Throughout my life, this question has been asked of me (and I'm sure you, too) many times. It's our way of getting to know a person better. I guess it's more neutral ground to start on with a stranger than the question, "What neighborhood do you live in?" or "Where do your kids go to school?"
As an American Expat living in Berlin, "What do you do?" is usually the secondary question. The first is usually, "Where are you from?", and most likely it's because I can't work my way out of a paper bag with my German...but there's a story for another time. The question is pretty easy to answer when you do something that's relatively self-explanatory. No one asks for clarification when you say you're a florist or an accountant or a cab driver.
So here I am embarking on a new career and building a business that I believe in wholeheartedly. I will soon be an MBSR instructor and the founder of Common Humanity, a center for mindfulness in Berlin.
When I say that, I get a blank stare 95% of the time, and I totally get it. If someone had said that to me five years ago, the word mindfulness may have meant something to me, but not much. I may have thought "hippie" or "meditation" or "...this person is way out there". Again, I get it. We are all a bit leery or judgmental of concepts, people or situations that we don't understand. It's human.
So, if you'll indulge me for a few minutes, I'd like to explain in the best way that I can what I do...because maybe in writing this you will better understand, and I will be able to come up with a better elevator speech. I hope that both happen simultaneously and we both leave this blog post with a greater understanding of what in the world I'm doing in my professional life.
Here it goes.
I am an MBSR instructor and founder of Common Humanity, a mindfulness center in Berlin. MBSR, if you are unfamiliar with the acronym, stands for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). It's an 8 week course that a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn started teaching at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center over 35 years ago to help people to have a different relationship with stress through mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness (the act of paying attention in the present moment without judgment) and meditation really changed my life when I was suffering from postpartum depression after my daughter was born.
After learning about it and practicing as much as I could, I was convinced that I needed to make this my life's work. It was weird, because I've never felt driven to pursue much of anything. Yes, I was employed (and have been since I was a teenager) but I never pursued a job or a career...they just sort of fell into my lap.
The reason I felt compelled to share this practice was the realization that my life would have been much different and I would have inflicted a lot less suffering on myself and others had I known about mindfulness earlier. This is not to say that it is ever too late to have a different perspective on stress and your life, but having had such a profound shift in my thought patterns and overall mental well-being, I knew I wanted to show others that life can be much more enjoyable than many of us are making it. I came to the conclusion that many people are living life in at least a mild state of depression.
Are you with me so far?
However, the spirit and the vision that I have for Common Humanity in the future encompasses so much more than teaching MBSR courses (although for a while, that will be enough). I want to organically grow this mindfulness center and bring people together for activities with a mindful component to them such as regular meditation courses, Yoga, Qi Gong and the like.
Even more than that though is my desire to bring people together. I guess if I had my wish, my grave would have a plaque on it with the words, "She brought people together". It is obvious to me that so many of us are lacking meaningful connection in our lives. We need to build communities. We need to help each other. We need to learn from each other, because we have SO MUCH to learn from each other.
It's a journey for me too. I'm just starting. I don't know how all of this will work, and I surely don't have all of the answers. Is my life perfect and stress-free because I know about mindfulness and meditation? Absolutely not. Do I still find parenting difficult some days and yell at my daughter? Sure I do. I am human...but somehow my life is not the same as it used to be. I feel like I have discovered "Life 2.0", and I'd like to share what I know.
My goal is to get people to know themselves better while at the same time contributing to a community.
Interested in joining me? I'd really like to have you along for the ride. I promise it will be fun and worthwhile.
visit www.commonhumanityberlin.com for more information.