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An Interview with ulla (senior mindfulness teacher)

What did you do before you became a mindfulness teacher?

When I saw this question the immediate thought that came to my mind was that I practiced and practiced.

Not everything in my life has always gone smoothly and, like anybody else, I have had to find my way around my share of problems. Mindfulness has helped me to deal with the difficult stuff. It takes a day-to-day commitment of staying with the practice.

How did mindfulness become such an important part of your life?

Mindfulness became so important to me because I found it really helped. The more I practiced, the more I noticed that mindfulness helped my struggles, pains and difficulties to dissolve away. Now, whatever the problem, I know that mindfulness will help me find a way through.

You visit prisons, helping male inmates find tools for dealing with difficult emotions. What are the greatest challenges of this work?

The greatest challenge is to find a way for the men to implement regular practice. Prisons are noisy and crowded. There are always things going on and the prisoners do not have control over their daily schedules. One of my groups, who work in the prison bakery, leave their cells at 5 am and are not back until 6 pm. I was really impressed by the commitment of a member of this group who said he had been setting his alarm for 4.30 am for the last two weeks so he had time to meditate. That’s true dedication!

You also help cancer patients and individuals enduring chronic pain. What techniques do those clients find most helpful?

They really appreciate techniques that help them to deal with pain. Mindfulness shows us a way through this.

Our instinct, when faced with suffering, is to take one of two possible approaches. . We may try to push the pain away with painkillers or distractions which work to a point but can lead to a new set of problems. Alternatively, we may try fully immersing ourselves in the pain which can lead to us being quite overwhelmed by it.

Mindfulness shows us a middle ground of being with the pain but not becoming overwhelmed by it.

Do you ever eat unhealthy food?

Of course I do! At times I may even overeat. But I think it’s so important not to beat myself up about this kind of thing. A wiser approach may be to ask myself why I have this craving. Is there something behind it that I need to look at?

What would be your ideal Sunday afternoon?

I would enjoy going for a long walk in nature or maybe reading a book on a bench outdoors. I’d also make time to meditate. My ideal would be to seek out as much silence and stillness as possible.

Do your children practice mindfulness?

Oh yes, although we never do formal practices together. I encourage my children to find mindfulness in everyday life. So, for example, in times of emotional upheaval, I might suggest placing a hand on the belly for comfort; if they feel angry I might ask them to use the senses to ground themselves, such as trying to spot five things that are yellow. We also enjoy having mindful meals – using the senses to really explore the food.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to give up smoking?

Before they stopped I would ask that person to really explore the occasions on which they feel the need to smoke. What is the underlying need at this time? Then I would suggest that they get creative about how they might meet that need in a different way.

Are there days when you are too busy to meditate?

There are days when I am too busy to meditate formally. When this happens I try to shift the balance to more informal ways of being mindful. So, for example, I might focus my attention on my hands at various points during the day, or I might explore whether I can carry out a range of activities more slowly than usual.

Tell us about the book you are currently working on.

It’s a mindfulness book for parents and others involved in the care of children. The approach is to bring mindfulness into family life but in a playful way. There are techniques to encourage concentration and to strengthen feelings of empathy and self-worth. Hopefully, it will provide support to the whole family.

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