Whenever I practiced mindfulness together with Caitlin Gillan, she always brought positive energy into the room. Her bright smile was contagious and she was always radiating joy. Below, Caitlin shares her difficult transition after graduating from university and how she came to practice mindfulness in her everyday life and into her career.
1. How did you first come across mindfulness?
Answer: I became interested in mindfulness in my second year of university. I had no idea what mindfulness was or where to go to learn more. I attempted something that looked like meditation, but with no direction I quickly forgot all about meditation and didn’t think of it until after I graduated.
After graduation I found myself in major transition. I was done school, scrambling to find gainful employment and I had broken up with my boyfriend of five years. For the first time in my life I was forced to face my demons and attempt to befriend myself. Lost, I dabbled in all kinds of activities I had never tried before. I attempted learning how to knit, paint, and public speak. Soon I found an Energy Exchange program at my local Moksha Yoga studio and I quickly began immersed in the community. I diligently practiced asana (physical postures) with little to no knowledge of the other limbs of yoga. As I learned more from the Moksha community, the idea of meditation slowly started to remerge. I looked up local meditation communities (sangha) in Toronto and took quite a few of them for a test drive. As if by fate, dear friends of mine began a meditation group called Wake Up Toronto at the same time I was actively seeking a community. Wake Up is a global community of young people practicing mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. I felt like I found a family, a place to heal, nourish and blossom. This search for community changed my life and is constantly evolving.
As a coordinator with We (formally Me to We), I had the opportunity to lead a group of high school seniors on a trip to The Amazon rainforest. Throughout the trip, I encouraged students to put down their cameras and be present. While we were there, we met local farmers who grew, harvested, and fermented cocoa, the large yellow fruit that chocolate comes from. We learned first hand how the drying process works; we roasted the dried beans over an open fire and added milk and sugar. We then drizzled this robust chocolate mixture over bananas the farmers picked from a near by tree. I guided the students through one of the most decadent and experiential eating meditations I have ever been a part of.
2. What does mindfulness mean to you?
Answer: To me, mindfulness means paying attention to life, on purpose. If we don’t pay attention, all of life’s beauty can pass us by so quickly and we will miss it. Mindfulness has helped me explore the possibility of slowing down and drink in the miracle of being alive.
(Credit: Jennifer Ma, GetStencil.com)
3. How do you instill mindfulness into your everyday life?
Answer: I like to bring my full attention to the first bite of a meal, or the first sip of coffee in the morning. I savour the moment and notice all the elements that have gone into making my food. Mindful munching as my students say, is a simple practice to help cultivate gratitude and self awareness. Gratitude is a helpful tool for me when life gets tough. Practicing mindfulness in neutral, everyday activities help me build capacity to respond mindfully in more difficult situations. For example, after doing an unenjoyable activity or after an argument with a loved one, I use mindfulness to reflect on the ways I was unskillful. Slowly, with practice, I begin to notice when powerful emotions, positive or negative, are fuelling my reactions, my words and my thoughts. It’s not always easy, and I may not notice my unskillfulness until after I have caused suffering to myself or someone else. In these moments I can use mindfulness to be self-aware, apologize and try again.
4. When you feel stuck in a rut, what do you to do get out of it?
Answer: Physical activity and play! Growing up I was what my mom called a “busy” child. I was an athlete and had a hard time staying in once place long. Still do. As I get older, I get pent up when I don’t have a physical outlet. I think this is how I found yoga in the first place. I find activities I enjoy and ways to play everyday. They don’t have to be elaborate; just follow my childlike curiosity. When was the last time you balanced along a curb? climbed a tree? hula hooped? As an adult I truly feel that play helps me loosen up and get unstuck.
5. Who’s your favourite author, podcaster or blogger(s)?
6. If you could tell your 5-year-old self (inner child) one thing, what would it be?
Answer: Don’t take life too seriously, be kind, be yourself. Also, reading IS fun! Learn to read and read as much as you can.
7. Can you tell me a bit about your business?
I am the creator of Teal & Root, customized mindfulness programming for young people and beyond. I work with all ages in the Greater Toronto Area & in Kingston, Ontario, however I primarily gravitate towards facilitating youth, from kindergarten to university age. I help bring mindfulness to families, classrooms, and sport teams to encourage awareness and resilience. I am also a certified yoga instructor and functional movement coach. If you want to learn more or to create a mindfulness program, I would be delighted to hear from you.