Awakin Calls » JG Larochette » Transcript
JG Larochette: Healing Children and Communities One Breath at a Time
Oct. 17, 2015
Theme: Healing Children and Communities ONe Breath at a Time
Speaker: JG Larochette
Host: Deven Shah
Moderator: Audrey Lin
Audrey: To get us started. I know after you graduated from college you felt this calling to server with kids and to work with children. I was wondering if you could share more about what you transitions was like and what brought you to begin working with children, specifically at risk youth in Richmond.
JG: First of all, I just want to say how wonderful it is to come full circle. I want to say thank you to the ServiceSpace community, Awakin Calls, Awakin, and Nimo Patel. What inspired me to go to the next level of service was your community. So I want to say true gratitude and humble love for all of you out there who are part of the ServiceSpace/Awakin family.
Going back to the question. It is interesting when I was at college and there was a job fair, it was all these cubical jobs like Enterprise Rental Car. Then there was this one job that popped out to me because it was about playing with kids--just playing. I never saw myself as being in the schools as a teacher, but I just knew my first love was sports and activities and being outside, so I took that job as quick as I could. I didn't want to work in a cubicle. I wanted to be of service.
I went to a school called Laurel in Oakland. It's in East Oakland. Typical population to the Richmond community. There was diversity, but the violence in that community wasn't as hard as Richmond in terms of everyday stuff.
I first just realized that the reason I was attracted to kids that they are so authentic; they come from the heart; and they are so real and present. Yes, they might have trauma and oppression, sometimes generations of oppression, but every one of us when we are kids has less layers of conditioning. And when we are first born, we don't have any layers of conditioning. That kind of attracted me, specifically kids from communities of oppression, communities of violence.
Ever since I was about six years old, I remember my first experience of feeling like we have to bring awareness and bring love to communities that have been through racist, oppressive, and educational inequities. I remember going to a reservation in New Mexico, a Native American reservation, and I was six years old and I remember my body start having convulsions right when we drove into town. I didn't really know what was going on with me. I did not understand why I was shaking. I wasn't sick, and I wasn't scared necessarily, but I was shaking so hard.
Over the next 10-15 years, I started realizing that social justice, pain and suffering, especially of people of color, were my kind of fire. It was something I felt so strongly that needed to be worked with and supported and guided in terms of creating strong communities.
It was interesting being six years old and having this life changing moment where you just drove into town, you haven't even gotten to know anything, and you are just shaking. It was just the energy of pain that was in that reservation, in that community, that day. Since then it has been working on what's going on inside myself when I encounter communities that have oppression and pain and suffering, as well as what this means in the global sphere.
Audrey: Wow, I think that when I was six, I was watching Sesame Street and happy that I was six.
JG: I was too, but I think the piece for me was I didn't know what was going on exactly. Then I started developing. I didn't know how to handle it. Then when I started going to Oakland, I realized, "Oh, open heart, have fun, smile a lot, feel compassion, be present, and that is all the kids need." Yeah.
Audrey: Can you share a little bit about your process of how you went into teaching after Playworks and then how you decided to begin Mindful Life Project?
JG: Yeah, that first year was kind of a dream. I was 23 years old, the classrooms were chaotic in the school, but overall, on the playground, I was able to transform a lot of violence into play. From kickball to four-square to basketball, it really is amazing to see when kids are able to be guided into productive play. What a difference it makes on a playground.
Next, I went to play baseball in Europe for a couple of months, then I decided to travel in Europe. So I was gone for about six or seven months. When I came back in December of 2003, I got a call from Playworks saying, "Hey, there is a school in Richmond that the coach couldn't handle the deep anxiety and trauma and violence in the community, and they quit, so we need someone to take over for two weeks."
So I had just gotten back, broke as I could be, and I was like, "Sure, two weeks of making money playing with kids, why not?" I grew up in Berkeley which is like 5-6 miles from Richmond. I'd always been told, "Don't go to Richmond." Media portrayal and newspaper and all that stuff was always saying how it was the most violent place in the country.
