1. Can you tell us a bit about mindfulness meditation and how you came to develop expertise in its teaching? 

Mindfulness is a universal human capacity that can be enhanced through mind/heart training. This training can be expressed as mindfulness meditation. Its development is best articulated in Buddhist teachings. One definition of mindfulness that I enjoy is from the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn. “Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. I drink water and I know I am drinking water”. 

Like most folks, I came to practice mindfulness because of my own suffering. I was attracted to the philosophy that recognizes life includes suffering and that while there is a cause that can be recognized, there is also a way out of suffering. Over time, with regular practice, I experienced an easing of my personal suffering. I wanted to be able to offer this to others.

As a social worker I was involved with developing and delivering programs for people impacted by violence and trauma. I introduced mindfulness and compassion practices into my work and co-developed a mindfulness-based trauma counselling group program. Witnessing how these practices supported greater kindness, understanding and a reduction in distress led me to pursue teacher training at this stage of my career.

2. In what ways do you think practicing meditation can improve our ability to connect with others? 

It is said there are two wings to mindfulness practice. One is Wisdom, seeing things clearly, as they are. The second is Compassion, meeting all that is here with friendliness. Both these wings lead to happiness. Wisdom liberates us from afflictions, such as wanting things to be a particular way. Compassion supports our tender heartedness with what is before us. Freedom from clinging to the past or pursuing the future allows us to open to the opportunities for happiness in the present. This is where life happens! Connection with others is only possible when the heart is open, in the here and now.  

3. When we are engaged with families in dispute, sometimes it’s easy to be caught up in their pain and confusion. How can mindfulness assist FDR professionals to assist their clients?

A key benefit of the cultivation of mindfulness is the diminishment of reactivity. The time between stimulus and response is experienced as extended so there is an opportunity for a choice of action. This can be extremely important in highly emotional situations when FDR professionals may be triggered. Mindfulness and compassion applied to our own inner state, and the states of our clients, grows calm. A greater sense of calm and steadiness in the FDR professional promotes the clients’ experience of a secure and accepting environment. Being welcomed and held in this way, supports clients to loosen their attachment to their particular views and put down the sword.

4. If you could change one thing about society as it is today, what would that do, and what would you hope the impact of that change would be?

One thing I would change is an appreciation of our interdependence – a deep understanding that we are all interconnected and that all we do, say and think matters. I would hope that this would eliminate the many ways humans are causing harm to each other, other beings and the earth.  

Susan Harris MSW, RSW

Susan has a BA in Psychology from the University of Windsor, an MSW from the University of Toronto, and is a registered social worker in Ontario. Susan has worked with issues of mental health, abuse and trauma for 40 years at various levels, from front-line to directorship. She co-developed the Mindfulness Based Trauma Counselling Group Program with people who have experienced abuse and trauma. Susan has been cultivating her meditation practice for over 25 years through retreats, daily practice and study, primarily in the Vipassana tradition. She has completed the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification training program led by Jack Kornfield and Taraby Brach. 

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