Giving Back

One of the foundations of Copper Beech Institute is giving back to the communities that surround us. Our volunteer work with underserved and disadvantaged populations is something we do humbly and with the utmost respect for the amazing individuals we have the honor of meeting. “Mindfulness for All” is not just a hollow slogan, but rather a promise we believe in deeply and one which we reaffirm through our work in prisons, schools serving children living in poverty, shelters, organizations supporting people with disabilities and a spectrum of non-profit partners.

Many devoted Copper Beech volunteers do outreach work in mindfulness at various centers and organizations in Connecticut, both on a regular and one-time basis. Miranda Chapman and her father Brian Chapman are among the original volunteers. They began offering weekly mindfulness sessions at the Hartford Correctional Center three years ago. One year later, Miranda’s work branched out to include Hartford’s Chrysalis Center, which provides supportive services for people who live in poverty and struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. Most recently, Miranda and her dad began offering mindfulness at the Hartford Transitional Housing Program, a halfway house for men who have been referred by the courts, in the hopes of helping former inmates ease back into the real world.

Thursdays are Miranda’s service days. She travels to all three centers, leading one-hour mindfulness sessions that include meditation and discussion. In this interview, Miranda shares about the programs she leads and her experiences with the people who receive her teaching.

Kathy: How do you structure the mindfulness sessions?

Miranda: They’re pretty much the same at all three centers. First, we sit in meditation and then I’ll check in with everyone about their practice: What came up most predominantly for you today? Where do you notice the practice showing up outside of our group sessions? Were there times when you saw opportunities to apply mindfulness after the fact? Then I’ll pull out a thread of their sharing as the basis for a brief teaching. If there’s time at the end, we close with a short practice such as loving-kindness.

At the Chrysalis Center, I only lead guided meditation. The people who join us there are struggling with emotional issues. Some are muttering under their breath or moving around a lot. There’s lots of trauma, and silence can be triggering. Guided meditation is more sustainable — and it’s impactful. I’m absolutely seeing its impact on the people who attend.

Kathy: How many people attend the groups?

Miranda: There’s a maximum of 12 participants at the jail — and there’s a waiting list. The men need permission to join the group; it’s a privilege for them.

The sessions at the Chrysalis Center are drop-in and the room is larger, so there’s an opportunity for more people to attend. A core group of people comes every week and new folks are joining all the time. Some members of the center come from the outside just for the mindfulness group.

At the halfway house, attendance has been spotty so far. The men are former inmates, and are focused on getting a job and a place to live and seeing their kids again so their attention is fractured. But we’ve only been there for six months. It took a while to build confidence at the jail so we’re waiting seeing what will happen at the halfway house.

Kathy: You’ve been at the correctional center for three years now. Tell us about your experience there.

Miranda: We have some guys who have been coming for over a year. The practice of meditation is a huge focus. We sit in meditation for 25-30 minutes. I use the momentum that has built there, and it’s effortless in a way. The group runs itself in terms of getting people in there. The guys talk about the group outside of the group. Generally, if you have enough people in the group who have bought in to the practice and are invested in it, everyone catches on more quickly.

Kathy: Hartford Correctional Center is a maximum security prison. Do you ever fear for your safety?

Miranda: I’ve never worried about my safety. I feel how hungry these guys are for real love. Most have suffered such abuse, and such hardness has formed around that. It’s so beautiful watching them soften with the practice. That’s when I know the work is working. One inmate shared, “I haven’t been hugged in two years. All I want is a hug from my mom.” We’ve had guys cry in there. I feel so much love for these guys.

No sex offenders are allowed in the group. Other than that, anyone can come. One beautiful man had an 80-year sentence. I don’t know what he did but in that room, it was so beautiful to be with him and his gentleness, which I know is not how he shows up on the outside.

Kathy: What have you learned from your experience at the  center?

Miranda: I go in there believing in the goodness of these men and their capacity to make different choices, like anybody. And I realize that I’m not that different from them. I’m a hair’s breath away from that same situation myself. If I’m going to really live this practice, I have to recognize my capacity for violence myself. That helps me equalize what’s happening in there.

In closing, a participant at the correctional center program wrote a personal letter to Miranda after he was transferred to another center. This quote from that letter is testimony to the power of mindfulness in his life:

“For the first time in forever, I can really sit with myself and be inside my head and with myself on so many levels. There isn’t a battle going on within me. I am calm…. Again, thank you for what you do, and how you have helped me.”

We are grateful to Miranda, her dad and all the others who are venturing forth to offer this powerful teaching where it is so desperately needed.

Miranda Chapman is a compassionate soul, with a heart for helping others find peace in their real lives. In addition to her volunteer work, she will be leading the Annual Autumn Retreat: Building Resilience and Self-Care Through Mindfulness Practice at Copper Beech Institute, November 17–19, 2018, along with many other retreats and programs throughout the year, including Introduction to Mindfulness, Candlelight Meditation, and Deepening Your Practice.

Why Presence Matters

by Sandrine Harris

Coming home to yourself is a daily process of awakening. Presence is an unfolding practice that involves engaging your whole self — through the flow of sensory experience, movement in the body, and the internal landscape of the mind and heart. Through presence, we discover that we need not add anything to our experience. We learn that we can simply be, and that this is enough.

Using tools from awareness practices like the Feldenkrais Method® and mindfulness meditation, we learn the beauty of engaging with life in a different way. When we create more space for the n-o-w, we are carving out more space to be well, to think more clearly, to tune into our bodies, and to relate to others. With embodied practices, we find delight in paying attention to the breath, in sensing our toes. We get curious about watching our minds — non-judgmentally. We allow ourselves to be in the deep knowing that we must give ourselves over to ourselves, and surrender our worries around goals, time pressures, or financial woes, in favor of living fully in this moment.

Several recent studies have looked at rates of distraction (which we can think of as lack of presence) and the feelings of happiness, contentment or connectedness to others. It seems the more distracted and not-in-the-moment we are, the more difficult it is for us to feel the positive emotions and to cultivate well-being.

I am continually amazed at how easily we can become “un-present”: pulled into past experiences or future worries. Like swirling whirlpools, our minds continuously flow from one place to another, and we tend to cyclically revisit the unpleasant parts too. However, this experience of being “un-present” is highly instructive. When meditation students tell me they are unable to be fully present (because they struggle to keep their focused attention on one thing, for example), I remind them of the excruciating focus we hold the capacity for when fixating on memories involving shame, anxiety or conflict, or worry about a future event. We tend to review difficult feelings with the utmost cyclical precision. And this is good news.

The attention skill at the center of these processes is the key to shifting from a state of “un-present” to present. What if we bring this same sort of clarity of attention and purity of focus into the present moment? This means we can also make space for experiencing the beauty of positive states, for appreciating the ephemeral moments, and for understanding our interconnectedness. We have this capacity, and when we learn to tune in with a different orientation, we begin the process of awakening and healing.

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. And when we’re here, we can begin to sense the important things more clearly, and the less important things begin to take up less space. We untangle the wires, and sort the sock drawer. We do not ignore our past or future, or pretend any difficulties are different from what they are (though sometimes our perspective on them changes a great deal through mindful practice), but there is something more: ourselves. Outside of our jobs, our self-identification, our long-held stories, and our defined roles, we’re also the same as ever: human beings, with a beating heart, an imagination, and the ability to engage and connect with meaning.

Presence is possible, and it is a gift. Self-care, healing, choice, and connection all happen through awakening into the experience of life, in our minds and bodies, in this present moment.

 

Sandrine Harris is a movement educator and mindfulness facilitator who leads retreats at Copper Beech Institute and does outreach on the Institute’s behalf. She is certified in diverse modalities including the Feldenkrais Method®, mindfulness in education, health counseling, and several forms of movement and meditative practice. Sandrine will be offering a multi-day experience of awakening practices in her retreat, Embodying Presence: The Practice of Awakening at Copper Beech Institute on September 19–21, 2017.

 

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The One Fear That Will Teach You Everything You Need to Know

by Brandon Nappi

All fears can be boiled down to one single fear. It’s the fear of not being enough. For most people, the marching band of “not enough” will parade its way down the main street of your headspace several times a day without your permission, interrupting your plans. The playlist of this raucous and persistent band includes the following thoughts set on repeat:

I am not…

smart enough
funny enough
good enough
spiritual enough
forgiving enough
attractive enough
thin enough
popular enough
strong enough

The repetitive stream of “not enough” seems like a thoroughly convincing and a completely accurate summation of our innermost value. We conclude we are broken beyond repair and settle for strategies to hide this painful truth from others for as long as we can. Is there any other option for those of us who think, “If people really knew me and glimpsed just how broken I really am, they would sprint away with a mix of disappointment and disgust”?

To manage the sometimes intolerable pain of “not enough,” we hide behind distraction and facades. Some of us shop, exercise or self-medicate. Others become addicted to accomplishment and activity. For some, appearance or screens dull the pain of feeling of inadequacy. To bolster this inherently unpleasant and unstable situation, we can become bitterly judgmental of others, ironically elevating ourselves. Of course, comparing your best self to your friend’s worst self is not only unfair, unhelpful and unkind, in the long run, this judgment only fuels your intuition that you are in fact irreparably broken. From this perspective, we are all addicts clawing for the next fix to make our craving disappear.

It’s tempting to hate this voice of negativity and resent its rants. The common temptation is to go to war with “not enough.” Arming yourself with positive thinking and the law of attraction, we attempt to think our way toward healing. This makes a certain amount of logical sense: “I’ll simply replace one negative thought with another positive thought.” While this may help for a time, ultimately positive thinking as a method to counteract “not enough” sets up a battle of thinking in which you attempt to replace the negative thought with the positive one.

Not only is this exhausting, it’s a never-ending war. Einstein’s often quoted wisdom is instructive here: “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Hatred doesn’t eliminate hatred. Warfare does not end warfare. Thinking is not healed with more thinking.

This fear of “not enough” has something important to teach us. This inner voice of criticism doesn’t need to be conquered; it simply needs the same thing that every other being needs: our compassionate presence. When the inner critic appears, observe it with curiosity and kindness. Watch it with your mind’s eye. Carefully notice each thought. Lean in to look carefully at the very thought that seems to want to hurt you. Thoughts are only thoughts. They only have the power we give them. Even more, remember that you are not your thoughts. Who you are is vastly larger than any thought form. Of course, it’s one thing to know this as a concept and another thing to know this directly through experience. Mindfulness practice provide a direct taste of this freedom as we give ourselves to the practice of being present. There is unspeakable power in your presence. The very act of observing your thoughts of “not enough” itself is healing.

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that we are infinitely loveable. And though we often forget, we have an infinite amount of love to share — even for your inner critic. This is the powerful reality that every great spiritual tradition is naming each in their own way. The good news is that you don’t have to feel this for it to be true. This one fear of “not enough” is the hidden voice of the world calling out for love.

Some teachers through their wisdom show us who we want to be. Other teachers show us through their ignorance who we don’t want to be. Still other teachers, teach us by offering countless invitations to practice in action what we value in our hearts. “Not enough” is this kind of teacher.

“Not enough” is our teacher inviting us to share our compassion and our loving presence. The world, like the inner critic, is longing for our love. What a gift that within all of us is one single fear that teach us everything — to practice presence and love in all we do. Is there any greater lesson?

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 50 transformational programs annually to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.

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