The Mindful Stories Cycle: methods and mindsets – 2. The Quartet

By Simon Bell

2. The Quartet

In my previous blog I described the primary cycle for your reading of the Mindful Stories – Meaning, Relevance, Value, Insight and Action or MRVIA. In this blog I want to talk about the wider cycle which this cycle of thinking occurs within.

MRVIA is intended to be a relevant approach for considering any Mindful Stories but the stories themselves are specifically intended to attend to the subliminal issues contained in four realities, The Quartet, which we all find ourselves in. The Quartet refers to:

Me and Myself

Me and My World

My Group and My World

My Group and Me

I have written stories which attend to issues in for each of the domains of The Quartet.

The stories are stories and can be used for any purpose which a story is appropriate for but, the specific intention behind them is to resonate with one of the four realities set out in The Quartet.

Here is a sense of the intended dynamic.

We are all multifaceted creatures with multiple roles. We are ourselves in and for ourselves. To deny this is to deny our being. We can nurture this being or we can deny and/ or abuse it but my preference is for nurture. Stories for Me and Myself are to do with this sense of nurture, of peace with ourselves.

In our individuality we experience our world, both the natural and the artificial. This world is our palette of colour and our canvas for expression. We work in this context but also this context works on us. The stories in the second part of The Quartet are intended to convey areas for pondering in our expression and engaging.

Out in the world of our experience we meet others who are similarly engaged. Who are contextualising their meanings in the world and doing the things that they have to do. We meet them in this context and we share as we contextualise our collective experiences together.

But the group is where we manage our expectations of others, where we ponder our true role to the collective and realise our value to the collective.

The intention of the wider cycle, The Quartet, is to provide fictions for the assessment and consideration of Meaning, Relevance, Value, Insight and Action. As we use the stories as safe spaces and mirrors for conjecture there is an opportunity to move from being relatively unaware of self, world and group to a deeper and more sustained sense of being truly self and GroupAware.

Over the next four weeks I will post four blogs: Look, Point, Seek and New Normal. They represent the four elements of The Quartet and can be seen as opening up multiple areas of mindful consideration of your being, engaging, contextualising and managing. Each can be considered in MRVIA terms and also as position fictions for each of the elements of The Quartet.

I welcome your comments on the reading and the thinking that may emerge.

The Mindful Stories Cycle: methods and mindsets – 1. MRVIA

By Simon Bell

1. MRVIA

If you have been reading the Mindful Stories on the Bayswater Institute web page you will already have a good idea about the primary process involved. The stories are presented, with a picture from the Artist Rachel Furze, and then you are encouraged to consider the story from five points of view, each one working on the previous and taking you into depth and then to action. The process is:

  • To consider the main meaning the story has for you. I assume that as you read or listen to a story you will detect many levels and forms of meaning but I ask you to consider just one as being primary or main. Seeking meaning you draw the contents of the fiction into your consciousness and in that process find some kind of a fit or resonance.
  • Following this you review the relevance of this core meaning seeking deeper connection
  • This leads to you assessing the personal value which this meaning conveys to you
  • And in turn, this may reveal personal insights from the review of the value.
  • Finally, you can think about what actions you might take as a consequence.
  • Meaning, Relevance, Value, Insight and Action or MRVIA.

This is a learning cycle of sorts with action feeding back into the review of meaning. MRVIA can be layered onto many of the main learning cycle processes available to you in the literature. The idea is that the five stages provide a journey into depth and out again:

Beginning with a sense of a personal connect to the story. This is the meaning behind the words. This will be highly subjective to each reader. Following this, and accompanying it in many cases is a willingness to go deeper, seeing how the story connects to your existing worldview. This is the inner relevance of this meaning to you. Again, sequentially or in some cases consecutively, you will get a sense of going deeper still, thinking about how this relevance resonates to your existing value system and how this system relates back to the relevance identified. The connection between Meaning, Relevance and Value is subtle and often braided but tends to a deeper and deeper connect to the main item in the story.

