Simon Heale runs meditation and mindfulness classes at West London Welcome every other week. In this guest post, he reflects on what ‘settling’ in his sessions looks and feels like, and how meditation and mindfulness in a tranquil setting can enable our clients to take a vital pause from their often chaotic and unpredictable lives.
There are eight of us sitting in a circle in a quaker meeting house near Hammersmith. In another part of the building there is a constant hum of chatter amid the fading aromas of a delicious north African lunch. The voices are a mix, this is London after all: English, Arabic, French, and a few more.
In our room we are all silent, waiting for the session to begin, waiting to just breathe and to perhaps find a way to put aside the worries that exist for all the participants. Six of the eight are refugees, we are in the West London Welcome centre. The session is a meditation and mindfulness class.
The centre, established by Joanne MacInnes and Seema Alibhai, offers a day of respite, education, advice, activities and really good food to people who find themselves here in London, from Syria, the DRC, Eastern Europe. They are all waiting, waiting for their cases to be processed. For some this is two years and for others it is as much as five.
My class is intended to be a pause, a literal breathing space, a chance to press the pause button of our day to day travails. Not to solve, I say, but to watch them and perhaps to begin to change our relationship with them. The theme for today is ‘settling’. It comes in the form of a self-query, as much of my teaching and practices do, to ask ourselves if we can settle as we sit, breathe and observe our immediate experiences: our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. This is mindful awareness, breathing and watching; it is the basis of a meditative practice.
I excuse my poor French and non-existent Arabic and, along with English, start to use gestures and a great visual aid to demonstrate this settling technique. This resonates with all of them, reminding me of our creative potential, our child’s-mind as Buddhists would say. Their eyes close gently and I offer them the possibility of just observing thoughts, feelings and the body as it is now, and then to allow all of this to settle like dust while we settle our minds on our breathing for five minutes. We then open our eyes and notice a change in the room, a palpable stillness. There is no rush to do anything, nothing to achieve I tell them. We discuss the practice and any issues arising, what the word ‘settle’ means to everyone. Some speak, some just sit and listen. The idea or ideal, I say, is if our lives are currently in upheaval, areas out of our control, if we are needing some stability then perhaps we can give this to ourselves in five minute practices. We can this take this sense of being settled, of calmness into whatever needs dealing with next. A few nods, a few quizzical looks. I say please don’t believe me, just try it.
We practice again, and another three short times, layering the language and experiences each time, until by the final one, we have a real sense of stillness and hopefully a greater awareness of our immediate experiences: thoughts, feelings and senses. I close the class with a short check-out, asking them not to disappear as there is a yoga class to follow. The door opens and we are flooded with the din of people moving from the other activities, to getting hot-drinks and nibbles. Volunteers, staff and the guests themselves. People who have found themselves displaced, a long way from the home and life they knew, looking to find a little piece of certainty.
The centre strives to provide them with a haven for a day. I hope my class gives them, even for 30 minutes, the tranquillity they deserve.
— Simon Heale, West London Welcome meditation and mindfulness class teacher
Thanks to Localgiving and the Postcode Community Trust, we fund travel costs for asylum seekers to access exercise and meditation services through a Magic Little Grant. The Postcode Community Trust is a grant-giving charity funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.