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interview with john-mindfulness teacher

How did you become interested in mindfulness?

I first became interested in mindfulness as a psychology undergraduate at university. I had a very inspiring tutor, Elliot Cohen, who specialised in transpersonal psychology and Asian wisdom traditions, specifically Buddhism and Daoism. He spoke enthusiastically about the possibilities that mindfulness can open, especially in approaching psychology. Inspired by this, I went on to do my masters thesis on mindfulness and musical creativity, but soon realised if I wanted to understand this I needed to commit to the practice myself, and so I began to do silent meditation retreats. Along the way, I met Christopher Titmuss, who I went on to train under as part of the Agents for Change mindfulness teacher training course, which is ongoing.

What would be your ideal Sunday afternoon?

A long walk through a forest and reading by a fire.

Can you tell us more about your work supporting young trauma survivors?

There’s not much I can say right now as I’m still in the process of getting started, but my intention is primarily to be of service, by listening to what wants to be heard, and supporting empowerment in the broadest sense through wellbeing. Connecting to the direct experience through mindfulness allows for access to deeper resources for wellbeing, which in our culture of Netflix binging and sensory numbing, is quite rare.

I’ve previously done quite a bit of work supporting young people through drug-related psychological crises, which when handled well-meaning compassionately and cooperatively, can be very transformative. I generally try to approach this work with a sense that we can all learn from each other in these pivotal times.

What makes you angry?

I would rephrase the question slightly to what do I get angry with, in order to start out from even a vague sense of interconnectedness, where anger is in service and not a means to its own ends.

I get angry with factory farming, the slavery of animals for human greed. I get angry with the dulling of young people’s imagination through outdated education systems and a culture lacking a clear vision of the good life. I get angry with myself for falling out of alignment with my deepest aspirations.

Tell us something about your ideas on using art and music as a tool for mindfulness

Mindfulness is about being in touch with our senses, and our inner and outer environments. Art and music can open the range of nourishment available through the senses, and mindfulness can deepen the experience of art and music, one that is based on engagement and participation, and not just consumption of entertainment. For me, this is what contemplation means - a deep sense of conscious participation, connection or resonance. By mirroring our values, approaching art mindfully can help us to live with integrity. Dostoevsky wrote, ‘beauty will save the world’. I think there are profound truths to that statement.

What advice would you offer to those who would like to eat more mindfully?

I would recommend bringing in curiosity, and looking more broadly at the experience of food, including its emotional associations. We could say that mindfulness of eating is something one does, but we could also say it is something that is revealed when I allow myself to experience pleasure and nourishment through the senses. For various reasons, this is not always so easy. The nourishment we get from food is more than just biological. It is a statement of our deep intimacy and interconnectedness with all of life. So it’s also important to ask, without judgement, what does my diet and the way I eat say about my relationship to the wider sphere of life?

Do you meditate daily?

Pretty much, yes. But if too much ‘should’ comes in, then I back off from formal practice to keep it from becoming sterile.

What has been your greatest personal challenge during lockdown? Did anything positive emerge from this experience?

Aside from just generally staying steady with all the uncertainty, it has been difficult for me to develop and nurture connections with friends. One positive thing that has re-emerged from all this is a deep love of music - I got really into the guitar again and wrote quite a few songs.

Who inspires you?

The MSS team for sure. We need a complete paradigm shift in how we view health and wellbeing, and I think the MSS project contributes to that. I’m inspired by ordinary folk who are quietly finding new ways to be in our world. They inspire me to listen beyond the hype. I worked this summer for an organic farmer in the Netherlands who demonstrated how to take good care of the soil without exploiting animals, that was inspiring. Trees inspire me on many different levels. A thoughtful question inspires me!

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