, we stopped for ice cream.
The idea for the Mindful Living course came to me when I was sitting on the wall outside that ice cream shop tucking into a ’99’ which, in Ireland (and the UK too), is a plain ice cream cone, with a bar of Flake chocolate stuck into it. Good, healthy, nutritious food.
I knew people get a lot of benefit, as I do, from shorter mindfulness practices and techniques that can be built into one’s day. So why not, I wondered as I polished off my ice cream cone, create a course of about six weeks in which I would teach people many shorter exercises as well as discussing mindfulness from many points of view? A course that could also be informed by my experience of human psychology arising from my studies in that field and from my work in counselling and psychotherapy?
Topics could include well-being, health, cultivating calm, how mindfulness contributes to relationships, self-compassion, and bringing mindfulness to the workplace, along with insights into how mindfulness works with the brain. It would have to be helpful both to beginners and to people who already practice mindfulness. People would have to feel the benefits in their own lives and would have to know how to continue to develop mindfulness in themselves after the course ended.
By the time I’d finished my ice cream cone and got on the road again, I had decided on the basic structure of the Mindful Living course as it exists today. That might seem very quick but I believe many of these things are worked out at a sub-conscious level over a long period of time and just need an opportunity to emerge.
Wynns Hotel Dublin where the course is held next
We normally start by spending a few minutes on a short mindfulness practice. Following the discussion mentioned above, we do a new mindfulness exercise and then I make my presentation. That’s followed by a discussion and another mindfulness practice. Sometimes, of course, the discussion takes a completely different direction to the one I have planned, but it’s always around aspects of mindfulness that are of interest to the group.
The first thing people notice as the course goes on is how often we lose our awareness of the present moment. That’s important because the better you get at spotting you have wandered off, the more often you come back into the moment. As awareness grows, people find that they are mindful more often and that they experience the rewards in lower levels of stress, greater calm and a greater sense of well-being. They learn to keep their head when encountering relationship and work difficulties. They also learn to enhance their appreciation of the positive, life-giving aspects of the day.
They finish the course knowing many mindfulness exercises and with a practical knowledge of how to apply mindfulness in their lives.
I guess getting lost on the Hill of Howth and stopping for that ice cream was worth it after all.
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