Following on, the intention is to arrive at some form of insight. How does the fiction idea you are pondering relate to your life, your reality and your needs? Does there emerge a sense of a key to action? Does a tumbler fall into place in your consciousness?

Finally, for the first cycle, what does this mean in terms of future actions? What is the necessary response which may take you to a new place and a new you? Any action should lead spontaneously for a search for the inner meaning of the action. This stimulates a further turning of the cycle.

The Meaning, Relevance, Value, Insight, Action cycle is the primary cycle in the Mindful Stories. But, this five-fold approach is set within a wider system of consciousness and I will talk more about that in a later blog.

In the meantime, take a look at the stories in the collection on the BI site and try the MRVIA cycle for yourself.

I would be interested to have your reflections on the outcome.

Success – A Mindful Story

By Simon Bell

Success is a huge factor in so much of our self-appreciation. Are we a success? How do we know when we are, and does it matter when we fail? The world can be harsh. What do we do with harshness and with our fragility in the face of attrition? Read on.

Success Illustration

James is a success. He is intelligent, married with three children and holds down an academic post at a good University. His wife works part-time now as the children are attending universities and there is time to focus on making additional money; “now that the kids are out and away”. Income is greater than expenditure and there is a pension pot building up nicely. James is good at his job. Not crazy good but good enough to be safe and, as I have already said, a success.

But, how do we judge or measure success in the academy?

Well it is a bit of a movable feast. Early on, back in the 1990’s when the sector was just learning about ideas like ‘impact’ and ‘performance’ measurement, success was judged by pretty random measures in line with teaching, research and administration. But that was before metrics took off and education became a business. James sometimes thinks back to those days with a degree of nostalgia. Of course, the system was open to abuse. Academics could and did have a very nice life. Lots of time for reading books, doing unpaid research and travelling to distance places on nebulous and unclear ‘visiting professor’ tickets. All of that changed over the 2000’s. At that time, he experienced the ratcheting up of the assessment of academics via the comparative measurement of the qualities of their work. Committees of compliant scholars began figuring out league tables of relative academic value. This took some doing but once the sector applied its vast talents to the exercise it proved remarkably creative at the task. The lengthy process of assessing comparative value meant that every academic output was weighed in scales.

In this brave new measured world getting journal papers published is ‘worth’ more than writing books. Getting published in some journals is worth more than getting published in others (measured by the ‘impact factor’). Under this system chapters in books are worth very little, conference papers are worth almost nothing and non-refereed articles (articles in journals where the submitted article is not subject to the review of peers) are worth less than nothing. This is Metrics Measurement Land and in this strange and multiply assessed country money too is graded. With quantum complexity some euro is worth more than other euro, some pounds worth more than other pounds, some dollars are worth more than other dollars. Research Grant pounds are good but research grant pounds from some Research Centres are ‘very good’. Money from charities is ‘so so’ but money from consultancy agencies is really not worth having even if you have a lot of it. In this singular world some apparently good things are, counter-intuitively, to be avoided.

Survival is key. James has a story which he walks through with himself and others when they listen. He tells himself that he is in a jungle and he is learning to identify the ‘big beasts’ that can hurt him. He is learning to distinguish between a harmless grass snake and a poisonous viper. What are the jungle survival techniques? Well, acceptance and avoidance are essential. For example, administrative duties are to be avoided at all costs as these take time that could be allocated to research grant writing or producing ‘good’ journal articles. Admin tends to be given to a newly evolving ‘support-class’ of academics. And, teaching is important but an encumbrance in the same way. Reading and thinking is strictly to be done in one’s own time and should not interfere with the day job. To live in the jungle, one needs focus and constant vigilance.

Things have changed a lot since the 1990’s.

James has seen the system change and has learned to survive. He is not really aware of it but he lives with a degree of background fear most of the time. His university jungle is a managerialist nightmare of constant mini-evaluation, rule by algorithm and overt bullying heavily disguised as assessment. He would love to be at a kinder place but there would still be the background pressure to achieve.

