By Laney Rupp, Program Intern
Settling into my first group session as an evaluation intern with the MBA Project, my heart is beating so hard I have to ground myself with some deep breaths. How am I going to win the trust of ten teenagers in one forty-minute session? How will I make them feel safe enough to disclose their most personal experiences with meditation?
The group is initially rowdy and posturing. Yet the joking and side conversations subside as MBA instructor Syra invites the group to begin a guided meditation. It is here that the profound cumulative effects of the meditation training become apparent. The group has only been meditating together for a semester but the felt sense of the sit is one of an experienced group of meditators; there is a palpable stillness and connection in the silence.
As the youth emerge from the meditation, Syra invites me to begin the evaluation portion. In that moment, I remember that I can count on my practice—my own capacity to show up authentically with the intention to connect and to listen with compassion. I ask the youth to do a simple, mindful inquiry into their experience: “What have you learned in this class? How is learning to meditate helping you in your life?” Following the meditation, the youth are grounded, clear, and ready to share about their experiences. One young man, who has avoided eye contact throughout the session, looks at me directly and speaks with striking clarity and presence:
This class is helping me find some kind of inner peace. I find myself doing this [meditating] at home and when I am about to lose my temper. It’s helping me stay sane. It’s like smoking.
Many of the youth are recognizing that meditation offers them a sense of connection and relief from suffering that was previously only accessible through substance use. One student even asks if it is possible to get high through mindful movement. His question reflects both the tremendous drive in adolescents for novel experiences and their growing self-awareness that something is happening as they practice mindfulness that brings an altered state of connection and peace.
Equally present is the insight that numbing out cannot be easily sustained. One young man shares with the group that he is learning to work with his suffering rather than turning away:
I have to notice and deal with what I’m struggling with. I feel struggles coming down on me and I know I have to deal with it.
We see time and time again in anecdotal ways that when youth develop the self-awareness and internal coping resources to respond to life’s challenges, they can begin to disengage from harmful behaviors. Turning towards suffering is no small gain; it is the capacity to meet life itself–awake and aware and unclouded by substances. It is the capacity to befriend yourself even in the face of unthinkable adversity.
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