Senior Instructor Micah Anderson joined the MBA Project team in 2011, and has worked with hundreds of MBA youth in juvenile halls and continuation schools around the Bay Area. He is currently enrolled at Sofia University to attain his Masters in Counseling Psychology, which ties into MBA Project’s growing emphasis on having a more clinical, trauma-informed approach. Micah will graduate in June 2016.
What made you want to become an MBA Project instructor?
For me, personally, it came from the fact that I really desired to give back what I was given as a youth. I went into a rehab followed by a group home when I was in my teens and around that time I was introduced to meditation practice, therapy, and AA. From that, I embarked on a path of spirituality, seeking, and self-awareness. It always seemed service work was the best spiritual practice for me; it bolsters gratitude and humility. Fast forward twenty-five years, I started getting involved again in the form of a career relaunch. I had been a musician for years but decided to go back to school and get a degree in psychology. The MBA Project allowed me to launch a career and work my way up from the bottom. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of people teach me how to hold the room, and not just teach meditation, as that’s only one part of what we do.
Can you elaborate on that?
As the MBA Project continues to take a more clinical and trauma-informed approach to serving this population, we find that increasingly meditation might be only 10-20 minutes of an hour and half long group. The focus is on guiding the youth and ourselves back to self-awareness, back to the here and now. That’s important because that’s what we do in meditation practice, isn’t it? We try to stay in the here and now and build the platform of self-awareness. Over the years, MBA has found other ways to help build self-awareness: check-ins, guided meditations, guided conversations, psycho-education elements, etc. The emphasis is to build self-awareness in the youth so they have the ability to make more informed decisions. That way they learn how to own their own change rather than doing it for someone else. Of course, we do meditation but we’re trying to build mindfulness with the youth in any way possible, with meditation being one of the many tools we use. There’s always going to be a percentage of kids—for whatever reason, but often because of trauma— who don’t connect to meditation and who don’t or can’t meditate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn skills and be authentic and learn how to help themselves.
What are your strengths as a MBA Project instructor?
I’ve learned a lot over the last five years from both being in the room day after day with the youth, as well as more formal learning in school, and there are several helpful skills I have found essential for this work. One would be my own personal ability to track myself and my own triggers and biases in the room. Another would be the ability to drop into an authentic self: to be as authentic as possible with the youth. This is key as they can read through it like a book. Another key element is my adaptability and flexibility. We go into MBA groups with specific hopes in mind for our ability to help the youth transform themselves, but we have to be perfectly willing to put aside our own agenda to go with what’s needed and what’s arising in the room, and that can be very hard. Some of the best advice I received as a therapist in training was to get out of the way and let the work happen. Another strength would be my familiarity and comfort with navigating youth countercultures; it’s not the most important, but it helps.
What’s it like to be a MBA Project instructor?
It’s transformative, it’s supportive. I feel like I have a community within the MBA organization, and then outside of the organization with all of the youth. I have a lot of wonderful relationships and experiences on both of those levels. That said, it can be draining. Self-care is very, very important in this field and when working with this population. Burnout and compassion fatigue are very real things that I’ve encountered personally by working too much, or getting too involved. It’s wonderful work and it’s very, very challenging work that requires a fine tuned ability to track my own physical, emotional and mental needs. It’s very difficult to go in and do a group some days. Being an instructor is like a microcosm for life: joy, beauty, transformation and challenge, difficulty, struggle and even grief or loss. We experience that when youth leave or go into other institutions; some of the youth we encounter are spending pretty hefty amounts of time in prison, and there’s a grief process when you have to let go of these youth knowing you may never see them again. Some days those groups are wonderful and the youth are invested and other days it’s not that easy; there’s distraction and resistance. The youth can be distracted and resistant and sometimes I’m distracted and resistant. It really encompasses the spectrum of experience. As mindfulness practitioners, we need to remain open to all experience and learn from it all.
How would you describe the impact that mindfulness meditation has on incarcerated and at-risk youth?
We aim to have MBA groups be a temporary culture shift for the youth. They enter a MBA group for an hour and a half and we all work intentionally to create a different culture than what is the norm, which is isolation, lack of human connection, lack of empathy, and distraction. It’s an opportunity for us to intentionally create a temporary alternative, with the intention that we can someday make it permanent. It’s a space where safety is respected and worked towards. It’s a space where self-awareness is an important thing, where empathy and compassion and authenticity are embodied and promoted rather than reactivity, distraction, and materialism. Once someone comes into a MBA group, they are entering something different than what they are used to. MBA Project groups give permission to be honest, to be raw and authentic, to cry and to laugh. There’s a collaborative nature to a MBA group that is appreciated by the youth, especially incarcerated youth. Their freedoms are severely restricted and there’s a lot of discipline and punishment constantly hanging over their heads. There’s a cloud of a court case and sentencing. These youth are faced with pretty severe struggles, which makes them ripe for some sort of transformative experience. That’s the main thing that we’re offering. We’re offering a semi-sacred space for them to enter that is intentionally different than what exists outside of the space.
How has your work with the MBA Project impacted you personally?
There is a parallel process of transformation that happens that I’ve witnessed and experienced. The group is also partially a support for myself, and it has become an integral part of my own spiritual growth and wellness. As the youth learn to open up to experience, I learn as well. As the youth learn to lean into their shadow, I do too.
What are you most excited about in regards to MBA Project’s future?
I’m super excited about the future of MBA. I think this idea of returning back to the source—Noah Levine’s involvement again in MBA Project with the Against the Stream (ATS) affiliation—is substantial and important and it feels right to me. As we are old friends and I’ve watched the arc of both organizations, It’s wonderful that organizationally we were able to link back up. There is also a sense it’s a win-win for both sides. A win for ATS to have an increased social justice element to their organization and for the MBA Project because there’s organizational muscle and experience behind ATS that can help us expand our reach. Our new Executive Director, Mary Stancavage, has been completely supportive and collaborative, and we are feeling great about her joining the team. There’s a lot of excitement about the possibility of more digital products and more mindfulness-based services for youth in more juvenile halls. Our increasing focus on clinical interventions has been really helpful to engage the youth much more; as MBA’s clinical and trauma-informed approach deepens, I foresee that MBA will be able to reach the youth in a more transformative way than ever before…it’s already happening.