HOW POETRY AND THE ARTS CAN CONNECT AND CENTRE US IN THIS HECTIC WORLD
It's been a few months since the last interview here on the blog so today I'm excited to finally share a brand, shiny new one with you! An insight into the world and work of teacher and writer Emma Mills. With her expertise in psychology and training the field of mental health, Emma has uniquely combined her own passions for creativity, the arts and poetry with her continued work in wellbeing, meditation and mindfulness. With the world seeming like something of a turbulent place at times, I thought it would be a nice moment of peace to learn a little more about Emma, as well as pick up some advice on how to build a more peaceful foundation within our working and everyday lives. If this is an area you're interested in, or something you certainly feel that you need right now, then read on ...
Hi Emma, could you begin with an insight into your training and career to date as well as what it is that you do now?
From a young age, I had an interest in spirituality. During my school years, I was also particularly interested in politics, and psychology. I would read a lot of psychology books and go to political rallies and protests keen to find out about how life worked and how to improve it. I studied both politics and psychology and worked briefly at the Houses of Parliament before deciding that psychology was the field that allowed me the best chance to offer and understand something good. I took a degree in psychology and then began to work and train in mental health at the charity Mind.
At Mind, I trained in several therapeutic mediums one of which was the use of poetry and classic literature as a wellbeing device. I'd always been a bookish person, but this was the beginning of my love affair with poetry which deepens every day and keeps on getting better. During this time I set up my own private practice in the city of London and began working with people sharing what I had learnt in group classes and one to one sessions; I also began blogging about my experiences and ideas. Now I consult, write and teach on the topic of meditation, working with companies and organisations, with individuals and in small groups as well as sharing written articles with magazines and publications.
You're an expert in the practice of meditation how did you train in this area and what is it about meditation that you love that you feel can be so beneficial for us all in our working and everyday lives?
During my time working in formal psychology, I had my own private interest in meditation and spiritual life. I was also studying with a very lovely teacher. I found during my years in mental health that meditation wasn't accepted or admired and so I kept it just as something I did outside of work. Things have changed now, and it’s all the rage, but back then it wasn't du jour! Whilst running my private practice I found myself increasingly encouraging people to meditate and to explore the inner world.
I felt that meditation, and most importantly what meditation points to - the experience and exploration of our nature, to be something that was quite in line with both my interest and my work with people. I still love psychology and think it's beautiful, a lot of my work is informed by the work I did in that field too. Meditation helps you to understand who you are and how you work which makes it fitting and helpful in many corners of life.
How can mindfulness help people - especially in the workplace?
I think meditation and mindfulness have great effects on a persons' orientation to life, and as work is part of life, it transfers over quite nicely. Stress is a big factor at work, and meditation and mindfulness can help a person to cope with that stress and make choices that are to their benefit. Aside from stress, meditation is tremendous for creativity, new ideas and innovation. If we imagine our work as a something we are putting out into the world it can help us to make that contribution great.
How can people with hectic lifestyles make time and space for meditation and mindfulness so that it can be a helpful tool rather than just another item to add to the to-do list?
If the person has the enthusiasm to do it, then I find they usually make time for it. Because the enthusiasm or interest is natural and spontaneous, they find the time. Not in a regimented way, each day, unless of course that's what they find themselves doing and they enjoy it. But they do it here and there. They find within themselves a natural turning towards those sorts of things, a book here, a little workshop there, a little practice at the weekend. Also, if people start doing it and it feels good and they see benefits, just like with fitness, this usually brings its own motivation, albeit in waves.
Where did your love of poetry and writing come from and how does this passion connect in with your work?
Poetry is literatures answer to meditation. I cannot invite enough people to explore poetry. I have always loved to read, but whilst working at Mind I was sent to study with Professor Jane Davis in Liverpool, to study this therapeutic application of literature. I then came back and set up a therapy system in Essex for Mind. We ran for several years, it took while to get going, as poetry is a bit niche, but eventually we won a lot of money, expanded the groups and served a lot of people. The people who came, as well as myself, benefited hugely from this type of work. It’s phenomenal.
I have carried this use of poetry into my meditation work because it fits well. Poetry, or certain poems, talk explicitly about the inner world, and those well-articulated poems offer people a route to understanding - a way of putting words around their own inner experience. Some poems offer wisdom, others are more about life, the bare bones of life. When it's hard, when it's ecstatic, and I find these honest poems help us to feel connected, part of life, to know we aren't an isolated person on our own.
What is it that you love most about the work you do and what motivates you on a daily basis?
I love to connect with people, to share and share life, improve our lives together. In myself, I find the expression of the creative spirit makes me very enthusiastic. I have an interest that I follow, and the following of it feels good, and that brings its own motivation. For example, there are a few poets I really like, and I want to go and sit with them to understand their work better, so I email them and ask, and try to meet them. I’ve not got any intentions really, for it to go anywhere specifically or become something pre-defined. I just feel drawn to do that, and thrilled at the thought of spending time with them talking about poems. It brings its own motivation. You just keep following the thread - like this poem: The Way It Is by William Stafford.
For readers interested in learning more about meditation and living more mindfully do you have any tips, tricks or resources that could help them to get started?
On my blog Emma Mills London there are over two hundred articles along with helpful videos and audio which you can begin using and exploring at home. Alongside that, I also have a new book entitled Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. In it, we explore meditation over the course of a typical working day. It has a section called ‘at the office’ where we explore work, creativity, co-workers and finding balance. I hope that sharing meditation in this way will make the insights very usable and relevant to our lives. I would also recommend reading books, visiting teachers you like and connect with, following your own path and interest in the subject.
When it comes to looking after your own work-life balance and wellbeing how do you like to unwind after a busy day and make sure you feel refreshed and refocused for the rest of your week?
I like having a bath or two, reading a book, going for a bike ride, doing a little yoga and being with my loved ones.
Thank you to Emma for sharing an insight into her career and her brilliant work. I hope you've found it as fascinating and inspiring as I have. As a lover of the arts I can totally understand the connection between creativity and our wellbeing. If this is a passion of yours, albeit an alive one or a lost one, I hope that this interview sparks in you the desire to seek out that creative, artistic side and in doing so, find greater expression, peace and understanding. For more motivation and ideas you can also find Emma over on Twitter and on Instagram.
Thanks for tuning in lovely people and see you again very soon.