People are often startled when I tell them I had a weeks holiday in Scotland learning qigong and meditation. There’s the sideways look – has she gone a bit flaky, maybe more “new age”?
I like to think I am as sane as you!
So how did I get into mindfulness?
Let’s backtrack a bit and consider how I got to this point from a work perspective. I love helping others and a Medical Information career is a perfect way to combine altruism with biomedical science. However job promotion increased my exposure to company politics. We have to do unpleasant tasks in management: tell people they no longer have a job, sign up to initiatives we may not agree with, see mismatches between people’s words and behaviours.
I could go on but you know the kind of things. Anyone can be a good manager when business is going well but a true leader comes to the fore when times are tough. As data rational people, how do we handle negative emotions that come with the territory? Ignore them? Distract ourselves with retail therapy, spa treatments, aerobic exercise, alcohol or other addictions?
If you are a Type A person, driven to succeed, these behaviours may have short term gains but don’t necessarily help our underlying issues.
A Different Way
Without realising it, I was searching for another way. When I took redundancy from AstraZeneca, I saw it as an opportunity to try out something different. Setting up my own business was tough to start but I learnt so much about running a business as well as expanding my Medical Affairs knowledge in different settings.
View across Monmouth, with rolling lush hills and valleys
As I live in an area with little or no local industry, small businesses of all types and sizes thrive. Through my volunteer work with a local women’s social enterprise here in South Wales, I met an inspirational woman, Sue Weston. She was enthusiastic, positive and seemed very wise. No matter what problems or situations arose, she seemed to take everything into her stride with an assertive yet giving attitude. She came from a completely different professional background as she’d been a professional dancer from an early age. Travelling all over the world, she’d also been a choreographer, run ballet companies, and lived in the world of dance & movement. But now she was running T’ai Chi and Qigong classes locally. The more I got to know her the more I was intrigued. She encouraged me to come along to a qigong class to try it out.
So what is qigong?
You can always search for qigong on YouTube and see people practicing this graceful, stretching, flexing form of exercise. After all, pictures speak more than words. Sue also describes it
“The important thing is how it makes you feel.”
No matter how terrible I felt when I went in, I always felt uplifted and energised when I came out. It’s also great exercise for shoulders, tense from hours in front of computer screens.
Confronting our fears
Next steps was to try out a meditation session. Now my impressions of meditation consisted of fixating on an object along with muttering, sessions with wise, grey haired & bearded Indian gentlemen plus a smatterings of flaky cults (so no prejudices there then). How wrong I was! Three concepts jumped out at me.
- First, that I could wish happiness for myself
- Secondly was thinking about how I was dealing with an unpleasant event (which we often avoid).
- Thirdly, that I could think of other people experiencing the same situation and could wish them compassion in their suffering.
This was all too much. So I did the classic thing and physically as well as mentally fled.
I couldn’t deal with the negative emotions meditating stirred up. Roll forward a few years & once more I found myself struggling to cope with a booming business, challenging clients, lots of business travel and a complicated personal life. I knew I had to do something different. When Sue wanted to pilot a mindfulness course, I signed up. Demanding aerobic exercise was helping me manage with stress but I needed something to calm me down, not rev me up even more.
So what is mindfulness?
The combination of meditation, relaxation and a movement component (in that case qigong but it could be yoga, T’ai Chi or something similar) has been revolutionary for me. I can deal with extreme stress more successfully, I am much happier and positive and I feel like I have rediscovered joy from my sense of equanimity.
Which brings me back full circle.
- Would this benefit people I know who have challenging lives, especially in their work sphere? Yes.
- Would they be interested? Judging by the reaction from people I have talked to about my experiences, yes.
- Would I recommend a tried and tested programme with an excellent, experienced teacher? Yes!!!!!
So if you have found resonances in my personal journey and also want to try something different, why not come along to one of Sue’s residential courses? Some of my friends have attended and have found it has really helped them too. Find out more about her courses.