Learning, Practicing, Connecting: The OMC Summer School – By Laura Thompson
Soon after social distancing measures began in March of 2020, I sat looking at the palo verde tree outside my window, its flowers blooming bright yellow against the blue desert sky. I was waiting for a Skype call from a fellow clinical psychologist and friend from Norway. We had been making changes to our daily lives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we also needed to adapt the way we were teaching mindfulness. We were meeting to support each other in this process and to discuss how we could modify the ways that we facilitate in-person MBCT groups so that we could offer MBCT via videoconference to individuals. My colleague had put hours of effort into thinking about this and making a thorough outline of a possible format. I felt a deep appreciation for his generosity in sharing this with me. Consulting dogeared copies of our “green books” (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression) and his outline, we talked for hours, and we planned to talk again after he reviewed his outline with his MBCT supervisor. Before the call ended, we talked about our personal mindfulness practices and what had been nourishing and challenging for us in recent days.
At a time of many forms of transition and separation, I was especially grateful for this connection, professionally and personally. We had first met at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC) Summer School in 2018. The OMC Summer School had opened the door for our collaboration, and in the weeks that followed, the OMC offered me other resources, including a timely Masterclass (Teaching Mindfulness Online) and weekly live mindfulness sessions with OMC teachers.
Three years earlier, I was seated at this same desk with the palo verde outside my window as I searched online for opportunities to expand my training in mindfulness-based programs (MBPs). I had completed teacher training in MBSR in 2012 and MBCT in 2014 and was in private practice. I was no longer at a university or teaching hospital—environments which would have connected me to colleagues working at the growing edge of MBPs. I had left those workplaces when my son was two, and I took a deep dive into motherhood and nature by moving to rural Hawaii and having a second child. Once my children were older, I wanted to find trainings that would teach the scientist and practitioner in me, to be part of a community of mindfulness teachers and researchers, to learn from experts in the field, to collaborate with my peers, and to find a way to contribute to the evolving teaching and study of MBPs.
I found the listing for the 2018 OMC Summer School during my online search, and I felt my breath and heart rate quicken as I read the description. Had someone peeked at my wish list and designed a summer school to match? As I participated in the 2018 Summer School, it often felt that way. The daily sessions exposed me to new developments in the teaching and research of MBCT and related MBPs. I learned more about the underpinnings of MBCT and the “warp” (basic structure) and “weft” (unique aspects) of MBPs. I learned about skilful, embodied leading of mindfulness practice as I was guided in practices by inspiring teachers associated with the OMC. There were many instances in which the presenters at the OMC Summer School taught me, experientially, about the importance of teaching and research coming out of my own practice, of living what is being taught, and of staying up-to-date about the latest developments in MBPs. It is this emphasis on both experiential learning and the scientific study of mindfulness that I especially appreciate about the OMC curricula.
I returned to Oxford the following year and participated in the 2019 OMC Summer School, six of the Masterclasses, and the Finding Peace in a Frantic World training. During the Summer School, I met more colleagues from around the world and began to explore some possible research collaborations. Over tea and biscuits, I met another participant who was from Arizona. Late this March, I received a text from my Arizona colleague asking me whether I had joined Chris Cullen’s online mindfulness session, “Finding Steadiness in Uncertain Times”. I did not know that the OMC was beginning to offer these weekly sessions, and thanks to her text, I was able to participate. In 2017, when I first read about the OMC Summer School, I could not have predicted that I would now be part of a community of mindfulness-based program teachers and researchers.
As I look past the palo verde flowers at the empty and quiet street now, I am reminded of the Rumi poem, The Guest House, which is read in session five of MBCT.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight….
It does seem as if COVID-19 has swept the streets empty. I notice a feeling of heaviness around my heart and I breathe out a sigh. It can be difficult to find steadiness in uncertain times. I feel my body against the chair. I realize that because of the pandemic, the 2020 Summer School will be held online. It has cleared the way for people to participate in the Summer School, people who otherwise might have been unable to join due to lengthy travel, physical challenges, the cost of reaching Oxford, etc. This year’s Summer School will offer mindfulness teachers and teachers-in-training the opportunity to participate in three two-day teacher trainings in mindfulness-based programs for the general population: (1) Finding Peace in a Frantic World, (2) Mindfulness for Life, and (3) Mindfulness: Taking it Further. There will also be a two-day workshop, Introducing Buddhist Psychology & Practice for Mindfulness Teachers and Practitioners, as well as a Partnership Day for OMC teaching and training partners.
It is heartening and exciting that the 2020 OMC Summer School will be available to so many mindfulness teachers around the world who are working to support transformative change at this challenging time. I hope to take the Mindfulness for Life and the Mindfulness: Taking it Further trainings. The Zoom rooms will open 30 minutes before sessions to allow time for informal social connection. I will bring my tea and biscuits and welcome whatever new delight might arise.
Want to learn more about the 2020 Online Summer School:
Laura Y. Thompson, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in mindfulness-based and CBT-based interventions. She is a licensed psychologist in Arizona and Hawaii and is trained in MBCT, Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Interpersonal Mindfulness Program, and MBSR. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance and the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry, a pre-doctoral fellowship at McLean Hospital and the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, and a B.A. in psychology at the University of Virginia. She has conducted research in the field of positive psychology with an expertise in the measurement of forgiveness and its relationship to health and wellbeing (http://www.heartlandforgiveness.com/).