Mindfulness – from the monastery to the NHS

by Robert Gebka, centre director. Robert is a former Zen Buddhist monk now working in the mental health field for the NHS where he also teaches mindfulness both to staff as well as patients. Robert’s journey into mindfulness started over 12 years ago. He undertook a five year training internship at the Nan Hua Buddhist monastery where he studied mindfulness as well as meditation. Robert has shared life experience of living with anxiety and depression and teaches mindfulness in a heart centred and practical way that also draws on his personal insights and experience.

Robert & Ahbey Rinpoche

Mindfulness is an NHS approved and evidence based modality which originated more than 2500 years ago in India. Its fascinating that this ancient method which has its roots within the Buddhist reflective tradition is now infiltrating modern medicine and society benefiting millions of people.

The way mindfulness is taught nowadays in hospitals is mainly via something termed as MBSR or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.   MBSR teaches meditation and basic body movement exercises such as yoga to cultivate awareness and reduce stress. This group based programme is taught over eight week as developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. It is quite reassuring to know that this approach has been extensively studied since the late 1970’s and by now nearly 20,000 patients have completed the MBSR programme.  We are talking about people who are suffering from chronic cancer and other forms of severe pain, anxiety, depression as well as stress.

What is even more fascinating is that Mindfulness is now widely utilised by the NHS and is even on the Dorset HealthCare NHS Approved Therapies Register. To top that the UK National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently endorsed Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as an effective treatment of prevention of relapse of depression.

We offer the 8-Week MBSR programme at the Dorset Mindfulness Centre and its amazing that this course is usually fully booked out with an average of 25 people per course. I think that this high demand for the course is due to peoples desire to take a more collaborative and participatory role in supporting their own wellbeing.

I established the Dorset Mindfulness Centre in 2012 shortly after arriving in Bournemouth from the Isle of Skye in Scotland where I spent  half a year on a personal meditation retreat.  When I came to Bournemouth I was broke, unemployed and desperate, materially at least.

I remember sitting in meditation on the beach one evening. My mind felt like a calm within a storm. As I was sitting there I had a palatable insight, a clear understanding that within this adversity there was also an opportunity. Something told me “trust and stay awake, don’t give into the fear” and so I did. I practiced trusting, trusting my deep heart.

Nan Hua Buddhist MonasteryI began to see my difficulty as a challenge, an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to refocus my career to something more within mental health.  I also felt a deep sense of being guided, feeling that I had some deeper purpose. I felt that I came here to do something. Following my deep intuition I started volunteering for the NHS. I volunteered within the addictions service for four months after which time I was recommended for a paid position. I still remember as a volunteer facilitating a short presentation on mindfulness for the nursing staff.

Besides from being the director of the Dorset Mindfulness Centre I also work at a NHS psychiatric hospital where I facilitate groups to both patients and staff and I feel grateful for this opportunity to have gained such wonderful clinical experience.

I must say though that I didn’t learn mindfulness via the clinical pathway, but rather via the traditional Buddhist route. I first came across mindfulness in South Africa when at age 22 I became a Zen Buddhist monk for a year. Following my monastic training I spent a further four years in the monastery; studying, working and teaching.

I was fortunate to have studied Buddhist psychology and meditation with various teachers both from the Chinese Zen as well as Tibetan traditions.  These teachers did not only instil in me the essence of what mindfulness is but more importantly, through the way they were living their lives, they inspired in me the nature of compassion. One of the greatest influences of that time period was personally meeting HH the 14th Dalai Lama when he was visiting Durban in South Africa in December 1999. I feel deeply fortunate that I was given the opportunity to connect with the heartfulness of mindfulness, which is its highest expression.

It is good to remember that you don’t have to have any difficulties in order to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is practiced by millions of people who simply wish to enhance their creativity, sense of wellbeing as well as emotional intelligence. It is used in business to enhance productivity as well as in schools to helps kids with their journey of learning.

You would benefit from learning mindfulness if you are interested in the following:

  • Reducing stress levels, anxiety, depression and physical pain.
  • Creating more head space, free from negative chattering thoughts
  • Enhancing your sense of psychological and physical wellbeing.
  • Enhancing your creativity and emotional intelligence.
  • Learning to live life in the present moment away from past negative habitual responses.
  • Reducing self-judgement and enhance a sense of self appreciation and self compassion.
  • Enhancing your sense of resilience, creativity and performance.

Click here for more information on our 8-Week MBSR Mindfulness course