The constant shifts by Shannon Maloney
For many years I have struggled with articulating my story. Whenever asked ‘why are you here?’ and ‘why do you do what you do?’ everything on the inside tends to turn into a tight ball of anxiety. And I think the reason why this causes such a strong reaction is because it really depends where I decide the story begins.
If asked these questions while a university student, my response would have been devoid of any personal details. I would have said I am here and do what I do because I studied ‘x’ in school and really enjoyed books written by ‘y’ and ‘z.’ Although these responses are not untrue, they barely touch the surface. If it were a book, these responses would only reference the last couple chapters just before the conclusion.
Today I have decided to start with the introduction.
I was raised by a spirited single mom in the northern parts of Texas. Even though I haven’t lived with my mother since the age of thirteen, I still remember the constant shifts.
We moved every year to a new home, a new town, a new school district. As I write this blog, now as a twenty-five year old, I only really remember brief visual snippets of these places. One had a pool. One had a large tree that my brother and I could climb on. One had beautiful French doors that made a whimsical sound when the front door let the fresh air in.
At first, it was quite exciting to move from one place to the next but I eventually grew to dislike the never-ending introductions and ‘go-arounds’ with unfamiliar faces. My thoughts always seemed preoccupied with the fear of moving house and with having to say goodbye yet again to another group of friends. I grew to fear change and it was difficult for me to understand why my mother made these choices. It’s not until recently that I have come to understand why.
If you know my mother, you know how confident she is. I remember the countless occasions in which she would walk up to total strangers to introduce herself and then within the hour leave the conversation with a new life-long friend. She was and is absolutely fearless. It’s enviable really. But like most people my mother did not go through life without experiencing difficulty. My mother has lived with recurrent depression and complex trauma since she lost her mom at the age of ten. As a kid, I didn’t know anything about mental health let alone mental illness, so it was really difficult for me to make sense of the shifts in her mood and behaviours let alone the constant moving around. As a child it was too easy to soak it all up like a sponge.
Like my mother, I have found it difficult in adulthood to find comfort in stillness. But in recent years we both have turned to mindfulness to challenge this discomfort and have noticed a different yet positive kind of shift. So when people ask me, ‘why are you here?’ and ‘why do you do what you do?’ I say it’s because of my mom and this quest to articulate this story—my story.
Growing up, I witnessed first-hand the impact of trauma on mental health and this sparked an interest in the practice of mindfulness in terms of how it could help alleviate pain. I have been practicing mindfulness for some time now and anticipate that it will remain a key part of my survival tool-kit—especially in a post-pandemic world.
For the past three years, I have been studying how and why mindfulness works in the context of mental health and wellbeing as a PhD student in the Department of Psychiatry, Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC). As of Spring 2021, I am also working as a part-time research assistant in the OMC to help evaluate our mindfulness courses to ensure that the courses are accomplishing what they have set out to do.
For the next year, my work will specifically focus on our ‘Taking it Further’ mindfulness course, which is a programme that was developed for those that have completed an eight-week course and wish to deepen and sustain their practice over time. This work has received a prestigious Francisco J. Varela Research Award through Mind and Life Europe—a non-profit organization and network that has spearheaded contemplative science research.
I am forever grateful for the guidance of my doctoral supervisors (Willem Kuyken, Christina Surawy and Maryanne Martin), for all the support I have received from the OMC research team members, our collaborators (e.g. Barney Dunn and Catherine Paverd), and the OMC communications and operations team. I am so excited to now work part-time as a research assistant in the OMC and am looking forward to what is in store for the future. I am also extremely grateful for the support of Mind and Life Europe to conduct this study on the ‘Taking it Further’ course.
Declaration of interests
I am a PhD student in the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and a paid staff member working in this field.
This blog post was originally published on the Oxford Mindfulness Centre blog on 2nd June 2021
Oxford Mindfulness Centre
The Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC) is an internationally recognised centre of excellence at the University of Oxford, and has been at the forefront of research and development in the field of mindfulness. The OMC works to advance the understanding of evidence-based mindfulness through research, publication, training and dissemination. Our world leading research investigates the mechanisms, efficacy, effectiveness, cost effectiveness and implementation of mindfulness. We offer a wide range of training, education, and clinical services, all taught by leading experts and teachers in the field, who are training the next generation of MBCT researchers, teachers and trainers. We actively engage in collaborative partnership to shape the field and influence policy nationally and internationally. Through the charitable work of the OMC, we are improving the accessibility of MBCT for those most in need.