Mind over matter as Frank helps lower stress

By Gemma Burns

A North Belfast man is helping those whose lives were affected by the Troubles and local people suffering from stress in a specially developed form of meditation.

Fortwilliam man Frank Liddy is co founder of the Belfast Mindfulness Centre, which hosts a mindfulness-based stress reduction course bringing together meditation and yoga. The idea of mindfulness is based on ancient healing practices and cultivates greater awareness of the unity of mind and body, as well as of the ways unconscious thoughts, feelings and behaviours can undermine emotional, physical and spiritual health.

The centre is based near Queen’s University and as well as teaching students who decide to enroll for the course though the lifelong learning programme, Frank also teaches mindfulness to communities and groups helping those left traumatised by the North’s conflict.

A practitioner of mindfulness for the past 25 years, Frank has travelled all over the world on his spiritual journey and for five years was the Dalai Lama’s assistant.

West Belfast-born Frank has worked in the community care voluntary mental health sector for over two decades and currently project-manages a supported housing therapeutic community. He said it was while working in the community sector in West Belfast in the late 1970s that he first began his search for something more.

“It was the late 1970s and there was so much financial hardship, social problems, deprivation, and with that comes stress,” he said.

“I think I was always looking for another way and by a twist of fate I heard about mindfulness. A bomb went off in a bar in Belfast and with the trauma that came with that I became aware there had to be a way of dealing with trauma. At that time trauma wasn’t recognised but there was a Buddhist practice that made sense and I pursued that.”

Frank explained how mindfulness works and helps people who affected by trauma.

“When we experience trauma, such as a bomb going off near us, then the mind becomes fragmented. You feel it first in the body and then the mind tries to distract itself from the pain.

“Mindfulness is bringing the mind home and being in the moment.”

Frank jokingly describes himself as a “recovering thinker” in that mindfulness teaches not to worry about the future or dwell on the past but to live in the moment.

“Mindfulness is about baby steps and in the course of when we are working with groups in the community we tell people that we will give them achievable goals. There are people who just can’t sit in a chair for more than five minutes because they have to be doing something all the time, after a while they might be able to sit for 20 minutes.

“We give exercises in how to be more aware of yourself and others, physically and psychologically.”

Frank has also spent time with the abbot of the San Francisco Zen Centre, Paul Haller, who is originally from West Belfast. He said working alongside such spiritual men heightened his own feelings of spirituality.

He admits that some people might find the whole idea of mindfulness hard to swallow, but his work delivering practice-based training programmes to those working in psychiatry, nursing, social work and the criminal justice system proves that the practice does have its place.

“All kinds of people come to the centre. It is the seventh year of the classes and we are always over-subscribed. People come from a variety of backgrounds. Everyone has a trauma that they are trying to cope with, the key is to reduce their suffering and help them.”

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