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Autumn in mind at Henley

Autumn in mind at Henley

Yesterday I was pleased to take up an invitation, facilitated by Will Moore (one of our Exec MBAs) to attend the official launch of a report by The Mindfulness Initiative called Mindful Nation UK. So came my first ever visit to the Houses of Parliament, albeit not the Palace of Westminster, as the launch was actually in the adjacent Portcullis House.

The report is the product of an all-party group and it has drawn much from the work of a number of practitioners of secular meditation as it is used in mental health care in the US and the UK (in particular professors Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams). There are conclusions and proposals for further work in four areas:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Workplace
  • Criminal Justice System

Overall, it was an interesting experience. Aside from the novelty of slipping inside the architecture of government and power for an hour or so, and getting to meet some of the many interesting people from all four areas listed above who were in attendance, there was also the chance to see at close range some prominent politicians (three government ministers were in attendance, which is apparently quite a feat for a launch event – even more so on a day when the Chinese Premier is in town).

Here are four fairly random impressions that I’ve been reflecting on since:

  1. It was great to meet that community. These are people with (richly) varied interests in the subject of mindfulness. Within about five seconds of taking to the microphone, Mark Williams had managed to tune a room of about 70 people into a half-minute of awareness. It’s the voice….
  2. The fact that mindfulness, or awareness (my preferred word) is making inroads to a level of policy formation, dissemination and implementation is actually quite exciting. Having got this far, there may now be a place to begin to advocate for some subtle changes to how we think about how we think. Maybe.
  3. Those who spoke about their experience with mindfulness courses (including those held for the Parliamentarians) had a visibly and audibly more grounded feel to their words. I was struck by the integrity shown by the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, as she addressed the room, having first removed her shoes to get in touch with the floor beneath her feet to do so. She spoke plainly and without notes of her personal reasons for getting involved as well as the benefits accrued from practicing mindfulness.
  4. As a lay-person, it was fascinating to contrast the three ministers. As mentioned, the Minister of Sport and the Olympics, Tracey Crouch, clearly had an inside view of, and belief in, mindfulness. Next, the Minister of State for Community and Social CareAlistair Burt, showed a solid appreciation of the benefits of the use of mindfulness techniques in the treatment of mental health, and since most of the evidence so far gathered about its benefits relates to clinical treatments such as MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), which everyone likes the sound of, and since all parties agree that the NHS is a splendid thing, he was on quite safe ground. He had quite a few statistics to hand, too. Finally, Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education showed a solid appreciation for, well, Nicky Morgan, frankly. I’m sure it must be hectic being the secretary of State (of STATE!) for anything, and she was ushered in late, so this is merely an observation of what I observed, but her speech stood out from the others for the wrong reasons. It was 1) all about her and her achievements, and 2) it assumed that even in education mindfulness is about mental health provision – that it’s just  matter of correction of the pathology of not focusing properly on one’s exams (honestly, she did sound a lot like the Head Girl in a posh school).

Perhaps I’m being unkind, but if anyone needed to develop their awareness skills, it was our Secretary of State for Education. I think when kids start school, they’re in a natural state of mindfulness, which the constant testing crushes out of them…

So, now I’m really looking forward to taking part in the next meeting – which will focus on Mindfulness in the Workplace. There are so many great initiatives already out there, and it will be great if we can bring some of this to Henley.

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