We are thrilled to announce that Matthew Brensilveris now the Course Manager for our online Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials courses. If you’ve taken a course with Matthew as the teacher, this will come as no surprise. His ability to guide and lead mindfulness practice through our online community has been incredible. We’re so lucky to have him on our team.
In one student’s heartfelt words:
I honestly can’t say enough positive things about you, Matthew … You’ve set an impossibly high bar for any other online course I take!! – Mindfulness Fundamentals course graduate
Along with Matthew’s history of exceptional teaching at Mindful Schools over the last year, Matthew Brensilver, PhD, holds a master’s degree in clinical social work and has done psychotherapy with adolescents, adults, and groups. He received a PhD from USC, where his research investigated depression among at-risk youth. Currently, Matthew collaborates on addiction research at the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine. He also teaches at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center on the intersection of mindfulness and psychotherapy.
We recently asked Matthew a few questions to formally initiate him onto the team.
How did you come to mindfulness in your own life?
MB: I had a high school friend who practiced mindfulness and I remember thinking, “she knows something I don’t know!” Honestly, it kind of freaked me out, but it made me curious. That was my first encounter. Years later I was living in LA and two roommates were practitioners. One evening after a long day at work, I barreled into the apartment in an unconscious and mindless way, only to find a group of people quietly doing mindfulness practice. I did a little practice and quickly discovered that my attention was all over the place. My mind was like a circus gone wrong! But I just couldn’t look away. I thought to myself: This needs my urgent attention. Have I been living with this? Is this what goes on in consciousness? From there, it felt natural to continue with the practice and my commitment grew steadily.
How have students found the Mindfulness Fundamentals [MF] online course?
MB: There’s a range of how people engage with the MF course. Some people find that it’s really helpful for managing the stress of modern life. A surprising number of people quickly sense the radical potentials of mindfulness practice. People realize both how intense it is to be human and how much we tend to underestimate the capacities of our own hearts. What’s most gratifying is that in just 6 weeks, people develop a sense of settling into the present moment and this opens the possibility of new ways of meeting the experience of our lives.
What are you looking forward to in your role?
MB: There are a lot of people that have not had easy access to clear mindfulness instructions. Although I don’t believe the practice is a panacea, there are a substantial number of people for whom the practice can be transformational – so, the broader dissemination of mindfulness is very promising to me. It is beautiful to witness the dawning of insight that unfolds in each MF class – people understand that it’s possible to be more free than they’ve imagined. It is very touching to witness this. I’ve seen that a lot over the years of teaching, but it’s only become more poignant over time. Part of the promise of Mindful Schools is that it’s an organization being run by people who know the depths of practice and are committed to articulating this in a way that’s consistent with the emerging scientific understanding of flourishing. I’m very happy to be part of the team.
In the past few years, Senior Trainer Vinny Ferraro has been a guest speaker on love for James Baraz’s program, Awakening Joy.
James, a leading teacher in the field, defines mindfulness as ‘simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
He writes about Mindful Schools in his best seller, Awakening Joy:
Vinny spoke specifically about ‘What gets in the way of love?’ He moved a crowd of several hundred adults and caregivers with another 1,000 or so tuning in online. He spoke of wisdom from many of the greats – Twain, Hesse, Merton – but woven together in some of his own words. Here is a transcript of his talk.
I want to welcome all of you. This practice is a radical invitation to the whole of us.
On ‘not withholding love from myself, till I act right.’ This kind of emotional extortion has never made people act right, it’s just not an effective strategy. No one has ever hated themselves into becoming a better person. This inclination we have which sounds like “if only” takes us out of the present moment, which is the only place freedom is actually possible.
Don’t postpone arriving. It’s hard because we were conditioned to always think some other moment is going to contain what this one doesn’t. ‘All you need is already within you, only you must approach your self with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors. Your constant flight from pain and search for pleasure is a sign of love you bear for your self, all I plead with you is this: make love of your self perfect. Deny yourself nothing — glue your self infinity and eternity and discover that you do not need them; you are beyond.’ (Nisargadatta Maharaj)
We make love of ourselves perfect, not ourselves perfect; this is an important distinction. I don’t know about you, but when I look back on my life, the moments I needed love the most, were the times when I felt the most unlovable. So what if you cared for yourself, like you take care of the ones you love? Like that, just loving them, even when/if they’re grouchy, sensitive, uptight, tired. Because it’s easy to love somebody when they’re being lovable, that ain’t love, that’s common sense.
