Being mindful of your own mental health
THERE ARE some amazing people in this country. They may work their magic quietly in families and local communities or in full view on a national stage. Their contribution changes lives and makes the rest of us feel a little better about being Irish. Sr Stanislaus Kennedy is one of these people.
Sr Stan’s gift lies in her capacity to respond to changing social needs in creative ways. In the past 25 years she has established organisations to promote social justice in respect to our homeless, our immigrant workers, and our young people. Most recently, she has been concerned with how we manage our lives in these stressful, challenging and chaotic times.
To address this social issue, Sr Stan has come up with yet another intriguing initiative. She plans to bring to Dublin Castle for one day every year some of the most renowned teachers of mindfulness to explore how it can support us in living our lives. This year’s conference will consider the importance and practical benefits of mindfulness to our mental health.
In the times we live in, mental health doesn’t come easy. We find it hard to feel at ease with ourselves, or stop, listen, and experience the wonder of simply being alive. Our minds are pushed and pulled around by past regrets and memories; we worry about all the ways things could go wrong in the future.
We may find it hard to be open and responsive to life because we have been hurt once too often. So we pull the shutters down around our hearts, determined to hold on to whatever little stability we have. We aim for an identity that is solid, predictable and happy all the time, forgetting that we only become real by having our hearts broken and healed, over and over again.
Mindfulness supports mental health because it teaches us to accept life on its terms rather than try to twist and control it into something we might prefer it to be. Mindfulness gives us a way of relating gently to our difficulties without trying to push them away. Mindfulness also shows us how to notice and appreciate those ordinary, even drab, moments in our lives that have the power to dazzle us if we could only see them for what they are.
You need to experience mindfulness first-hand to discover how powerfully it can transform the way you feel: how it can steady you in the face of a crisis; how it can help you to bring your awareness back to the present moment, so that you can begin to live your life before it passes you by.
Titled The Art of Being Still – Mindfulness and Mental Health , this conference will feature two compelling speakers: Mark Williams, professor of Psychology, Oxford University and co-author of The Mindful Way through Depression , and Mark Patrick Hederman, abbot of Glenstal Abbey and author of Kissing the Dark: Connecting with the Unconscious .
Prof Williams is best known for his pioneering work in showing how mindfulness can reduce relapse in depression. He and his colleagues developed mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
Hederman is another of our own national treasures. He is a writer and philosopher, and a great communicator. He is recognised as an individual who has never been afraid of embracing new ways of thinking.
When I first wrote about mindfulness in November 2004, readers were curious but unconvinced about how relevant it was to modern life. Six years later, it’s hard to open any edition of this supplement without finding a mention of how it has found its way into some new sector of medicine, education, management and finance.
It seems timely to take a day out to listen to two men who can speak with a rare depth of expertise about the place of mindfulness in all of our lives. Don’t miss this one.
The Art of Being Still – Mindfulness and Mental Health conference takes place on June 16th in the Great Hall, Dublin Castle. For details, tel: 01-670 5419 or e-mail email@example.com
Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health (headstrong.ie)
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.