Jerome was a fidgety 14-year-old in the first MBA group in a juvenile hall mental health unit. He had a habit of constantly interrupting facilitators to ask off-topic questions and to break out in bouts of uncontrollable laughter without prompt, often causing the rest of the youth to join in. His behavior irritated some of the other youth, and unit staff sometimes had to intervene.
After another round of spontaneous group laughter, MBA Project instructors brought the group’s attention to the behavior. “I’m guessing that we’re all laughing for one of two reasons: 1. Ya’ll haven’t laughed in a very long time or 2. Something about this class is making you uncomfortable.”
Jerome, still laughing, apologized. “Look, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I have ADHD and I can never sit still.” The rest of the youth chimed in with their own experiences of being labelled mentally ill, and claimed they would never be able to sit still long enough to meditate.
The instructors introduced one of the key MBA Project lessons: the lion/dog metaphor. The practice of meditation is like building the same focus and stamina of a lion versus being controlled by an easily distracted dog. The youth really connected with this. Instructors led them through a 3-minute mindfulness of breath exercise. For thirty seconds, Jerome was able to close his eyes, take deep breaths, and relax a little into his chair before breaking out into giggles.
“I suck, I can’t meditate,” he complained.
“No, you did great!” the facilitators said, “I saw you breathing and focusing!” Jerome grinned, proud of himself for doing something he was convinced he wasn’t able to do. MBA Project works with hundreds of young people just like Jerome, who are convinced they can’t meditate and don’t want to try, and who are often surprised when they prove to themselves that they can. MBA Project youth report that meditation helps them sleep, work through anger, and helps provide a clearer mind to make better choices. These are beneficial skills for young people like Jerome, who too often feel defeated by the stigma associated with mental health challenges. Even for a few moments, Jerome had the focus and stamina of a lion.