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Mindfulness in the Brooklyn Friends Community…Pearl Street, Lawrence Street, & Beyond

Miranda Chang
Class of 2018

My Creativity Activity Service (C.A.S.) project is about cultivating mindful lifestyles with those around me and guiding our community towards a mindful education. I felt that this project was a great opportunity for me to advocate for the practice of mindfulness, learn what mindfulness means to BFS, investigate how mindful students and faculty are, craft a blog for the first time, and research suggestions as to how we can be empowered to incorporate mindfulness into our academic, socio-emotional, and personal lives. Read more to discover some uplifting tips about embracing the moment, balancing ups and downs, centering the mind, and exploring the vitality our community, the world, and beyond!

Over my childhood and adolescence, I have learned to cultivate mindfulness, to be balanced and centered in the present moment, to appreciate all of the emotions, adventures, and journeys of myself and those around me, and to understand that being mindful is a transformative and lifelong process. Being mindful is something I am super passionate about, and for my CAS project, I took the opportunity to investigate the presence of mindfulness in the Brooklyn Friends’ Upper School by surveying the community. Thank you to all the students and faculty who participated! I hope that after sharing my discoveries and insights, we will be inspired to capture mindful lifestyles and lastly, aspire towards a mindful education.

The first question I proposed is: define mindfulness, or what it means to be mindful, in your own words. It was fascinating for me to see the unique perspectives both within and across grade levels. I saw that there is a common theme of mindfulness having to do with awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings, and showing integrity and compassion all around. Ideas such as belonging, serenity, health, purpose, and celebration present a well-rounded, personalized set of truths. Here’s a snapshot of the responses:

9th graders

“acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts”

“…being aware of other people and respecting their opinions and beliefs”

“…aware of your surroundings and to be considerate of others’ feelings and experiences”

“to understand oneself…look back on your mistakes and triumphs and learn from them”

 

10th graders

“to find peace within yourself”

“embracing people for their differences”

“to be considerate of the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others”

“to realize the ripple effects that certain words and actions have on others and the world”

“living in the now…to be calm, cool, collected”

 

11th graders

“in the moment…learning to appreciate the moment”

“being aware…of surroundings, or just being aware of yourself physically and mentally”

“thoughtful, considerate, reflective on the past and future”

“internally accessing what my body is telling me it needs…taking care of yourself”

 

12th graders

“being aware of one’s body, both externally and internally”

“synonymous with reflectiveness…that to progress, you must engage in self evaluation”

“one’s connection to oneself…in tune with emotions and mental state of being”

“understand limits…celebrate what you’ve accomplished…trust yourself to work and relax”

“being aware of your body and mind within your surroundings”

“…calm and having a healthy lifestyle that balances your body’s natural cycles with your life”

 

Faculty & Staff

“develop healthy perspective….rather than rushing through living…dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future…”

“…to look within, expand my understanding of the world, reach oneness with the universe”

“in the moment…focusing on as many elements of the task at hand as possible”

“being aware…let all of the ‘extra’ stuff slide away so you can be fully present”

“center yourself…delve deeply into why and how your body engages with external forces.”

“witnessing your thoughts and feelings without judgement, taking time to recenter, be aware, engaged, thoughtful and intentional”

***

I am often inspired by the multi-talented, awe-inspiring community at BFS. Understanding that creative and reflective activities positively impact many lives, I decided to check-in, and this is what the BFS community had to say:

WHAT CREATIVE ACTIVITIES DOES BFS DO? Art. Lesson planning. Music. Sports. Writing. Dance. Drama. Cooking. Film. Photography. Physics. Knitting, Weaving. Bookbinding. Puzzles. Reading.

WHAT REFLECTIVE ACTIVITIES DOES BFS DO? Meditation. Journaling. Yoga. Meeting for Worship. Fishing. Walking. Showering. Church service. Jogging. Sleeping. Walking meditation. Talking. Working out. Lifting weights. Listening to music. Praying. Silent-thinking. Photography.

***

To get an idea of the day-to-day lifestyles of those in my community and the correlation to mindfulness, I asked a series of questions following the idea of “how often do you do ___ in a day?”

