Recently I introduced a brief session on mindfulness, meditation and relaxation to the routine of Chaplaincy based activities here at the University of Sussex. It is run in the University’s Meeting House Chapel once a week. It is designed for a wider audience and breaks the usual pattern of praying the office of Morning Prayer. The aim is to provide an opportunity for students and staff to center them selves at the beginning of the busy day. But I realize this statement of aim is rather banal compared to the confirmed benefits of Mindful practice. (By the way, for those unfamiliar with the concept, Mindfulness refers to practices that help us to become deeply of one self, others and what is going on in around us. Usually this will involve a structured practice of ‘meditation’ of some sort. A ‘flavour of the month’ in some ways but touting strategies with roots in ancient wisdom.)
In their book, Mindfulness: A practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams and Danny Penman cite several pieces of research highlighting Mindful practice’s positive benefit to mental and physical wellbeing and its potential for changing the physical structure of the brain. They highlight its impact on people suffering from depression, stress and excessive anxiety and the habits of thought with which these are associated.
To that extent approaches like ‘Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy’ (MBCT), etc. might be complimented with approaches to CR training: a Mindfulness Based Conflict Engagement model or MDCE to give it acronym – or something like that. People tend to mind conflict terribly. It is uncomfortable, dangerous and often evokes primitive experiences where conflict has been experienced in deeply negative and painful ways.
Marsha Lucas in her book Rewiring your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness, echoing Williams and Penman, proffers a cogent case for Mindful practice as a strategy for rewiring the brain and changing habitual ways of doing relationship that have proved to be dysfunctional and destructive. The potential for enabling new strategies for relating across conflict situations is enormous.
Mindful practices with their millennia old stocks of wisdom provide a strategy for laying down stores of energy out which we might live both profoundly and effectively. Motives for the practice will vary from religious contexts – Buddhist, Christian and other faith-based meditative strategies, humanist based therapies like MBCT or simply as practical strategies for relaxing. In the context of conflict resolution the motives may also be nuanced depending on whether you are someone who simply wants to ‘do conflict’ along more positive lines, build resilient self awareness or on the delivery end of peace building or training.
But MBCE ☺ – oh, why not?! – may provide an important framework that in the best sense of the phrase enables us to mind conflict, to mind it very much and very effectively.