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The Greatest Gift

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how a gift may be defined, as well as taking a few moments to appreciate the gifts that I have gifted myself over the years. That statement might sound strange all on its own, and to clarify, it was part of a self-compassion practice, being able to be aware of ways I celebrate myself and offer gifts. As if I was a friend.

For me, one of the greatest gifts I have given myself resulted in being a continuously giving gift. That’s remarkable, isn’t it? Not many gifts truly keep on giving! First, I gave myself a gift of a 12-week mindfulness program. I’d like to acknowledge that this gift was not like simply receiving a sweater or dinner out, in a restaurant. The mindfulness gift was hard work. I couldn’t just put it on or go out when the mood struck me.

This gift was about meditating daily. Paying attention. Being in the present moment. Deliberately. Big pause. Easier said than done.

However, after I experienced such incredible results and was very grateful for the gift of a new practice and way of being, I decided I wanted to expand on the original gift. This is where the story gets good. Or better. I’ll bring you in a bit deeper, and share from the beginning, or how the gift arrived. The beginning was an event. I’ve discovered, through

conversations with others, that for many of us, at a certain point in life, an event occurs and the path we were on, is no longer so sure, not so predetermined. It may be that it is an event of adversity, and you find yourself with more questions and uncertainty about “what to do now?”.

As a result of “my event”, I stumbled upon a 12-week mindfulness program. It was the pre-program survey that startled me. It wasn’t until I saw in print the four responses under the category “Suicidal Thoughts or Wishes”, that I realized that that 'S' word had been tripping around in my mind - not from a planning-to-do something perspective, but, just there, curiosity hanging in the peripheral. And that word had not been part of my thinking

or awareness for the 40 or so years prior to “the event”. What event or experience have you had that startled you into awareness of not being well?

Fast forward to the end of the 12-week mindfulness program, and once again I was startled by the same question in print regarding any suicidal thoughts or wishes. Only this time, nada. No thinking about suicide. That word and further negative downward spiraling had not stealed its way to lodge in my mind permanently at all - at least not while I was dedicated to

practicing mindfulness.

So that was my plunge into learning about mindfulness and establishing a daily meditation practice. Once I became aware of the incredible shift in my thinking and experienced a greater sense overall of well-being, I was committed. Daily meditation practice was my routine. My jam. And, as I knew, the stats for the percentage of losing the mindfulness practice (i.e. falling off the wagon), without having a group with which to practice, I blocked off the weekly community meetings in my planner for the next year.

The next year, that action was significant. I really did not want to lose this momentum of feeling better and being in a healthier head space. At the time, I said that mindfulness helped me save my life. I still believe that.

I’m curious. What gift have you given yourself that provided you with more

than what you anticipated?

Keep reading to discover how my gift grew.

Having the support of a weekly mindfulness community and then becoming part of the mindfulness leadership team reinforced my commitment to mindfulness practices, yet, I was seeking more. I wanted to learn more, practice more, and become skillful enough to teach, able to share the practices with others.

That intention opened up some exploration on the world wide web. One click led to another, led to another, all the while revealing diverse offerings from different websites of organizations, methodically helping to refine my own personal search. Using a reflective process of self-inquiry, I was questioning what it was I wanted to learn, what was important to me, from which teachers did I want to receive influence and guidance, and ultimately, to whom did I want to offer programming, connect with, serve, or offer the practices as a teacher?

After in-depth consideration, and knowing I met the rigorous prerequisites, I made a confident decision to apply to be a student of the Engaged Mindfulness Institute enrolled in the 300-hour Mindfulness Teacher Training program.

From the invigorating moments of completing the application, the exhilarating moments after receiving acceptance and beginning to plan for this experience (the course started with a silent retreat in Massachusetts and that meant a flight from Toronto, a rental car, hotel accommodations, etc), shock settled in and panic arose. Fear. That’s right, everything mindfulness practice is all about mitigating, or at least noticing and being able to be with all of the emotions, to bring attention back from the panicking thoughts, was there, …like a bucking bronco, testing my practice! Affirmation that further mindfulness and meditation practice guidance, specific training, and support would serve me well.

A key aspect of this particular mindfulness teacher training offered by EMI, which grasped my attention, was the emphasis on bringing trauma-informed mindfulness to underserved communities. I wanted to be with those who felt that they were not seen or who were not included, or not understood. I wanted to gain the skills to be able to notice with more

understanding, wisdom, skill, and compassion. The more I read about EMI’s MTT300, the more I believed that that training would prepare me in the best possible way. What do you look for when you are seeking further training? What is essential to you?

I really appreciated . . .

the intimate size of the cohort for the EMI MTT300 training. I had an opportunity to connect with almost every fellow student in a variety of different small group configurations, building my community of peers and connected colleagues. I also had proximity and accessibility to the EMI faculty, interacting with all of them in some capacity, reassured they were available for a personal consultation. They all became my EMI MTT family, a village of support as I was deepening my practice, gaining experience, and finessing my teaching abilities. The introductory week-long silent retreat provided an immersion into guided practices, dyad work, placement in the small community of practice groups (small study groups) which met bi-weekly on Zoom, as well as receiving a mentor faculty group leader to meet with, one-on-one, throughout the year, and also being launched into the online portal of study where modules of teaching from the world-renowned faculty would be released.

I had many moments of my practice influencing my life, or my lived experiences being enhanced by the in-depth work during the training. Even after the final week-long retreat,

once I was home, I had an experience while driving that brought the teaching into greater awareness or understanding. The final week retreat included additional workshops and dyads, plus provided intensive practice teaching opportunities with productive feedback and discussion from the teacher and role-playing students. It was a heartwarming farewell, as we

released each other from the embrace of our MTT300 cohort and the Windhorse Hill Retreat Center.

EMI MTT300 is a comprehensive course of study, designed to ensure students are committed to their own practice, are supported through learning how to deliver a variety of mindfulness practices and I received a solid foundation in the practices and meditation and mindfulness studies.

And so, as I reflect back on the gifts I’ve given to myself, the 300-hour Mindfulness Teacher Training surfaces as one of the best and for which I have deep gratitude. This one gift provided me with a multitude of rich and diverse gifts: the gift to peel back the layers and discover parts of me I didn’t know, or could grow, the gift to be a student, be challenged and

receive so many teachings from so many expert mindfulness and meditation teachers and organizations, the gift to become more skillful at understanding trauma and reflect that understanding in the way in which I offer mindfulness classes or practices, the gift of adventure including travel to Massachusetts and the dojo in Deerfield, the gift of fellow

students and colleagues in the intimate cohort, (many with whom I still

communicate), the gift of being connected to ongoing learning opportunities

or courses including 7 am daily guided sitting practice… and the list goes


EMI connects with students and connects students. Such a gift.

Sandy is a graduate of EMI MTT500, and lives and teaches mindfulness

classes in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.


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