"Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
(Viktor E. Frankl)
Mindfulness is giving us the power to choose what we pay attention to. Why is that a vital skill for social workers?
Stress & Burnout
A systematic review published in the Journal of Mental Health in 2002 (11, pp 255 -265) concluded that social work was a highly stressful occupation, with stress deriving in particular from role conflict between client advocacy and meeting the needs and performance targets of the agency/employer.
Due to societal, political and administrative changes, public services like Social Services and the NHS are continuously forced to change and adapt, which has a negative impact on the role of the social worker with the responsibilities he/she is expected to assume continuously increasing.
To contribute to finding an effective solution to this growing tension, I want to share with you some of my insights and experiences, as a mental health social worker who practises mindfulness.
Becoming more mindful started enabling me to listen more deeply to myself and to others. I now notice body sensations, feelings and emotions that I didn't pay much attention to before. In fact, I had lumped them all together into an undistinguishable and often overwhelming bundle of uncomfortable experiences that I tried to rationalise or ignore, as I didn't know what to do with them.
As I am learning to see and feel more of life inside and around me through practising mindfulness, my perception continues to widen and deepen.
I can now choose to allow body sensations and fears to arise and even welcome them into my life as messengers of valuable information. I can see more clearly how fear has a protective function. Once I allow myself to be open to the information that fear carries, I can appreciate the deeper insight that reveals itself to me.
By paying attention to my body sensations, feelings, emotions and thought processes without judgment, and accepting them as being part of me in the present moment, I feel compassion growing in me.
Being listened to without judgment helps me to connect more fully to who I truly am in the present moment and also to my own potential that emerges from feeling connected. The bonus of mindfulness is that the more I practise, the more refined my perceptions become.
By using this practice in my interaction with service users/patients I am helping them access their fears as well as their creativity and their potential as co-producers of services. Being seen and heard as a whole person without judgement has a very surprising and hugely empowering effect. The feedback I receive from service users/patients in turn makes my work joyful and energising.
The edge of my learning is shared mindfulness (beyond solo mindfulness), when I share my inner and outer perceptions, experiences and insights with others who are also curious when working with real life situations. For example rather than giving advice or reacting to my impulses, I listen deeply and ask questions that help people to tune into the inner experience, out of which something new can emerge. In a group with 25 participants that worked with the question: 'How does politics shows up in our personal behaviour?' I observed how the contributions by 3 of the participants shifted the pattern from habitual problem solving to innovative and joyfully working together.
They broke the flow of abstract statements with their unplanned and uncoordinated acts that were reflecting their spontaneous, shared mindfulness to the dynamics of the group.
Their small but heartfelt gestures helped the whole group to shift from thinking to sensing and discovering a more creative, innovative and empowering way to work with the question. It also helped the group to move into a direction towards a solution that everyone played a part in. It reminded me of a living process i.e like giving birth to a new baby, where the whole organism works in sync to make it happen and then joyfully receives the new life.
No one individual would have arrived at the insights that the group as a whole was able to embrace. It also wouldn't have happened without some probably more experienced members showing the way of shared mindfulness by embodying it; i.e listening deeply within themselves and the collective (at the same time) to discover what wanted to be born.
How could this understanding help us co-create a socialcare and healthcare that is more inclusive and empowering for both practitioners and citizens?
Being listened to, seen and heard without judgment helps me to connect more fully to who I truly am in the present moment and also to my own potential that reveals itself when I feel connected within and with others.
When I extend my individual mindfulness to cultivating "shared mindfulness" I expand my attention to what's really happening in the group on a feeling and sensing level, which includes but is much more than tuning into every single participant.
George Por expresses it like this in a blog titled "Mindful Together: Mindfulness When Shared, Amplifies"
" In my experience, when all of us in a conversation or collaborative action are practising expanded attention or other mind-fitness disciplines, then a potent inter-subjective field comes into being that is much more than the sum of the individual mind states. The resulting 'shared mindfulness' allows us to sense what is happening more accurately, think more clearly, act more coherently, and achieve greater results. "
Co-production according to NCAG (National Co-production Advisory Group) "is not just a word, not just a concept but a meeting of minds coming together to find shared solutions".
Imagine what may be possible if collective minds can see more and sense more unprejudiced by their conditioning and habitual ways of problem solving? Could their sharing mindful minds co-create new possibilities beyond what we know and what has become familiar?
Co-production calls for more room/space for mindfulness of both the service users and the practitioners. When my health and wellbeing is co-produced then I need to be more mindful of my body signals for example as I need to share them in ways that it can be useful and meaningful for others.
Co-production when combined with mindfulness offers more spaciousness in which transformative conversations can happen that shift what is possible through deeper engagement with our individual and collective perceptions in contrast, to just receiving advice, welfare benefit or a pill from a professional. Being a mindful co-producer also makes me more responsible for my behaviour which is a highly desirable effect if we want to shift from a consumer based culture to a collaborative one.
Co-production because it is relational also puts less stress on individuals because it helps developing a sense of shared responsibility. Mindfulness makes co-production more effective and empowers people.
What makes Mindfulness, Shared Mindfulness and Co-production irresistible for social workers and health professionals at this time?
It ticks all the boxes:
• saves money
• empowers citizens
• empowers practitioners
• reduces stress and burnout
• creates resources we need for a good life
• gives opportunity to practise new and better ways of interacting
• invites us to prototype a more conscious culture, by self-organising communities
If any of the above seems important to you and you want to taste the fruits of mindfulness, please join us in this workshop with Dr.Joel and Michelle Levey on "Mindfulness, Mind-fitness, Compassion and Co-production of Health" on 10th June in London. For more information visit the School of Commoning events page here. More detailed information of the extensive experience of the workshop leaders is here.