I am now a student and teacher of Mindful Self Compassion.
I have had the honor and privilege to train this past summer at a retreat center in Elspeet, Holland in the techniques of Mindful Self Compassion with the founders and creators of this groundbreaking program. It is no understatement to say that they are two of the world’s foremost leaders in this field, both psychologists and profoundly gifted, prolific, and diligent researchers and authors): Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Chris Germer of the Universities of Texas and Harvard.
I gathered alongside 120 psychologists, behaviour therapists, psychiatrists, coaches, teachers, and others – from across the globe – most people were connected to more than one country – to study the 27 techniques of Mindful Self Compassion and to learn first-hand how they work to alleviate suffering.
What a mind-blowing conclusion to an already inspired trip to my home country Canada where I reconnected with a longstanding spiritual mentor of mine, Dr. Sue Rubin, who turned 90 this year and who continues to inspire by profound example and impeccability in unconditional love and broad but explicit faith.
To add to that, I reconnected with a rich community of my fellow artist peers (songwriters, teachers, healers), who reminded me of who I am as an artist and educator, as well as a daughter, sister, friend, and human being. I belong somewhere; I am not only a migrant. After 22 years of international travel, one can start to feel a bit rootless. My artist community reminded me of the work we do…it is so important.
The summer was one of shifting my thinking from the practicalities of life (ie. where to one day buy a home for myself) to the reasons for why we do what we do. Surely there are important reasons. Ever the philosopher, I realized I am driven by the ever interesting mission to find out what is at the heart of being alive, really. Having both of my parents and my sister to spend time with, as we march to the beating drum of time over distance, was one of my answers. Love and connection are EVERYTHING.
But there are more truths that I still seek. This year will be a soul searching year of intelligent action, or perhaps to borrow from Ruiz, impeccable action.
This will be tempered by the lessons from the Mindful Self Compassion course I was on: how can I learn to accept myself and others as the ‘self compassionate messes’ that we are? I am working on softening my heart with ‘yin’, but also using the ‘yang’ energy of protection (mother bear energy) to advocate for what is right when needed.
The methods of MSC and all of the understandings of mindfulness and self compassion are at the forefront of change in the field of psychology regarding the delivery of psychotherapeutic services to people who are suffering. Our planet is on fire. Wars continue, climate change is blowing a heat wave across the northern hemisphere as I write, politics of division march across the planet with impunity…yet the spirit to do the right thing remains our best hope in the name of shared humanity. I am compelled to continue to raise my own consciousness through my teaching and learning as to how I am to serve others while also looking after myself. These are the core tenets of Mindful Self Compassion. You put the oxygen mask on yourself (find the balance/practice self care) before you put the mask on others, as ‘the plane is going down’ (in hard times).
This is merely my first major step in a long journey of personal growth and change this year, but it is exciting to me, and I wonder how this will be received at school…and how I will do in sustaining my learning. I was warned to expect: (2) disillusionment, then (3) acceptance, after intense (1) striving. Hmmmm. It’s not my style to go easy, but I’m going easier, the older and wiser I become.
It has taken a great deal of consideration to figure out how I might marry my very old interests in counselling to bring a complimentary therapeutic practice into my teaching world as an arts teacher. In fact, the two modalities go together easily, especially in the drama classroom. I remain privileged to teach Grades 6-12 drama in a school I love.
Thus, the end of the summer of 2017 marks the moment I have decided to deepen my practice of meditation at home and to meditate a minimum of 30 minutes per day, while I consciously do more to incorporate the ‘softer approaches’ of mindfulness and self compassion into my teaching practice, too (I have been teaching visualization and mindfulness for many years in the drama classroom, of course – my students love it). There are 27 practices, as I said. Some of these are explicit for caregivers, and teachers are on the frontlines.
This is the year, I will be kicking off some of these efforts as a bonafide Compassionate Action Leader within our school district. The year starts off with me leading four workshops in these methods in early August. About 1000 teachers and staff will be attending this Compassionate Action Summit and annual convocation.
As the year evolves, I expect to continue to deepen and solidify my work in the arts all around, as I teach the IB Theatre program for the first time at our American international school in Saudi Arabia in Jubail. This is the culmination of a full 18 months of research, training, and scoping and sequencing of my programs – not an easy feat. I’m still putting the ‘final’ touches on this.
My extracurricular focus in theatre production this year is on short plays and Canadian stories, as I believe Canada is considered a peaceful beacon by all, but one should not underestimate or deny the abuse that has happened to the indigenous populations there and the lessons for reconciliation and learning. My IB Theatre class consists of girls, and so it is the girls in that class who will be telling stories that are relevant to them and our school, I guess, but I have brought in my suitcase several plays from women’s perspectives, set in Canada. The world we live in is in strife. I’m eager to see if my students agree that these are stories that might offer us a mirror. Of course, the girls will be the ones to choose.
My commitment is to continuing to deliver the most exciting theatre arts program on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. So, as this marks my fourth year at ISG Jubail, in addition to directing shows and teaching drama and theatre studies, I will be offering creative mindfulness classes with a focus on self compassion to adults and/or teens this year. I hope to offer some adult drama workshops also. Short ones.
On a personal note, I have lost almost 40 lbs over the past year, working out 2-3 times a day, and will be continuing to model health and balance as I mindfully – not frantically – work on my own weight loss and increased vigor, as everything ecologically points to the need for strength and balance. That means more weight lifting and training. I love it!
To sum things up, I suppose I can say: my intensive in the Netherlands was a pivotal point for me as a person (I’m tired and inspired as I write this): I intend to seek balance this year and continue to do my bit to help us all keep the balance, whatever that means.
For me in the simplest of terms, what that means is this: in addition to all the striving and non-striving – I will learn to ‘sit’, to accept, and ‘to just be’…to observe, to feel with compassion, and to give compassion. I hope I can help my students and colleagues navigate this as we get swept up in all the ‘striving’ which can only lead to a certain suffering, as my teachers described to me. One must have a certain mindset when doing ‘the work’. Not with such franticness. Ease. A sort of quietness. A humility. Let’s see how it goes.
I can not seem to over-emphasize this enough: my heart is called at all levels to make a contribution to alleviate suffering on the planet – both in my daily creative work and relationships with all. This does include reaching out to those whose lives are filled with despair, and occasionally I am called upon to safeguard my students, and work with my colleagues to help depressed kids. Depression is a priority I want to look at in my community. If there were a suicide prevention agency in Jubail, I would be the first to volunteer at it, as I did with the UK’s foremost suicide prevention agency, Samaritans, in 2013-15. But there isn’t the means to do this here. That doesn’t mean that life doesn’t offer every opportunity to help in other ways. We live in a small, isolated expatriate community in Saudi, and my work as a coach/counsellor/teacher/mentor/friend will continue to be a priority in whatever capacity is professionally correct and appropriate.
Online, I remain keen to continue to coach women and girls and help them find self empowerment.
Finally, on my own personal creative note: I will continue to write, deliver, film, photograph, and document stories this year.
I had the occasion to visit the Anne Frank House and was moved by this. It’s a story I’ve taught for many, many years. I am a storyteller. Stories live with us forever, in fact, and they also hold magic in them, some of them. Truth is stranger than fiction but truth in storytelling gives us our history, a dignity, our memory and offers a way to live wholesome going forward.
That concludes my Now Page. That’s what I’m up to. If any of it interests you or you spot the opportunity for collaboration, by all means…get in touch.