Story and photo by Joanne Maisano

Our lives today often seem to be more chaotic and stressful, and with that can come the loss of simple joy. If you want to alleviate stress, go to yoga or Pilates, or for a run, or to the bar. But if you want something that will reach down into your soul and bring back your joy, then take a look at Mindfulness Meditation.

Shell Fischer, the founder and guiding teacher of Mindful Shenandoah Valley, offers 30 years of extensive mindfulness practice and study. Upon meeting her, you feel calmer. Her presence displays all the things she teaches: kindness, joy, and a sense of well-being.

David Greve, a participant of Mindful Shenandoah Valley, raved about her as a teacher. “Shell is exceptional. She has a gentle spirit and provides an atmosphere of mindfulness. Healing comes with gentle meditation and being mindful. She helped me find a path to a better life,” Greve said.

The type of meditation she teaches (Insight Meditation) is designed to help one see more clearly, and to live more in the present moment. It revolves around the idea that increased clarity and compassion brings less fear, anxiety, and stress, and ushers more joy, ease, and balance into our lives.

In her teachings, Fischer places a great emphasis on the metta, the first of four sublime states. The metta (loving-kindness) practices are designed to help participants discover and cultivate more kindness and compassion for ourselves and others.

“I feel like it’s something we all need these days,” she said. “Whenever I ask for a show of hands to see how many people are hard on themselves, there has never been a time, in all my years of teaching, that someone has not raised their hand. We all do it, and in my experience, meditation practice is one of the best antidotes for this … it can really open our hearts – especially to ourselves.”

Fischer offers these teachings in a variety of ways: at a weekly Tuesday night meditation class, at bi-monthly daylong retreat at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley in Stephens City, and at six residential meditation retreats in various locations in Virginia and West Virginia. The retreats can be anywhere from three to five days in length.

All of these events include talks, and guided and silent meditations. Throughout the retreats, people are asked to enter an extended period of what is called Noble Silence, which is multi-faceted. It’s not simply about being quiet; it involves consciously eliminating distractions so that a person can focus more clearly on the present moment, and learn how to calm both the mind and body to discover more joy and ease.

“Most of our expectations tend to be wrapped up in ‘should,’ thoughts, which are almost always toxic, and can actually hinder our discovery and healing,” she explains. So it is suggested that when attending any meditation retreat or class, participants release any expectations, and simply become curious. While her background is based in the Buddhist tradition, classes are open to anyone of any religion, and all are welcome.

It’s also important to remember that each person in attendance is coming for their own reasons, but that all are searching for more happiness, peace, and freedom in their lives. Newbies are welcome. The vast majority of those who attend retreats tend to be newcomers, so she assures newcomers they will not be alone.

Interested in trying a guided meditation or listening to a talk on meditation? Fischer holds an open, donation-based Insight Meditation class every Tuesday from 7-8:45 p.m. in Stephens City. The format includes a 15-minute guided meditation followed by a 20-minute silent meditation and a 10-minute walking meditation. Following the meditation, she offers a 40-minute teaching.

Three times a year, a two-hour Walking Meditation program at Blandy Experimental Farm in the Virginia Arboretum is scheduled in Boyce. Walk with your shoes off, in silence, through the beautiful gardens. It is something that should be experienced.

Check out a talk on her website, www.mindfulvalley.com.

This article first appeared in the January 2019 Issue of Middleburg Life.