Area of Study #1 – Origin and Definitions of Mindfulness
Content Unit 1: Mindfulness, Awareness, and Attention
This unit explores definitions of mindfulness from its spiritual and historical beginnings through its contemporary development as a secular practice. The focus of this unit is to develop a clear understanding of the range of definitions of mindfulness and their implications and applications to our own personal practice and in education settings. To do this we will explore mindfulness and its relationship to attention, concentration, calm and insight. While the term mindfulness can be traced back nearly 2600 years ago to India and remains a core element of Buddhist practice, the essence of mindfulness cannot be said to be Buddhist, but rather is a basic human trait that can be cultivated and strengthened by anyone who has a desire to do so. This view allows us to explore the essential quality of mindfulness and related skill sets as they pertain to the current secular movement that uses mindfulness as a central practice in building a more wise, kind, and just world.
Area of Study #2 – Mindfulness of Self
Content Unit 2: Stress, Relaxation, and the Body
In this unit we explore anchoring mindful awareness and attention in our bodies, how to cultivate a kind relationship with our bodies and how to teach somatic awareness skills to adolescents. Specifically, we’ll explore the role of somatic awareness in deepening mindfulness and insight in formal meditation periods and in integrating mindfulness into our everyday lives. We’ll focus on the role and benefits of relaxation in cultivating mindfulness and managing stress. This unit will also explore cultivating a caring and compassionate relationship with our bodies, and mindful movement through yoga and other physical modalities.
Content Unit 3: Emotions and Thoughts
What is an emotion and how are they related to thoughts? This unit explores current debates on theory of emotion, whether they are universal in humans or socially and cognitively constructed. We’ll explore the role and purpose of emotions and how we can skillfully learn from and work with our thoughts and emotions with mindfulness. And emphasize how to support youth to explore, honor and learn from their emotions and thoughts through contemplative practice.
Content Unit 4: Attachment, Trauma, and the Descent
In this unit we explore trauma and its causes with a particular focus on its impacts in the body. This unit introduces basic trauma and attachment theory and approaches for working with youth who are impacted by various levels of trauma. In all of this we will explore taking a stance of unconditional positive regard for our own trauma adaptations and for those of the youth we work with. Plotkin’s chapter on the Wanderer in the Cocoon will introduce the idea of the sacred wound – how our early wounding helps establish our path towards wisdom and our soul gifts. Plotkin emphasizes that in a healthy society this necessary process occurs in late adolescence and ideally is mid-wifed by soul-centric adults. We will practice various loving kindness practices as a foundation for working with and healing trauma, addiction and attachment disorders.
Content Unit 5: Identity, Intersectionality and Conditioning
“Intersectionality” speaks to the reality that we are influenced by any number of identities, all of which are informed further still by our social and political locations. We are not just white or black or gay or transgendered. We are an expression of a community of identities and influences that may not be apparent to those around us—or even to us. Authenticity as a meditation teacher requires a kind of radical presence. “Radical” speaks to a sense of remembering and returning to a simple and basic way of being in the world, one that reduces the violence to oneself and others; it honors one’s own passions and aspirations and relates to the world from a place of equanimity. When we choose this way of being in the world, we feel at home in our own body, with no desire to leave it; because we feel at home in the body, we feel at home in the world. That is radical presence. And at its heart is an awareness of one’s own intersectionality. Radical presence helps to bring into focus how power operates in our relationships in ways that often necessary and sometimes violent for others. In this unit, we will explore the intersection of intersectionality and power to cultivate teaching roles that are in balance and sensitive to those we are teaching.
Area of Study #3 – Mindfulness in Relationship
Content Unit 6: Ethics, Mentoring, and Leadership
In this unit we will explore what it means to be a teacher and the ethical responsibilities implicit in positions of leadership. Our exploration of ethics will include defining what is right and appropriate for our own process and how to engage authentically with clear boundaries. How we hold space, and invite trust into that space and how we turn on our multi-level radar to be prepared to address challenges and needs as they arise, will all be addressed in this unit.
