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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.

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A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook recently and it motivated me to break my blogging silence. I am rather ashamed I have not written since January, but if any topic was to get me back in to blogging gear, it would be one that talks about mindfulness and therapy.

The article appeared last week’s on the Independent newspaper website, and speaks to the setting-up of mindfulness as the ‘all things to all men’ therapy of choice. I agree with so many things in the article: our health service is NOT addressing mental health sufficiently, and mindfulness is not going to cure all those ills. And, there IS a danger in mindfulness being used as a ‘plaster approach’ to mental health – a bit like the criticism that can be levelled at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (thank you to another Facebook friend who posted this article by Oliver James from last year). However, I must address some of the inaccuracies concerning what mindfulness is, what it isn’t.