Four main takeaways:

  • Turn everyday tasks and interactions into opportunities for mindful observation
  • Uni-tasking and unplugging allows one to be more observant and present
  • Remember to elevate one’s mood with a light-hearted sense of humour
  • Explore the world through all the senses; cherish the vitality of the world

***

Finally, I asked participants to rank from 1-5 (1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree), the extent at which they agreed or disagreed with a set of “I” statements. Many felt that this was an interesting activity, one which allowed space for thoughtful reflection about oneself, including one’s values, growth, and life choices.

 

“I accept both my positive and negative emotions and experiences”

The majority of responses showed that we, for the most part, are aware and accept whatever we feel in the moment. Making sure to give every feeling their appropriate time through all the ups and downs is essential to centering oneself in the present and being mindful.

 

 

“I find the balance between holding on and letting go”

Most results ranged from disagree to neutral, to agree, with a few strongly disagrees and strongly agrees. Learning how to balance both pleasant and unpleasant circumstances, and more importantly, watching one’s thoughts and listening to one’s voice to discover what is worth time and energy, is meaningful.

 

 

“I remember to not take myself so seriously”

More spread in results, with the majority centered around neutrality. Well-deserved breaks to treat yourself from the stress of school, work, and life, whether a good laugh, an energizing workout, a funny movie, or sleeping nine hours, are beneficial in the long run.

 

 

“I pay close attention to what I am ‘feeding’ my mind and body”

A considerable amount of responses for disagree and neutral, with the majority for agree. The key to mindfulness is actively processing and observing what is happening, and making time to reward ourselves and those around us with openness, love, confidence, and respect.

 

 

“I am willing to try out new experiences”

The majority of participants are willing to discover new talents and passions with an open-heart. By acknowledging that there may be life-changing experiences and multiple perspectives to take in, we are always better off, mindfully grounded.

 

 

“I practice gratitude”

Approximately half of participants responded under the category strongly agree. Gratitude allows us to wholeheartedly savour moments of wonder and joy, the old and the new, while also radiating kindness and compassion towards those around us.

 

 

“I embrace every moment on a daily basis”

A close number of participants marked strongly disagree and strongly agree, an equal number of participants chose disagree and agree, and the majority were at neutral. Embracing every moment can mean paying extra attention when having a conversation with someone, giving yourself permission to take a breath and quiet the mind, being open to new possibilities and surprises, and discovering that the small things we cherish are more than the ordinary.

 

***

Through this CAS project, I am motivated to inspire those around me to practice mindfulness and sustain a mindful outlook on life. I believe mindfulness serves as an extension to our Quaker values of simplicity, integrity, equity, and stewardship, and the many dimensions of our IB curriculum.

I have some suggestions (inspired by Holistic Life Foundation and leading researcher Katherine Weare’s Mindfulness in Schools: Where We Are And Where Might We Go Next?) to incorporate mindfulness in education in the BFS community as a whole:

  • Implement lively, vivid, and active “mindful moments” that include but are not limited to breathing exercises, stretching, and meditation to benefit academic and socio-emotional growth.
  • Offer time and space for the community to cool-down, refresh, or to simply enjoy the moment, and advise each other to seek these comfortable and enlightening opportunities especially during times of distress.
  • Educate faculty in mindfulness-related trainings, then create a whole-school foundation where faculty can guide students, empowering them to self-regulate thoughts and gain greater awareness of emotions, the key to helping students establish meaningful relationships, build rapport, and accept who they are.
  • Invite discussions of stress reduction, relaxation, and mindful living, and remember to encourage community members to walk in each others’ shoes, detour away from the habitual into unique perspectives and thought processes, and care about the well-being of others while also being aware of our own.
  • Offer a helping hand and shed positive light on everybody’s individual mindfulness journey, emphasizing empathy, harmony, and kindness both in and out of the classroom, across friend-groups, grades, and divisions.

To conclude, I want to share my own definition of mindfulness: a practice to fully acknowledge the present moment, both internally and externally, in an energized, balanced, and natural way. Personally, being mindful has allowed me to make smarter decisions, learn better coping mechanisms, and most importantly, be my true self day in and day out. As we embark on the next chapters of our lives, let’s go with the flow, befriend ourselves and our experiences, remember to reflect, and cultivate mindfulness with those around us.  

 

 

Thank you for reading! Feel free to email me at mchang@brooklynfriends.org if you have any questions, thoughts, or feedback. Also, please feel free to check out my blog Once Upon A Mindful Wanderer at simplymindfulvibes.wordpress.com!

Special thanks to my CAS advisor Erika Hillstead and my teachers Noel Quiñones and Natania Kremer for their support.