Over eight weeks, programme facilitator Milla Gregor supported arts fundraisers to build wellbeing and resilience skills in response to the unique pressures and stresses of their roles, and the post-pandemic burnout they were facing. Following some great feedback, we have decided to run the programme for a second time in May 2022.
Here, we spoke to Milla about her personal journey and the ideas behind the programme.
Milla, could you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to start Movement for Change?
“Back in the ‘oughts' I was working in charities. It was fast moving work with high pressure targets and limited resources. Staff turnover was incredibly high as intermittent government contracts took their toll on people’s finances and morale. I found myself working increasingly long hours to stave off a feeling of being slightly out of control, and not in a good way. I noticed people around me getting worn out, stressed, and into strange conflicts. I found myself feeling flat and disengaged more often than not, despite still deeply caring about the work. It felt so confusing – here I was doing this values-led work with wonderful people, but somehow, we were all either exhausted or miserable.
Eventually, and luckily, I came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way. Slowly I was able to find my way back to healthier working patterns, helped in part by a great manager, and deepening movement and contemplation practices. It began to dawn on me that the tools I had discovered might be useful to others, too. Movement for Change is my attempt to share the pieces of the puzzle that were most helpful to me – embodied yoga, non-violence-based communication skills and self-care.”
What have been the most influential programmes you have taken part in so far in your career?
“During the time I was reeling from overwhelm and looking for things that might help, I embarked on a fairly classic phase of ‘seeking’. I went to Quaker meetings, Buddhist meditation sessions, and some short retreats. I did more movement, studied economics and went for counselling. I cast the net wide.
The three most useful things for me have proved to be Buddhist practice, non-violence work and embodied practices. And although it took more than a decade, I began to realise that they are fundamentally interwoven. Movement for Change’s work is now underpinned by this integrated approach.
In terms of individual programmes, a couple of turning points were introductory evening classes on Buddhism. Another was getting involved in non-violence work through training as a community mediator, restorative justice and also a non-violence facilitator. I spent six years with the Alternatives to Violence Project running intensive workshops, (including in prisons) building community and learning to love conflict as a creative resource, rather than to fear it as a destroyer of relationships and dignity. I draw a huge amount on these experiences in the materials I share today.
I’ve also done two year-long facilitation training programmes that have really deepened my practice. It feels now that facilitation is an extension of my inner contemplative practice – holding space for individuals and groups throws me into a similar creative state of openness and ‘unknowing’.”
What does wellbeing mean to you?
“I see wellbeing as a result of a particular set of relationships. They exist within four worlds – inner, interpersonal, social and natural. In our inner world we have the relationships between our physical body, out emotions, our thoughts and our consciousness. When all these are held and cared for, the relationships thrive and we have inner wellbeing. Embodied yoga is a fantastic training ground for this.
Similarly, if our interpersonal relationships are in trouble, it can impact hugely on our wellbeing. I see this again and again in organisations – we can deal with a lot, but conflict with colleagues or bosses are what often tip people over into overwhelm or burnout. That’s why there’s such a strong focus in Strengthening the Core on setting boundaries, working with difficult emotions, power imbalances and reflecting on our needs. This is self-care that goes well beyond chocolate and bubble-baths!
The social worlds and the natural worlds also contain vital relationships. We explore these by reflecting on power, as well as nature connection, throughout the programme.”
Why is embodiment such an important part of self-care, other-care and good conflict skills?
“An embodied approach says that we are integrated beings – that our physical, emotional, cognitive and communicative capabilities are fundamentally intertwined. If we take this seriously, then supporting our own wellbeing and building our ability to communicate and collaborate effectively must include the physical embodied self. In fact, efforts to do this while ignoring the physical realities of being human often fall flat. For instance, without sensitivity to our inner worlds we might ignore signals from our bodies that we are tired or experiencing anger. We might then override our inner ‘dashboard lights’, and end up both leaving problems to expand, and allowing ourselves to become exhausted.
Embodied practices such as the gentle embodied yoga shared on the Strengthening the Core programme build each person’s capacity to be in touch with their real lived experience. The ability to be in open-hearted contact with ‘what’s really going on’ is the first step in being able to understand it, and then, communicate about it. This echoes psychoanalyst and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s view: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’
The skills you’ll learn on this programme will enable you to grow that space within yourself, and so better relate to others. And then apply these experiences in practical ways in the workplace.”
If the ideas mentioned in this interview have piqued your interest, check out our Strengthening the Core programme here.