So I went in with this real big body armor. I came in with this concept that this is not the place for me to be. And the kids responded the same way. They fed off of my fear. So those two weeks I felt totally misaligned--my heart, my body, my mind were not aligned. They were not in one place. For the two weeks I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I was so hit by the level of trauma that the kids had in the community and the violence that was occurring, but more than that I was more scared about how my body and mind and heart were reacting to it.
By the end of the second week, I could barely open my eyes, because I was so tired. My eyes were red. Of course, the principal and the Playworks director said, "Hey, JG, you're doing an amazing job. Do you want to stay?"
I was thinking, "Are you serious? Have you seen what has been going on in me personally, as well as on the playground?" But they said they saw something special in me, so I actually couldn't sleep for two days more, and I was reflecting on it. In my reflection what I realized is that what I hadn't been doing. which was being my authentic self and I hadn't opened my heart completely to the kids. So I decided to give it a chance.
The next Monday, I went to school with a whole new mindset. It wasn't about feeling the layers of trauma; it was more about feeling my heart layers and letting those heart layers come out to the kids and seeing how they responded to it. And in the next week or two, it was just magical. Truly, the resilience that our children have and the potential and capacity for love is to me almost greater than the community of children that maybe hadn't had the deep trauma. It's hard to explain, but there is this piece of love and connection that kids can give when they have suffered more than I think others do.
And that's what happened. It was this huge love affair, and the playground became the safe place I always wanted it to be. The kids were playing sports and there weren't as many fights anymore. The classrooms started changing. The culture of the school started changing. We had some really good teacher. We made a really good cohort.
Then I realized that our classrooms need to be fun. They need to be full of love and compassion. The last thing our kids need in the classroom is more stress. They come from a community where stress, anxiety, and nervousness is part of their daily activities. So what they really need is a safe container where they can trust the adult and share what they haven't talked about earlier, which is life's true capacity for deep compassion and love and awakening. They are awake. They are the ones who know what life like in the present moment more than a lot of us adults who are super conditioned and have layers, so we can't.
So I became a classroom teacher, and long story short, it was magical. Classroom after classroom I had was just one love affair after another. Kids in school started having more and more success. But what started happening is that we were having more success in the test scores, which is good in a way, but bad in other ways, because what it was saying is that we got it all together in this school. Academics first. So the students that had the most trauma, the ones that were caught in behaviors of violence, that just could not be fully present in the space because they didn't feel safe both at home and in the community and at school, started getting pushed further and further out of the classroom. And that is the school to prison pipeline that the US has right now, especially with African American and Latino boys who early on are being labeled as the bad kids. It could be as young as 4 or 5 years old.
I started realizing that your school system, even though my classrooms felt great, was so flawed. And No-Child-Left-Behind, the idea that test scores are the most important aspect of education, really started creating an internal war inside myself. And that anxiety that I had in 2003 first coming to Richmond started growing and growing. And I didn't have a personal self care practice. I tried yoga and that was helping, but it wasn't fully the self-care that I needed. After about 6-7 years, I started feeling like I was in an educational system that was like a machine. That was like an engine for a car,and I had a wrench. I was trying to fix it, and I couldn't. That is kind of like the journey that got me from wanting to do more in our community around the whole child and social, emotional learning, and Mindful Life Project.
Audrey: Could you share more about the moment when you realized that you weren't opening your heart and being in alignment with yourself in those first two weeks when you came tor Richmond? What was it that changed?
JG: I think at that point, I reached the bottom of what I had known as suffering, in terms of the deep anxiety where I didn't feel like I was inside my body. I think it was actually a dream. During those two weeks, I had a lot of nightmares about the kids and the violence that they were dealing with, but then there was a dream that I remember where I felt like everything was lighter. That everything felt lighter, the space looked lighter, and the kids were smiling more. And I realized the power of that. Even if we have all the suffering in the world, a smile can turn that around.
I remember walking around the playground for the next couple of days or in the lunch room where the kids were having issues, and instead of reacting with "you shouldn't be mad, you shouldn't be angry, you shouldn't be fighting" I would be more like, "give me a hug, let's go talk." That was a shift. Before I felt like I would have to do the healing for them and for myself, and that felt overwhelming. Then I realized all I have to do is just be there, be a loving person, be open, and then the changes will happen. Again, I was 23, so I wasn't that wise. (laughs) I didn't really realize what was happening. I just knew my heart was yearning to share love, especially around communities of color. As a white male in this country, I've felt a lot of resentment toward the way I've been entitled by being a white skinned male in this country. That entitlement felt like a lot of guilt and pain in me. Then I realized that my skin color has nothing to do with what is inside of me. It has nothing to do with what is inside other people.
