Meditation Flash Mobs Invite Busy Cities to Pause

From the launch of the Mindful Cities initiative to teaching mindfulness as an “adulting” course, here’s how mindfulness is making the news this month.

Sitting in the Middle of it All

Meditation flash mobs are upending the idealized quiet and calm practice setting, with public group meditations. “In public can be a richer place to practice,” says C. T. Tamura, founder of The Sitting Project, which hosts free sit sessions in Times Square, NYC. “As meditators, we’re trying to open up to the world.” Many find that sitting silently amid hustle and bustle is one way to do that.

Mindful Cities Launches 

In May, Flint, Michigan, became the first city to adopt mindfulness programming to support the community. Civic leaders took part in Collective Wisdom, a two-day gathering featuring the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute mindfulness-training program, created at Google. Supported by the Foundation for a Mindful Society—the parent organization of Mindful—and The Crim Fitness Foundation, the initiative provides education and resources to city leaders and the public about the benefits of mindfulness meditation. It will also connect city leaders to experts, partners, and programs to offer mindfulness training in hospitals, schools, and other institutions. Boston and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, will also join this pilot phase of the Mindful Cities Initiative.

Mindful Aging

How meditation can support healthy aging was the topic of the latest hearing held by Britain’s Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, featuring researchers and experts from more than 20 universities plus government and other officials. Presentations addressed concerns of aging including loneliness, anxiety and depression, managing illness, and supporting older people to continue to contribute. 

Since forming in 2014, the BMAPPG has explored incorporating mindfulness into education, mental health,  criminal justice, and more.  

Mindfulness as Life Skill

“Adulting 101” courses are popping up at several North American high schools. These give senior-year students a leg-up toward living on their own, teaching skills such as sewing on buttons, balancing a budget, and changing a tire. Teachers at E. J. Lajeunesse school in Windsor, Ontario, upped the ante with another excellent category: mindfulness and stress management.

Meeting a Need  

There was nothing like Liberate, a new free meditation app  for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), when Julio Rivera went looking. He came to meditation on the verge of burnout from a career as a software engineer. The Afro-Latino man often found himself in mostly white meditation spaces. After discovering a people-of-color sangha (community) at the New York Insight Meditation Center, he finally felt at home. He also realized he could cultivate a similar experience for others. The app features BIPOC teachers and addresses the complexity of living mindfully for those in the BIPOC community. 

Mindful Youth 

Mindfulness and meditation, says Emily Brierly, first helped her with anxiety and panic when she was 13. In the wake of the deadly May 2017 bombing of Manchester Arena, then-15-year-old Brierly leaned into meditation. “Mindfulness allowed me to let go of the need to control the future,” she told the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) 2018 Conference. In 2019, MiSP named Brierly one of their Youth Ambassadors, opening a new door to share her skills and passion for mindfulness with her peers. MiSP is a UK charity that provides secular mindfulness education for young people.

Mindful FAQ

Q: My teenage son has ADHD. I think mindfulness would help him, but he just rolls his eyes when I suggest it. Is there anything I can say to convince him to try it?

A: ADHD is a medical condition of executive function, not attention specifically. Executive function includes cognitive skills related to organization, planning, and goal setting. It impacts more than routine distractibility; it’s a “life management” disorder.

Teen ADHD creates a challenging developmental conflict. Teens typically want more independence. Perhaps because they don’t want to feel “different,” they often avoid their own medical issues. And since executive function is integral to judgment and planning, teens with ADHD are behind in their capacity to manage life independently.

For parents, family mindfulness begins with living it ourselves. From that start, make it real: Think like a teen. Take advantage of his desire for independence and reflect on his experience as it happens. Worried about a test? Can’t sleep? I’ve found mindfulness helpful. Teens also rely greatly on peers, which is why some mindfulness teachers see group programs as easiest for getting adolescents to practice.  

Behavioral therapy is a proven ADHD support, so a psychologist familiar with mindfulness can also be a great step. In the end, since we can’t make anyone else practice mindfulness, sometimes it still comes down to patiently planting seeds for the future while remaining confident that our own practice influences our family for the better. 

Craze or Crazy?

Dog days

With hundreds of dogs at risk each year of vehicular heatstroke, car manufacturer Tesla presents: Dog Mode. The feature keeps the cabin cool even while the car is turned off, while the touchscreen displays the cabin temperature, along with a message that the dog is OK and the owner will soon be back. Pet welfare agency PETA points out technology often fails, and dogs are safest at home, with lots of water.

