Meet Penelope Mavor my latest ‘Meet the Meditators’ interviewee! Penelope is an International Leadership Coach and Consultant based in Rome. Penelope runs her own company, Quintessenza Consulting, and works in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. She has a particular interest in businesses and organisations committed to sustainability, and her area of expertise is mindfulness and how it helps people become more resourceful, flexible, creative and effective. A woman of many and varied talents, Penelope is also undertaking her own research into mindfulness and enjoys writing poetry. Penelope has very kindly agreed to share one of my favourites of her poems, a poem about meditation (scroll down below the interview to read it). I am absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Penelope. I hope you enjoy her thoughtful and engaging responses as much as I did.
Can you tell me a little about what first drew you to meditation and your early experience learning to meditate?
It took me 20 years from hearing about the likes of Vipassana meditation to actually doing it. The real start was spurred by doing some research into intuition as a coach. After completing it, I went to talk to a professor about doing a PhD on intuition and in our discussion about the state which is most conducive to accessing our intuition, he mentioned mindfulness. I had never come across the term before. I got curious and in my research I came across Jon Kabat Zinn.. and then Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N.Goenka (the very Vipassana I had heard about at university and then it clicked). So I headed off to a 10 day retreat in Tuscany. I really struggled – the chanting made me feel sick, I was in pain sitting…all ingredients for knowing I needed to stay there! I remember after ‘fighting on the cushion’ for 9 days, I finally observed with equanimity, really let go.. and the pain went… I figured it was something I should stick with a bit more.
How would you say meditation has influenced your life and what are its greatest benefits for you personally?
I think the litmus test is how I am with others – so you might have to ask them. But I do feel more resourceful, that I have more choices. I do have more moments of equanimity, of calmness, of inner joy. I know I bounce back and come into presence quicker than I ever used to. I ruminate less… or at least I am aware when I do. I am much more aware of my thoughts, sensations, behaviours. Professionally it has also been important – it has enhanced my coaching and consultancy through expanding my view of the world and my response to it.
Would you mind sharing a little of what your meditation practice involves?
I tend to do a 10 minute body scan before I get up and an hour sitting each day (usually in the morning). Am fortunate to have a great little meditation group who meets weekly for an hour, and also does 1 day monthly sittings. Each year I try to serve at least once at the meditation retreat, and to do a 10 day sitting.
And as part of it, I also like listening to Dharma talks from Tara Brach or Adyashanti or enjoying reading around the topic, like from David Richo, Jon Kabat Zinn etc.
Do you have any tips on how to integrate meditation into our busy lives in such a way that it doesn’t become yet another thing on our ‘should do’ list?
I think it is up to each person to find their own way. For example it seems that surfing is my older sister’s ‘mediation practice’, for my younger sister it is how she is raising her children through aware parenting (accepting emotions etc); for my mum it is when she is out walking and noticing a flower, cloud etc.
For formal practice, it is just the hard graft of ‘getting on the cushion’ – the discipline and resolve to do it. What does Jon Kabat Zinn say? sit for a couple of years and then see what happens.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with meditation?
I think it is again finding what suits you.. and even challenging yourself around that. There are so many meditation ‘ways’, it is finding out what it is for you. If you do want to choose a ‘technique’, there is something to be said for just giving it a go, seeing if you feel like you are making progress and sticking with it.
What is the most adventurous and/or enlightening thing you’ve ever done?
It probably would have to be last year’s vision quest with The School of Lost Borders in the New Mexico desert – a wonderful deep facilitated learning experience involving 4 nights fasting solo in the desert, connecting with nature, letting things unfold…
And finally, what is the best piece of life advice you’ve ever been given?
Well I think it is simply the realization that at any time we can ‘start again’. I guess when I first really ‘heard’ it, was from the recordings of S.N.Goenka who after what would have been probably quite an intense meditation session, would begin another with “Start again. Start again with a calm and quiet mind”.
So it was just the realization that despite what has gone on before, what comfort or discomfort, how successful one has been or hasn’t, what emotions you felt or not, what thoughts came or went…at any moment, we can choose to start again, to press the re-set button on our thoughts and emotions.. and begin again, with new resolve, new attitude. Or similarly Thich Nhat Hanh’s wise words “we have more possibilities available in each moment, than we realize”.
Kinda liberating yes?!
Fake Meditation by Penelope Mavor
There has to be something said
For faking a meditation
Of course it has its pitfalls
There’s no substitute for the real thing
But it does have its pluses
Poised on the meditation cushion
Still, composed, eyes closed
The motionlessness gives movement
For creativity to come into view
Relaxation and discipline
Carves a path-way
For problems to be solved
Ideas to be generated
Things sorted and organised
And then you remember
You are here just to observe
Those thoughts coming and going
Not to follow them
But just to let them pass
Neither cling to nor reject
But to be aware and equanimous
With whatever arises
And then you remember
“Oh what inspiration”!’
“Yes, I will do that”
And perhaps just this once
You will delve into that clever notion
It is too brilliant, important, life-changing
To risk being lost in the moment
And then another sparks
“And that too will solve our issue”
“That will help my friend”
“My client will like that suggestion”
“Yes, I must do that”
“That will make a difference”
And then you remember
To come back to your breath
But you hold those ideas anyway
Ready for the bell to ring
The meditation session to be over
So you can leap up and jot down
All what you generated
And then you remember
That all this time
You may be mindful
Aware of what you are doing
But it is not meditating
At least, from one perspective
However, for today, it works
And you can try again next time
You can read more of Penelope’s poetry on her blog The Poetry Experiment.