How to get started with mindfulness in your intercultural training
Jun 25, 2018 · by Elaine Teo
Try out mindfulness for yourself
The biggest tip we can give you is to start practising mindfulness yourself. Mindfulness is a tool that cannot be captured by explaining; its essence can only be grasped once you try it out for yourself and observe its benefits first-hand.
Mindful exercises improve on theory-driven training
Mindfulness prepares participants for intercultural training through
- awareness of inner states
- attitudes to cultures or to the training
- motivation to step outside current cultural frameworks
- mindful relaxation for greater receptiveness
This is easy to understand why when we reconsider the fact that intercultural trainings that focus overly on concepts and ideas are doomed to fail, because these do not address the often visceral component of intercultural conflict.
Teaching our clients through engaging, hands-on activities like simulations and role-plays is a big improvement on theory-driven trainings for this reason, that our clients are able to “try out” different behaviours which allow them to become aware of cultural differences at a physical and emotional level and not merely an abstract intellectual level.
However, these activities are doomed to be partially effective at best unless we prepare the ground for them by raising their awareness of their own inner states in the first place. For example, some clients may hold strong opinions about something or have a stubborn or dismissive attitude towards the training. At the extreme, they may be stuck in the “denial” phase of for example.
An experience in which culture difference is not perceived at all, or it is perceived only in very broad categories such as ‘foreigner’ or ‘minority’…People are disinterested or perhaps even hostilely dismissive of intercultural communication.
Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity
Clients like these are extremely attached to their own thoughts and emotions. They lack awareness of other points of view, but worse than that, they lack the motivation to step outside their frameworks. To them, their reality is the only reality that matters.
With clients like these, simply addressing their resistance with an intellectual argument is ineffective. There will be no traction. Their resistance is at a much deeper level. At this level, relying on tools from the “realm of the mind” is not going to help these clients with the necessary step of getting OUT of their mindsets in the first place.
Mindfulness exercises reduce resistance to positive change
In challenging situations like these, here is where mindfulness works well as a preparatory exercise, by gently guiding their awareness towards the states of their own bodies and breaths. Resistance often takes the form of tension in the muscles and breathing patterns. Getting clients to taste the relief and comfort that mindful relaxation brings can help render them a little more open and receptive.
Mindfulness exercises that focus on breath and body awareness are also very simple. Anyone can follow the instructions, and they do not need any other equipment other than oneself. This simplicity can be very attractive to a client, as it is uncomplicated and approachable. Most importantly, “the proof is in the pudding” – the client should be able to feel the difference within himself or herself. This will help reduce their scepticism, tilling that stony soil for the gradual introduction of ideas to stimulate intercultural adaptability.
However, it is impossible for you as a trainer to be able to teach these mindfulness exercises unless you have tasted for yourself the positive changes that come with training your awareness this way.
Consider the interconnectedness of mind, body and breath we learnt about in How mindfulness can transform intercultural training. We all can sense it when we meet someone who is calm, centred, and grounded. It is a whole-being display, that goes beyond a merely intellectual attempt to “sort out your thoughts” and “think clearly”.
We all know people, including ourselves at times, when we think we are behaving calmly and rationally, when those other people who are with us can see how our angry or nervous body language contradicts that self-belief.
The intercultural trainer as model of mindfulness
Training participants can sense how well you know what it feels like to have a calm, clear, and stable mind
As a trainer, standing in front of your clients leading the intervention, can you imagine how they will respond to you when you are teaching them a mindfulness exercise, when they can sense that you yourself do not know what it feels like to have a calm, clear, and stable mind?
Therefore, embarking on your own personal practice of mindfulness is really an unavoidable step if you are looking to harness the profound power of this tool to boost your intercultural training.
The good thing is that you stand to benefit in multiple ways. Not only will it increase your effectiveness as a trainer, you will experience increased personal wellbeing and effectiveness that will manifest in other parts of your life.
Kickstart your mindfulness practice
Try out a mindfulness or meditation app
Some good ones include
Some apps like Imagine Clarity offer structured courses that you can follow step-by-step to progress yourself. Others like Insight Timer offer a smorgasbord of different meditations, plus the chance to plug into a community.
Tip: Experiment with practising mindfulness or meditation at different times of your day. Morning, evening, on the commute, or as a refresher in the middle of your workday. Which works best for you?
Join a class or group, or take a course
An increasing number of centres offer mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other related disciplines. Many of these have introductory offers, such as class passes that allow you to try out different types of mindfulness practice, meditation, or yoga. Take advantage of these to find out which one suits you best.
There may also be informal groups that meet up in your neighbourhood, or longer and more structured courses offered by these centres or other institutions of learning such as community colleges and adult learning schools. Retreats are a fantastic way of immersing yourself in a tailored and nurturing environment designed to provide conducive conditions for mindfulness practice. They range from a day to several weeks and even months. Have some fun exploring what’s on offer near you that suits your budget.
Tip: Find a friend or a “mindfulness buddy” from your group activities to partner up with to practice outside class times. This can be hugely beneficial in increasing your mutual motivation and celebration of progress.
Three excellent introductions are:
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Practical Mindfulness: A Step by Step Guide published by Dorling Kindersley.
Tip: As you read along, make notes on which points or chapters jump out at you as being immediately relevant to you, either in your intercultural training or in your daily life. Give yourself the chance to figure out there and then how these pointers could be adapted to your practice.
Get a mentor or teacher.
As you broaden your knowledge of mindfulness taking a course or reading up for example, you may come across individuals in your classes or specific authors whom you really like. Alternatively, within your workplace there may already be leaders or colleagues whom you recognise as being particularly good at applying mindfulness at work. Seek out these individuals as formal or informal mentors or teachers. An individualised relationship like this can be tremendously powerful to your progress.
If these are well-respected teachers, they may have a community of students following their teachings. Being part of this community and sharing its energy, learnings, and mutual support is of tremendous benefit in and of itself.
Tip: Get the best instruction you can. As you familiarise yourself with more reading and practice, find your way through to the most highly-regarded sources. Get curious about why their work is regarded as superior, and hone your discernment that way. Following bad instruction can be detrimental.
Try it out!
Let yourself get curious about ways in which you could do your everyday tasks more mindfully. Catch yourself being impatient, learn to notice signs such as gripping the steering wheel more tightly, tapping your pen hard on the table, or noticing your face flushing or your voice rising while in a tough conversation.
Watch the thoughts and emotions fleeting across your mind at times like these. For the next breath, take it slowly, and recentre yourself. Release tension with the outbreath, and inhale relief and nourishment with the next breath. Repeat. See how this changes your inner state and external behaviour.
Tip: See if you can spot any patterns. For example, we all have our own “pet hates” or “hot buttons”, which could be people or situations that perpetually aggravate us. How can this practice of mindfulness help you here? Can you observe yourself recovering more quickly from such encounters? Or can you see them coming up earlier on advance, so you can prepare yourself for them?