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Sharing the Gift of Meditation with People on the Margins

Terry Doyle writes of his recent experience

Earlier this year, before lockdown, I facilitated a 2-day Wellbeing Retreat for 25 Asylum Seekers from the Methodist Asylum Project (MAP) in Middlesbrough and Redcar, at the beautiful Benedictine Monastery at Ampleforth in North Yorkshire, UK.

The days away proved to be a profoundly healing and beneficial time for all involved, and very humbling for me to be able to introduce the gifts of our meditation practice to such lovely but deeply wounded people. The time was not without its challenges however as many of the group were very hesitant at first to go into silence and apprehensive to begin to negotiate what traumatic memories might be lurking in their minds. Also, the mix between Christian and Muslim in the group made the use of the mantra Maranatha slightly problematic- an issue we overcame when some used Maranatha and others preferred the phrase, ” I am safe, relax, all is well “. 

We started proceedings with a small tour of the Abbey and Visitor Centre to help settle us in and a hearty lunch. Lunch provided much needed nourishment as most of the group wouldn’t have had much of a breakfast at home, if anything at all. Some of the group were struggling to feel relaxed enough in themselves to commence the inner work. Some even asked in our introductions if they could leave their eyes open when meditating. So, after lunch we had fun playing table tennis and pool before doing some Tai Chi to help relax and soften the body mostly locked in tensions and tightness through years of struggle and hardships.

We had more group sharing in a circle which helped to bond us as a group.  We did a session of “energy psychology” or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which further served to build the necessary trust and confidence to begin the process of dropping our defences just a little bit, so we could, tentatively enter the healing waters to be found in the silence and stillness of meditation.

What happened in the first meditation period was so deeply beautiful it brought tears to my eyes.

One of the young men from Iran who had been particularly anxious before the trip because he had an important meeting coming up with a government official that was greatly troubling him. He was very fearful to the point that his body was shaking, but, he listened to my words and stayed with the process until he felt able to let go and started to relax for the first time in years:

“I cannot believe the meditation session; you have no idea what it is like inside my mind. I get no quiet, ever, and nothing stops it. My mind is so bad; I am dying in there. Then we meditated and it was, ohhh, I can feel the peace coming into my body. I had no idea this could ever happen for me. I had such problem because I cannot relax. In the meditation session, I could feel energy around me. All of a sudden my hand jumped similar to a shock and my body was coming from tight, tight, tight, to loose”.

The atmosphere in the room was just so peaceful and holy; a Sacred Space wherein the Spirit could begin the process of healing and harmony so needed by the bodies, hearts and minds of the group. 

Next came more food, games, music and laughter in between our other healing sessions and an excellent session on the Benedictine 12 Steps of Humility from Fr Christopher who commented that he had never experienced such honest and direct questions!

Then the bus arrived to take us home to a much starker reality – to Middlesbrough – but now, people were empowered with the gentle healing art of meditation, leading to all the nurturing that ensues for those that embrace the discipline of the regular practice.  Indeed, the process continued as a weekly group was started on our return home.

But now, as I write during lockdown, the meditation group has temporarily stopped and I am busy getting this work online so that the momentum keeps building and people feel supported until we can resume the face to face healing work.

It is a privilege to be part of this sacred work of taking meditation to where it is most needed, amongst people living on the very margins of society.  We are now being funded to develop a working partnership between Meditatio and MAP which I’m confident will bear much fruit as we move forward.

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