Weekend Interview: Happenings A Way To Find Well-Being And Mindfulness
Most of us go through life looking back, looking forward or assessing the present. What we must do is unlock our individual potential, or the potential of team, according to well-being and mindfulness facilitator Peter Thomas.
All of us over the past two years have experienced immense changes in our lives, having to look at new ways of working and communicating with each other.
Peter tells me that last year, Mental Health First Aid England, reported that one in six workers experienced some form of depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress at home, work or across their life. And 40% of managers, in many different fields of work have identified issues relating to well-being in the workplace environment.
“Finding time, discovering a way, and experiencing calm, maybe, just what we need not just for ourselves but those around us. Just having confidence to share experiences and the encouragement to listen, is a great starting point. As we share together, we become more aware of the needs of others, even our own needs,” he tells me.
That is why he created Happenings, a pack of 30, A6 size postcards. Each of the cards has a picture on the front and a guided reflection on the rear.
The intention, Peter tells me, is to encourage the user to set up a display using several items as a visual aid depending on the name of each reflection.
It is ideal for getting school children, teenagers, and adults to reflect on well-being, mindfulness, and work life balance. However, to do this it is important to Peter that he meets people where they are based rather than coming to visit him in an office. “That’s my maxim: meet people where they are comfortable. Otherwise, I might impose my own agenda on someone. I must relate to people,” he says.
An example of Happenings
And he is well-equipped as an ordained minister of a Congregational Church in Grassington, the insights and experiences over the nineteen years in the community gives him a ‘perspective outlook’. Not only that he has a calming South Wales lilt when he speaks, rather hypnotic in fact. He uses his accent to great effect when telling various stories, putting one at ease as he seems exceptionally calm.
His, is a fascinating story, that came about after he received a phone call late on a Sunday evening back in June 2008.
“A local retreat house had been let down by a speaker who had been taken ill. Could I help, the organiser asked sounding desperate and stand in front of 45 kids the following morning and inspire them?” She did know I worked with school children.”
Once you get talking to Peter you realise that the organiser knew who to turn to. “Of course, I could, I told her.”
“I scrambled around my garage franticly searching for inspiration and four ideas emerged, photos, play-dough, post-it note and Jenga. The next day I went off and delivered a session and because of that a spark came from it and that is how Happenings began.”
“My daughter, Bethan, who was at Skipton Girls High at the time was interested in photography and she took photos of anything, quite random and I wrote reflections around them, providing, if you like, a thought for the day.”
“Sometimes I use spiritual texts but not all the time. I try and judge where people are at.”
When he was made redundant after twelve and a half years working for a Christian Schools Work operation based in Cumbria, he used his redundancy money to set up Happenings
So, I enquire who is this for and how does it all work?
“It is across all age ranges. Take children in school. I am getting them to think about the need to speak to one another even if it is on a low key level. If you think about it, children come into school, probably only talking to a couple of people in their class of 30.
“Teenagers live in their own space, and I encourage them to think about looking outside the social context of friends on their Twitter account and notice other people. For adults it is a case of work life balance in terms of productivity. If you have a problem at work, you invariably let it take over your home life and vice versa.”
“I am trying to make people more aware of mindfulness and trigger calming influences.”
This has become apparent as we chat further. He uses children who have lost confidence and the ability to engage with each other due to the COVID-19 pandemic to explain. They are hidden behind a screen, or a smart phone and they can flick forward if they are not interested in anything. They have lost the ability to engage with each other, and so their confidence suffers.
We can all identify with that, but the problem is getting teenagers to recognise what must be done and for Peter it is relatively simple.
“I recently went into a class room with twelve teenagers. I asked them to get their phones out and start communicating with each other. It was easy they liked it. But then I asked them to put their phones away and start talking and it was amazing how difficult they found it and how long it took to engage.”
This is also where Happenings helps.
“I have a set of cards with keys on them and I prepare a table full of keys and ask people to pick one key to open the door, it will either represent the past, present, or future. They then have to chat with each other to work out what they would do.
“Interestingly, adults always choose, the past as they have a bank of memories to draw upon. Children are in the present and teenagers rarely go back opting for the future.”
I understand why Peter likes to meet people on their own territory, because they feel, as I do, they can open up to him. I start relating personal stories.
A bank of memories contains items in your past which
can either be special days or occasions but also have hurt and pain there.
Peter says most times people arrive at a place of comfort but if he finds people delving further and coming up with other memories there is always an option for the person to follow up.
It works well in bereavement and dementia cases, and as a vicar, Peter understands how to tackle bereavement. He is also a suicide specialist knowing how to draw upon memories to offer comfort.
“If a child has lost a parent or grandparent, I get them to make a memory box that is always accessible when on anniversaries or birthdays for example people know where to find it.
It works well with dementia patients. I often see the battle of relatives dealing with a person who know longer recognises them. I sometimes take in a suitcase and let them pretend they are on holiday. OK it is a pretence, but it is thinking about the other person. If they no longer recognise a loved one, it is better to start from the perspective of the patient.”
One Happenings example I like, is the way Peter uses bubbles. He gets a bottle of bubbles out blows them and describes each bubble as a hope or dream and for adults we know that hopes get dashed and dreams burst.
Again, Peter then follows up with metaphors and stories.
He is always drawing on his rich bank of life experiences and captivating stories.
He starts explaining why he takes loads of pieces of wood into a room and getting people to examine the annual rings. Peter uses it to initiate a discussion about roots, where are we from and branches which are our networks. Then he precipitates a discussion about how wide or narrow the gap is between the rings.
“That represents different periods of our lives. We all go through life when things are going really well and life is great, and we see growth in the wide rings and the narrow ones are the difficult times.”
Chatting with Peter I feel remarkably calm and have a clear perspective of where I want to be. I have learnt that time is a precious commodity and all of use share the same amount - 168 hours a week. What we do with the time and how we spend it will vary enormously.
Hence, we hear phrases like ‘family time’, ‘precious time.’ We all need to improve and enhance our quality of life but with the pressures that society now creates it is becoming increasingly different.
What Peter Thomas does with Happenings is help us find a different perspective on life and to find a way to be more mindful by using a technique of reflection to help us look to a positive future.