I love taking my Tuesday evening class here in Hamilton (or just over the border into High Blantyre if we are to be precise). I set it up in June 2011, with much appreciated assistance from key individuals in NHS Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire Council, and the University of the West of Scotland.
At that time mindfulness was largely unknown amongst the general public. Unlike today, when you can go into the nearest Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Sainsbury and see half a dozen Zen Colouring journals, and magazines with titles like Calm, In the Moment, Be Happy, and so on; back in 2011 there were none of these things.
Fast forward to 2020 and we can expect to have about 60-90 people coming along to the class, with several classes having over 100 attendees. That's remarkable at any level, but especially so in Hamilton, or Lanarkshire generally. We have wonderful towns and villages in the area but we're not usually considered to be in the vanguard of new thinking or setting the trends. That's considered the prerogative of Edinburgh, Glasgow's West End, or the leafier suburban towns like Newton Mearns, Giffnock, and Bearsden.
So why here?
I guess it's a combination of things. Firstly, the crucial assistance in the early days, by key organisations. When the NHS, the local authority, and a university all promote a new venture, there's it adds credibility. Secondly, the fact that it has been running for close to a decade, week in, week out, except for the occasional weeks I can't do, and the usual Christmas / New Year breaks. This gives people the chance to come and go, knowing it'll still be there if they decide to come back to the class. Thirdly, it's as convenient as I can make it: it's free, with a voluntary donations box at the door on exiting, so affordability is not an issue; there's no need to fill in forms or book in any other way - you just turn up, so bureaucracy isn't a problem; and unlike many mindfulness courses, you don't need to commit to coming every week - just come when you want to.
Last night was a typical class. About 70-80 people there, despite the off-putting combination of heavy rain and strong winds. Several people came, new to the class, probably on the back of New Year resolutions. Lots and lots of regulars. People coming for personal development, others because they have long-term conditions, grief, anxiety, restless minds, you name it. Like everyone else in society, the people who come to my class have challenges, want to improve their lives, or both.
And I try to help those who come, as best I can. We start with a short mini-session, to soothe tired, often stressed minds. By 6:30pm most of us, whether working, unemployed, off work with a condition, or retired, we're usually tired by early evening. So I try to help people let go of some of the immediate, surface tiredness and tightness in their minds. The mini sessions last only about 3-4 minutes but I can already see people's minds settling down and feeling more relaxed. How can I know this? I see it as I guide them in the practice. Their faces relax, their bodies settle and become softer, more natural, rather than stiff and taut.
Then I do my talk, always a variation on the same thing, because every week there are people attending for the first time, and they need to understand what mindfulness is, how to do it, and what the benefits are. But I do try to add examples from my own life - times when I've been mindful, and times when I've not! - to give the talk sufficient variety for regulars. Anyway repetition is a good thing in mindfulness.
Then we do a longer, fuller, deeper practice, maybe 15-30 minutes long, depending on how long I have talked for. You can feel the peace in the room, it's wonderful when you see about 100 people all silent - save for the odd snore :-)
And then it's over. People come out of their quiet, settled inner world, then relax back into the world of the lecture theatre, the beautiful futuristic building of UWS, and then back into the darkness of winter and the weather, feeling a better version of themselves. And if they continue to come regularly, and practice at home as best they can in their busy lives, each week they will go home a little better version of themselves; calmer, clearer in the mind, kinder and gentler. That's what it's all about. Last night was a privilege, as every week I take this class is a privilege. Here's to next week.