He does not think of his life as being governed by fear. Rather, if he were to reflect upon it, he might think of it as being habituated to pressure and measurement. Part of his success is that he is reasonably good at giving the ‘system’ what it wants. He makes ‘OK’ money and he publishes in ‘OK’ journals. He is ‘OK’ in the eyes of his line-manager (a term unknown in academia when he started in the 1970’s) but he knows that he could do better. His success is tinged with a constant awareness that he is not ever really ‘safe’. The jungle is in constant flux and is full of new traps and new predators that emerge to threaten him. His colleagues, the group he runs with, are also his competition. To be successful, everyone is encouraged to bray about success. If success is not current it is best to hide in the long grass. He is beset with worries, real and (much worse) imagined. His research may fail, his papers may not publish, his university management may change and become still more hostile. He lives with a constant and gnawing background of anxiety. He has learned to hide his failure, not to trust his colleagues, to be ever vigilant and to watch for every opportunity to reinforce his position. He does it rather well. After all, James is a success.

When you have finished the story think:

  • How is the story meaningful to you? What meaning do you find here?
  • How is this meaning relevant to your life?
  • What value does this relevance have in terms of how you may change?
  • What Insight follows from the sense of value to change?
  • How will you change?
  • How will you know if you change has worked?

Artwork © Rachel Furze

New – The Mindful Stories Workshop

In solitude or with others, some things are too difficult to be dealt with directly. Sometimes we need to find a way to address underlying issues by circuitous means. My starting point is two-fold. It can be summed up by the two following sentences:
We are needful of harmony with each other.
We are needful of peace with ourselves.

    • By ‘needful of harmony with each other’ I refer to the quality of the relationship we have with the others who come into and move out of our lives.
    • By “needful of peace with ourselves” I refer to the quality of our self-knowing.
    • By use of the Mindful Stories you and your team can address issues which are often beyond easy solution.

Mindful meeting with Self – A Mindful Story

By Simon Bell

Encounter

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!
– Robert Burns 

Encounter Illustration

It was on a windy day in late October that I met myself for the first and last time. 

I was head-down against a leaf-spinning wind, trudging down a city street by a market place and happened to glance briefly into the welcoming cinnamon-scented depths of a coffee house. This is when I saw myself sitting on one of the window stools.

My foot paused mid-step, hovered and descended in haste to meet the rising pavement and, in a movement of surprising grace, twisted around to the right, taking the rest of me with it, my body the prisoner of my foot and my foot my eyes. They were fixed upon the coffee house window, caught initially by curiosity but subsequently captivated.

I stood motionless in the street, the noisy market drama around me a total camouflage, gazing at the profile visible through the glass. 

We are always gathered around the centre of the flux of our being. We are so used to assuming our being in the world and yet not ever self-encountering. Of all the people who we are aware of we are our greatest surprise. We never meet ourselves and yet our friends, family and occasional acquaintances come across us every day. We never see the world with us in it. We may occasionally be provided with a story of our doings or overhear someone else talking about our clever moments or silly indulgences, but we never encounter ourselves. We leave it to everyone else to find us and make their minds up about us. We live in our shadow, voyeurs of our doings. We are the absence in the world which we inhabit but on the day I am describing all of that briefly but conclusively shifted. 

Stationary outcrop of stillness in the swirling market chaos of pots and pans, dog food and flowers, dirty hair and onions, I stood a spectator on such a well-known, but little understood me. My first feeling, after the shock was: “I am so small!”. 

And there I sat, reflection distorted by shop glass, casting back off my shadowy outline the images of other passer’s by, not at all interested in the consumers of coffee, there I sat. So many instant changes came in my perception whilst I battled with shock, ego-vertigo, disorientation and curiosity. Aware of myself, the object of my gaze and the confusion of my mind. Impressions. My hair loss is so obvious. My stomach sag so unflattering. How long have my shoulders scooped forward? And, why has no-one told me about the comic-cut of my beard by rear-profile? 