I remember going in with this new mindset of there will be fights and there will be anger and there will be violence, and that is totally acceptable. But if I can transform my own heart into just brightly shining light, then they will also reflect. That's the biggest message that I tell teachers, as I train so many teachers these days. That we as the adults in the space of school create the mirror. We create the reflection. So if we are stressed, fearful, and reactive, the kids are going be the same way. And if we are aligned and from the heart and we are authentic, compassionate, and mindful, they'll reflect that. And communities where pain and suffering has been there for hundreds of years, for example, you are going to have to be patient with it. It is not going to happen over night.
I think most of us come from a reactive place when we are trying to serve in schools sometimes. That reactive place is because we feel an urgency for change, but we don't realize that our reactive place is actually creating an escalating trauma more and creating worse communities.
Audrey: From there, how did Mindful Life Project come about? I remember you sharing when we came to visit, how it almost created itself. How did that all happen?
JG: After 8 or 9 years of teaching, and it wasn't just teaching, I was really engaged in the community--I was the first one to call the school district and say that our educational system is not equitable: in the same district a school can have all kinds of resources in the hills, but not have anything in the flat lands--I did a lot of community organizing, advocacy for the young people, coaching for the young people, and supporting parents. I built a really strong authentic relationship with the community. I moved to Richmond. This is where my home was.
In 2011, I felt like service was the only way. I also didn't realize the importance of filling myself up with some self-care and some practices. So in 2011 after I had gotten Teacher Excellence awards, Teacher of the Year award, but from the first day of school, I was not aligned again. My heart, my mind, and my body just felt like it was being stretched apart because of the issues and challenges my students were facing, as well as some personal challenges within me. My own interior world felt chaotic. I hit big bout of anxiety and depression.
From September to December, it was the deepest form of suffering that I had ever encountered, where I just felt like no one else in the world could this way. No sleep Trying to pop pill to sleep to do whatever it took to be somewhat functional as a human being. It was just a really awful cycle. I still tried to be in the classroom, even though I missed a couple of days every couple of weeks.
I was trying to do my best and come back to what I knew which was coming from the heart, but the heart was empty, and the mind was scattered, and the body was resistant. About December 10th, a couple of weeks before winter vacation, I told the boys and girls, "You know what, I've been fighting my own suffering." They were third graders, they knew it. I wasn't being my full self and I wasn't fully present for them. And I really apologized and told them I needed to figure it out. So I left for two weeks.
I realized that I needed to find this self-care piece in these two weeks. I tried therapy and that was somewhat helpful. I tried yoga and that was somewhat helpful. But there was still something truly missing. So I took a month.
The first week I took this meditation class. They told me to get on my knees--and I had never done meditation before mind you--for an hour and clear my mind. Then they walked out of the room, and I was all by myself in the room. So it was clearing my mind and being on my knees for an hour. And I think I hit the furthest place of suffering in that hour, because I was so mad at myself. I couldn't clear my mind. I can;'t bear the pain--physical and emotional.
Then someone mentioned Spirit Rock in Marin founded by Jack Kornfield. And I went to a mindfulness class. This was so radical for me to just pay attention to whatever arises in the present moment without judgment. And that last piece really hit me. The judgment piece, because whenever I started suffering, I was judging myself for suffering. I felt less adequate.
So long story short, over the next few weeks, I really got into mindfulness. I took an online course and I went to Spirit Rock, and I started learning from Mindful Schools which is an organization that trains teachers from all over the world. I remember by the third week, I started coming back to myself. My heart and my body are aligned. My mind is aligned. It is coming back. And the mindfulness just transformed me.
