Profession: Program Director at Mindful Schools
Location: Oakland, CA
Did you grow up as a Buddhist? Buddhism was embedded in my cultural experience from a very early age. I grew up around a lot of Buddhist “brats”—I went to high school in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury with many of the second-generation kids from the San Francisco Zen Center, and that was where I began my practice. When I was a teenager I had a really sensitive reactive system, and practice was the only thing that was allowing me to access any kind of grounded state. Without it, I think my life would have turned out much differently, and much worse.
After high school I went to New York, where I did a BA in Religion and Asian Studies at Columbia University. But I didn’t go forward in academia, probably because I wasn’t smart enough. [Laughs.] So I ended up on a much different track, working for NGOs. I worked for 10 years at organizations that provided legal and social services to torture survivors, and then for the Mind Body Awareness Project, which equips at-risk youth with mindfulness and life skills training, and now I’m a program director for Mindful Schools.
What are the goals of Mindful Schools? Most institutional environments in the United States today are nuts—the level of emotional dysregulation you see is enormous. You go through a mandated educational system for 18 years. How much of that time is spent learning about the inner life—how the mind and emotions function, how reactions come up, how you engage with challenging life situations? For most youth, the answer is: almost zero. These are aspects of your experience that were with you when you were born and are going to be with you long after you’ve forgotten everything that was taught in school. Yet there is no time during the day to give kids this owner’s manual for themselves.
So the goal of bringing mindfulness training into schools is to restore a kind of basic sanity, to use Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s phrase. It’s to bring in this basic idea: there is a way that our body and mind works, especially in the midst of a really strong reaction, and there are ways of paying attention and other things you can do that will make it better.
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