In a yo-yo of concentration, I took me in and was baffled by the experience. 

In an ordinary lifetime we are who we are and yet we are never party to the experience of ourselves. We transmit, we do not receive. But this was my confused state as the recipient of a warm and breathing presentment of myself. This was like no mirror made, like no photograph or video recording. By these means we are mediated to a flat image of predictable record. Here I was with the unmediated me as I intended it. 

Buffeted by the wind,
in cold October clarity.
I looked at the me of I;
and had no notion of what or why. 

My horror would have been to see me look up and consider me, I realized immediately that this would have been too much, too vivid, too raw. Had I seen me, rigid, frozen in loss, this could not have been contained in the multiverse of consciousness. Something somewhere would have broken and split. The occasion never arose. 

Me in the café seemed happy to ponder the cup in hand and review the passing of the life within the impervious glass walls. 

How long did I stand there? I was there for as long as it took me to watch me finish the Americano and leave. That’s all, that’s how long it was. How long? A life-spiral of time. However long it takes a man to rise, smile, say farewell to a barista, open a door and walk away. How long can that be? 30 seconds or a continent of grains of sand draining through an hour glass, the aperture a needles width. Fixed in the hubbub of the street and deaf to every bit of it, time was as meaningless to me as the ocean is to a fish. 

And what did I see? 

This is the nub of this story. I saw a man walk out of a coffee shop. But when that man is you what is the quality of the watching and what are the implications for he who sees’? If we are always gathered around some kind of a centre of ourselves in life, what happens at death? When the self and the idea of self come apart. During life, the sane understanding is that we are one in and of ourselves. We are not two or any kind of plurality. We exist as a single and undivided entity of unity. A noun. Or that is what I thought. That, I began to see, was the unconscious conceit I accepted in my complacency. How is it to find yourself the audience to yourself? The spectator on you? The world extends to unknown frontiers in all directions, a desert of fullness and, if you look closely, you may find that you are within it. Look long and hard enough and you may just find yourself in there looking back. The dynamic verb rather than the static noun. 

This must have been a one off, an anomaly. A moment of insanity which the world of sanity will eventually gently but firmly heal. Even so, the impression is made, the door to other experience has been opened just for a moment and there are consequences. There have to be consequences. We will each have our own sensibilities and have our own experiences, but these are mine.

Seeing me in my world, observing myself has rendered me unable to resist the nudge to look and look for the face staring back. I am just another person and pretty unremarkable. I am the process of me and, seen from me, I am just one more identity, unremarkable as the rest but remarkably, like the rest, able to process all that is not me.

I am invisible to most people. Certainly, I move (but not quite as I thought I moved), I interact with others and I respond to them but, generally, the world goes on alongside me without any reference to me. 

I am not the centre of anyone’s world.
I have no centre to my own. 

Like a child allowed on the bus for the first time by themselves, I find me vulnerable and fragile. 

As I watched me disappear into the crowd of shoppers, I had no desire or capacity to follow. This was not possible. I watched my head gradually pass from view among all the other heads. I was left in place until I was lost to view. Lost to sight and lost in the leaf strewn, windy wildness of the October day.  

Artwork © Rachel Furze

How can we be heard above the noise? A Mindful Story

How can we be heard above the noise?

By Simon Bell

At a time when the background noise of advocates shouting or braying seems to fill all space, it is hard to feel that we are heard. Here is a Mindful Story which may provide a clue or two about being heard. 

Heard Illustration

As with previous blogs, find time in your day to read and think. You will need about 20 minutes. 

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes. 

