Mindfulness Education at Radford University
~ The following was first published in the February issue of Natural Awakenings of Southwest Virginia.
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
A 2009 series of groundbreaking mindfulness retreats was the result of a collaboration between Dr. Alan Forrest, chair of the Counselor Ed department at Radford University (RU), and Joe Klein, a licensed professional counselor. New retreats are scheduled for March 2010. The pair's innovative work has also influenced the direction of the university's College of Education towards the creation of a Mind Body Spirit Institute.
The bond between Klein and Forrest was first forged when Klein was an RU graduate student of counseling. Klein had a longtime daily meditation and internal martial arts practice. Forrest was a proponent of gestalt, a therapy that encourages patients to arrive at awareness by being mindful of self-signals. Their intersecting interests led Klein and Forrest to host an experiential gestalt workshop in 2007.
In the summer of 2008, Klein, as program director of Earthsong Organic Farm and Retreat in Stuart, invited Forrest to attend a six-day teen meditation retreat. Forrest was inspired by the retreat model, a blend of meditation instruction, periods of silence, time for movement and creative expression, and small discussion groups for building trust and community. "He recognized the potential for transformation for both the retreat students and for the staff and wanted to offer that to adults," Klein remembers.
The first adult weekend retreat that Klein and Forrest adapted from the teen retreat model was titled "Self-Care through Mindfulness" and was geared towards caregivers - social workers, hospice nurses, ministers, educators, counselors, and students of those professions. "The gift that counselors and other helping professional have to give is the gift of presence. These retreats allow them to slow down and engage in the self examination process which is so critical in the efficacy of the helper/care-giver role," Forrest points out.
The Self-Care retreats, which happen three times a year, and another series for young adults aged 18-32 titled "Alternative Spring Break" are hosted by RU Counselor Education Department at the Selu Conservatory, a 380 acre property on the Little River, owned by RU. Along with spectacular views from the Selu lodge and meditating in its seven-sided Native American themed room, retreatants are nurtured by delicious organic meals. The twice-a-day small discussion groups give participants an opportunity for meaningful sharing and create balance to periods of silence. "They were a surprisingly important and empowering part of the weekend for me," says Rosemary Wyman, a hospice-support caregiver and retreat participant.
Jenson Baker, a Portsmouth area teacher who attended a 2009 Self-Care through Mindfulness retreat, was galvanized by his experience and asked for Klein's assistance to bring mindfulness training to his inner-city classroom. Together Baker and Klein traveled to Omega Institute in New York for a national conference, attended by teachers, administrators, and mindfulness pioneers from across the country with the mutual goal of introducing mindfulness practices to school children K-12 as a way to strengthen inner resiliency.
At Omega, Klein and Baker met keynote speaker, Linda Lantieri, an internationally known author and expert in social and emotional learning, conflict resolution, and crisis management. Lantieri's accomplishments implementing programs across the country, including one in New York for cultivating inner resiliency in public school staff affected by the tragedies of 9/11, made an impression on Klein. "It's clear that to cope in today's world, building skills to strengthen emotional intelligence is as important as academic skills," says Klein, who provided support to student survivors following the Virginia Tech shootings of April 2007.
When Klein learned of the RU College of Education's plan to expand on the counseling department's mindfulness initiatives through the formation of the Mind Body Spirit Institute, an annual two day symposium, he contacted Lantieri. She agreed to speak at the kick-off event, which is scheduled for March 24 and 25 and timed to coincide with the university's centennial celebration of its founding as a teaching college. The university will also be offering a 3-credit class on mindfulness and inner resiliency for RU teaching and counseling students, a development that Forrest describes as "cutting edge and occurring in only a selective few universities throughout the country."
"The response to the retreats has been extremely positive," Forrest says. This year's Self Care through Mindfulness retreat at Selu will take place on March 26 and 27. The Alternative Spring Break is scheduled for March 5 - 8. Contact Alan Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org 540-831-5487 for more information. ~ Colleen Redman