Tuesday 6 November 2007
Under the bell
Last night was the last in a short course of Buddhist meditation classes I've been taking. Ten years now that I've had a meditation practice, on and off, more on than off, and fairly seriously. Still, I appreciate meeting new (and old) teachers and sitting in a room with others, new and old to the practice, many experiencing something that will change them as it has changed and continues to change me... oh those tiny, gradual changes in perception and response that make a huge, huge difference to everything.
This course was excellent, a strong impetus to fresh approaches and recommitment. I was drawn to it by the name of one of the teachers, John Teasdale. Now a teacher in the Insight meditation tradition, as a research psychologist in Oxford, London and Cambridge, he has been one of the UK pioneers of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.
MBCT, which takes the precious philosophy and techniques of Buddhist mindfulness training, in secular form, into the mainstream health service, has recently been hitting the headlines with the publication of a wonderful book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, of which John is a co-author with Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and Jon Kabat-Zinn, but was already the subject of respected research studies (many cited here) and beginning to find a place in the National Health Service. There is far, far to go, but this seems like a real, small hope for our sick minds and sick society. Little of late has made me happier.
We split into small groups last night to discuss our practice. "I think I know you! Aren't you Jean?": a woman I met 12 or 13 years ago, perhaps the very first to speak of me of Buddhist practice, a good while before I tried it for myself. Long lost sight of, she had moved away and has only recently returned to live near me. We will meet, perhaps try to start a local sitting group! In the great amorphous city, the crossing and re-crossing of paths with like-minded people feels very precious.
Before leaving, we sat for one last time. The power of silence and forty intent minds in this beautiful space. The exquisite medieval church of St Ethelburga was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993 and rebuilt as an interfaith centre for peace and reconciliation.
At 9 pm, in the middle of London, the bell chimes right above our heads.