Being a mentor or teacher is a way of practicing leadership, in which we lead by practicing authenticity and supporting another’s autonomy. By providing steady support and love, and navigating healthy boundaries, we create an opportunity for youth to explore their own values and decision making process. Being a leader in this context, means checking our own agendas and biases, and being willing to allow the young people we work with to live their own lives. We will explore mentorship primarily as a way to create authentic relationships with youth in order to support them in developing their own self-awareness and greater self-empowerment.
Content Unit 7: Mindful Communication
Mindful Communication examines how we bring mindfulness into our relationships and our communications with others. This unit emphasizes communication – both speaking and listening – as foundational for our interpersonal relationships, and therefore skill in this area is critical in our roles as teachers and mentors. There are many strategies and books on how one can communicate skillfully that support relationships. In this unit, we look at examples of NVC and feedback practices, as well as practicing compassion to support this process. We’ll also review research on the impact of compassion and empathy in our relationships and our personal well-being. With greater awareness to our own feelings and needs, concrete skills for how/when/why we communicate, and engaging our capacity for perspective-taking and compassion, we’ll explore how we can move towards connection even in challenging moments.
Content Unit 8: Social Justice, Power, and Privilege
When we talk about social justice we are attempting to highlight the many ways that our communities suffer from inequality. Justice here refers to the act of looking at specific forms of injustice or imbalance. This is also concerned with power and the ethics of power itself. In this unit, we will be focusing on developing personal understandings of power through mostly radical contemporary women of color in academia, community organizing, and in spiritual leadership. The primary questions we will be examining are our relationship to being in positions of structural power with youth as teachers, how to address that skillfully and how our teaching of mindfulness can become more justice centered.
Area of Study #4 – Mindfulness in the World
Content Unit 9: Bringing Mindfulness to a Community
In this unit we will explore how we bring mindfulness to a whole community, particularly school communities. Specific skills will include teaching parents and colleagues. The foundation of this unit is based on the success and curriculum of the comprehensive Middlesex Mindfulness Program. You will learn the ingredients that lead to a thriving culture of mindfulness in a school or other youth focused community.
Content Unit 10: Play, Culture, and Creative Expression
In this unit we will look at and explore writings and videos on play, culture, ritual and the creative process. We will look at how play is a natural human process and neoteny (the ability to retain immaturity through adulthood) is an amazing attribute of humans that we do not necessarily use but that can be activated in the mindfulness process as a tool to teach mindfulness modalities.
By using Play, safe spaces are created that allow for the exploration of culture, and the building of trust. The notion of the participants needing to correct a deficiency or buy into a particular thought or belief system is bypassed allowing for the direct sharing of mindfulness practices. In later stages the explanations can be given. Participants are allowed the direct experience of mindfulness modalities, which opens up the ways in which these practices can be utilized in their daily lives. Added to this direct experience are the suggestions of the how these practices and tools can be used for health & well-being.
Content Unit 11: Nature Awareness
In this unit we’ll focus on fostering our relationship with the natural, more-than-human world. Many people do not recognize that we have a cultural habit of alienation and that most of us are deficient of this essential connection to nature. This habit of disconnection have allowed humans to continually contribute to the degradation of the environment and ultimately to our own health. As humans, we intrinsically belong to the earth. Our unique human qualities of awareness, analysis, gratitude, and choice have a place in the earth’s ecology. We can use our mindfulness practice to not only gain deeper understanding of our true interconnection with all life but to also cultivate discernment and wisdom for clear and appropriate action.
Sitting, walking, and lying on the earth supports a naturally arising sense of connection, calm, and space. Cultivating a practice of going outside daily can support our reconnection and sense of belonging.
Content Unit 12: Livelihood
You’ll have some time in this final unit to actively synthesize the material from the entire training. Through this process, you’re invited to articulate how you will integrate mindfulness with livelihood. This includes both what it means to teach mindfulness as an income generator, as well as how you weave mindfulness into your day to day work. What threads from previous units are you interested in pulling to explore more deeply? What components contribute to how you envision your work in this field?