When we love what’s hard to love, that’s what makes you a great lover. ‘Loving yourself…does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.’ (Margo Anand)
More about Vinny:
Vinny Ferraro is a long-time mindfulness practitioner and instructor and a nationally recognized leader in designing and implementing interventions for at-risk adolescents. The child of an incarcerated father, Vinny spent the majority of his teenage life hustling and living on the streets. In 1987, after recovering from drug addiction, he began leading youth groups in drug rehabilitation centers, juvenile halls, schools and halfway houses … [Read more]
We’re excited to introduce a new blog series featuring our Mindful Schools community members. This week we spoke to Joanie Terrizzi. Joanie is an educator at a low-income school in Chinatown, NY. She reaches 840 students, pre-K through 8th grade, each week.
She is part of our first Year-Long Certification class, where she is receiving in-depth training in bringing mindfulness to youth. The program includes retreat practice, online instruction, and small group mentorship over a 12 month period.
For practitioners like Joanie, Mindful Schools is proud to offer scholarships to applicants who work in public schools, agency environments, or serve high-risk populations. We’re currently accepting applications for the 2014-15 Year-Long Certification program. Learn more.
Mindful Schools Interview with Joanie Terrizzi
School Librarian, PS 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology
Chinatown – New York, NY
MS: Tell us a little bit about your experience with the Year-Long Certification training. What has it been like for you?
JT: It has been the most incredible opportunity of my teaching career. Through this experience it feels like everything has changed but there’s nothing about my life that’s changed externally – everything is as fast-paced and challenging as ever… My life hasn’t changed, I have changed. The difference is internal, and I know it’s because of the work and the support of Mindful Schools.
MS: Were there specific moments in your training that stand out for you?
JT: I think it’s really been a combination of everything … one thing that’s been the most meaningful to me is the genuine connection with other participants – all over the country and the world – and other people doing this work in general, finding meaning with others in what I find meaningful. Somehow even when I get behind in my training homework I feel really connected with the community and the work that everyone’s doing. It’s been really rewarding to build relationships around bringing mindfulness to our youth. I’ve been inspired, cheered on, and lifted up by these colleagues-turned-friends, and have had the opportunity to be supportive to others in their deeply human moments.
MS: You mentioned: ‘It’s you who has changed.’ Can you talk about that a little more?
JT: Just sticking with this work and really going in and embodying the practice, day after day after day; it’s one of these aggregate things. My whole mind is a different place than it used to be and based on feedback from many others in my life, this fact is truly noticeable. My whole approach is really different in a very good way – the way I see, the way I respond, how much less reactive I am… I’m a very different person than I was a year ago and I know I owe it to all of the mindfulness I’ve been doing. It’s my ability to REALLY go with whatever moment is happening. I work with 840 kids and 82 staff members. There is a lot that comes at me in a given day. There are a lot of challenges in education in general: a lot of non-stop, shifting gears. I can see that my skill level in so many areas has totally transformed. Here’s how I recently described it:
When mindfulness takes over your teaching: It’s that moment, with that child who knows just how to wriggle his way under your skin, the one who can derail your entire lesson, the one so dis-regulated that she spins into a torrential tantrum over the seemingly-nothing … and you’re up there in front of twenty-some-odd young pairs of eyes trusting you to “fix” things, and you’re feeling so triggered. You feel that familiar prickly-hot feeling rising, and you open your mouth (the one that sometimes betrays you and lets the words out too harshly, the one that gets so FRUSTRATED by the things beyond your control in children’s lives, the one that just wants to finish your sentence) … and out pours soft words and sweetness, compassion you can almost taste … and you look around, almost wondering where it came from, and you find yourself smiling at a child you thought of mostly as a challenge, mirroring her look of surprise that you didn’t just reprimand her. Instead, you managed to make a light thing of his behavior, a thing that made them all smile – you navigated a tricky moment, and swooped the attention of the class back around to you, like a dance almost – and it all comes out so genuine, so natural, with no ‘trying’ – and sure it doesn’t happen all the time, but like a good friend you haven’t seen in a while, it comes to visit more and more and more often. That’s what it feels like: like opening your mouth and your best self shows up to talk.
That’s really how it feels. There are still moments when I’m quite triggered, but there are so many moments where I open my mouth and something unexpected and delightful comes out. Lately, it just comes out right. It’s quite natural.
“Let Shawn, one of my 1st graders, teach you about the parts of the brain. I taught this lesson once, and Shawn got up immediately and taught it back to his class – I was SO proud and SO delighted. At this point, most of my 1st-5th graders have this languaging down, and it has had dramatic results on our interactions. Grateful, Grateful to Mindful Schools.”
MS: We’ve talked about your personal practice and how much of an impact that’s had on your approach to teaching. If we can shift now and talk about implementing the lessons and how that’s going …
JT: I’ve been lucky to be very supported by my administration in this. I’ve fully integrated it into the library curriculum. I’m in a pre-K through 8 school in a very low-income neighborhood in New York City’s Chinatown. Grades 1-5 receive the Mindful Schools curriculum on a weekly basis. I do some mindful games but not the full curriculum with PreK and Kindergarten; I have one class of 7th graders and some individual students that I have also recently started offering mindfulness to. I am delivering the curriculum and also trying to bring it to other teachers. It’s been going really well and has transformed the climate and language in the library completely. I was pleasantly surprised how, from the beginning, it landed really well with the kids.
