Sit Together – it’s like a port in a storm and as important as cleaning my teeth

by Caroline Wilson

When MiSP launched ‘Sit Together’, I was keen to join in. It seemed like such a great initiative and, as a MiSP trustee, I wished to be as supportive as possible of both the initiative and the amazing MiSP team setting it all up. With my own regular mindfulness practice it also seemed it might be possible to make it part of a routine, although, possibly like most people who practice, I am quite accustomed to being alone for this, so I couldn’t be at all sure.

So joining the Sit Together for the first time, I brought the best open mind that I could but also lots of questions – what would the wider appeal be? How would it feel to practice together? How might the technology work? How could the sessions could be pitched in such as way as to be helpful for participants of all ages, from all around the world, living in and with all sorts of different circumstances and with mindfulness experience ranging from none at all to a lifetime?  Amidst the questions, it also felt quite exciting.

To me, from almost the first moment, ‘Sit Together’ was more than great – it was a joy and inspiration!  To see the sea of lovely faces, of humanity, looking out from the screen ‘gallery view’ (once I had found it!) was quite breathtaking and a whole new experience. I had been to a few video conference meetings before but the scale of this was overwhelming. And to know there were many others linking in by audio too. How could we be isolated but be so together? It was surreal, but at the same time very real. I was filled with awe and wonder. It felt just incredible to be with so many people at the same time, in so many different places, mostly living in isolation at various levels but all being together for these moments, like a community sharing in a mindfulness practice. Interestingly though, I also noticed my excitement was tinged with some bewilderment and perhaps a bit of guilt that the pandemic, with its awful looming threat and suffering, had brought this feeling of unexpected joy at the opportunity to connect and practice like this so soon after lockdown.

Now the MiSP Sit Together, like the UK lockdown, is into its fifth week. We have all had to make changes to our way of living – life overall feels real and a bit surreal at the same time. As far as there’s any routine at all for me, the ‘Sit Together’ has now become a central part of it, like a beacon and an anchor at 11am each weekday.  For me it feels like heading into a port or harbour, with a clear intention to take breather, replenish as best as I can and then set sail again, whatever is happening on board and with the weather (actual meteorological and also physically, emotionally and mood wise within me and around me). So far I have missed just one weekday morning ’Sit Together’, which I noticed was with reluctance, albeit completely necessary to be with my son for an on line school lesson (on line teaching to children, as with Sit Together, necessitates the presence of an adult in the room).

Sometimes I have found myself reflecting on how and why ‘Sit Together’ feels so important. I have also wondered about the unexpected emotion that I noticed in myself some days, either during the guidance or as its draws to a close and the microphones are unmuted, inviting us all to wave, say thank you and goodbye. There’s been a familiarity to the feeling and yet it’s been hard to put into words.

But one day last week, it struck me – the feeling is gratitude. It’s gratitude for the genuine warmth of the ‘Sit Together’ experience and the thankfulness I feel for it. It’s about the way we are welcomed, with such openness and authenticity by Claire and Ben: the way we are guided with such thought and care, with all the skill and insights they bring from their individual knowledge and experience:  the way they invite our attention and engagement in a way that feels so kind, meaningful and interested in us all, collectively and individually: It’s about being connected with other people in a way that still feels unexpected and fresh, yet each day different. And for me, it still seems quite incredible that this can all happen on Zoom.

With my enthusiasm for ‘Sit Together’ and passion for mindfulness, it’s probably not difficult to imagine how I have sought to encourage friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to come along too, as best as I can. Others of you reading this will, I am almost sure, have done the same. And how interesting this can be as a journey in itself.

Living at home with my husband and our teenage son (also now affectionately known as our lovely ‘Ferrari with bicycle brakes’ after Jem Shackefords article Lockdown Lowdown – Some Ways to Cope While Living with Teenagers ) there is an open invitation to them both to join in. My son has been once, and I would love him to join in again. But I have remembered the old saying ‘you can take horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ and can still recall (although it’s many decades ago!) my own teenage resistance to many things my parents felt would be good for me. So taking Jem’s advice, I will not be attempting to prescribe attendance.

But after our lovely ‘Ferrari with bicycle brakes’  had been to Sit Together, we had a really interesting conversation about mindfulness and the point of it all. Our teenager said he felt it wasn’t his thing really and he couldn’t see how it would make any difference, unlike for example, cleaning his teeth each day. He set out a very articulate and coherent rationale as to why cleaning his teeth is important – after all, if he brushes them regularly, keeps an eye on them, they have a better chance of staying in good condition, working well and looking good for his whole lifetime and people will notice this.  I was totally impressed by the style and extent of his logic and reasoning. He also shared his happiness that I seemed to enjoy mindfulness and wished me to keep doing it if I liked it.

When our teenager had finished his reasoning, I thought for a moment, thanked him and then asked him what he had been using to put his rationale together. After a short pause he responded that it was his mind. ‘And you and your mind did brilliantly’ I said.  But, I explained, for me the same principles can apply with the mind and with mindfulness as with teeth cleaning, except that you can’t actually see the mind, even though it’s there and working all the time. Just like teeth cleaning, mindfulness practice is better done regularly to check in with what’s going on and take best care of the mind and body for now and for the longer term. Just like teeth cleaning, I admitted that it isn’t necessarily something I always enjoy, although I may be interested in why that’s the case. It seemed for the best to confess that sometimes I have to really make myself do it, and that sometimes it’s very difficult in terms of what comes up. But like cleaning the teeth, I know that it makes a difference and so I do it. It’s just that its taken me many more years to work this out than was the case with teeth cleaning which, is instilled as a routine from a very early age.

Our teenager may or may not join Sit Together again – time will tell – but his first visit prompted a fascinating discussion, which we continue, as too did Jem’s article when we shared that. And as I brush my teeth, I now sometimes find myself wondering about the nooks and crannies of the teeth and likening them to the lumps, bumps, dips and dales of the mind and other parts of the body. How I love it that our children can help us explore what’s in us and around us.

Thank you MiSP for launching ‘Sit Together’ – I am looking forward to joining in as often I can during the days ahead, whatever’s going on. If for any reason I may not be looking forward to it, then I will come anyway, just as I clean my teeth each morning.

And I will continue to do the best that I can to encourage others to come along too. Anyone who joins in can truly be sure of the warmth and authenticity of the welcome, of the twinkling lights of this port, as tides ebb and flow around us. For me, there is no doubt that mindfulness skills, at any level, have the potential to make a positive difference in helping us all find our way through these uncertain times and onwards into the future, in relationships with each other and the world in which we live. Through ‘ Sit Together’ MiSP is helping us to develop the skills and to do so with a real sense of connection and community.

Caroline is ‘Braving the Shave’ and bravely shearing her entire head of lovely thick hair on Friday 8th May 2020 to raise funds for MiSP’s ‘A Million Minds Matter’ appeal. You can donate to her fundraising effort here.