~ written by Philip Anderson ~
Philip is a Trainee on our Teacher Training Pathway (TTP) and recently attended our online Groupwork Workshop in October 2020. This blog post is part of a series called ‘Mindfulness Online’ to help give you some insight into an online event with the Mindfulness Network.
The windswept Dorset coast for a week with the sound of the storm waves throughout early morning sitting practice, or maybe the comfort of a hotel in beautiful Roman and Tudor-styled Chester and, of course, there is always a retreat or course in North Wales with slate, waterfalls, mountains and a sedate, majestic and deep brown lake for company. For the first half of my TTP training I have learnt and practiced at these locations. But now such travel luxury is not permitted and I sit with my favourite mug at a desk in my own house, looking out on the cul de sac and my unkempt garden instead.
My mindfulness teacher training has moved to Zoom.
Starting any course with twenty strangers is a bit of an anxious time. I am sure I have not been alone in the past worrying “Will there be anyone like me?” as I arrived in the room for the first time. Logging onto Zoom, all those faces on the screen can cause my eyes to glaze. But equally, I am terrible at names and every face has one tagged to it. I do like that. Being online has an advantage straight away!
All the trainers leading CMRP/ Mindfulness Network courses I have attended have overcome such early tension quite easily and online courses have been no different in this regard. Trish Bartley asked us how many 8-week courses we had each run and then collected in the replies so skillfully that all of us were swiftly held together; certainly for me from then on I felt a resonance with the other participants. So we were smartly away: sharing and learning and experiencing together. In the breakout rooms everyone was always (and I mean always) allowed to comment and be listened to. Away from the larger classroom, we could turn over ideas and come up with something more insightful and broader than the sum of our individual thoughts.
Breaks are completely different with an online course. You walk away from the screen for 30 or 60 minutes and turn around to remember that you are at home; the laundry is still drying at the top of the stairs, you have to brew your own tea or cook your own lunch, and there is no one on the course to talk to. This last feature means that online courses do lack the social side of a face-to-face meet up.
However, a morning’s studying and reflecting on mindfulness and mindfulness teaching positions you back in your home with fresh beginner’s eyes. I hadn’t spent ten peaceful minutes staring out of my bedroom window over the neighbourhood, simply watching the birds fly past, since I first moved in here over a year ago. Sometimes, going away to practice or learn mindfulness can make you think that the mindfulness is only properly available to you in certain locations.
I realised that I don’t have to go somewhere to be on a ‘bit of a retreat’. I can do it behind my own front door. The mountains and lake and waterfalls are inspiring and supportive in their own way and I certainly hope to go back there in the future.
I now realise that there are quality opportunities to practice and learn about mindfulness online. Doing so at home also illustrates that mindfulness is not just to be attained under special circumstances. The internet is a real blessing in these COVID times, and going on a course or a retreat is one way we can use it skillfully.