And I went back to my classroom of third graders and said, "Boys and girls, it is so good to see you. A new year, a new me." (laughs)
So I had them get in a mindful position and said, "We are just going to work on just listening to sound and focusing on breath for two minutes." At that point, the 30 third graders just looked at me and just shoulder shrugged. They were thinking, "What? This is what you left for? Just so we could focus on sounds and breathing?"
So I rang the bell and the room felt really good. They actually got really still and silent. They focused on sound for a minute. Then we focused on breath for a minute. And then I rang the bell again. The story goes, however, that the kids, especially the ones that had really had a lot of trauma, didn't open their eyes like I asked them to. So the third minute comes and they are still so still and breathing and the energy in the room started getting more and more light. And it was feeling so beautiful.
By the fourth minute, I thought they were messing with me. I thought, "Ok, this is a joke. They were going to open their eyes and start laughing at me." The fifth minute goes by, and I said, "I really want to hear from you." And at the sixth minute, some eyes started gently opening and gently movement. And by the seventh minute, all came around and they were kind of looking around. I said, "I want to hear your voice. What did that feel like?"
The things that they said like "I felt the safest I've ever felt"; "I felt peace that I've never felt before"; "I felt so connected": all these little 8 year olds just telling me the most beautiful things. And that is when we started it--Mindful Life Project. Every morning we would start with mindfulness for 10-15 minutes. Again, this was a class for an hour of my day, I was doing classroom management--stopping fights, doing conflict resolution. We all just started practicing. We put together our own little curriculum. We did mindfulness every morning. And we brought in yoga once a week with an instructor and I did some onmy own. We invited an expressive arts teacher, and we did that. Just trying to find ways to access our inner resilience and at the same time trying to express ourselves and create healing inside and outside.
To bring it full circle, in May/June, the third graders heard that a group from India was coming--16 kids doing a show called Ekatva. We decided to reach out and they connected me with Nimo Patel. Mindful Life Project third graders had been learning a song by MC Yogi called "Be the Change You Wish to See" by Gandhi. We decided we would have Ekatva come to our school and when they arrived we would be on the blacktop on our knees bowing out of respect, and when they walked on, we would sing the song. And that moment was the pure magic of what Mindful Life Project was beginning to be. So we had the most amazing time with the kids at our school. It was just amazing.
I really learned from Nimo and the ServiceSpace community and many other folks like Pancho from Canticle Farms. I realized what service, love, and mindfulness was. So I thought, "Why not? I'm going to take a leap." I'm going to be just like them. Just like Nimo who left being a rap star to being of service. I'm going to do what I need to do to create our own little Manav Sadhana in Richmond.
Mindful Life Project was born. I left the classroom--no funding, no money, no anything, no idea about budgets. I never was a business kind of guy, but I knew if I was of service that I would hopefully not lose my house and my wife would stay with me. And my kids would have food.
The first year we served 150 kids at three local schools doing small group work like mindfulness, yoga, and expressive arts and hip hop. That was transformative. Then we went in the classrooms the next year and taught every kid in those three schools plus two more. The planting of it was just the most beautiful and organic planting that could ever happen. The seeds were just so beautiful.
Audrey: For folks who don't know the show that JG is talking about Nimo, who is a rap artist, decided to go and spend time at the Gandhi ashram in India and they put together a show called Ekatva which means oneness to shine the spirit of humanity. It is these 16 kids from the slum who spent 3 years creating this show together, also at the same time they would go to parks or just down the street and pick up trash and learn the values along the way. Then they ended up coming out to the US and Uk and performing the show in different places like UC Berkeley.
I'd love to know how has the Mindful Life Project evolved over the last 3 years and what does the typical class look like if there is one?
JG: What I really want to focus on when we first started was our most at risk kids, the kids that historically get pushed away from schools more and more, especially our African American boys. It has been tragic to see the school to prison pipeline. So that first year was focused on working with our kids who most need it. During regular school day, we would pull them out for sessions that would last about 50 minutes. In those sessions we would do mindfulness, so stillness practice, learning how to navigate our emotions and our thoughts, how to find the breath, how to find our senses, how to be fully present without judgment. We start with that, then we weave in how to use mindfulness to express yourself through other modalities--yoga, expressive arts, and hip hop.
