Our theme is “Clear Mind – Open Heart.” Together, they are like two wings of a great bird, enabling us to respond to the stresses of life with more ease. They allow us to be present with ourselves, with others and with the world. This is not an easy task.
Join us for a 4-hour journey of mindfulness, heart opening, clarity and connection. Anyone can do it! The program features an incredible variety of mindfulness practices. With guidance by mindfulness teacher trainer extraordinaire Susan Woods and movement guru Roberta Mohler.
The Theme: Clear Mind - Open Heart
The Theme: Clear Mind – Open Heart
A clear mind is a way of being with the movement of thoughts, emotions and body sensations with kindness, awareness, and curiosity. Sometimes it is called simply mindfulness. A clear mind leads to understanding and wisdom.
An open heart is one that can hold our own suffering, and the suffering of others, with openness, compassion and love. Love that comes from deep within and has the capacity to include everyone. According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D.:
When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation — and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally — like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.
Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid, and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.
Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.
Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
A clear mind and an open heart are like two wings of a great bird. Tara Brach describes the practice of meditation as having two wings: “recognizing, so that you actually see what is happening in the present moment, and allowing, where whatever is seen is held with kindness — seeing what’s here and regarding it with tenderness. Saying yes.” Recognizing is mindfulness and allowing is an open heart.
Cultivating an Open Heart
There are many ways to cultivate an open heart. One is to practice loving-kindness meditation:
- There is evidence this practice produces positive emotions in a way that outpaces the hedonic treadmill effect.
- Emma Seppala says there are 18 Science-Backed Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation.
- Watch An Introduction to Loving-kindness Meditation from Sharon Salzberg & Dan Harris (6 min)
- Guided loving-kindness meditation by UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (9 min)
- A Meditation for Opening the Heart by Sharon Salzberg (15 min)
Michael A. Singer, the author of The Untethered Soul, has another approach:
The key to staying happy is really very simple. Begin by understanding your inner energies. If you look inside, you’ll see that when you’re happy, your heart feels open and the energy rushes up inside of you. When you aren’t happy, your heart feels closed and no energy comes up inside. So to stay happy, just don’t close your heart. No matter what happens…
When you start to close, just question if you’re really willing to give up your happiness. You should examine what it is inside of you that believes there’s some benefit to closing. The slightest thing happens to you, and you give away your happiness. You were having a great day until someone cut you off on your way to work. It got you really upset and you stayed that way the rest of the day. Why? Dare to ask yourself that question. What good came from letting it ruin your day? There was no benefit…
The key is to keep your mind disciplined enough so that it doesn’t trick you into thinking that this time it’s worth closing. If you slip, get back up… If you have trouble remembering that, then meditate.
We’ve seen mindfulness move from the bedroom to the boardroom and beyond, with ever more corporations and athletes embracing the proven effects of enhanced focus, resilience, emotional intelligence, kindness and compassion. The Harvard Business Review touts mindfulness as essential for business leaders and the list of companies adopting mindfulness like Google, Apple, Aetna and Ikea, is growing longer by the day. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to whatever is happening in our lives, inside and out, in the present moment. When we connect with the present, we become aware of habitual patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. With mindfulness, we train ourselves to pay close attention to what is going on in the present moment; just as it is. Much of our suffering is a result of regrets about the past, worries about the future or judgments about the present. When we are mindful we become aware of and explore these habitual thought patterns and ways of reacting. This attitude of curiosity allows us to create new and healthier ways of responding to life’s challenges.
Benefits of mindfulness:
- Stress reduction
- Reduced rumination
- Decreased negative mood
- Less emotional reactivity/more effective emotion regulation
- Increased focus
- More cognitive flexibility
- Improved working memory
Do I need to know how to meditate?
No. The Challenge is guided by experts and designed to be accessible for everyone, even if you have never practiced mindfulness or meditation.
For sitting meditations, which will be short and alternate with movement, standing and lying down, you can sit in a chair or on a floor sitting cushion. Sitting meditations will be accessible for those who’ve never meditated before. You will be expertly guided, so you don’t need to know how to meditate. And you will always be free to change positions, lie down, stand up or do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself.
How hard will it be physically?
It will not be physically difficult, and is designed so that even those with some physical challenges can participate. Each activity will last approximately 10 to 25 minutes. Sitting meditations will never exceed 20 minutes without some movement. You are always free to change positions, stand or lie down.
There won’t be any complicated instructions, movements or sequences to think about. You may not be able to do exactly what others are doing, but it will be a safe space to modify any physical instructions as needed. In fact, the teachers will encourage you to make adjustments as you see fit.
How hard will it be mentally and emotionally?
If you’ve never meditated, you may wonder whether you can make it through the program. But the reality is that you can do it, no problem, because the program is designed for all levels. You can expect the 4 hours to fly by, as we guide you through one exploration after another, with increasing vividness as your mindfulness grows.