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story and look at the picture, let them into your mind. When you feel ready, look at the questions which follow: 

Heard

He was really dreading the meeting. It was a humiliation and a reprimand in camouflage. They had assembled three ‘Senior colleagues’ to ‘help him’ in his challenging task. Read this as meaning, three Seniors had been called away from their very-important-business in order to sort out the mess which he had been thought to be capable of sorting out himself. This was not good for his career prospects, morale or self-confidence. He felt totally deflated. 

Entering the anonymous meeting room, he found one Senior was already in place. With the presentation of calm confidence he did not feel he said ‘Morning!’ in a bright and cheerful, bushy-tail, Labrador-friendly manner. The Senior barely looked up from his pad. Not a good start.

Over the coming five minutes the two remaining VIPs arrived and took places confronting the position he had taken. It felt like an interview and not one for a promotion. The great ones talked among themselves and barely registered his presence. His heart sank further. Finally, the Head of Unit turned up, to ‘Chair’ the meeting. The Chair and potentially the judge and jury.

He was asked to set out the current situation. This felt helpful. He knew the context inside out and was happy to be able to put his side of the situation to them all. He did not want to whine but he felt that he had been put in a terrible situation. Essentially, he was a junior in charge of a herd of highly egotistical cats! No one could be told what to do. Everyone had to be cajoled and stroked into action. It had been the worst six months of his life. He had done his best, but it had not been a fair fight. If he had not been fully understood prior to the meeting he now had the chance to describe his side of things. He spoke into what felt like an unforgiving silence for five minutes or so. As the minutes went by the silence grew into what felt like hostile impatience. He faltered, intimidated by the vacuum of response, the lack of signals of register from his audience, he repeated himself and he gradually wound down. What had begun as a confident outline of a complex situation ended as a rambling waffle. Or that is how it felt.

Silence.

Then one of the Seniors’ looked up, smiled and, following a reflective cough, suggested that he would like to start by saying back to him essentially what he had just said, but from the point of view of the Senior’s understanding. Surprised he nodded, and the Senior began. In his repetition there was no judgement, no leaps to personal assessment; rather a seasoned and diligent reiteration with understanding of the story as told. The waffle and whinge were missing, but the main themes of the story remained.

In the same way that there was no judgement in the review, similarly there was no suggestion of redemption or kindness, no inflection of solution just the balanced and thoughtful understanding of what he had said.

In feeling heard in this way his emotions were suddenly and strangely close to elation and this astounded him. He had no idea why he felt so good, but he had not been judged. He was not saved but nor was he damned. He had been heard and this felt like a new experience to him. To be truly heard. His hell had been taken into another human being’s consciousness, listened to, processed and was now presented back to him, in a question, as an accurate account of the situation.

From this point of view, he knew that what would follow might be tough, might be difficult and might require a lot from him but it would be based on his real situation and his real feelings.

This was enough. More than enough, it was a new beginning.

Let the story sink in. When you are ready, here are the questions for you to consider:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story? 

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one. 

When you feel clear on this, hold it in your mind and read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you? 

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?

 Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier? 

Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you? 

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence? 

Don’t expect instant results from considering a mindful story. The whole point is that the story can act as a gateway to another level. Give yourself time to let the ideas which come from the story settle down. Each time you reconsider you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in new ideas.

Artwork © Rachel Furze

A wall means you are stuck. Can we get around this?

By Simon Bell

I have been writing about the use of mindful stories as a means to help us, in groups or alone, to get over some of our mental issues and concerns. Here is a new one which also makes use of a picture. The following story is one I wrote some years ago but one which resonates with elements of the idea of being ‘stuck’. The story also makes use of a drawing in pastel by the Artist Rachel Furze.

As with previous blogs, find time in your day to read and think. You will need about 20 minutes.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story and look at the picture and let them seep into your mind, and then, when you feel ready, look at the questions which follow:

Everglades

Picture in your mind the Everglades, or any kind of a swamp.

Swamp Illustration

Interesting word, ‘swamp’.

It is a word full of evocative images. It’s used a lot by authors and screen writers, no doubt because of its powerful imagery and mystique. For me it conjures up a range of images and perceptions drawn from childhood.

