Teaching mindfulness to students at the REAL School was not always a simple task. For students who had not been successful in traditional settings, there is an extra layer of wariness towards weird strangers telling them to focus on their breath. They seemed on edge, like they feel unsafe. Over the course of the eight weeks I spent with them, I saw some cracks in their facades. They occasionally would offer an insight into their experience or agree to read a line of a poem we were dissecting.
When the eight weeks came to a close, we ended with a beach pebble ceremony, each taking one as our anchor and sharing one thing we would leave with. I told them the one thing I hoped they remember is that we have more control and freedom than we often think we do. And that freedom comes from noticing what is going on for us. I told them just the night before, I was feeling really angry, and I decided I was going to eat pizza and watch bad television. I told them that mindfulness doesn't always mean we choose something healthy or sit with our emotions every moment as they arise. Sometimes, it means we notice those strong feelings come up, and we choose to not deal with them right then. Sometimes, it means we eat pizza and watch bad television, and reinvestigate the emotions the next day when we're ready (as I did on a walk to the water the next morning). But we choose that, instead of falling into it without awareness.
When I collected the feedback from students, I was pleased to see that many of them found it useful. Many of them had ideas about how it had or could help them in their lives. Even if they wouldn't share it in front of their peers, many of them saw the control and freedom it offered.
Staff also had a positive response to mindfulness, 100% of whom enjoyed learning about mindfulness, thought it could help them in their own lives, and thought more students should learn about mindfulness. Some of their reports:
"I love using it to try and fall asleep at night and to unwind after school."
"...practice daily, incorporate mindfulness into walks, and help with inability to sleep."
"When I'm overwhelmed, I benefit from the breath exercise." When I'm angry, the straight spine and feet on the ground posture helps me regain my composure."
"Wonderful tool. Great way to live. Thank you for your courage and generosity."