It is easy for mindfulness to fall exclusively into the self-help category, given the research-based health and psychological benefits of practicing. However, to categorize it as such would limit the scope of mindfulness and what it has to offer. We can certainly practice mindfulness to help us alleviate stress, and when we are less stressed, we are generally more able to act from a place of compassion in our world. However, we can also put compassion at the center of our mindfulness practice, intentionally cultivating this state of being as a way of serving ourselves and our wider community. Research has even shown that service can lead to happier, healthier lives in those volunteering.
Every interaction and experience we have is an opportunity to practice compassion. Some experiences are easy, when our heart reaches instinctively towards a child who has been injured. Some are more challenging, like when a political adversary is hurling insults or untruths towards us or those we love. Responding mindfully can ensure we do so in a way that lets us live our values, away from a reactionary posture and towards a more open, loving stance. But we must actively engage in fostering a compassionate and nonjudgemental attitude if we are to do so.
For me, this has looked like attending a 5-day loving kindness retreat. It has meant attending a Mindfulness for Civic Engagement Workshop at the Harvard School of Education, and a second conference hosted by Antioch University on Mindfulness and Social Advocacy. I want to use my energy to serve in the world, so I am learning more about how to take it off the cushion and into my life.
I also wanted my students to have an opportunity to serve others through their learning in mindfulness. As a final project in my Mind Wise Course, an elective at a local high school, students were asked to take the tools they had cultivated to complete a service project. They were asked to choose a target audience and share their most important learning with that audience through a medium of their choice. I wanted to share a few of these final projects to see what Mindfulness in Action can look like:
Leo created an incredible graphic piece illustrating the theme of compassion (click on the image to flip through):
Morgan and Emma put together a short video for their Equestrian Team detailing how mindfulness helps support riding:
Graduating senior Abram put posters up around school reminding students of their privilege and his gratitude for those small benefits of being a Baxter student:
I am continuously trying to find the balance between honoring the "small" work that I do in this world, the kind moments I exchange with strangers, the laughter with individual students, and the "large" work of helping to build a society I am proud to leave for my daughter. It feels important to me that I honor both, and continuously stay alert to opportunities to do that large work. I hope my students, too, make this connection. That the practice is not just for ourselves. It is to make us better able to serve our communities, so we all may experience less suffering.