This spring I participated in the 5th annual A Mindful Society Conference, which brings together people from all sectors of society who are interested in bringing mindfulness meditation “off the cushion” and into the world. There were 500 delegates attended workshops and plenary talks on topics ranging from mental health, education, digital wellness, mindfulness in the workplace, quantum physics, etc. The theme of this conference was BE ACT BELONG, encouraging participants to reflect on the importance of present moment awareness, taking skillful action, and belonging to a whole community outside of oneself as a way of creating a compassionate society that can facilitate the change we need for the earth to survive.
The past four years since the inauguration of a Mindful Society I held back from participating in the conference as I felt the need to prioritize any extra time I had outside of my family life and therapy practice for personal meditation practice and extended retreats. As a mindfulness teacher for mental health, my own practice serves as the foundation for keeping it real. This year I decided to participate as a way of connecting with others who have made a point of bringing their personal practice out into the world to the benefit of others, and with populations one might not expect to set foot into a meditation hall.
Over twenty years ago when I was first introduced to meditation through Zen Buddhism, I participated in a program through the Buddhist Peace Fellowship called the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) program where I had my first experience working in social work, helping homeless families in San Francisco. For 6 months a group of us volunteered in the community while we made a committed effort as a group to have a daily meditation practice and meet weekly for reflections on what it meant to BE with the people we worked with in their suffering, ACT in ways that were skillful and engaged, and learn to foster a sense of BELONGing, either with the population we help, knowing that we are not separate, and with the community of people who share in the same practice of engaged mindfulness.
My offering for the conference was to share my experience of teaching mindfulness for mental health through the creation and offering of the MTER (Mindfulness Training for Emotional Resilience) program with the hope of inspiring others in the mental health field to use the free resources teach the self-regulation model of mindfulness to people who are lacking access to mental health services. The participants who attended came with a wide range of professional backgrounds and personal interest in mental health and mindfulness.
The main take away from the Mindful Society was to remind myself that the point of an inner, contemplative practice, whether it be through mindfulness meditation or psychotherapy, is to know that we are not separate, isolated beings, even if our minds and life experience condition us to feel that way. The truth is that we do belong to a greater whole and getting off the cushion (or therapist’s chair) helps serve as a reminder of the greater web of people who are doing this work in unique, creative and meaningful ways.
Rachael Frankford, MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker in private practice. This blog is to share musings on mental health and about the intersection of mindfulness, neuroscience, and psychotherapy.