The inaugural Monday Mindfulness is with Erica Walch. She is an accent modification training in Springfield Massachusetts. If you want to learn more about her be sure to check out her website and blog.
Please tell me about yourself: who are you, what do you do for a living, where is your home base?
I am an accent modification trainer in Springfield, Massachusetts.
If you only had a few words to describe mindfulness, what would you say?
Being mindful is being tuned-in to all your senses in the present moment.
I’m fascinated at hearing about how people became involved in meditation and other mindfulness practices. How did this become part of your life?
I've practiced yoga for almost 20 years (!), and first came to meditation through yoga. I don’t remember how or where I first heard of mindfulness, but as soon as I started reading about mindfulness, I knew that it could be helpful for my accent modification clients.
Why has meditation/mindfulness become important to you? How has your experience of life changed?
Meditation -- like yoga, prayer, and exercise -- makes me feel good. I like to feel good, so that’s why it’s important to me! Meditation and prayer give me a profound feeling of peace and serenity. Practicing mindfulness gives me a richer experience of the material world and of time. In being mindful and doing one thing at a time, but doing that one thing fully, I am able to get so much out of each moment.
Please tell me a little bit about your practice. What makes it unique or different? What makes it helpful?
I work with proficient non-native speakers of English who want to change the way they communicate orally. During our lessons, all of my clients can learn to accurately mimic the sounds and intonation patterns of standard American English, but when it comes to speaking naturally, they don’t employ those new sounds and patterns. I believe this is because their focus is not on the surface level of communication – they are quite mindful of what they say but not how they say it or of how other people receive (or don’t) what they say. I help my clients become more mindful about their speech, and this helps them have more success in changing their accents.
Does your meditation practice lead you to think about anything in particular about psychotherapy, mental illness, or the change process?
Change is often quite slow and incremental. I work with clients for a fixed fifteen-week course. My goal during that time is to equip them with all the knowledge and habits of mindfulness that will enable them to continue to practice on their own. I check in with clients every six months or so and those who have continued to practice and to be mindful about their speech continue to make progress. Change is slow, but possible with mindful attention.
Advice for someone wanting to be more mindful:
If you notice that you are not fully engaged in the present moment, try to check in to your five senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you touch?
You can also say the mini-mantra: “Here is where I am, and this is what I’m doing” and then replace here and this with your location and action. “I am in the park. I am walking.”
I’m not a psychologist or psychotherapist. I believe that psychotherapy encourages patients to look inward to find answers, while in my practice, I encourage clients to look outwards. My clients are unaware of how different they are from others when it comes to oral communication. I urge them to listen to other people as much as possible, listen to themselves, and make a comparison. I don’t want them to be unique! I want them to blend in, to find what is common in other people’s speech expressions and to try to imitate that.
Two of Ellen Langer’s aspects of mindfulness come to mind here – alertness to distinction and awareness of multiple perspectives. My clients must be alert to the differences in the sounds of the words they are producing and how standard English speakers produce those same words. They also need to be aware of multiple perspectives in order to appreciate the effect their oral production has on listeners.
The aspect of mindfulness that is probably most crucial when it comes to making a change is openness to novelty. Some of my clients decide that they don’t want to change the way they speak after all. It’s too new and strange for them, and it impacts their sense of self. Others go through a bit of an identity crisis and then decide that they do, indeed, want to change the way they speak. Those who embrace the habits and practice of mindfulness are able to make the most lasting changes.
Erica Walsh's web site: http://speakeasyenglish.com/
Eric Walsh's blog: http://accentmodblog.wordpress.com/