We had a small group program which was beautiful. However, we noticed that a lot of the students we worked with were accessing the skills we were teaching them, but when they got to class they were not feeling safe or feeling they were a valued member of the room. So they didn't access the skills very well in the classrooms, especially the rooms where there was a lot of chaos and reactivity both from students and adults.
So the second year, we saw the power of working our kids who need this support the most, but there was something missing which was how do we create mindful and compassionate classrooms? It is a challenging job to be in those classrooms as a teacher. It is a challenging job to be at school when you have so much turmoil around you.
The first year was called Rise Up. The second year we felt need to push into class to create some cohesion and compassion as a school. So we went in to teach mindfulness lessons like call and response how to get into the position, call and response around the skill sets, learning how to be in stillness in power and dignity, also understanding that we might not be able to find stillness all the time. We tried to make sure that what ever we did was engaging and shared ownership. The skill we were teaching was already in our students and that we were just going to guide them back to it.
The mindful community the second year was really powerful. It planted the seed for more awareness for teachers. I'd say about 30-40 % of that year teachers participated in the lessons. The other 50-60% were on their phones or on their email trying to do their next lesson plan. But it really planted the seeds for people to be interested.
Then the third year, we went from three schools to five schools the second year really trying to target this community of South Richmond, a neighborhood that had all this violence and trauma. But there was still two communities left that really had deep oppression and generational poverty and violence--that was the iron triangle part of Richmond in North Richmond. So the next year, we decided we were going to start spreading our Mindful Life Project to every part of Richmond. We wanted to find ways that every kid could get it.
The third year we continued to spread our programs to the rest of Richmond, then we added the Mindful Educator Fellowship. We knew that our teachers needed the self practice that I hadn't found for a long time to be their full selves and be present. We train around 90 teachers over the year last year in six week sessions. It was really mindfulness for personal well-being--creating a daily practice, creating a daily awareness when they are living their lives. That was really powerful.
Now we are in our fourth year and we are serving about 90% of the kids in a city of about 100,000 people in Richmond, California. We launched an app for parents and teachers to download mindful sits or meditations. Being able to do the mindful sits at home as a family has been crucial. Teachers who before who didn't feel confident enough to teach mindfulness on their own now just use the app as a way to give kids five minutes on mindfulness, gratitude, compassion, and so on.
Now we are reaching almost 7,000 kids a week in 15 schools. We've seen how this practice, the quiet revolution of mindfulness, is spreading far and wide. It is so beautiful to see what three years ago the district didn't even want to hear me talk about to now having our programs in almost all the schools in the city. And teachers, principals, the families, kids buying in. We do concerts. We do mindful hip hop. How do we transform culturally relevant hip hop to make it about empowerment. Our songs are all about how you use mindfulness to create inner well-being as well as well-being with others.
Audrey: Powerful stuff. You mention the "Quiet Revolution." There is a lot of conflicting views about this. Is it a new age trend. So where do you stand with that?
JG: As a non-profit we thrive on using secular mindfulness, but it comes from Vipassana meditation/Insigth meditation. I think what has happened in the US in terms of conflicting views. If we look at yoga as an example. Yoga in the US has really been disrespectful of the true meaning of it. You start hearing about yoga with weights and on a bicycle. I just feel like mindfulness and any of the these wisdom practices need to be in deep integrity with the thousands of years of practice. So at Mindful Life we really believe that we honor both the past of how these traditions have been passed on as well as the present--some communities want to make sure that it is secular. For me the beauty of mindfulness is that as long as the people who are teaching it have been trained from people who really understand all the ancient traditions, I'm not concerned at all.
I am concerned, however, that what happens in education is around curriculum. So if you have mindful curriculum, then someone can come for two hours and train you on a curriculum with mindfulness in it, and then you go teach it. To me that is deeply unaligned with what this is all about which is human to human connection. So Mindful Life Project, fortunately and unfortunately, is the biggest direct service mindfulness non-profit in the country. It is a little unfortunate because there are other ones out there, especially curriculum based, that are spreading mindfulness in a way that doesn't keep the integrity of it. One that does is Mindful Schools where I was trained. So Mindful Schools requires a personal practice. They offer online and personal trainings by practiced mentors. Then after you get that down, you can go to curriculum training. Others give you two hours of training and a curriculum based on the scientific side which is powerful stuff, but if a person doesn't have the social and emotional intelligence as a teacher and tries to teach social/emotional intelligence, children become reactive.
