Warning: long post featuring dodgy artwork and some exercising of demons.
This was a little while ago now. Most of our practice group came together, with a handful of others who had also experienced an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, to spend a day practicing together in silence. For me the greatest struggle turned out not to be the silence or new group members but the venue. We were using “Exeter Castle” which is hoping to make a name for itself as a historical city centre events venue. The problem is that until recently it housed the Crown Court and judges chambers. Despite knowing this, and my history with these buildings, I didn’t think it would be a big problem.
My first visit to these court buildings was as a small child (my guess is less than 5 years old) when my parents were divorcing.To keep me entertained my social worker took me for a walk around the adjacent Roman wall. Then I was called in to a big dark office with a large desk so that the judge could ask me who I wanted to live with.
Some twenty years later I had also watched Peter work as a barrister at the Crown Court before we married and occasionally met him for a tea in the snack bar. The snack bar was a little sanctuary, small and cosy, a brick-built shed really. The sort of thing you don’t see any more, tea in polystyrene cups, whether you were a witness or a barrister, fruit cake, biscuits and probably anything in a sandwich as long as it was toasted – you get the picture.The main Crown Court building (featured image) in contrast was hierarchy and formality on a grand scale. Full of ushers in their long black robes, uncomfortable looking policemen waiting to give evidence and barristers strutting about in their wigs and gowns with their court papers under their arms.
One of the old court rooms was our space for the mindfulness day. Thank goodness the dock, the jury benches and the steps down to the cells had all gone. On the face of it a large open space with high ceilings, huge windows and patio doors giving on to the gardens (and my favourite, the Roman walls, plus a great view of the prison). Someone had put up a large, and probably very expensive mirror, and a wrought iron light fitting from which they had suspended billowy white voile curtains which draped out into the corners of the rooms. It was meant to say “events venue” but I was still seeing court room.
So someone thought in this events venue what would be a good idea would be to refit the court holding cells as toilets. So, just in case you hadn’t caught the atmosphere of fear and intimidation, there was a chance to take a seat in a very small oppressive cell.
The executive decision making centre might have been saying “we can do this” but the archaic brain said “nah” and about ten minutes into each practice I was zoned out. What was lovely was when they had levelled up the floor they had installed underfloor heating which I can highly recommend for a body scan! We did a seated practice, mindful movement, a body scan, mindful walking, more seated practice and something I ducked out of, in favour of a bathroom break.
I finished the day with my executive decision making centre wondering what was wrong with me. As we came out of our silence one of our group revealed that she had had a eureka moment at lunchtime – marvellous my dissatisfaction did a prompt transformation into self-criticism, splendid.
I am reliably informed that my unease and the pervading feeling of fear was down to my childhood experience and the zoning out was the archaic part of my brain trying to protect me. I already had a picture of a section of the Roman wall and to exercise some demons I have done some drawing ( be warned I got a D in ‘O’ level art). I thought it might help to look at how that child felt. I also went back to the castle gates to get a shot of the main Crown Court building, the feature image.