Screen time

Drivers may opt for “mindful mode,” in a new vehicle from Ford, which quiets the digital gauge-screen to show only the fuel level and speedometer. 

The company says: “Ford considers mindfulness necessary for its customers to help reduce their stress behind the wheel.”  Stress that may be fed by the constant beeps of the pre-collision assist and lane-keeping options, not to mention the 10-inch touchscreen that channels your smartphone.

Acts of Kindness

Staff at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter in Georgia helped an evicted man and his dog. Katie Corbett was moved by the plight of Mr. Williams, a disabled veteran. Corbett found a foster for the dog, Lucky, and started a GoFundMe that raised more than twice its goal of $5,000. The money will help man and dog get back on their feet.

Three teens in southern Ontario ended a night of swimming with a more vigorous workout. Finding a car emitting smoke on a quiet highway around 1 a.m. and a driver who couldn’t afford a tow, the teens pushed while the driver steered home, more than four miles away. “We were raised to help no matter what,” Billy Tarbett, 15, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 

Frustrated by the lack of resources at the hospital near Cape Town where she worked in nursing for almost 30 years, Olivia Pharo quit, cashed in her pension, and opened a health clinic nearby. She intends Sister Pharo’s Clinic to be a low-cost, one-stop service. “Helping is not only a privilege, but also an honor. This is where my heart and soul is,” she told South Africa’s News24.

Mindful Museums

Museums can be places of quiet contemplation, so it’s fitting that many now offer opportunities for mindfulness meditation. Here’s a sampling:

Museum of Modern Art in New York City offers Quiet Mornings at 7:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of the month, to “take time to look slowly, clear your head, silence your phone, and get inspiration for the day and week ahead.” A  guided meditation session follows.  

LA’s Getty Museum hosts Ever Present, “an invitation to explore concepts of temporality and permanence through the work of musicians, artists, dancers, and other cultural vanguards.”  

Manchester Art Gallery, England, hosts drop-in lunchtime mindfulness sessions to give “city-workers…important nourishment as well as respite from the noise and over-stimulation of the modern world.” 

Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania hosts Mindfulness at the Museum drop-in sessions with instruction in meditation techniques led by local teachers “to help our wider community…have access to tools to become more aware” and so that participants may discover that this appreciation of the “here and now” extends outside the museum.

Weekly at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, retired psychotherapist and Insight Meditation Teacher Steve Parsons offers a group mindfulness meditation practice. 

Monthly, the Denver Art Museum hosts Mindful Looking for patrons to “discover overlooked details, explore ideas, and make connections as we linger, look, and discuss” select pieces of art. 

People to Watch: Ashanti Branch

Ashanti Branch was the man of the house at the age of seven. Growing up in Oakland, CA, the oldest child of a single mother, Branch never met his father, who died before Branch was born. He remembers navigating the rules at home—help out, be nice to your sister, be a man—and the rules on the street. “You can’t be too nice, you can’t be too kind, you can’t let people walk over you. That’ll get you beat up.” Branch learned to code-switch like a pro, “dancing between these different masks.” Taking on a parental role didn’t leave much time for being a kid. “I was often exhausted and frustrated: I don’t have no kids, why can’t I ever go outside and play?”

Branch sees himself in the young people he works with through the Ever Forward Club, a youth-mentoring and educator-training organization he started when he was teaching at San Lorenzo High School, California, and trying to figure out why his obviously bright students were failing his math classes. “A middle school teacher caught me and got me on the right track,” Branch says. But nobody had caught his high school students yet. Branch decided he would try. He had learned mindfulness meditation while on a Fulbright Scholarship in India, and mindfulness was one of the tools he offered his students.

His once-skeptical students began to anticipate weekly meditation sessions, where they gained tools for working with stress, anxiety, and anger.

His once-skeptical students began to anticipate weekly meditation sessions, where they gained tools for working with stress, anxiety, and anger, and taking off their “masks”—Branch’s way of describing the “too cool for school” persona many of us adopt. “They think they’re the only ones dealing with it. Everyone else is also wearing their masks, so there’s no safe place to take your mask off and recognize that you’re not alone.” Ever Forward became that for the young men he taught, and eventually for students of all genders across the country, including the 30,000 kids who have participated in the 100k Masks Challenge, drawing their masks on a postcard and writing three words that describe what they let people see, and three that describe what they don’t usually let people see. “Kids tell us amazing things about themselves,” says Branch, who now runs Ever Forward full time. “They want to talk about it. They want to be heard, they want to be seen.”

Join in: Participate in the 100k Masks Challenge by downloading the postcard and following the instructions here.