New Beginnings

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

I have always believed in new beginnings. Growing up in a small Midwestern town I once heard a visiting minister describe each day as an opportunity for a resurrection. His statement caused quite a stir in our church but it made a lot of sense to me. In college, I was captivated by the myth of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. As the wife of a secular Jew (talk about new beginnings!), and the mother of two children who are being raised Jewish, my favorite religious holidays are the High Holy Days when we review the past year, atone for our mistakes and have the opportunity to start anew. But my most visceral experience of renewal has been through the practice of mindfulness meditation that emphasizes living one moment at a time (an almost infinite number of new beginnings). Moving into my mid-to-late thirties, the practice of mindfulness became the organizing principle of my life. The more I practiced, the more my perspective shifted, so it is not surprising that with this dramatic change in perspective, my professional life changed dramatically as well.

I practiced law for almost twenty years and my major clients were network-owned radio and television stations. The work was grueling because of the never-ending, immediate, and often competing deadlines. But despite (or maybe because of) its intensity, I loved it. I identified with my career and it was one of the many wonderful things about my life in my thirties and early forties. Yet increasingly I felt that I had lost my childhood clarity. In the magical world of my childhood consciousness, I absolutely knew that each of us was on this earth to make a difference. But somehow as an adult, even though I was successful both personally and professionally, I did not feel I was making much of a difference in the world.

I remember flipping through the Four Quartets (a time in my life where I could skim T.S. Eliot with a clear conscience) and stopping on the line "Distraction from distraction by distraction." It seemed to sum up my situation. My family knew and appreciated we were very lucky. But as good as things were, we were distracted by the busyness of our lives and often missed the underlying wonder. There was no place I saw this phenomena more clearly than in the lives of my children and their friends. They were in search of almost constant stimulation. The notion that an afternoon could be productively spent playing make-believe had become an anachronism. They were not experiencing something that had existed in the slower pace of my childhood. I wondered if the lack of contemplative time during childhood would have an adverse impact on their emotional and intellectual development. Knowing there was little I could do to change the world in which they lived, I wondered whether I could change their view of that world.

I decided to try and adapt the mindfulness practices that had helped me in a way that was appropriate for our children. My goal was to develop practices that took into account children's developmental differences, retained those elements that train focused attention and awareness, and acknowledged the cultivation of clarity and compassion as part of the process of becoming more attentive and aware. I hoped that this work would help my children achieve their goals and that, by seeing themselves and the world around them more clearly, they would become more reflective and caring adults. I started by developing simple practices and teaching them to my youngest child. There was absolutely nothing scientific about what I was doing, but my son was interested and I sensed a change in him. He used his breath to slow down when he was over-excited and to calm down when he was upset. Something seemed to be working and I thought I could take it out into the world.

I met with the Director of the Boys and Girls Club in Santa Monica, California, and offered to volunteer two hours a week teaching in their after-school day care program. He was initially reluctant (I understood why, given I had no scientific credentials), but he ultimately agreed and I began leading impromptu classes in the art room. While volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, I developed the basis of the practices that I teach today. In 2001, my husband and I founded InnerKids, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation to use as a vehicle for teaching these practices in schools and after-school programs, and since that time I have taught hundreds of classes in both public and private settings from pre-kindergarten through middle-school. I have also lectured around the country about teaching mindful awareness practices to children. When I saw the hunger that existed for these activities, and the time it took to develop and teach them, I realized that my days as a full-time lawyer were over and I closed my law firm.

I hope to be of service by teaching children skills to help them see what is happening in their minds, bodies and environment objectively, without reacting in a habitual or automatic manner. Given current world events, our future appears increasingly complicated and precarious, thus it is critical that children learn to view experience from a nuanced perspective; something that can only arise from a calm and focused mind. We know from a millennium of experience in all contemplative traditions that to develop such a mind one needs training and practice.

Even though I have been in the "mindfulness field" for over a decade I am still a relative newcomer. But I am certain of one thing. Were it not for my years as a corporate lawyer, I would not be as effective in my work as I am today. Referring back to T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, no one speaks more eloquently about new beginnings than he: "We shall not cease from exploration, And the end of all our exploring, Will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time." As important as new beginnings can be, their power rests in being able to incorporate what you have done before into what you are doing today.