Mindfulness Feeds the Roots

Bringing mindfulness into education strengthens inner resilience for both students and teachers and transforms lives inside and outside of classroom.

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I heard a very helpful analogy recently when attending a meeting of civic leaders in Louisville, Kentucky, who are bringing mindfulness and compassion into their schools.

Using the image of caring for trees, the speaker argued that the education field tends to focus too much on the tree’s fruit (outcomes like test scores) while ignoring the roots. If you ignore the roots for too long, he continued, you don’t get any fruit at all. The takeaway: mindfulness and compassion feed the roots.

I heard this analogy when I was lucky enough to witness the mid-term review of Louisville’s “audacious” 7-year Compassionate Schools Project (CSP) serving over 10,000 K-5 students at 45 schools. The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and the Contemplative Sciences Center have teamed up with the Louisville public schools on a randomized control study of a compassion, mindfulness and movement curriculum. In addition to being the largest and most innovative study of its kind, the curriculum will be free when it’s completed for any school that wants to use it.

This determined crowd of impassioned project leaders included every part of “the system:” the Mayor, the local school district superintendent, a city councilperson, principals and teachers, community leaders, local and national funders, and project leaders from UVA. I was moved to witness leaders from all these sectors championing the benefits of mindfulness.

The highlight was my visit to a grade 1 class to watch the CSP curriculum taught first hand. I saw six year olds using “finding your anchor” and “calming” practices to regain their focus after it had been stolen away by the “visit” of an emotion, and with effectiveness that I rarely see in adults (or myself!). Infectious narratives, replacing the Dick and Jane that I grew up with, gave life to practical breathing and movement exercises.

The Compassionate Schools Project is teaching strengths and skills for inner resilience, for both students and teachers, that are transforming lives inside and outside of class. And, as the city councillor reminded everyone, this is not just a “soft skill,” quoting recent research that points to social emotional learning skills as responsible for “50% of future economic and workplace success.”

I saw six year olds using “finding your anchor” and “calming” practices to regain their focus after it had been stolen away by the “visit” of an emotion, and with effectiveness that I rarely see in adults (or myself!).

Louisville is but one inspiring example of civic leaders and local schools joining forces to feed the roots; Flint, Michigan, is another. I was grateful to attend a recent fundraiser in LA to support the important work of our friends at the Crim Fitness Foundation who are presenting mindfulness and yoga in Flint public schools. Hosted at the beautiful home of Peter and Tara Guber, Hollywood movie producers and professional sports team owners, the gathering was highlighted by inspiring remarks from Crim Executive Director Gerry Myers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who all detailed the ravages and trauma visited upon the lives of the children in Flint, and how the mindfulness and yoga programs were rebuilding resilience and strength.

Perhaps most inspiring were the opening comments of host Tara Guber, who pioneered the Yoga ed program that’s being presented in Flint schools. She reminded everyone that, in today’s interconnected world, Flint is not only the heartland of America, that it’s “every town,” and it could be “any town.” Bringing mindfulness to help heal Flint is “healing our towns, our society, and ourselves.”

Here at the Foundation for a Mindful Society, we are greatly inspired by the work of our friends at the Crim Foundation in Flint and Compassionate Schools in Louisville. And it connects up beautifully with the leading work of our friends at the Holistic Life Foundation in Baltimore, the Momentous School in Dallas, and the emerging Jackson Whole project in Jackson, WY. That’s the start of quite a robust root system.

Seeing these benefits first-hand drives home why it’s so important for Mindful to support the work of these organizations, which we do in a variety of ways. From reporting in Mindful magazine and Mindful.org, our support extends to advocacy and making connections, to our Mindful Cities initiative, to our recent Mindful30 meditation challenge, and most recently to publication of our free content to support mindfulness in schools. We are working every day to galvanize the mindfulness momentum in order to bring the benefits of well-being, resilience, kindness, and compassion into our world.

And thank you all for being part of this grand adventure with us. Thank you for reading our magazine, website, newsletters, and this blog, as well as for supporting so many worthy initiatives that we haven’t touch on yet.

There is much to do, there are roots crying out for nourishment. Let’s keep up the momentum so that mindfulness feeding these roots can bear fruit for all.

To help Mindful “feed the roots,” please donate to our year-end funding campaign here.