~ written by Ken Lunn, our Executive Director ~
Many years ago I auditioned for the Bradford Playhouse actors list, then a leading amateur repertory theatre. After the audition, which was not great, the artistic director told me that I had two rare qualities that meant they would accept me onto the acting list: I was male and breathing. So began a long, undistinguished, unremarkable, and thoroughly enjoyable career as an amateur thespian.
There are many walks of life where being male and breathing is not common, and mindfulness teaching and practice seems to be one. I’ve been training and teaching now over a decade, and usually find myself to be part of a minority of male attendees. Life has been kind to me, and I have been blessed with many experiences of working in different communities and contexts, professionally and privately, and I am in a very privileged position that helps with my confidence. Personally finding myself in a minority group is quite common and usually I can manage that very well, but it does open up many questions about mindfulness, its accessibility and the general perception of it, and it invites a wider reflection on how we can be more inclusive.
We might think, as mindfulness teachers, that the door is wide open, that anyone who can benefit is welcome. But an open door is not always that inviting. I once worked in a research centre where my head of department had an open door policy, and when I finally plucked up the courage to go see him about a problem he was surprised about why I had taken so long; I was brave enough to say that the door may be open but few would have the courage to walk through it, especially on a topic that might affect their future in the organisation.
In my early adulthood, a mindfulness course would have been a scary place for me to be, probably too scary. I started to train to teach at the age of 58 after many years of meditation practice, and even then mindfulness groups could be quite scary. There are many reasons. Being in a minority of men was not one of them – I was quite used to that as an actor, as a single parent, and in many work and family situations. A key challenge for me, and I think for many, is opening up to my vulnerabilities and being honest about them to myself and others; mindfulness invites that and it is a large part of its value. No-one finds it easy to be vulnerable in unfamiliar surroundings, and too often it is uncomfortable even in familiar surroundings; for many finding a safe place where they can be open and honest is difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible. So stepping through a door into the unfamiliar is a huge challenge. These questions follow me into any new group: what will others think of me; how will I be judged; what if I mess up? They are big questions for anyone.
Perhaps it is that fear of judgment and rejection that means that although we put out the welcome mat in mindfulness very few will step through the open door. If you think that the other side of the welcome mat there are people very different from you it takes a great deal of courage to step beyond it into the unknown. Part of our training in mindfulness teaching is about how to create safe spaces for people, but how does someone know that it is really a safe place if, on sneaking a look the faces in the room, they are all different from their own?
It was a real pleasure to attend the Monthly Mindfulness for Men’s group (MGM) that Carmelo has set up through volunteering with the Mindfulness Network Community Friends. Last Saturday we had a really fruitful discussion and learnt a lot about each other, about mindfulness and why there are so few men around in the mindfulness world. There were too many topics we touched on to cover in this brief blog, but if you, like me, are male and breathing check out the next one. It was a fine example of how, if a safe place can be created and people have the courage to step into it, there is much to be shared.
From The Mindfulness Network’s perspective, we have many challenges on many fronts. They often boil down to: how do we make mindfulness more inviting and welcoming? There are many things that we are exploring: trainings focused on particular groups, how the curriculum is delivered to make the entry points less daunting, how we work towards a wider perspective of mindfulness, how we keep the costs down while still affording staff and trainers, how we help those who cannot afford it, how we diversify our teams to make them more representative. There are, as ever, no easy answers.
So, let’s all work to make the welcome mat truly welcoming. A big thank you to the Mindfulness Network Community Friends – the volunteer wing of the Mindfulness Network – for their many initiatives on this front, and their warm and inviting generosity. And thank you to the staff, trustees and associates of the MN who are open to this fundamental question of how we can develop our offerings to be widely accessible, more inviting, and make them clearly safe for people. And finally, to our trainees and teachers who are out there working with diverse communities and needs, and who are putting out their welcome mats, which is why we exist as a charity – to enable mindfulness teachers to reach out widely and effectively, and to bring more of the value of mindfulness to society.
To explore what practical action we can take to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, join our upcoming workshop:
When: 30 Nov 2022
Where: Online Event
Tutor: Bethan Roberts
At the heart of teaching Mindfulness Based Programmes is an engagement with the reality of suffering. This one-day workshop provides an opportunity to reflect on how exclusion and discrimination can cause suffering, a space to consider our responsibilities as supervisors and teachers, and to explore together what we can do to be more inclusive and how we can actively promote equality and diversity.