MS: You’ve sent us a video clip [above] of one of your first grade students, Shawn, giving a lesson back to the class. Tell us about that.
JT: That morning I watched a video of Megan [Mindful Schools Co- founder and Program Director] giving the same lesson and I decided I was going to teach it. I taught it and then I pointed to our brain picture and I asked the first graders, ‘Can anyone teach this back to us?’ I didn’t expect first graders would be able to, but I was curious and open-minded about it. Then Shawn just got up and taught it flawlessly. You can hear the other kids in the background getting excited and being supportive. Shawn’s mom is really proud and was so happy to give additional support and share the video with others. And Shawn loves it. He loves talking about the brain. And the kids really remember it. I have a drawing of it now that I keep to the side and I try to reference it with each class every time they come. I’ll point to it and say something like ‘Is that your amygdala taking over right now?’ or ‘You might use your hippocampus to remember when we…’ They get it, they love it, and are really empowered by it.
MS: Any other breakthrough moments that come to mind with the students and the MS curriculum?
JT:There have been moments when I’ve had second graders cry tears of happiness during the mindful breathing which just blows my mind. I’ve been able to talk kids down from pretty activated or angered states. I had a student try to leave the room and another student said ‘Hey, that’s your amygdala telling you to leave; don’t listen to it!’ I have another student who every time he gets frustrated he gets up and tries to leave the situation and I tell him the same thing – he’s starting to get it. A second grader just told me today:
“Yesterday when I was sleeping, I looked on top of my bed for my mom, it’s a bunk bed, and my mom wasn’t there and little tears came out of my eyes, and I used my mindful breathing and I knew my mom would say that I’m a Big Girl. And so then I fell asleep. I’m going to rub my eyes now.” I said: “It’s okay, you can rub your eyes.” She continued: “I’m just rubbing my eyes. I’m not crying. Stop it, water!”
The last thing, and the most important thing that I want to say is that I’m just so tremendously grateful.
The past few years have seen significant growth in the demand for mindfulness programs in U.S. schools. The intention at Mindful Schools has always been to balance responding to the increasing demand with maintaining integrity and authenticity. That means we want to support educators, administrators, and mental health providers with ways to integrate mindfulness into their work, but we want to make sure the instructors who are delivering programs are skilled and well-trained.
For many years, we have dreamed of having a community of people trained by us who could be resources for the many inquiries we receive for programming.
The Year-Long Certification is our solution. By spending a year with people, seeing them teach and getting to know them, we can create a community of people we feel confident can represent our particular method of mindfulness education.
In order to make the referral process easy, we are establishing a Certified Instructors Directory. Two mock-ups of this directory are provided here to give you a feel for it (please note that the final design may differ from these).
The directory will provide schools and organizations with a comprehensive view of who is in their area. The directory will also be searchable by other criteria as well (age of youth worked with, focus on specific youth populations, etc.).
The directory will give Certified Instructors a personal profile page on the Mindful Schools website. They will be able to describe their professional background, populations served, education, and other relevant training. They will also be able to link to their personal websites and social media accounts.
On our Year-Long Certification page, we try to be as clear and succinct as we can about the structure and content of the course. However, with all the various program components, it’s still a lot to take in. Here we offer a different lens for understanding the course: what is my average week like as a participant?
Here’s a typical Certification week-at-a-glance. All weekly content is emailed out to participants (as shown below) and stored in a learning management system.
In-depth conversation, group mentorship and coaching via webinar. Each week, you have the opportunity to receive mentorship on any aspect of your practice, teaching or program development from the year-long faculty. There is also time for informal networking and resource-sharing. Sessions are recorded with notes for later viewing.
1-3 video modules (5-20 minutes in length). Modules are designed to be short, practical, and specific (each video is 5-20 minutes long). Examples from the course:
Practice: Working with Tranquility, Unification and Absorption
Curriculum: Simple Movement Exercises
Skills: Charging Money for Your Programs
Science: Understanding the “Freeze” Response in the Nervous System
Weekly written teachings. Typically participants receive two written teachings a week that are designed to be usable in one of two contexts:
Professional development in education or mental health. (example: understanding the physiology of stress)
Teaching youth mindfulness. (example: the samurai sword: a metaphor for mental training)
Generally, weekly teachings fall into three focus areas:
Science-focused – they address scientific concepts applicable to teaching and explaining mindfulness.
Storytelling-focused – they provide myths, metaphors, poems and other material relevant to explaining mindfulness in culturally relevant and interesting ways.
Exercise-focused – they provide short games and exercises that can support teaching mindfulness to youth.