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I’ve recently returned from a week-long retreat with Buddhist psychologist John Welwood. I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for the week at Omega Institute in upstate New York. I call it a retreat, but it was equally a workshop and at times, a group therapy session with 50 + participants!

In flight entertainment

I’ve followed JW’s work for several years now, having first come across his ideas concerning “spiritual bypassing” in an article for Tricycle magazine. His primary work – looking at how to integrate the spiritual and psychological paths – has fascinated and inspired me: especially in these past 2 years whilst researching Buddhist-informed psychotherapy for my thesis. I was therefore delighted to find that JW led an annual retreat for health professionals (especially in my beloved NY, a spiritual home since completing my meditation teacher training there in 2012). I travelled armed with a copy of his 2002 magnus opus: “Toward a Psychology of Awakening” and went on to complete it for the third time. In reading it this time around I feel I gained so much more, no doubt in part because I could feel the presence of this great teacher in the written word.

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One of the challenges that we all face in life is balancing the needs we have as individuals with the needs of others we are in relationship with: balancing self and other. This is a challenge recognised by many systems of thought: from the ancient wisdom traditions through to contemporary Western psychology. For example, the Buddhist teachings (or Dharma) speak specifically to the importance of "equalising self and other" - of being kind to others, but not at the expense of one's self.

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With mindfulness and meditation being popular topics these days, everyone seems to be writing about it - and whilst this raises awareness of what, I believe, to be a great practice, it can also lead to some warped perspectives (especially regarding what it can / can't do AND what it was intended to do / not intended to do).

When I shared with a friend what I would be blogging about this week, she said to me "but won't that put people off?". And yes, there might be some people reading what follows and decide "ah well, its not for me then". But I believe where we (the mindfulness profession) need to work harder is in helping people understand what it is they are entering, the work involved, and the degree to which meditation can help them. Meditation is not a quick fix. And it is only by being up front about this that we begin to address the significant dropout from the practice. This is especially true regarding the "8-week" model (of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy): speaking with other teachers, their guesti-mate is that less than 10% of people are still practicing a year after the course.

So, here starts the myth busting...

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