Breaking Down the Gates and Welcoming In the Wilderness with Mindfulness
Guest Post by Julia Grimm, LMLP, CMT-200
Growing up I was taught to suppress my emotions. I did not learn to ask myself about what I needed or to listen to my body. I noticed what others may need and regulated my emotions by providing for them. My focus was on meeting others’ expectations, going along with what made everyone around me most comfortable. Throughout my childhood I felt a deep rooted sense that I didn’t belong. I had no idea what it meant to show up authentically. I was however able to intuitively pick up on what others were feeling and noticed when I was older that this could be a useful skill to become a therapist, which is ultimately where my mindfulness journey began.
During my graduate degree, I interned at a domestic violence agency. I had been practicing yoga for the past ten years and found the connection between the body and the mind fascinating. I completed a yoga teacher training and contacted Dr. Sydney Spears who was listed as a trauma-informed yoga teacher in the area. Sydney and I met for dinner and she invited me to the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness (MAM). I remember meeting Tracy Ochester all the while feeling the familiar sense of not belonging, of not being enough, and all around unequipped. Tracy invited me to teach a class for MAM regardless. I picked a topic I was familiar with, a guided practice taking the class to a ‘’favorite place’’ away from anything available in the present moment. Tracy kindly and gently offered feedback and invited me to teach about Mindful Attitudes, which created an opportunity for me to learn alongside the classes I taught.
An analogy that stuck with me since was the one of planting seeds and letting our mindfulness practices be the nutrition these seeds need to grow. I used to think of my practice as a fenced in garden. Three years later I see wilderness unfolding, gates broken down and growth all around me. I learned to practice regardless of the weather in this internal garden, regardless of the outcome and I got to know myself, however I was in the moment. Tracy’s presence and feedback provided steady support and unconditional acceptance of wherever I was at the time. The MAM community started to feel like a safe home.
The most powerful practices I was introduced to at MAM were the Mindful Self-Compassion classes. I was invited to ask myself what I was needing, to greet myself as I would an old friend, to show up for myself gently and kindly, and to recognize different parts of me that were struggling. I was encouraged to trust my emotions and my body, to understand more about myself, and to stay curious. I continued to nurture the garden within me and decided to deepen my practice with the 200-Hour Mindfulness Teacher Training Certificate Program (MTT).
After our initial MTT meetings the pandemic hit and the world shut down. Many emotions came up and because of my practice I was able to meet them with kindness and stay curious, making space for fear and grief. During this time I started noticing a part of me that I had kept quiet, I had left in the wilderness, far away from me and all the expectations I was supposed to meet. Once I noticed this part of me again, a part that I remembered from when I was younger, but that I had dismissed and feared, I turned to it with curiosity. This is when I understood the power of the practice and the consequences of knowing what cannot be unknown. The safe structures I had so carefully constructed around me, meeting all expectations society had required of me, was shaken up.
While this was a turbulent and disorienting time for me, I also felt integrated and authentically myself. My mindfulness practice not only helped me uncover parts of me that needed to be seen, it also helped me step into this chapter of my life. I cultivated a sense of trusting what was coming up for me, turning toward it with curiosity, and taking the path that was the least harmful possible for everyone involved including myself.
During the MTT, I learned to trust a community. I witnessed the MTT community holding space for however individuals showed up emotionally, meeting them wherever they were on their path and recognizing each and everyone’s unique contributions. I remember classes where I experienced discomfort, sadness, shame, and vulnerability, and I understood that this was a safe space to experience this without having to withdraw or people-please my way through. I was able to speak up kindly and compassionately, but speak up nevertheless, and noticed that I wasn’t taking things as personally as I would usually take them. I was also allowed to compassionately witness others’ struggles and learned not to look away but to hold a safe space for them without going to caretaking tendencies. The MTT community, embedded in the MAM community helped me learn and grow beyond what I had thought possible:
- I was reminded of not only the power of my own personal practice, but also the necessity of it. During the MTT I recognized how vital my mindfulness practice is to me. I understood that while I want to give myself choices, practicing is not optional. Having a steady informal or formal mindfulness practice is what keeps my authentic self alive.
- I really appreciated learning about the roots of mindfulness, as well as understanding how to create mindfulness offerings that are accessible and suitable for everyone, in particular including diverse populations. I remember discussing how to be inclusive when guiding participants through a body scan, not knowing what the body feels like to individuals. I found the literature assigned on diversity very resourcing and appreciated Larry Yang’s insights on how to create inclusive and diverse mindful spaces.
- While I had already known about trauma-informed care, I was surprised by how heavy the topic felt to me. I was appreciative of being encouraged to use grounding tools and preferred this part of the class to be online. Being in my own space made a difference and I remember feeling grateful for being able to lie down and listen more passively. While I had already completed a yoga teacher training, I enjoyed learning about different types of mindful movement and became more skilled at teaching yoga through a mindfulness-lens.
I now have an understanding and practice on what it is like to be anchored in the present moment, however that may be. I learned to trust the unfolding of my life and have gained an understanding of the wilderness that is yet to be explored all around me. I am so grateful for my mindfulness practice and would like to remind myself that there may be a lot more to curiously explore moving forward. I hope I am able to uncover more and more of myself while stepping into safe communities that I have a part in holding and creating as well, all the while passing on what I have learned so far.
One of my wishes is to create mindfulness practices that are truly accessible and far reaching, meeting individuals where they are at and providing what is needed. I would like to step into the world seeing individuals more clearly, with their unique stories and experiences, letting them be and supporting them on their journey of finding what feels authentically present at the time. I would also like to keep in mind when to step aside and support more suitable teachers in their teachings, comprehending when a space is not mine to teach in.
One of my ongoing challenges is to respect mindfulness spaces to be mindfulness spaces, and making sure not to mix in more therapeutic approaches. While I see clear mental health benefits in our mindfulness practices, I would like to keep in mind that my role as a mindfulness teacher is different than my role as a therapist, not only for my participants but also for myself. I find that being a teacher is recharging to me; I practice alongside participants, can show up fully and authentically, and can take up space alongside participants. This feels almost sacred to me and has been something I have learned to embrace and appreciate more and more during my time teaching.
I know for a fact that there will be barriers and challenges to come. I feel as if I have only scratched the surface and I am looking forward to taking my time meeting what is placed on my way, learning and growing with it. I see my mindfulness practice as a lifelong practice and while I now understand how much comes with noticing, I am looking forward to see what growing edges may present themselves in the future. ‘’After all’’, Dumbledore says: ‘’to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure’’.
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