We’re a constant work in progress. We'll always be under construction. We’ll never be finished.
Thinking of personal growth as a creative project really takes the pressure off. It moves us towards more balanced ways of thinking than the usual black and white. This attitude—that we are both a masterpiece and a work-in-progress— helps us avoid obsessing about what's wrong and how to ‘eradicate it’, moves us away from reductionist ideas about the ‘normal’ way to be, and ultimately reduces stress.
Instead, it focuses us on our unique journey over time—away from the fight with ourselves that feeds unhelpful thinking habits and towards actions that reflect our deeply-held values. Such a project-based approach, using mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), helps us cultivate the patience and self-compassion needed for transformation. It nudges us towards the mindful and committed behaviours that help us build a life of purpose, meaning and contribution.
The Free Spirit Project is a collection of personal growth projects, carefully put together in different ways, engaged with in various ways, focusing on different aspects of the human experience. The aim is not to achieve a pain-free life. It's not to become more 'normal'. The aim of each project is to help you become more free, more connected to self and others, more creatively contributive and more committed to doing what is most important. This unfolds through learning, skill building, insight generation, growth enhancing experiences, risk taking, disciplined practice and community engagement.
All the projects use mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT). There are projects for individuals, couples and groups. They happen in a variety of locations - in the training space, in the workplace, in homes, outdoors and on retreat. Training works best when it is holistic - so physical and emotional, as well as mental processes, are explored and given space. The body is always brought into the training, whether that be through developing interoceptive awareness with mindful movement and meditation, or when engaging in a growth zone challenge to link feeling, thinking and values based doing in a creative way.
The projects place the individual at the centre, accommodating and addressing the personal concerns, current context, challenges, strengths and learning history of each person.
About Mindfulness & ACT
Mindfulness is the ability to be where you are. It's the foundation upon which all ability to flourish rests.
Mindfulness requires us to reawaken our muscle of attention —the one we had as children—and use it now amidst the noise of adult life. A strong muscle of attention means being able to direct awareness and hold it where you want it. Training it means minimising time spent on autopilot, lost in automatic thought while you just go about your day. Mindfulness allows you to inhabit your life, fully let in your blessings and take a wise and skillful stance in response to your challenges.
We are very mindful as little children. We are where we are, feel what we feel. We are non-judgmental, open, curious and free. As we develop language, and start to engage in abstract thought, we spend more time narrating our experience. We can begin to lose touch with reality as we experience the world as constructed by thought. Our abstract thinking—our necessary planning, analysing and conceptualising—can become over-extended in a world that encourages it to be so. The messages of the modern world urge us to constantly attend to the external: to problem solve and succeed. When it comes to thoughts and feelings, we are encouraged to seek clarity, to chase the 'why'. To be able to explain ourselves. The world places a premium on the ability to be in control. Anyone who has experienced pain, confusion, despair, loss or fear (so all of us) knows that when we are in those places, 'why' is often impossible to find. Theories that touch it, that somewhat explain our experience, are cold comfort and aren't enough to help us through.
It's at these times especially that we need a mindful stance. And that doesn't mean an in-control kind of calm dissociation. It means a practical way to connect with our innermost wisdom, trust and faith—however we experience that. A way that enables us to remain true to ourselves in the face of these difficult aspects of the human experience.
Daily mindfulness practice prepares us to be able to do this.
Mindfulness training helps us form a habit of catching ourselves in flight, when we have drifted too far into the struggle to control what is uncontrollable. When we have lost contact with the present moment reality. Through mindfulness meditation we learn to see our mind – see what sort of training it has had, reflected in its habits and automatic beliefs. Once we can see the mind we are in a position to work with it, and over time to free the mind from neurosis. Not by focusing energy on changing the content of thoughts, but more by strengthening the ability to stand back from the behaviour of thinking altogether. We develop the muscle to withdraw attention from unhelpful cognition and redirect it onto present moment sensory reality. In being able to step back and discern what we give our attention, we cultivate a mind that is more creative, free and useful. The wonderful tool that it's meant to be.
There have been numerous studies examining how mindfulness training works and why. The benefits are many and are supported by evidence (links to papers supporting mindfulness and texts exploring it are in the ‘academic papers’ and 'read' sections). Of course, this is in addition to the 5000-year evidence base supporting mindfulness meditation which comes from our various human wisdom traditions. Contemplative practices are central to every religion, but mindfulness training can be engaged in regardless of religious or philosophical belief system. It is a truly universal, human technology.
At The Free Spirit Project, mindfulness forms the foundation for all the training projects. Mindfulness meditation is best learned initially, however, in a small group. Our primary course for this is ‘Mindfulness Foundations’, the eight-week thorough introduction and exploration. Meditation and mindful awareness can be extended in the ‘Deepen Your Practice’ course, which is also eight weeks long.
Acceptance and Commitment Training
ACT (said as one word) has mindful awareness at its core. It helps us develop our psychological freedom and flexibility by focusing on the cultivation of six core processes that foster vital, values-centered living. These processes are:
· To fully connect with the present moment
· To willingly feel, accept reality inside and outside the self, and release the struggle to control that which can’t be controlled, in order to respond wisely
· To be aware of the mind, notice what it is doing and step back from thought when necessary
· To have clarity about deeply-held values
· To engage in committed action in domains described by those values
· To regularly take perspective from our wisest part: the observer, the witness, the transcendent self
ACT uses discussion, metaphor, experiential exercises and activities all targeting these six processes, to help you fully explore them. This is a departure from more common thinking about psychological and emotional wellbeing—that it requires an absence of discomfort and pain and that personal development work should focus on the reduction of 'hard to feel' feelings and a strengthening of identity. ACT training doesn't target pain—it targets suffering. It encourages you to honour difficult feelings as part of the human experience, and helps you come to view suffering as the struggle with natural, temporary, challenging internal experiences. The focus is less on egoic identity, self-esteem, confidence etc, and more on self as vehicle and creator. The contributions one can make to this world through flexible thinking and values-centred action. With ACT training you learn to commit to your life as it is now, and respond to it in the creative ways that reflect your authentic self. You practice keeping your focus on what is most important as you let yourself experience the natural ups and downs of a life well lived.
At The Free Spirit Project ACT training happens individually and in groups, in a variety of settings.
To learn more about the evidence base supporting ACT, go to the ‘academic papers' and 'read' sections.