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How would you like your café: frazzled or mindful Church?

Baptist minister Shaun Lambert reflects on Ruby Wax's new initiative for mental health, Frazzle cafe, and the Mindful Church Cafe he runs in Costa

Ruby WaxThe launch of Ruby Wax’s Frazzle café caught my eye recently. The comedian and mindfulness expert who has written very wittily and informatively about her own battles with mental ill-health wants to find a way to bring the benefits of mindfulness to our frazzled culture in a wider and more accessible way.
 
The first Frazzle café was launched in Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) in May. MHAW this year was all about the power of relationships and that is what Ruby is looking to tap into through the introduction of Frazzle café.
 
Her own experience of mental ill-health led Ruby to Oxford University to study mindfulness, as she had found it very helpful in her own recovery. As well as writing about it she has also been on tour incorporating her experiences into her shows.[1]
 
In those shows she gave space for the audience to talk, share their stories and connect relationally. She also opened the West End Theatre where she was performing to the public for free walk-in sessions with a guest speaker and therapists on hand for consultation. This gave her the idea for Frazzle Café.
 
Her goal in these cafés, and only one has run as a pilot, is to make space for where ‘anyone with a mental health concern could connect with this peer-to-peer support.’ It is like an informal AA meeting.
 
She says it is not just for the 1 in 4 of us who suffer from mental ill-health in any one year, but ‘for the four-in-four’ who feel they are cracking up from the pressure cooker of life.’
 
What does a session of Frazzle Café look like? Ruby had about 30 people sitting in a circle just sharing their stories. Her plan is to have a facilitator at every session, a little bit of mindfulness practice at the beginning and end. She wants someone working in the mental health field to also be on hand, with lots of information about support groups available as well.
 
Reading the article in the Telegraph which caught my eye I was struck by the power of being able to tell your story to those who don’t stigmatize or avoid your experience, because they belong to the ‘tribe’ of those who know what mental illness is like.
 
I was also struck by the power of mindful listening – mindfulness is so much more than meditative practices, and that listening doesn’t have to be from a trained expert. This is another strand of support for those suffering from mental ill-health, anyone who is caring for someone dealing with a condition, and those who are generally frazzled.
 
Mindful cafeThe reason my eye was caught is that I have been running something called Mindful Church Café in the local Costa in Stanmore for the last two years. Every school term we try to do a series of events. We have covered many of the things that we need space to reflect on in the pressure cooker of life, stress, parenting, relationships.
 
We have also looked at some of the wider elements of human flourishing that mindfulness is connected to: creativity and how that can get squeezed out of our busy rational, ruminative lives; developing cultural sensitivity, and detoxing our egos.
 
I have run sessions for other churches and other churches have taken the idea to use in their own context. Christopher Jamison called it a form of ‘sanctuary in the city.’ We have deliberately called it Mindful Church Café, in order to be totally transparent. Our strapline is ‘mindfulness for health and mindfulness of God.’ In fact lots of people come because they are interested in the spiritual element.
 
Our sessions are interactive, dialogic, and psycho-educational. The practices we offer are natural everyday things you can do mindlessly or mindfully: walking mindfully, eating mindfully, reading mindfully and breathing mindfully. We try to help people see their afflictive thoughts as passing events in the mind rather than facts.

We start at 6.30 p.m. when Costa normally close and they let us stay until 8 pm. The baristas provide tea, coffee and cakes for people to buy until 7 p.m. and then we begin our sessions. We have made friends with many of the baristas and they have been amazing as have been the managers of the local store.
 
We also hear people’s stories and do some mindful listening. We try to be sensitive to where people are situated when it comes to faith. For example, when we do a mindful reading exercise we will give a handout which might have a poem on one side and a piece of scripture on the other, and we tell people to choose the piece of writing they are most comfortable with. The same goes for compassion meditations; we give a choice, a secular one or a Christian one.
 
We offer Mindful Church Café just for the common good, but also because research shows that cultivating our spirituality is good for our health. It is also true that many people practising secular mindfulness begin to ask spiritual questions, which churches can help answer. What they generally don’t think we have to offer is spiritual practices – although the contemplative history of the church has many – which we need to rediscover.
 
Churches could offer all sorts of events in local cafés. I was leading a retreat at Penhurst recently and talking to a minister about the possibility of her starting a listening group in her local café. I am going to do an informal group during the day for parents in the local Costa with a friend around mindful parenting.
 
 Jesus went where people were, and we need to do the same! That includes coffee shops…
 

 
Shaun Lambert is Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church and currently researching a PhD project in mindfulness at the London School of Theology. He is the author of A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness, and his latest book is called Putting on the Wakeful One



[1] Ruby Wax’s first book on mindfulness was Sane New World: Taming the Mind (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013), her latest is appropriately called A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled (Penguin Life, 2016).
 

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