Emma Mills, Meditation Teacher and Writer 

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INTRO: I first met Emma years and years ago before either of us were working in our current professions. Although I hadn’t been in touch with Emma much personally, being on her mailing list gave me an idea of what she has been up to. Her interview is a wonderful insight into someone who, rather than being into ‘the hard sell’, truly embodies the field she has chosen and is extremely balanced and calming – it’s obvious why so many people come to her for help as just listening to her voice makes you feel more steady.

Emma: I wouldn’t describe myself as an entrepreneur or businessperson. Rather than having a role or job description, I’d say I have an interest; looking to understand our experience and what makes us happy. I specialise in teaching meditation including mindfulness. An example of a recent event I worked on is; Learn the Art of Mindfulness With Houseplants, which was in conjuction with Red Magazine – a one-off event that I prepared bespoke for Red and their readers with the help of their health editor, Brigid.

As well as teaching groups and seeing clients one on one, writing is a big part of my work – for magazines like Red, Cosmopolitan and Stylist, as well as my own teaching materials and guides, my blog and my latest project; a book ! It’s very exciting, and I can share more details about it in August. I’ve been fortunate enough to be commissioned by publications  after people finding me through my blog, and I tend to build relationships from there.

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I did a psychology degree in 2006. Before than I worked in Parliament for Iain Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice. After that I worked at Mind, the mental health charity.

In politics, you’re exploring things at a societal level, which I came to believe wasn’t the best way for me to help people. I decided to help individual people by working with them directly.

At Mind I started as a Community Support Worker, helping people with mental health problems in the community, which could be as simple as going out for a coffee with someone and listening and chatting to them. The charity supported me as I trained as a therapist, and I also undertook training courses privately.

I was fascinated by poetry therapy and bibliotherapy, [the use of books/literature as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders] which is amazing, so I set up and ran poetry therapy groups for Mind. The project grew from one group, to more groups with four staff after winning a grant from a Quality and Innovation Award that someone applied for on my behalf. I started part-time combined with training courses as well as other jobs in bars to make money, eventually progressing to full time, over five or six years.

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@emmamillslondon

I started my own business to do more of what I was doing at Mind but for a different demographic, i.e my peers and in a more stylish way. I started writing a blog to share everything I was learning, from science to psychology or philosophy which I still update regularly.

I left Mind as they didn’t have space for me to do more work or expand on the project that was running, as they are a small charity and because I wanted to work in a new area. I’m still involved with them though, setting up creative therapies and bibliotherapy schemes for them in the Midlands, where I now live. 

When I was growing up there was no internet, but throughout my studies I’ve been so grateful for people who write and publish online, so my blog started as a way to share what I’d learned and connect with other interested people. I don’t have a blogging schedule, I just post when I have an idea, usually once a fortnight, sometimes more or less often. If I don’t have anything worthwhile to say I don’t post anything, for as long as a few weeks at a time. I just think there is so much stuff to look at online, I don’t want to blog without purpose. So many companies, especially larger ones with a big following feel pushed to generate content, but I prefer a quality or slow journalism approach. I’m also a fan of certain membership sites, like psfk and New Scientist where you pay a small subscription, like £10-20 for access to high quality articles and ideas.

In between posts I promote my work – including my blog – on social media; Facebook, Twitter, sometimes in Youtube videos as well as images and thoughts on Instagram. I keep all my feeds professional and don’t post anything that I wouldn’t want young people to read and misinterpret. There are lots of young people on Instagram and many of them do read all your post and comments. For example, concerning diet and what you eat etc. These are all great channels of communication, where I can reply to people contacting me. 

Looking back at my different roles over the years; politics, psychology, bibliotherapy and now meditation – I see everything as part of the same interest. From a holistic perspective, there’s no outside or inside – the change evolved both in me and the world around me. It’s not that I change as opposed to my clients changing, but that life changes and evolves naturally. Each field I’ve worked in is all part of the same thing – wanting to help people and learn and discover more about how this can be done.

When I started working for myself I did do some form of “market research” and looked at what other therapists were offering. Largely though, and more and more as I’ve become established I tend to just go where my interest takes me and start offering services or courses in what my research has produced.

An occupational hazard of meditation is that your ambition can completely evaporate! Before discovering meditation and mindful practices I was very ambitious and driven to succeed – not so ambitious I would have done anything, but very driven with an intense work ethic. I would get up at 5am and do three hours of work before work. I was teaching myself everything, going to work at Mind, then working in a bar later. I didn’t find it gruelling or hard, I was so driven to succeed and confident I was on the right path.

Then, with learning to meditate, something changed and my understanding of the world shifted. It was like I’d unplugged the fan and it stopped working. The motor that fuelled my ambition wasn’t there any more. In its place was complete contentment. I had no desire to do anything. I wasn’t lethargic – but slightly frightened I wouldn’t do anything again, as when you run your own business you have to motivate yourself and do everything. So I felt concerned.

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At this point I’d just signed on a business premises in Shoreditch High Street; which had been all part of my ambitious plans, but something had disappeared. I rang the boss of Mind and told them I couldn’t go in – I had three weeks off because there’d been a massive shift in consciousness and I needed time off to process that change.

It’s taken me till relatively recently to integrate that shift into my working life. To use the same analogy, the fan started going again but now it’s plugged into a different socket. My approach changed, now I don’t see work and life as separate parts, it’s just one life that flows and all the parts are connected. Things are actually much easier – as they happen in the flow – they’re not forced. There’s no worrying about; ‘what will happen to me?’ or ‘what will my legacy be?’ But it was scary to lose my drive at the time, as at the end of the day, we all have to make a living.

I don’t have a typical day. At the moment I am doing a lot of writing. If I’m teaching a course I travel to the place I am working and make sure everything we need is set up. I enjoy taking part in the whole thing; the encounter and the lunch, chatting to people. The session itself is just one part of it, learning doesn’t start and stop and my interest and motivation is people – I love meeting people, chatting and sharing and finding out about them.

My courses vary; there’s an eight week mindfulness course – with eight different steps, there’s a mindful eating course which is a digital course which takes seven parts. Each course is different every time because it’s with different clients, and they ask different questions. I don’t have a script as it’s nice when things are more relaxed and spontaneous.

Meditation is a whole spectrum – you can teach a set of processes which is like the alphabet – then people go away with the alphabet to construct words themselves.

Reading, researching, learning and creating takes a large part of my time but it’s not hard to find the time, as it’s my passion.

My clients and groups come through word of mouth and through the internet and recommendations – people who you have met at events and they pass you on.

I have met some great people on Twitter. For example, an important mentor of mine originally messaged me to say he liked my blog and we have been friends for a few years. I have been really fortunate to have some great life mentors.

While I was at Mind, I remember saying I wish I knew someone who knew how to start a business or how to build a website and having my blog lead people with those exact skills to get in touch with me. I’ve also connected with two different doctors who have private businesses via Twitter who met with me and mentored me and helped me.

People who read my blog have got in touch and offered to help me grow the business as they liked what I was doing. Then I have had spiritual teachers and mentors who have helped me. Whenever I say that I need something – it comes! When I think about it I have been putting myself in the right place for help to reach me. Sometimes it takes longer than other times, but I’ve been very lucky and I have been blessed. Even though I am participating my own help I still feel very grateful when these things happen.

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