Suryacitta Malcolm Smith who set up Mindfulness CIC has practised mindfulness regularly for over 20 years. From 2001 – 2006 he lived in a remote meditation centre in North Wales. After leaving the retreat centre he then moved to Leicestershire where he lives with his wife and occupies his time writing and teaching. He is author of Happiness and How it Happens – Finding contentment through mindfulness. The company provides mindfulness courses for the general public, health care, schools and the workplace and also run teacher training courses for professionals wanting to offer mindfulness to their client groups. In our latest exclusive interview we discuss a range of issues around Mindfulness with Suryacitta including its value for the workplace.
How would explain mindfulness to someone who has never come across the concept before?
We teach people to know the difference between real life problems and problems that are imaginary and created in their heads. Mark Twain refers to this in his quote, “I am an old man, I’ve had many problems, most of which didn’t happen.” These imaginary stories can cause an enormous amount of distress in people’s lives. Most of us don’t realise we may be creating these stories nearly all day long. Mindfulness is learning to pay attention to this mind habit and to take these made up stories less seriously. Instead of building on these stories in our heads, through mindfulness we learn to let them go. This letting go enables us to live more in the present moment, which benefits every area of our lives.
What is it that makes Mindfulness CIC unique?
During the courses and workshops we lead, Suryacitta is able to draw on his extensive experience of Buddhism where Mindfulness has its roots, while still teaching in a secular way. We also have other teachers who are specialists in their fields, including corporate, education and healthcare. Our profits do not go to shareholders or directors but are used to create bursaries for people and communites that otherwise could not afford to attend mindfulness courses.
What does your typical day at Mindfulness CIC involve?
After getting up in the morning I go to my meditation hut and practice 20 minutes of mindfulness. This is followed by breakfast with my wife and includes a cup of gorgeous vietnamese coffee. I then walk and throw balls for our dog Jaya in our local deer park for about 45 minutes or so. After returning I will set about planning courses and replying to emails. I always take lunch away from my desk and after lunch will prepare for leading a course in the afternoon or evening. I tend to nap for 20 minutes in the afternoon if I can – a much underrated activity or non activity whichever you prefer.
What part of your role gives you the most satisfaction?
Finding that sometimes, when an individual is in distress, seeing that just a couple of words can make a huge difference. Recently on a course a participant was being plagued by negative thoughts. These thoughts were telling her she was useless and couldn’t meditate. I asked her what would she feel like if she did not believe these thoughts. She paused for a few moments and said, “light and free.” She saw, if only for a few moments, that a life free from the tirades of her inner critic is possible. These are the wonderful and thrilling moments that make it so worthwile.
What direction or increased specialisation do you see Mindfulness CIC taking in the future?
There are no restrictions, we are happy to teach anybody who wants to learn mindfulness. Recently we have been teaching clinical psychologists who seem very interested in mindfulness right now. I was initially warned about teaching psychologists – I was told they are a very heady and rational lot – but I have found teaching them an absolute delight, and find they’re very willing to be open and receptive to our way of presenting mindfulness.
How effective can mindfulness be at helping employees deal with stress?
Mindfulness can help anybody who suffers from stress – if they practice it. This is because mindfulness goes right to the heart of the cause of stress, which is our believed thoughts.
I often hear the phrase, there is just not enough time. What people really mean is there are just too many thoughts. These thoughts fill our heads and can bully us nearly all day long with opinions, judgements, beliefs, grumblings and a million things to do. Of course some things need doing, but if we listen only to our thoughts it seems that everything needs doing and needs doing NOW. T S Eliot once said, “we are distracted, from distraction, by distraction.” Being distracted in this way by a busy mind makes us less efficient and can in some cases lead to burnout, exhaustion and bad health. Through practising mindfulness we are better able to choose which thoughts to act upon and which to dismiss.
Do you think the stress levels employees face has increased over time and if so, why do you think this is?
People who attend our courses from the private, public and voluntary sector talk about their levels of stress increasing due to changes in the work environment. The main themes are fear and threat of redundancy and a ‘more for less’ attitude which has led to a tendency to multi task due to higher expectations.
What do you think is preventing some companies and organisations from utilising the Mindfulness technique?
Here in the Midlands there is increased interest for mindfulness courses within the corporate world. Company bosses and HR are now becoming increasingly familiar with the benefits of mindfulness, not only for staff and themselves, but because it positively impacts their business. Perhaps things that are preventing other companies utilising mindfulness is a lack of knowledge of its benefits and a misunderstanding of what mindfulness is. Maybe some still see it as a hairy fairy thing to do. However, there are other companies that may not need it because they have their own ways and methods of helping staff to cope.