MPs and Peers are taking off their shoes, exploring how meditation-style techniques can be used in policy and asking what a more mindful politics might look likeby Josh Lowe / July 29, 2014 / Leave a comment
After about a minute with my eyes closed, I sneak a peek at the rest of the class. Everyone sits in perfect, upright stillness around three sides of a large table. Their backs are straight, their breath even. Their eyes remain steadfastly shut. I shut mine again, too.
“See if you can be interested,” I hear our instructor Chris say in his gentle baritone, “in the complete cycle of sensations involved in breathing.” He is not asking us to clear our heads, nor to run away with any thoughts. We are supposed simply to breathe in and out again, focusing on each breath, and allow whatever else happens to happen. When, ten minutes or so later, we open our eyes again, the atmosphere of silent focus and readiness is palpable. It’s a sensation common after the practise of “mindfulness,” as this discipline is known. It’s something I’ve experienced before, when I took a similar class a few years ago. But it’s not a sensation I ever expected to find here in Portcullis House, the office building for MPs in Westminster.
A group of MPs and peers invited Professor Mark Williams and Chris Cullen from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC) to teach an initial eight-week mindfulness course for parliamentarians between January and March 2013. Since then, four more courses have taken place in an on-going programme, and over 85 MPs and peers have done a course or attended classes. A growing number of them meet for a practice session in Parliament each Tuesday. Parallel courses are now running for their staff—it’s one of these that I am invited to sit in on. These have, according to Cullen, been “very oversubscribed.” Earlier this year, Labour MP Chris Ruane, Conservative MP Tracey Crouch and Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG—an informal cross party grouping focusing on a single issue) to explore ways in which mindfulness might be introduced into public policy. It has 20 members from all three parties, ranging from class of 2010 alumni like Labour’s Lisa Nandy to old hands such as Tory veteran Sir Peter Bottomley. Mindfulness is not exactly a majority pursuit in parliament but, says Crouch, “it’s acknowledged that it’s not some weird kooky kind of fad.”