To me, a swamp is a place where water is the powerful, dominant medium. Here tracks are hard to find, pathways are constantly changing. This sense of trackless space, with the difficulties of both wood and water to navigate provides me with the basis for the swamp principle.

What is in the water? What lurks in its brooding darkness, and unfathomable depths? Unfathomable? Surely the water is not that deep? The problem is the depth cannot be assessed, it’s an unknown. And how far does the water extend? There is a primal feel about swamps and limitless, still water. Was there a time when we knew swamps intimately? Is there some kind of human race-memory of the primeval swamp? The watery place where all kinds of dramas were experienced by our ancestors long ago?

A swamp is quiet. Still water and quiet landscapes where the vertical dimension is dominated by trees. In this swamp-form there are cathedral-like corridors of vast trees. Trees masquerading as pillars in some vast, green fairy hall where the dappled blue-sky shimmers through a ceiling of leaves, supported by an invisible wall of limitless trees.

It strikes me that a swamp is an easy place to be lost.

Despite their powerful aura of mystery, swamps obey the seasons just like everywhere else. The trees give up their leaves each autumn, and the smell of warm, humid decay arising from the floating, rotting detritus is another ruling sense arising from the first impressions of swamp. The legacy of the swamp lies rotting in the water at its roots. Feeding the new growth. Its decay is the life force for the new system.

The floor of a swamp is not the reassuring solidity of stone or even the yielding, sprung cushion of leaf-strewn grass. The floor laps darkly to the bowls of the trees, thickly, oozily, oily dark and impenetrable water. In places the deceit of firm land is complete. For watery acres the surface appears solid, covered in green algae, masking the insubstantiality which lies beneath. But the deceit is easily broken as some bulk of unknown size and intention moves in the medium beneath and the floral covering is swished aside to reveal the reflective black of the true flooring.

OK, here are the questions for you to consider:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one.

When you feel clear on this, hold it in your mind and read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?

Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier?

Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

Give yourself a little time to let the ideas which come from the story and your review settle down. This is key, giving yourself time to let things happen on the inside. You may like to look at the questions later today, just to remind yourself and to reconsider some of your early-thought-responses. Each time you reconsider you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in new ideas. Enjoy your day. 

Walls of the body and Walls of the mind: a good idea?

By Simon Bell

I have been suggesting the use of short stories as a means to engage individuals and groups in a considered appreciation of their context, issues and concerns. Take a look at earlier blogs on the news section of the site. Here is another one for you to try. This one focuses on the issue of walls. These seem to me to be of particular concern to us right now.

You will need about 20 minutes in order to engage in the process.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story and let it seep into your mind, and then, look at the questions which follow:

Insulation

“At least it’s nice and warm”. And it was true. It was nice and warm. The insulation had done the trick. Marvelous stuff. It had really been a terrific purchase. The advertisement had promised a lot, but they were really not disappointed: ‘Stop all those terrible drafts’, ‘Keep out the odious odors’, and ‘Why put up with it?’, ‘Just shut them out and shut them up!”. These had been four of the most powerful headlines which had finally encouraged them to part with their hard-earned cash and get properly insulated with ‘Insular Abyss’. To be insulated was just so cool (no pun intended). The world was such a cold place nowadays. Since the ‘Event’, temperatures had been tumbling year after year and, well, a person had to take care. This was just a great way to do that. It felt terrific to be able to say: “I am insulated”. Of course, they did not get out much nowadays and had to rely on social media as the primary, well only, means to let the neighbors know. Come to think of it, the neighbors were not really the kind of people who they wanted to be in touch with right now. Actually, it was a good thing that the insulation was what the saleswoman’s avatar had called ‘Deep-cavity-abyss-filling’. That meant that the insulation was not just a way to keep out the cold. It was also guaranteed to keep out all of the other stuff too! It insulated “cross-spectrum” and: “deep social”. Great. No more need to listen to those whining voices and opposing views. And the awful smell! Was that because of the Event as some said or was it, well, you know. Personal? Anyway, safely insulated there was every chance that they would never, ever have to listen to, see or smell that kind of thing again. Or look at things which they did not want, or like. Or even maybe not like or maybe not want. Better to be safe than sorry. And, at least it’s nice and warm!”

