Turning towards the 10,000 sorrows and joys

This blog theme came to me as I absorbed the heartfelt presentations at ‘Mindfulness Matters’ – Africa’s first ever conference on mindfulness. It took place last weekend in Stellenbosch (5-6 Sept 2014), organised through IMISA, and brought together academics and activists from South Africa and around the world. The panel of experts was drawn largely from the neuroscience field, and they described, with precision, their work showing correlations between mindfulness and compassion practices, and changes in brain functioning. Other presenters were from the social sciences, and described their own experiences of offering mindfulness to communities facing trauma and illness. We all contemplated how best to bring mindfulness into Africa, where the poverty, inequality and incidents of violence pose such a challenge to human flourishing.

Dr Simon Whitesman, chair of IMISA, opened the weekend with a poignant poem by David Whyte – Start Close In. The call was for us to “start with the first thing… the step you don’t want to take“. As humans, our self-protective mechanisms turn us away from difficulties, pain or sorrow, yet it is by facing these intense experiences head on, that we build our own capacity for hea