Teens Discover Context & Compassion
By Amy Edelstein
I’m sitting at a café having miso-mushroom soup, processing my meeting with an inner city high school principal about expanding the Mindfulness and Cultural Development program next year. The pilot was so successful; she would like it to see it reach the entire freshman class. “I want them to have a full 4 years of support from the pressures they are under!”
“I think they are heroes for just being able to pay attention to their teachers in this academically challenging program. Some of them are dealing with such intense problems at home and in their neighborhoods.” The sole school counselor, serving 550 students with everything from college applications to behavioral interventions, nods her assent.
An image flashes across my mind from earlier this month. A lanky sweet looking girl in a yellow and orange bikini roughly kneed and handcuffed by a burly Texan policeman. The infraction? Going to a pool party.
To be a teenager in an inner-city these days is to be faced with issues far more complicated than first loves or summer jobs at the ice cream shop.
There isn’t an easy answer to the complex social, cultural, economic, environmental, and physical problems that face this next generation. But, there is a potent and profound way to empower our young adults, a way to help them cultivate inner strength for outer stability.
That’s where this innovative program Mindfulness & Cultural Development comes in.
With all the benefits of classical mindfulness training, students gain objectivity on the thought process and de-stress through focus and non-judgment. Then they cultivate one more skill, which may make all the difference. They look at their experience in a vast context of cultural and evolutionary development. It’s fun. It’s powerful. And it creates space for heart and compassion in spades.
How does “context” create compassion?
Have you ever set out on a spiritual path only to hit your head on some obstacles of pride? Have you ever felt relief when you found your personal experience laid out in graphic detail by some ancient text describing the fetters to self-development? If so, then you’ve experienced the power of context.
When students learn about context, culture, and consciousness, that same light of relief goes on for them. They discover an anchor they can drop, steadying themselves amidst the sea-changes around them. They experience their own resiliency and resources. With that direct experience comes faith that real change is possible for them. Why? Because they are already tasting it. And it’s self-empowered change from the inside out.
More and more research is validating what we already intuit. In addition to better decision-making, calm and peace, resilience and flexibility, mindfulness gives rise to the all important quality of empathy and gentleness towards self and other. It cultivates a willingness to check harmful reactions. It nurtures a genuine experience of depth, security, and peace. In a word, it facilitates the arising of compassion.
If there was but one skill we could teach our next generation, if there was one single ingredient that would build a stable foundation for our shared future, this expansion of view and heart would be it.
Let’s spread this to our youth in as many ways as possible. Let’s share it with exuberance and conviction in the limitless potential of the human heart.
May all students experience peace and freedom from anxiety.
May all teens discover a profound interest in their experience.
May all adolescents realize compassion for self and others.
May we all live in harmony with the vast unfolding cosmos.
Learn more about and support Mindfulness & Cultural Development programs in the inner city school system, click here. (All donations are tax deductible.)
Amy Edelstein is an author, educator, public speaker, and the first interfaith minister of Evolutionary Spirituality. Her mission is to support people to flower and develop inner strength for outer stability. Amy has over 30 years experience of contemplative practice, including a background in both Western and Eastern spiritual traditions, as well as evolutionary spirituality, a contemporary spiritual perspective that connects individual transformation with a deep sense of responsibility for our collective future. She is co-founder of Emergence Education, which produces educational programs for personal and cultural development. In 2014, Amy developed unique initiative teaching Mindfulness & Cultural Development to over 600 high school students in the Philadelphia Public School system. Ms. Edelstein was honored by the Order of Universal Interfaith as their Wisdom Chair of Evolutionary Spirituality in recognition of her 25 years work with EnlightenNext and as a senior editor of their indepth spiritual magazine. She is author of two books, Love, Marriage & Evolution and Great Awakenings: Radical Visions of Spiritual Love & Evolution and is currently working on a third book on the path and practice of Evolutionary Spirituality. Amy loves living in Philadelphia, inspired by the spirit of our nation’s founders to work for greater freedom and illumination for all. Website: www.AmyEdelstein.com
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This article appears in: 2015 Catalyst, Issue 13: The Dalai Lama's 80th Birthday Gift - Global Compassion Summit