For us at Mindful Life Project, we really want to see more direct service. I don't want my daughter learning music from an online course; I want her to learn it from a musician. She is six. And I don't want any of our kids using technology to learn wisdom practices because you are going to have questions and curiosities. You are going to want to have that container, safety, and connection. So as we have grown into the biggest direct service non-profit in the country, I want to leverage that and show what really changes lives is not curriculum, it is people.
My staff of 15 people are phenomenal. They are just the most amazing human beings. Even if they were just in the room fully present without teaching any skills, they are already making an impact on the kids life. Then add on the teaching of the skills and the way we teach it, it is getting back to what changes us--compassion, love, care. And that doesn't happen over curriculum or online trainings.
I think it is crucial that we look at scaling. We look at if this is what we are going to use as another capitalistic move or are we going to use it for what it used to be which is transforming a culture of stress, of not feeling worthy and disconnected with each other, to a community where we really find our true compassion, connection, and empathy with each other.
Audrey: I have one more question that I really wanted to ask you. How has this journey influenced your family and your two young kids? Do you do mindfulness with your kids?
JG: Thank you. That is a beautiful question. My kids, I have a six year old daughter named Gabriella and a three year old son named Jonah. It has been really interesting to see. So my parents were world renown artists and one of the things they never did for me was put the art on me. I had to learn it. I learned from them, because I have other friends whose parents did put pressure on them to do certain things. It's more the embodying of it.
What has happened is that Gabriella goes to one of the schools in Richmond. So she is getting mindfulness from other teachers. When I tried bringing it up to her, she was like, "Daddy, let me teach you how to do mindfulness." (laughs) She definitely owns that she knows it better than I do, because she probably does.
With my son, I just started two weeks ago. The preschool he goes to asked me to start teaching mindfulness in the classroom for two and half to four year olds and for the older class for four and half to five year olds. So he is opposite. He really has always been interested. Jonah was born into Mindful Life Project. Ever since he was little, he has always loved the mindful hip hop songs. He knows them by heart. He loves to sit. He created his own thing called "rest time." Every time I see his emotions arising, when he looks like he is going to have a tantrum or be upset, I'll say, "Focus on your mindful breath," and he really intentionally, quickly--quicker than I could--finds the breath. So he started creating his own practice.
So when he is at school and feeling overwhelmed, he will tell the teacher, "I need my rest time." He'll go for 30-40 minutes in stillness, quietly breathing. And he is three. But he owns it though. One day, I dropped him off at school, and he said, "Daddy, I'm going right to rest time." He knew he was sad he was leaving me. He had that awareness, that self awareness. Then I heard, he was there for an hour.
For me, as long as I embody it. All we can do as loving adults is embody the practice. And when there is interest that arises, shine it, but don't pressure it. (laughs)
Audrey: Yeah, I learn so much in just the way people are. The way they show and not tell who they are.
Deven: We have one question from someone who wanted to be on the call but had a conflicting event. She wanted to ask this question There is an organization near where she lives that offers a six week program for teenagers who have been caught with drugs or alcohol at school. The intention of the program is to expose the teens to more life affirming activities that they can get involved in. They asked her to do some mindfulness, but come up with a really, really fun curriculum. Do you have an idea of how to make mindfulness or meditation fun?
JG: I love the question. It's a hard one to generalize because I don't know what community she is in. It has to be relevant. So for us to bring in mindfulness in schools in Richmond, we have to make sure the kids understand that the practice is already in them. They already have mindfulness, but we are trying to make it engaging. The way we make it engaging is that we have a lot of chants, a lot of call and response.
For example, in mindful breathing we find our anchor spot. One of the things we have the kids say is when you forget to use your anchor spot, just use the following tagline: "My mind was drifting, but now it's stopped. I found my anchor spot." Finding ways with rhythm or finding ways that kids have little sweet lines or sweet things. Before we do a mindful sit, we actually get the kids voices in there. A lot of times as teachers we try to give information without realizing that kids need to know that this is theirs. That they own it. When they own, it changes it.
