As you may know, mindfulness is one of the key elements in the practice of Buddhism. Now, I’d like to clear something up… That doesn’t mean you have to be a Buddhist to benefit from mindfulness (that’s a bit like saying you’ve got to be an Italian to eat and enjoy pasta), and it doesn’t mean that practising mindfulness will turn you into one (just like the time I ate too much pizza, drank too much prosecco, then woke up the next morning feeling ‘bellissimo’ with dark hair, dashing good looks and an uncanny flair for fashion).
What it does mean is that the roots of mindfulness started way back in India, two and a half thousand years ago when a man who was called the Buddha began teaching people about it, alongside other life enhancing practices like kindness, generosity, gratitude, etc. (all of which are also rather useful life skills to practice)
As mindfulness teachers and practitioners we jumped at the chance to join some friends from the Sheffield Buddhist Centre on a Pilgrimage trip to India. We’ll be visiting some key sites around the country where the Buddha is said to have taught. We’re ‘kind of’ looking forward to it but we’ve been told it’s going to be tough and challenging. No fancy hotels and luxury travel for us. We’ll be travelling through some of the poorest parts of the country. It’ll be public transport for us, and we’ll be sleeping in basic guest houses or monasteries.
Well, Firstly it’s going to be a great place to practice our mindfulness skills and attitudes. We’re certain that we’ll get more out of our challenging trip if we can maintain patient, kind, curious, friendly, accepting, open and non-judgmental attitudes. These are all important facets of mindfulness and I’m sure India is going to be like ‘attitude boot camp’.
“We’re going a few extra thousand miles to challenge and grow our own mindfulness skills so we can give that little bit extra value back to our clients and students”
Secondly, it’s always an interesting exercise to leave all we consider ‘normal’ at home for a while, so we can experience the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings of another unfamiliar world. We can learn more about ourselves when we don’t have our daily habits and routines to lean on. We learn more about our usual ‘home’ when we’re far away from it.
Thirdly, We’re guessing it’s going to be a HUGE gratitude exercise. It’s a gift to be able to spend time with people who really live in poor and seemingly impossible conditions. I’ve experienced this before on previous adventures. It helped me understand what’s really valuable. Friendly kindness and respect is a lot more useful than a designer handbag if you’re sick, traumatised and hungry. I’m sure it will also help us understand how fortunate we are to have been born here in England.
Fourthly, it will be valuable to put some of the Buddhist teachings in the context of where they were first shared. In England most encounters with the Buddha are only in the form of house or garden ornaments from TKMaxx. Yes, they’re mostly very pleasing, but there’s more to Buddhist teaching than just sitting on your backside looking calm friendly and serene. There’s loads of really gritty valuable stuff that was taught that’s massively relevant to our life challenges today. We reckon India will be the best place for us to learn more about that, so we can share it with our clients back in Sheffield.
Lastly, but not leastly – It will be fun! Adventures are best enjoyed with good friends. We’re excited to be going with 11 friends from Sheffield and I guess there’ll be new friends waiting for us over there too. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about friends sharing challenging times, it’s that the laughs usually get louder and more profuse as we help each other through them.
Who knows what wonderful insights, stories and treasures we’ll bring back with us. I visited India 25 years ago. I got more serious tummy bugs than I bargained for, then had to come home early saying “Never again!”. This time I’m a different person with more friends, life skills and experience.