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I don’t need to spend much time setting up the present day picture concerning mindfulness and the enhancing of mental, emotional and physical well-being. Not a day goes by it would seem without an announcement of research findings advocating the use of this ancient practice. As a mindfulness instructor with a background in empirical science I have concerns about just how far we can take the promising findings and making them ‘true’. But is there a deeper cause for concern?

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coffee as refuge

I recently took the Refuge Vow. Whilst I have long considered myself a Buddhist (I have been meditating for some 6 years now), the taking of theRefuge Vow marks the formal step: a publicly witnessed commitment towards 3 aspects of the path that offer shelter from the vulnerability of being human: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

What does this mean exactly? Traditionally, someone declaring themselves as Buddhist commits to working with their day-to-day experience in a way that differs to how we might normally deal with the challenges life can throw at us. I’ll come back to some ways we may turn to ‘false’ refuge later in this post – but very simply we can consider habits that we turn to for comfort, or to numb our pain.

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bethlemI was fortunate to have spent last week working at the Mother and Baby Unit at Bethlem Royal Hospital. The hospital, founded in 1247, is the oldest institution for the care and treatment of mental illness. It’s nickname “bedlam” is often used to describe ‘uproar and confusion’ – but I can assure you its 270 acre grounds on the Kent / Surrey border are nothing but serene and peaceful! The ‘MBU’ specialise in the treatment of perinatal illnesses. The women admitted have either developed a mental illness or have had a relapse of a serious mental illness during pregnancy; or women who have developed depression and / or psychosis, or have had a relapse of serious mental illness following the birth of their baby.