So before we get in our positions, we'll have the kids repeat after us: "I've got my feet on the floor. I've my spine in align, I've got my hands in my lap, I've got my heart to the sky. Now close your eyes." And the kids will say, "alright." By the time they close their eyes, we will ring the bell.
The idea would be that first of all that mindfulness is in everything. If you are fully focused on the present moment, you are being mindful. If it is teenagers who are out in nature, just by being with the breeze touching your skin, you are being mindful. But now we are going to close our eyes in stillness and see what it feels like to feel the breeze when we are fully present without being distracted by sight or sound.
My biggest advice is how do we combine what it means to be in both stillness, but also with what there culture is. For teenagers, how relevant is this for them. So if they are doing drugs, why are they doing drugs--because they are in deep pain and suffering. So if you don't like being in deep pain and suffering, what other ways are there to release it without doing drugs and alcohol.
I always say make it relevant, so Russel Brandt who had a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol, he has a mindfulness practice now. So give examples of people that they might relate to who have a mindfulness practices.
In terms of the organization who wants to make it fun, and she doesn't want to make it fun, she should push back a little and say, "this isn't just about fun; it is about engagement."
Deven: Thank you for that answer. We have another comment from Jane in San Diego: "Thank you for your amazing leadership and work with children in the Bay Area. When I listen to you and think about all the resources working in the Oakland and Richmond area, I feel such a longing to have this kind of work in our inner-city schools in San Diego. Can you recommend resources for schools not in the Bay area to get started bringing these resources and programs to even more students? "
JG: Thank you Jane in San Diego. That means a lot to hear those kind words. Yes, we are pretty lucky in the Bay Area. We have an amazing wealth of practices from Naroga to Mind, Body, Awareness Project to us and Mindful Schools. The issue really comes down to a grassroots thing. We will be scaling into different communities down the road because we believe that what we are creating is scale-able. More importantly, for the short term, for people to join together and to join together in like-minded spirit. If there are teachers in San Diego, I know there is a great conference called Bridging Hearts and Minds coming up in February, finding like-minded people that can create a community. Then it starts building organically from the community.
For you to be trained, I would go to Mindful Schools and find out if they have any online trainings for the personal practice if you need it, but then for curriculum that is fine. But really finding the community down there. For example, in South Africa, this wonderful lady did her Master's project on mindfulness. I've been emailing back and forth with her and talking on the phone with her on how to create Mindful Life in her community in Capetown. And she is doing it. So she is creating her own Mindful Life Project over there. That is what I'm offering to folks. As we have been successful, it is going to be just as easy for people in their own communities to be just as successful as long as they are coming from the right place.
I would say the biggest piece happens in schools. You need advocates at the school levels. I was lucky in Richmond to have been a teacher here who had principals who believed in me, to have families who would stand up for me if the district didn't want me to be here doing mindfulness. So finding your allies is super important.
If it is around curriculum or trainings, just email me at JG@mindfullifeproject.org. I'm happy to share anything we can as a way to support people doing it in their own community.
Deven: Can you share those resources you mentioned with our listeners?
JG: Sure. I know there are other great organizations. For instance, in Baltimore, Holistic Life Foundation. They have been doing mindfulness and yoga in West Baltimore for 10-12 years now. Some of the kids that started out with them are now the instructors. We want to see it grow.
Deven: We have one more comment. Sally says, "I'm a Montessori teacher assistant that would like to incorporate more mindfulness in my classroom. What would you suggest adding into the classroom aside from the Silence Game?"
JG: First of all, Montessori schools are pretty mindful already. They let kids explore their creativity. My son is in a pre-school that is Montessori. I think for little kids an important piece of mindfulness is the mindful movement piece. I always weave in mindful movement like animal yoga. Get their body to be an extension of themselves.
In terms of the practice, I still use guided meditations as well as silence. To give kids complete silence for 2 minutes, their minds are probably completely distracted. Just being a little more guidance. There are some good youtube pieces for kids on mindfulness. If we as adults are bringing mindfulness in, it has to be a personal practice. If I was trying to bring in music, I shouldn't because I'm tone deaf. (laughs) So once it comes from an authentic place, kids are going to want to soak it up.