That’s not to say there won’t be challenging moments. There may be, because this is different, and our minds sometimes resist new ways of being. However, the expert guidance will help you through any rough patches. In fact, mindfulness trains the ability to be with difficulty.
And, if you need to, you are always free to move, stand up, lie down, or leave the hall. You have agency!
Will lunch be provided?
This year we will have the opportunity to be guided in the mindful eating of a snack. There is no lunch this year. See your Location Page for details.
Will there be set breaks?
Throughout the program, the aim is to maintain a continuity of mindfulness practice, to return again and again to an awareness of what is going on in our bodies, our minds and our surroundings. Continuity of practice supercharges your mindfulness batteries!
To support you to maintain continuity of your mindfulness practice, there will be no set breaks. You are free to go to the washroom or otherwise take care of yourself as you see fit. While on your break, we encourage to maintain your mindfulness by being aware of your steps, your breath, and your bodily sensations.
Although the teachers will be speaking, and there will be sights, sounds, smells and tastes, we ask you to maintain silence throughout the program. Maintaining silence allows our minds to settle and become clear, to be in deeper contact with ourselves and, believe it or not, those around us. If you need to speak, you can leave the room at any time, or raise your hand to call over a Guide to help you.
Cell Phones and Electronic Devices
The Challenge offers a refreshing opportunity to take a break from our cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices. If you do need to use them, please leave the hall and find a place where other participants cannot hear you.
How do I select a floor sitting cushion or a chair?
When you register, you will be asked if you prefer to sit in a chair or on a cushion. We do this so we can set up enough chairs, and leave room for those using cushions (Bring Your Own Cushion – in Toronto they can also be rented or purchased). We will be emailing all participants prior to the event to provide more information.
Will there be a posture workshop?
In Toronto, REALthings will have a booth and be offering personal posture guidance before the program begins.
I don’t have a yoga mat, do I need one?
Yes, yoga mats are recommended for the lying down and movement activities, and are great as a base if you’re using a floor sitting cushion. If you do not have a mat, try borrowing one from a friend. We will have mats for sale in Toronto. We will be emailing all participants prior to the event to provide more information.
Is there a registration fee?
Yes. The registration fee depends on the location and how early you register. See The Registration page for details.
When is the registration deadline?
The online registration deadline is Thursday, November 7 at 11:59 pm. After that you can register in person. There is no deadline for Virtual registration.
Can I get a refund, transfer or deferral if I cannot attend?
Registration fees and donations are non-refundable. If you know you won’t be able to attend, we’d be grateful if you let us know! You can transfer your space to someone you know or we can offer the spot to another. Thanks!
What if I registered for the wrong location?
If you registered for the wrong location, please email us at email@example.com and we will correct it.
How many participants will there be?
We expect Toronto to have over 200 participants. Other locations hold 30-40 people each. There’s no limit to how many can participate virtually!
Having trouble registering?
How many people do you need for a team?
We encourage a minimum of three to make a team, but you can register as one—the Team Captain, and then ask others to join your team. The more people who join your team, the more fun, and the more good you can do.
How do I register my team?
Be the Team Captain and register a team online now by clicking here. And have some fun with it—give your team a unique name or theme. Using the email templates in the online participant centre, it’s easy to invite your family, friends and colleagues to join your team.
What if I’m already registered and want to create a team?
If you want to create a team and be the Team Captain, but you’re already registered, please contact The Centre for Mindfulness Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 647-524-6216.
What if I’m already registered and want to join a team?
You can join a team by logging in and clicking on Join a Team in the main menu of the Participant Centre. Search for a Team and click Join beside the team you would like to join.
What if I joined the wrong team by mistake? How can I switch teams?
E-mail us at email@example.com or call us at 647-524-6216 and tell us your name and the name of the team you would like to join. If you’re already registered, more info about joining and switching teams is available in the Participant Centre online help.
What if I forgot my online password or username?
Go to the Participant Login Page. Follow the prompts to have a new password and username sent to your email.
Can I volunteer?
Yes, we need volunteers at all our locations – Toronto, Kitchener, Ottawa and Oshawa. Simply fill out our volunteer form, and we’ll be in touch. Areas you can help with include registration, set-up/tear down, lunch, outreach, organizing, IT and more. Thank you for your support!
Is there a minimum age to volunteer?
We love volunteers of all ages, however, if you are under the age of 18 years, you must have parental or guardian consent.
Since 2011, the Centre for Mindfulness Studies has emerged as the leading provider of professional mindfulness training in Canada. As a charity and social enterprise, the Centre is committed to making mindfulness available to everyone. We work with more than 40 social service agencies and seven healthcare partners to bring mindfulness into the communities that need it most. It’s the heart of what we do.
Learn more about how our Community Program empowers marginalized and disadvantaged people to take control of their own mental health and well-being through mindfulness-based interventions, and our community-based model of care.