Work shouldn’t have to hurt
I have often associated work with certain things:
- time pressure
- being inside, in front of a screen
- trying to prove my value to others
- trying to find a formula for success
- feeling isolated, stressed and anxious
- having a boss that I feel anxious to please
- doing something I wouldn’t choose to do if it were a Saturday.
I’ve been reflecting on this because, over the last four weeks, I’ve been an assistant teacher on two ‘train the trainer’ courses by the Mindfulness in Schools Project, and it felt so good that it didn’t even feel like work.
There was a mix of teachers and people who work with schools. They came from all around the world: Japan, Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Spain and the UK to learn to teach a 10-week mindfulness curriculum for 11–18 year-olds.
Connection to purpose
It felt so good to have a whole group united by a common purpose. When people were talking at the start about why they came, many said they were worried about the mental health of their own children and the children in their schools.
Stories of students pulling out their eyebrows and eyelashes, lying awake all night texting, and not being able to sleep because they are so stressed and anxious, are reinforced by statistics.
The government’s Mindful Nation report talks of a ‘mental health crisis’. It states that:
- The number of 15 and 16 year-olds with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the year 2000.
- The proportion of the same age group with a conduct disorder doubled between 1974 and 1999
- 30% of British adolescents report subclinical mental health
It’s a sad and worrying situation that seems to be getting worse. But it felt good that we weren’t just sitting around despairing and feeling clueless as to what to do about it — we were taking action that we believed was going to be effective.
Being in it together
And what’s so different about mindfulness compared to many other kinds of intervention is that you can’t do it to people, you have to do it with people. The first British psychologists who brought mindfulness over from the US in the 1980s found it wasn’t working nearly as well when they taught it as when their American teacher, Jon Kabbat-Zinn, did.
When they discussed what was happening with him, he asked them if they were meditating. They said, ‘Of course not, we’re the therapists. We are asking the patients to do it.’ He told them that was where they were going wrong. You have to embody mindfulness, not just teach the theory.
They took his advice and saw a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of their courses.
Presence isn’t just for depressed people
Mindfulness isn’t just a therapy for people who are struggling. It is a practice in the art of living that everyone can benefit from. A lot of the participants in the course I taught said that they came on it thinking they were doing it for their students, and actually gained a huge amount for themselves.
So there we were, united by a common purpose that went beyond self-interest, practising something for the benefit of others and simultaneously benefiting ourselves. There was no enemy that we were fighting, no competitor we were trying to outdo and no rush against the clock in our spacious timetable.
Filling ourselves up
Phone use was kept to a minimum. Throughout the day, we guided the participants to pay more attention to their internal experience and to share what they noticed with each other. As a result, I think it’s safe to say we all left each day feeling happier and more connected than when we arrived.
Believing in what we were doing
I have complete faith in the materials we teach because I’ve been through the course as a participant and felt the impact. I’ve subsequently taught it many times and heard students say they are sleeping better, more able to study and stay calm for exams, more appreciative of people and places around them, more able to calm their anger, and generally feelhappier as a result of the course.
I was teaching the course with a good friend who is really experienced, has a lot of integrity, and was also willing to be flexible and not attached to the idea that everything needs to be the same every time. It was fun and supportive to work together.
What a joy to have a room full of friendly people at work who really wanted to be there and were hungry to learn. I had faith that they would take the material and use it to spread ripples of positivity through their schools around the world.
And I was getting paid to do this!
I was left thinking: can work always feel this good? I don’t see why not.
Originally published at www.wellbeingcapitalpartners.co.uk on March 22, 2019.