Last week I got the chance to listen to Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylsford and junior minister for Sport and Civil Society, speak about, amongst other things, her personal mindfulness practice.
I was thrilled when she accepted the invitation to come and speak at a ‘mini mindfulness conference’ that we had put together at school. The idea came to me to contact her when I heard Jamie Bristow speak warmly of her at the Mindful Living Show and she did not disappoint. As I suspected the students really sat up and took notice of a high profile person telling them about the benefits of mindfulness. They loved hearing her stories from Westminster too.
Once I had reminded myself to put my own political opinions to one side for a few hours, after all being non-judgemental is a key aspect of mindfulness, I was able to be open minded and open hearted about what she had to say. Here are five of her main messages:
Being upfront about mental health is empowering … and mindfulness is a tool which can be used to help people combat issues
Tracey opened her talk by explaining how she had come to mindfulness. Central to her story was a description of a conversation she’d had with her own GP about her severe depression and how mindfulness could help her come off her anti-depressants – something she wished to do. Her honesty was disarming and immediately made the audience sit up. Here was a highly successful person in the public eye frankly and openly discussing her own mental health. And she was also a strong advocate of how mindfulness may help other people overcome these challenges, just as it had helped her.
Mindfulness isn’t complicated
Much of what Tracey spoke about when it came to mindfulness practice would be termed as ‘informal practice’ and this was very relatable for young people. She described her approach to mindfulness as using it to ground herself in the present moment when walking to and from places, or doing other every day activities. She espoused the benefits of really being present and taking in what is around you moment by moment – through sight, sound and touch. She challenged the audience to try not to let the mind wander the next time they took a shower and instead to really pay attention to the sensations of the water.
Mindfulness can help deal with the nerves associated with public speaking
Though she spoke confidently and comfortably to her audience on a hot afternoon in July, Tracey disclosed that she is someone who doesn’t particularly like public speaking. She explained how mindfulness has helped her with this. And how taking her shoes off when making speeches from the backbenches in the House of Commons used to help her to feel more anchored in that moment and therefore handle her nerves more effectively.
Take your opportunities when you can
Though not explicitly about mindfulness, this section of her talk was still about being aware of moments that could be significant in your life and a good reminder to make the most of them. She explained how her career path changed from trainee lawyer to parliamentary researcher when she had a chance conversation with a Conservative MP in university. The old adage “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” certainly applied here and would have certainly inspired the students to grasp any opportunities that come their way.
Politicians probably need mindfulness more than ever
Though she didn’t labour this point, one gets the impression that the last few months are taking their toll on Westminster – Brexit, unstable party politics, the recent general election – they are all undoubtedly having a massive impact on the general public and also our politicians too. These people have no media training, are thrown into the deep end when it comes to getting to grips with their job and are subjected to trolls on different social media platforms, as well as perhaps facing abuse in the street too. And actually, when you consider it for a moment, not every MP (in fact in all probability fewer then we think) is your stereotypical public schoolboy who you feel probably has a background which should help them cope with the situation they find themselves in. So the message is loud and clear, mindfulness can help politicians, as it can help anyone in a high pressure job, to cope with the day-to-day stresses that they find themselves facing.
I found Tracey’s talk interesting and inspiring. I hope you get a sense of this from the post and can take some tips away from it too.