by Caroline Fish
We all have certain expectations of a conference – as the word suggests, ‘a formal meeting of people with a shared interest’ offering ‘a group of talks on a particular subject’. I’ve been to lots over the years, arriving bright-eyed and enthusiastic, keen to learn and hoping to be sufficiently inspired to make changes back at the ranch and improve whatever practice I’m doing at the time. Feeling a bit shy about coffee time – will I know anyone in that sea of faces? Will anyone speak to me? Maybe I’ll need to phone back to work (at least then I’ll look busy…). By lunchtime you’re starving and slightly less daunted by the crowds as you grab those sandwiches. Then there’s the valiant attempts to stay focused and not yawn in the graveyard slot that follows lunch. We’ve all been there. So I thought I knew what to expect at the MiSP Conference last June in London.
We’ve all been there. So I thought I knew what to expect at the MiSP Conference last June in London.”
This time I wasn’t a delegate; I was a new arrival at Team MiSP, trusted with the (terrifying) job of assisting our Co-Founder, Richard Burnett in his role as Master of Ceremonies, with responsibility for finding the speakers, dragging them away from their coffees and conversations in the Green Room, mike-ing them up and holding on to them until it was time to nudge them up onto the stage. Preparations for the day had been an enormous team effort and there was a sense of pressure on us all to make it special.
So I knew it would feel different. But nothing prepared me for that day. Crowds surged in as soon as the doors opened. The excitement was palpable – it felt more like a rock concert. But then Jon Kabat- Zinn was our Keynote Speaker and, after a minute or two in his presence, I realised what the fuss was about. From my perspective it wasn’t the fact that he is the eminent Professor from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the creator of MBSR, a programme that has changed so many people’s lives. It was his groundedness, the friendly way he put me at ease, his interest in others (he immediately asked after another speaker’s wife who was struggling with illness), to say nothing of the way he touched every one of the 750 people in The Light hall. He spoke without a note or a slide, he led a practice and set the tone for a day of incredible warmth, honesty and humility.
Each speaker told a different and powerful story.”
Each speaker told a different and powerful story. The audience were updated on the developments of MiSP’s last ten years in bringing mindfulness to more of our children and young people, globally. We heard of the part being played by those in the worlds of parliament, technology, youth schemes as well as the challenges faced by large scale multi-academy trusts and secondary schools in embedding mindfulness for all. Facts and figures from the growing body of research evidence were a welcome perspective and kept it real.
Then there was the contribution from our MiSP trained teachers and their pupils who punctuated the programme in such a special way. Whether it was an account of how their own life had been changed/made richer (or even saved) by mindfulness, or a clear appreciation of how mindfulness benefits touch everyone in an educational setting, it felt as though every word was spoken from the heart. Conferences don’t usually move me to tears but I watched as the whole audience reached for tissues more than once during the talks by Jo & Emily Brierley and Cathie Paine and many others.
As the day progressed I kept thinking of how honoured I was to be in this position and part of this amazing team. Watching the response of the audience, my own daughter included, brought home to me a sense of community, with an overwhelming feeling of positivity, kindness and compassion at every turn.
Richard expertly managed every moment between speakers – occasionally improvising but always seeming to choose exactly the right words! My challenge was to stay on top of every second, ensuring I knew where each speaker was and timing every movement on and off the stage. Every speaker, teacher and child was charming and obliging, happy to be prodded with microphones and pushed this way and that! One or two needed a few mindful breathing reminders as their nerves got the better of them!
It was so much more than a Conference.”
The day was wrapped up with an extraordinary Q and A session with speakers, teachers and children crammed on to the stage (that took some organising!). The interaction between the speakers and audience, as well as between those on the stage, was a warm and wonderful conversation that no one wanted to end!
The day did eventually draw to a close as people reluctantly tore themselves away and re-entered the world outside this wonderful bubble. For me the whole day felt like an immense privilege and one I will not forget. It was so much more than a Conference.