Building a Community of Self-Compassion

Certified Instructor Alison Cohen splits her time between working as a teacher coach in NYC public high schools and teaching mindfulness. Passionate about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, Alison is developing mindfulness-based bias awareness programming for educators. In this third installment of our Graduate Stories, Alison shares two moments that confirmed her zeal for teaching mindfulness.

At the Brooklyn public high school where I worked as an English and mindfulness teacher, the principal came in one afternoon during a guided practice on self-compassion. Alison sits cross legged smiling at her students.He quietly took a seat among my ninth grade students and closed his eyes. Though he’d encouraged me to start the school’s mindfulness program, he hadn’t witnessed our daily practice.

We were silently repeating short statements meant to cultivate self-compassion. “May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I experience joy in my life.” I offered students the option of putting a hand on their hearts. Maybe I imagined it, but I could have sworn that the principal joined us, slipping his palm under his tie.

At the end of the session, the two of us walked down the hallway together. “Alison,” he said, “what I realized is that those phrases represent exactly how I want every student in this school to feel: safe and protected, healthy, peaceful, and joyful. The day I do that, I will know I’ve been successful as a principal.”

Several months later, my students wrote anonymous evaluations of the mindfulness course they had just completed. I found myself reading and re-reading what one young man had written: “The other day I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I was about to cry, but then I stopped and sent myself some kind wishes.”

This is why I teach mindfulness. As a young adult, I didn’t know how to cope with an inner emotional landscape full of harsh self-judgment, confusion, and shame. I desperately wished I had an “owner’s manual for the heart and mind.” When I began to explore mindfulness, one truth arose early on: this compassionate, wise method of learning how to skillfully navigate the inner world, relationships, and life itself was what I needed from an early age. I could have never predicted how much mindfulness practice would soften my inner critic and would replace it, bit by bit, sit by sit, with deep compassion for myself and for other human beings. Each time I hear a comment like my principal’s, or read words like that honest young man’s, the healing continues, and my commitment to practicing and teaching mindfulness grows stronger.

Alison graduated from the Year-Long Certification Program in 2015. Check out her page in our Certified Instructors Directory and her website. 

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