Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Essex Mind & Spirit Networking Lunch


That's the Spirit!

This lively title captured the mood of the twenty-five participants who met for a networking lunch at the Basildon Centre on 24th May and a presentation by Peter Goble and Reverend Fr Jo Delfgou on spiritual resilience and recovery in mental health, part of Essex Mind and Spirit's on-going programme of public engagement across the County. The event and the two presenters were introduced by Sidra Naeem, Hon. Secretary, who outlined the organisation's mission and structure, and invited participants to free membership, so as to be 'linked-in' to future developments and events.

Father Jo spoke movingly to participants from his experience as a mental health chaplain of spiritual journeying with people with serious mental health problems in secure environments. He made an impassioned plea to mental health staff to look beyond the stereotypes of religious delusion to the authentic spiritual struggles that patients undergo, to listen to their true voices, and – where possible - to advocate with colleagues about the spiritual dimension of recovery. Our religious language can betray our erroneous assumptions, he said, and convey the message that to others we don't want to meet them where they are, so we need to be sensitive, and listen with skill, patience and compassion to help tease out meaning in what is said. This instils the hope and confidence people need on the journey back to wholeness, and honours their autonomy. But spiritual care in mental health is full of complexity, and we need to carry on a continuing dialogue with each other – even those who may be hostile to our views - if we are to make sense of it.

Peter's approach was experiential, inviting participants to explore their own unique resilience to challenge, through a series of reflective and meditative exercises, drawn from his own spiritual tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and his experience as a mental health nurse-practitioner and teacher. Participants were surprised and intrigued to be invited to “Stand Like A Tree” for up to ten minutes, in an exercise for which Peter claimed personal resilience-building benefit, by expanding and deepening awareness of bodily alignment with the earth, and the capacity for 'resting in attention'. Peter's guidance on unclenching the teeth, dropping the jaw, and dropping the belly caused some amusement, but by “standing like a tree” participants began to recognise how stress builds up unconsciously in the body, how bodily tension distorts alignment, perception, thinking and emotion, and how this reduces our capacity to respond skilfully to challenge.

Over a buffet lunch, participants were able to network, to meet new colleagues, exchange views and share experience. Many said that the event was worthwhile for this reason alone, apart from any other content. Most participants had been tasked to develop spiritual resources or to investigate spiritual approaches to care in their varied work, and all said that the event had furthered those objectives in one way or another. Peter, as chair of the South West Essex cluster group, invited participants to join him in growing the local cluster, through occasional meetings at the Basildon Centre or some other easily-accessed venue, to develop an agenda for local engagement in line with Essex Mind and Spirit's mission. Peter can be reached on 07951 869265, 01268 775521 or by email at, and will be delighted to hear from anyone interested in joining the cluster group.

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