There are some great books out there. One book I recommend is called "Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda."
Deven: We have one more question.
Caller: I know you played competitive baseball. How do you balance competition with compassion because Alfie Kohn claims that compassion based curriculum and achievement based curriculum work in the opposite directions. So how do you balance that in your personal life and in the schools?
JG: Thank you for your kind words. Personally for me, I guess either age or mindfulness has made me less competitive. (laughs) I still have some competitiveness in me, but it is different. Before the competitiveness was around fear or anger or anxiety, and it showed up in really negative ways. So being competitive is also human. I'm just more at piece when it arises. I don't find myself in those states of anger when I'm losing playing tennis with my friend. I find myself in a different spectrum of emotions that arise.
I totally agree that if we want to change school cultures, which is really important for us in the US, compassion can't really come with the achievement piece that we have in the schools. The way we try to leverage and advocate for the young people is letting teachers know. "What is your North Star?" If your North Star is to make sure that every kid in the classroom can read at a fifth grade level as third graders, what does that mean in terms of the culture you are creating in your room? Are you really looking at the whole child or just the academic child?
We believe reading is fundamental, but if we create a stressful environment where achievement and grading, where kids have to feel inferior because of not doing well, then we are really going to counteract what an education is. Education is both character and content. If we work with our kids in Richmond and forget about the social and emotional aspect of our young people, its going to create stress and chaos. That is why so many classrooms are fight, flight, or freeze mode. They are in the amydala in the reptilian part of the brain. What we are trying to do is tell our teachers that the academics will improve when you change it to a mindful, compassionate community.
Sure we want our kids to go to college and have thriving lives and have opportunities that maybe their families didn't have. But we are not going to get there by pushing more and more academics down their throats. We are going to get there by pushing more and more love and compassion in authentic and organic ways.
I'll give you an example. For me, I used to lose about an hour a day in classroom management before mindfulness in the classroom practice. By the sixth week, I was down to 15 minutes. That is 45 minutes a day that I have some quality teaching time. The same thing is happening in our inner cities. Classroom behavior because of trauma, not because the kids are bad, but because they are expressing their trauma in the only way they have seen and know how, these classrooms are not fully functional. So if we go to using mindfulness, compassion, and empathy, then we are going to be able to reach the kids where they are able to be reached at. Then they will be able to be ready to be still in the classroom to learn a lesson.
Deven: JG, I have one question. When I do my youth coaching, I try to get them to stay in the moment. But I have found that life is fast. And when the pace is fast, it just adds to the stress. So the initial reaction when I introduce this slowness is resistance. How do you deal with that?
JG: Beautiful insight, Deven. I agree. One of the reasons this country has 70-90% of hospital visits being stress related. This country especially has fastened the pace at tragic levels. We do believe that we are slowing the pace down. We are slowing both the internal and external world down by practicing mindfulness. The more you slow it down, the more open fields of possibility occur.
We really want to emphasize for kids, "yes, you want to play video games, but it is nine o'clock in the morning, and you have school. Does that serve you?" Or your mind is racing, does that serve you? It is just this constant reflection of are we here mind, body, and heart. If we are not, no judgment. Just come back. That is the invitation that we offer.
In terms of the resistance, I remember when I was teaching I felt like I had to be an act. I had to be Sponge Bob for example. And that was the only way to engage kids. What we have tried to do, we call it water and fire. In Mindful Life we have water which is mindfulness, compassion, and empathy. And we have fire. We have music, hip hop, activities, and movement. And life is a balance, so there is a place for each of those.
When we are sitting in stillness, try to let fire be far away from you to let water come in. When you are having fire, it is ok to have excitement as long as you are not harming others. As a culture, we are so far what it means to be fully alive. We are so ahead of ourselves. We are so concerned and overwhelmed by what is happening in our past or what might happen in our future, especially around our material and capitalistic society of "the more you do, the more success you have, the better you are." What we are showing is just the opposite.
The more you slow down, the less you do, but the more attention and presence you find in it. The more opportunities you have, and then you will find the true meaning of life.
Deven: Thank you for an awesome call.
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