Mindfulness Convention at the Cradle of Humankind
I have just returned from a unique four day conference in the Cradle of Humankind. It was convened by IMISA (Institute of Mindfulness in South Africa) and created an opportunity for all practitioners interested in contemporary mindfulness practices to share and update their skills and ideas.
World Heritage Site
The Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 by UNESCO due to the wealth of hominoid fossils discovered there. Knowing we were in the geographical space occupied by our earliest ancestors offered an additional dimension to the proceedings in which participants were reviewing their knowledge of the theory and practice of mindfulness. The awareness of the benefits of a mindful lifestyle is now proliferating throughout the western world, whilst at the same time being incorporated into many fields of human endeavour.
The state of the art conference centre at Maropeng at the heart of the Cradle of Humankind, is an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and is the world’s richest fossil site where the bones of man’s earliest ancestors have recently been discovered. The conference participants learned that the fossils of Naledi; those of mans’ oldest known ancestors, were found in this area.
During this conference I was made aware, on more than one occasion, of a most profound and impressive attitude which is central to many traditional cultures. The original inhabitants of both the American and the African continent share a common mind-set. When the community needs to introduce a ruling into their social structure, they share the tradition of considering whether or not this new dispensation will sustain the present lifestyle of their community for the following seven generations into the future. How different is today’s attitude of contemporary politicians who are only concerned about whether or not they will win the next elections. We were made painfully aware of the damage that humankind is perpetrating on the planet because of the selfish materialistic lifestyle of the developed nations.
An opening prayer was beautifully rendered by Madada Kandemwa, a Zimbabwean, who is considered a custodian of African Culture and Wisdom. He is inspired by the manifestations of his spiritual forebears. It included the following words, “Teach us Grandfathers and Grandmothers how to be like your Creator. Mother, Father, thank you so much for bringing us together at this moment. We have a question Grandparents. What do you want us to do? What exactly do you want us to do? So that we can bring harmony to the world of Mother Nature. We know there is no harmony in the world of Mother Nature any more. Answer our prayer this morning. Teach us how to walk the sacred path of love, truth, peace and freedom.” Wise and heartfelt words, indeed.
If you wish to further experience the calibre of this man, you can watch a YouTube video of him philosophising, here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kofiKDu_Gc
What is Mindfulness
In the second decade of the 21st century, the benefits of mindfulness have become well known among progressive thinkers in the field of education and health and even business and politics. Whilst there is no universally accepted definition of mindfulness there are certain basic principles for which there is some consensus. A range of meditation techniques are used as vehicles to allow the trainee to become aware of his senses, feelings and emotions. An awareness of what is happening in the present moment is enhanced by an ongoing meditation practice.
Application of Mindfulness
These practices which have for many centuries been taught in Buddhist monasteries have during the past 20 years become accessible to scientific study in the Western World. Neurologists examine how the brain and the nervous system interact with the body, when they use specialized brain-mapping equipment, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. These instruments measure changes in brain waves both before and after some weeks of mindfulness practice. Many studies have successfully demonstrated how an eight week course of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a sequence of practices master-minded by John Kabat-Zin, helps the participants control both anxiety and reactive impulses, leading to a greater sense of equanimity.
Summing up the benefits of the practice of mindfulness, we are reminded that participants learn how to ‘respond’ rather than ‘react.’ The primitive emotional part of the brain known as the ‘amygdala,’ develops increased connectivity with the learning areas of the brain known as the ‘cortex.’ The result of this neuronal growth means crude emotional reactions can be modified by the learning which takes place during meditation, resulting in a meditator’s ability to develop a greater control of their emotions.
Many international presenters at the conference shared with us how mindfulness is being used in communities all over the world, in settings as diverse as business, government and education. In South Africa there are practitioners teaching mindfulness techniques to sex workers in Soweto, as well as to child carers in the rural communities of East London. Encouraging improvements in the stress levels of participants have been notes by measuring the degree of anxiety present, or the degree of compassion practiced, after the training.
The Final Session
The final session of the conference entitled The Ground Beneath our Feet, brought together the aims of this conference by highlighting three integrating sources for the development of the wisdom and compassion of mindfulness. The Buddhist roots of this training, as well as the sensitivities of the African Traditional Cultures were merged with the scientific trainings of contemporary experimental psychology. At this final presentation a Xhosa lady spontaneously broke into a traditional song which she rendered in a full and deep voice imbued with a resonating spirituality. In his closing prayer our African Seer was brought to tears whilst making us all aware of the irreversible damage that we are creating on Mother Earth. Three rings of the cymbals substituted for any closing comments.
Indeed, this conference proved to be a treat and a special experience for participants travelling from far and wide who shared their expertise of mindfulness on the African soil.
(More about the Cradle of Mankind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRNOmx25RSM)