Tag Archives: MBSR Retreats

Mindful Presence: Embodying sensitivity with a heartfelt presence

Professional Training Institute BannerThe UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: MBSR:Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training, November 11-16, 2013, at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

By Susan Woods

WoodsSusanIn the second of these of these reflections on the nature of teaching mindfulness I thought it would be interesting to continue with the theme of mindful presence.  As teachers of mindfulness in secular settings, we bring an emotional and cognitive sensibility to our teaching that is based on our personal experience and understanding of mindfulness.  When we respond to questions from our participants via the process of mindful reflective inquiry, we are embodying an awareness that embraces and acknowledges a way of being that is able to stay quietly present even in the midst of ambiguity.  Being able to allow for those places of uncertainty, anxiety, and doubt and then know when and how to respond are important components for our teaching.  It is likely there will be times when one of our participants will ask a question or make a comment that elicits a moment(s) when we have no idea of what’s next or how to respond.  In addition these moments may touch a strong emotional reaction inside of us of doubt, worry, distress, anxiety, irritation, despondence, even anger.  I suspect we have all had some or perhaps all of these instances.

No experience is wasted; even those that have challenged me in sometimes very uncomfortable ways.  When I have found myself in those places, part of my own journey of mindfulness, has been in allowing an emotional and cognitive unfolding that can be relaxed. Remembering to take a breath can help to soften into these moments; relaxing into the body another.  This becomes a way of sensing into the current experience where understanding grows from letting all of the uncomfortableness be present, cognitive, emotional and somatic.

reflectionsBeing emotionally sensitive to these moments requires an active intention and receptivity. Being a mindfulness teacher asks that we are willing to take our seats in the uncertainty and teach to and through that experience.  This means that we include an experiential sense of our own complexity in those moments and in that awareness do our best to step out of our own way.  As we meet these moments we also notice that being gentle and patient rather than a problem solver, allows us to start from where we truly are rather than from where we think we should be.

It is this emotional awareness and sensitivity that we bring to our teaching of mindfulness.  It allows for the landscape of the moment to reveal itself, an inner and outer attunement and brings us into the present, one where we are receptive to our own experience and at the same time responsive to that of the other.  It is a moment of being attuned to an inner and outer noticing, where compassion is embodied through mindful presence, heartfelt sensitivity and through mindful reflective speech.   In this way the teacher and participant(s) are involved in co-creating a journey of relationship which entails a kindhearted understanding of self, of other and the unfolding nature of the present. These moments of connection are sacred moments of wisdom and humility.

Finding the Toolkit Within: An MBSR Teacher Training Experience

by Chandra Beal

CB_np_headshot-2Chandra Beal is a Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher in San Diego. She is currently expanding her understanding of mindfulness with a plan to teach it in the community.

In June I packed a suitcase to spend a week in the desert, my meditation cushion and yoga mat taking up most of the space. I journeyed to Joshua Tree, California with about 50 other people for the inaugural Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher Training through the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness.

I looked forward to the training for months, counting down the date in my journal. As a long time meditator and yoga teacher, I was excited to expand my experience of mindfulness and pick up the tools to begin teaching MBSR. In preparation, I intensified my mindfulness practice, almost as if I was cramming for an exam. With a curious awareness I observed myself practically swallowing the required reading. I was certainly in a hurry to learn this mindfulness stuff!

As I set off I said a little prayer to myself, that I remain open to whatever the training would bring and meet it with simple awareness. Retreats and group trainings can be intense and life-changing, and I felt some fear of the unknown as I drove off into the desert.

The first hour into the trip I had an ache in my chest. I was already missing my loved ones and feeling homesick. I couldn’t wait to go to the training and now I felt reluctant. Being in between, in the present, was difficult.

The first night we gathered for a lavish dinner, prepared by our own chef who would nourish us all week. We chatted at group tables like the first day of school, with all the excitement and trepidation of what was to come. People had traveled from all over the world and came from different backgrounds, but all had a desire to share mindfulness. Every conversation was inspiring.

The first night we simply sat. There were no student introductions. The teachers, Susan Woods and Char Wilkins, never wrote on the white board. No syllabus was handed out. We simply practiced sitting. That night I felt resistant. I can meditate at home, I thought. I didn’t like the desert. I didn’t like the bed. I didn’t like not having agenda. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to go home.

The second day we also sat. A lot. I tried to remember my intention to be open to the experience. I also wondered when I was going to get my toolkit. My mind was hungry for the didactic side of learning, the ‘meat’ as I called it. Little did I realize I was already chewing on it. My back hurt from sitting longer than I was used to. But still we sat, extending our practice to remaining silent during our breaks.

By the third day the group was growing restless, everyone wondering how much longer we had to sit, and when we were going to actually talk about teaching this stuff. I felt like I was at meditation boot camp, sleep deprived and frustrated by my own inner blocks, but soldiering on, sitting on my cushion. Meeting my own resistance with my breath.

Then we began to explore the eight-week curriculum in detail, interspersed with practice. We practiced sitting and walking meditation. We worked in pairs with the body scan, and experienced facilitating the group in mindful inquiry. We dipped in and out of experiencing and teaching, which helped to ground us in mindfulness itself.

I began to realize that maybe my toolkit was within. My own practice was going to be the foundation of this work. I wasn’t going to pick up a kit and run; I was going to have to embody the teaching myself. But if I got stuck, all I had to do was take a breath. The practice and the teaching were interwoven like a net, one I could safely relax into.

On the final morning we gathered for a beautiful ritual led by Susan and Char. Sitting in a circle we passed a ball of yarn, each person taking saying a word about what was happening in the present moment. Taking hold of a length of string, they passed the ball on to the next person. Observing the growing web of connection between us all, I chose the word “unity”. Some people cried. We hugged and held hands. We had climbed a little bit of the mountain together.

Then we passed the scissors, a symbol of impermanence, and cut apart our united web, each person taking a section of yarn as a reminder of their experience as we dispersed around the globe to continue our inner and outer practice of this work. I went home, put my notes in a drawer, and sat on my cushion, ready to begin using my toolkit within.

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Professional Training Institute has partnered with experienced clinicians and mindfulness teachers Susan Woods, MSW, LICSW and Char Wilkins, LCSW, to offer two 5-day MBSR teacher training retreat programs.

MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training,                                                                                                             November 11-16, 2013 at Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY 
March 23-28, 2014 at Sevenoaks Retreat Center, Madison, VA

Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful Inquiry,                                July 20-25, 2014 at Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY