The Reciprocity Foundation: Holistic Meditation and High-Risk Youth

Holistic Meditation and At-Risk Youth

UPDATE from Jeanine Greenleaf ~ 12/13/2013

Our mission at Samadhi Cushions is to support the practice of mindfulness meditation as a way to inspire a sane society. We have done this over the years in our support for retreat centers like our neighbor Karme Choling, which provide a place for busy people to slow down and meet their mind and heart.

At the same time, retreat centers are, by and large, privileged places for privileged people. I am so delighted that Samadhi Cushions is also able to support the retreats for less privileged youth like the one’s created by the Reciprocity Foundation.

Back in September we were able to make a meaningful pledge of support to Reciprocity–the New York based foundation that serves homeless and at-risk youth with mindfulness programs and retreats. We offered 10% of our September sales to the foundation. This month we fulfilled this pledge. Today, the co-director of this foundation, Taz Tagore, sent us the following email:

‘The Reciprocity Foundation is going to use the gift from Samadhi Cushions to send 30 homeless youth on retreat in 2014. This will give urban youth–most of whom have never left New York City–achance to experience meditation, nature walks and a healthy lifestyle. We are so grateful for this gift…’   

Holistic Meditation and At-Risk Youth

The Reciprocity Foundation is an award-winning nonprofit organization based in New York City that helps homeless and foster care youth break the cycle of poverty by advancing their education and orienting toward a meaningful life and career.

Our success is predicated on a unique process rooted in Contemplative Practice—which helps youth develop an aspirational and yet realistic Life Plan. Our coaching includes holistic meditation, mindfulness and contemplation, helping youth cultivate inner clarity rather than focusing exclusively on external outcomes. Finally, our one-on-one and group programming uses a Whole Person framework—endeavoring to address a youth’s mental, physical and spiritual needs.

New York City’s homeless, runaway, and foster care youth are among the most disconnected and high-risk young people in the city. Compared to their peers, they face grave challenges: they lack strong family support, face housing and educational instability and risk involvement with the juvenile justice system. Common mental health issues for this population include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide ideation/attempts, and substance abuse/dependency.

The Reciprocity Foundation has been a pioneer in developing and delivering Contemplative & Wellness programming to high-risk youth in America.  We began our wellness programming in 2005 with meditation and yoga classes. Since then, we have developed a world-class roster of wellness instructors, programs and tools that support  “Inner Growth and Outer Achievement” for homeless and foster care youth.

In 2011, we created the first holistic center for homeless youth in the country on New York City’s west side to deliver our Contemplative programs in a holistic, healing setting.  Our center opened in November 2011 and includes a dedicated healing space, a meditation room (with meditation cushions and a gong provided by Samadhi Cushions,) a media lab, a fully-equipped kitchen and a large multi-purpose area for yoga classes, career training classes, film screenings, etc. Since opening our new center, we have doubled the number and variety of Contemplative Programming offered from our center.

Last year, we expanded our 1- and 3-day holistic retreats from New York City to upstate New York at the Omega Institute and Shambhala’s Sky Lake Lodge. Youth attendees deepened their contemplative practice and engaged in whole-person practices such as yoga, walking/seated meditation, massage and mindful movement.

The meditation and retreat program at Reciprocity is having an enormous impact on the lives of homeless youth. What I find most moving is hearing first-hand how these practices affect our students.  Here are a few quotes that illustrate the power of meditation on the lives of homeless young people:

Every time I struggle and feel like I want to do something that was part of my old street life…I go to Reciprocity. They have a very nice meditation room there. I just go there and meditate. 10 minutes can make such a huge difference. Now I know how to make different choices so that I can stay off the streets.  

I was told by Reciprocity staff that I should come here everyday, sit in the meditation room and breathe.   I am not sure what’s happening but my life is getting so much better. I feel like I am leaving some of the old pain behind and slowly getting excited about being alive again.

My religious parents told me that they wished that I died because I am gay and that brings shame to our family. They disowned me. But, now I found a new family…my Reciprocity family. I feel loved here and I am working on building a new future for myself.

I love coming to Reciprocity. Every Thursday night we sit in meditation, have candlelit dinners and eat vegetarian meals.  I feel so energized by this way of life.  I had no idea that such simple things—like breathing and eating vegetables—could make me feel so good.  

Years of abuse left me with nightmares. After my first acupuncture session at reciprocity I was able to sleep again. This was the first time I had a good night sleep in years.

After going on retreat with Reciprocity, I went back to my shelter and started a weekly meditation group in the chapel.  I know that meditating is one of the most important ways for me to change my life and leave behind the negativity and anger that I grew up with.

Editors Note: This month (September 2013), 10% of ALL SALES at Samadhi Store will be donated to the Reciprocity Foundation. Help give the gift of holistic meditation–for yourself, or someone you care for and, this month, for at-risk youth.

A Buddhist Institute: Students Welcome

A while back in this blog we reported on a graduation ceremony of sorts for students in a residential program of meditation and study at Karmê Chöling here in Northern Vermont. The Buddhist Institute, which includes a month of meditation, runs in both the fall and spring semesters and is known as the Mukpo Institute–after the family name held by Chögyam Trungpa and his son and dharma heir, Sakyong Mipham.

While not monastic, this is a kind of ‘temple-stay’ at a Buddhist institution that goes beyond spiritual tourism.  It represents a commitment to deepening one’s relationship to the path of meditation, contemplation and enlightened social engagement. Students are supported by the residential community at Karmê Chöling as well as meditation instructors and mentors from the Mukpo Faculty. The intensive schedule–which includes the option for a solitary cabin retreat–also makes time for simply enjoying the splendor of the natural world in the idyllic setting that is the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

This fall’s semester begins in a few weeks and I wanted to stop your mind by suggesting that perhaps YOU (whether young or old, experienced or novice) might consider joining in. The Institute’s semester will open on September 10th, with Shambhala Training Levels I-III taught by Mukpo Faculty Member, Shastri Bill Brauer and conclude in early December with a one day workshop on Work and Worth–taught by none other than yours truly.

In the interim, students will practice sitting meditation, study the path and view of meditation as presented in Shambhala, and participate in community life at the oldest residential Buddhist retreat center in North America. Through deepening one’s practice on the meditation cushion, and allowing time for contemplation and study, distractions are overcome and native intelligence is aroused. This accepting but critical attitude is encouraged toward the teachings presented, as well as toward oneself–the listener, the person who is there to learn.

The program is intimate, with a small group of students bonding with each other as well as engaging in work and community life at the retreat center. To date, over 50 students, both young and old, some at the start of their work life, others retired after an active career, some in the midst of a mid-life transition, have participated in this life-changing retreat. Could you be the next person to take this challenging but rewarding step? Could now be the time–for you or someone you know–to benefit from a change of pace as well as an immersion in the path of meditation?

Follow the link for some candid videos from graduates of the Institute. For for key information on this Buddhist Institute from Karmê Chöling’s website click here. Note that while the deadline for applications for this fall recently passed, my sense is that qualified applicants will still be considered. Note also that scholarship funds are available to help support student tuition.

“My experience at Karme Choling has spun me around 180 degrees. My life now has direction, meaning, and purpose. I met the most beautiful human beings I have ever been blessed to come across.”  

— Jesah Segal, Mukpo Institute Student, Fall 2012

 

How Meditation Might Improve Test Scores at Bronx Prep

Bronx Preparatory School at Open Hand Zen Center in New Rochelle, NY

Bronx, NY–

In early April 2013, high school juniors and seniors taking Advanced Placement Literature and Composition at Bronx Preparatory Charter School read a New York Times article in class: “How Meditation Might Improve Your Test Scores” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/how-meditation-might-boost-your-test-scores/). Nationwide, advanced placement exams are administered annually in early May.Bronx Preparatory School meditating at Open Hand Zen Center

The class had been preparing diligently since September. After 9 months of reading works from the AP Lit canon, annotating Chaucer and Ovid, debating Morrison and Ellison, writing analyses on everyone from Orwell to David Foster Wallace, practicing answering multiple choice questions on excerpts of Junot Diaz and Sharon Olds — even venturing out to late night Manhattan readings given by Ms. Olds and Mr. Diaz in the flesh — the class still felt anxious.

The Times article suggested that meditation can help anyone quiet down their racing thoughts and anxieties, and provide a tool to keep focused on one activity for longer periods. As a result, this improved quality of concentration could lead to higher test scores. And with the exam looming just around the corner, the class thought, why not give it a try?

So on the morning April 29th 2013, the 21 students each grabbed their own meditation cushion, which had been provided by Bronx Preparatory School at Open Hand Zen Center in New Rochelle, NYSamadhi Cushions (samadhicushions.com) and hopped on a school bus to The Empty Hand Zen Center (emptyhandzen.org) in New Rochelle, NY to learn to meditate. Guided by Susan Ji-On-Postal, teacher and founder of the Empty Hand Zen Center, they sat comfortably on their meditation cushions, focused on their breathing and monitored their wandering minds.

Most of the class has been asking to return ever since; some even ventured out of the Bronx back to New Rochelle to meditate again and others have taken their meditation cushions home to practice zazen on their own.

Although their scores will be released in mid-July, most of the AP Lit students appreciated the experience and stated that they’d continue meditation practice on into college to just “relax” and “focus the mind.”