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one.

When you feel clear on this, read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?

Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier?

Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

Give yourself a little time to let the ideas emergent from the story and your review settle down. I wonder how it will affect your day? You may like to swing through these five questions two or three times. Each time you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in deepening senses of relevance, value, insight and action.

Flourishing with Groups – A Mindful Story for Group Self-Enquiry

By Simon Bell

The Mindful Stories were originally written intended for use in group contexts. They are a device for prompting a group which is managing some change process or event to begin to think about this issue by externalising the key feature(s) to a fiction or story which can in turn prompt new lines of thinking.

Try this group act of Mindful self-enquiry.

Assuming that you have some authority over the process, gather your group – you will all need at least an hour to run through this exercise.

When the group is settled and prepared to listen (a little time spent in mindful silence is very helpful) read the following story to the group. Read clearly but in an engaged and engaging manner. Try not to sound preachy.

Pole

A vast blue-sky is nailed like a dirty cloth over the burnt landscape of rolling dunes, rocky outcrops and withered vegetation. The sun, not a sphere but a painful centre of brighter and brighter sharpness hangs vertically overhead, slit in the cloth, blazing down painfully on the captive panorama which has forgotten the feel and touch of rain. The burning heat flat-irons everything below and the tiny dots of occasional, lonely, circling birds, high overhead show no inclination to explore the lifeless enormity. Best to circle and circle and move on to some place where life may at least have potential.

In the centre of our view there is a discordancy to the endless backdrop of heat, haze and limitless aridity, of people-less, life-less, point-less land; a pole.

You have seen them in a thousand locations. They are the familiar of roadside and street corner. Ranging in ranks over hillsides, cascading in profusion over suburbs, stalking up steep ravines and lost in ubiquity on the cities main drag. They carry the cables and dishes which bring the power and news, Netflix and HBO, telephone and Skype to the lives of billions. They profuse from their birth home in the industrial north, all the way to the hopeful south, the rising east and the meditative west. They are everywhere.

So, why not here?

In all the places of the fractured world, this is one not instantly consistent to the idea of pole. The place is too empty of life, too distant from interest, too desolate of content. Pole means many things totally inconsistent to the context here revealed. Pole means activity and action, people in vehicles and yellow jackets, instruments of mechanical agency, rhythmic noises of artifice and a purpose to fulfil a project, a process a task.

Purpose, project and task are anathema to this place.

And yet the pole remains, a contradiction to context and a jarring contrast to the natural, burning chaos all around. Perpendicular with precision, it seems to look out with authority over the surrounding land. Somehow the pole is the centre of it all, this latest addition, new and tarry, dwarfed and absurd; it seems to dominate the meaning of all else that provides the backdrop for its enduring verticality. An un-deviating seven metre line in a line-less place, stretching to eternity.

When the story has been read, allow a minute or so for the ideas to settle and merge with the busy thoughts of the members of the group. When you feel ready, ask the group for responses to these questions:

In general terms, what do the members of the group consider to be the main meaning of the story?

The group will provide a number of insights here but find a way to choose just one for now.

How is this meaning relevant to the current situation facing the group?

What does the meaning say about the current situation facing the group. When you have some clarity about this consider the next question.

What value can the group gain from this relevance and these thoughts?

Value here may mean, ideas about the group’s situation, a prompt to do something or an idea about what might be important to avoid.

What insights emerge in terms of the value and the group’s tasks?

At this point the group can flesh out the value thought as an insight to action. This usually means that the group decides upon some priority to tackle next.

Finally;

What action does the group wish to explore as a consequence?

Deciding upon an emergent action is often the trickiest part of the process. What can, should and could be done in the light of the insight?

It is almost always good to finish the consideration of the story with a period of silence and mindful ‘letting go’ of the outcome. It is surprising to me how often and silence and ‘sign off’ at the end of a thinking process can provide a potent catalyst to what ever follows.

If your group repeats the exercise it can be helpful to see if the initial meanings and interpretations for action change and deepen. Keep an action plan if action is now suggested. Certainly, note down the responses to the questions from the group. Return to these answers periodically and see how the response changes. Responses and actions can be monitored and assessed over time.

Keep your Spirit Level – A Mindful Story

By Simon Bell

At the Bayswater Institute we make use of short stories as a means to engage individuals and groups in a considered appreciation of their context, issues and concerns. We find that stories provide a powerful means for self-examination. The fictions engage a kind of back-door to the things that concern us. They can provide a powerful means to start a conversation with yourself about the things that may be upsetting you or just causing you angst.

Here is an example for you to try.

You will need about 20 minutes in order to engage in the Mindful Stories process.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel ready, let your mind wander over the issues of your day, the thoughts of the moment and your main concerns. Try not to hang onto any of these elements, just try to let your mind wander, like a bird flying over a great landscape of trees and mountains. All of it is important but it is all below you. Stretching out. No single element is necessarily more important than any other part.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story below, The Walk. Read it carefully and try not to judge the content too quickly. Let the story seep into your mind.  and then, look at the questions which follow:

The Walk

“You regularly walk. You like to walk and there is always a good reason to indulge yourself. A walk can be for a variety of reasons. You walk maybe to work or to see friends.

Today the route is well known to you, held in muscle-memory and repeatable almost with your eyes closed. Parts of the walk are really pleasant. Vistas of park, trees, well-thought out housing developments with good combinations of different kinds of dwelling. The people you see seem to belong and to know that this is ‘their’ place. You do not feel like a stranger. You are sharing their neighbourhood, but it might as well be your own. A walk among familiar homes.

But, parts of this particular walk are more mysterious. At times your leisurely pace quickens. In some parts you walk a little quicker. In these districts you have not looked around, tending to keep your eyes in front. You have not looked down all the side streets, but you have glimpsed dark and curious buildings and there are shops which seem to have no obvious purpose. There is one shop in particular.

It is on the corner of a particularly shady side street. Is it even a shop? Well, when it first caught your attention you noticed it because it stood out in strangeness, darkly against the shadow. it has a shop window and a shady, glass door but there is no writing above the window and the interior is so dark it is hard to make out anything in the dim light.

You don’t know why but one day you are a little ahead of your schedule and your curiosity is peeked. Deliberately turning down the side street you stand in front of the glass frontage. Now you are here you notice that there seems to be a blue flickering light deep inside the interior and, as you shade your eye to look more intensely, you can see weakly lit the outlines of mysterious shapes. Statues of curious design, mirrors reflecting back the blue light onto paintings or hangings, tables littered with un-guessable objects and stands providing space for shadowy curios. You would like to go in but you are not even sure it is a shop let alone if it is open. You hurriedly retrace your steps back to your habitual path.

Each time you pass you ask yourself if you will be brave enough on this occasion to stop and enter, each time you don’t.

Then, one particularly dark and dreary day, when the rain is saturating, as you pass, you see that that the shop door stands open. Without thinking you turn from your usual route and enter.” 

Now, take a moment to breath and reflect and, with the story still fresh in your mind, read and consider your responses to each of the following questions:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold? There may be many meanings which occur to you but, for now just think of one.
When you are ready. Read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?

How does it impact on your life and your challenges right now. Why is it important? Again, give yourself time to think of your response and, when you are ready try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story.

What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier? Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are ready try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

When you have considered what you might do next, spend a couple of minutes just breathing and thinking about nothing at all.

See what changes this day as a result of thinking about the story.