What if we could transform our world by changing the way we think and react to certain situations? What if, by choosing to be more introspective, we were able to bring forth different outcomes for others and ourselves?
This philosophy is at the heart of the Flourish Foundation, whose work focuses on contemplative-based practices that promote compassion, attentiveness, self-reflection and resiliency. Executive Director Ryan Redman calls it “transforming the world from the inside out.”
“Our mental life so strongly influences the way we are in the world,” said Redman, who founded the organization in 2010. “Our hope is that people will gain confidence that the world is not simply happening to them, but that they are co-creating their experience and they can determine how they show up by being aware of what they bring into every situation.”
Redman and his team lead programs for school children and teens, parents, teachers, and other professionals. Through reading books, regular meeting discussions, meditation, volunteerism and other exercises, participants learn to respond to daily challenges through introspection and mindfulness.
“This is an empowerment that we as a Western culture have not been too familiar with,” Redman said. “We’ve always relied on the doctors and the experts to tell us what to do. Very rarely have we been taught introspective skills to refine our understanding of who we are and what we can bring into the world. It’s about understanding our potential, and how the mind influences us, either constructively or destructively.”
Relax, Focus, Respond
Even young children can benefit from mindfulness exercises. The foundation’s school-based Mindful Awareness program promotes life skills that focus on developing and strengthening attention, emotional regulation, and compassion in elementary age kids. “We play a lot of games and introduce the concepts in an experiential way,” said Redman. These include meditation, discussion, breathing exercises and more. Young students have self-reported that they use mindfulness practices to calm down, relax before and during a test, when they are angry or sad, to help them pay attention and focus more, and in their communication with others.
Compassionate Leadership, Service to Others
High school teenagers in the Compassionate Leaders Program not only learn more about themselves but also about service to others. Over the past two years, 24 teens in the program have volunteered more than 2,760 hours at 18 Wood River Valley nonprofits and, in the last four years, 39 Leaders have done volunteer work in the Philippines, Mexico, India and Jonestown, Mississippi.
Wood River High School senior Molly Elgee was one of 10 students and three chaperones who spent nearly a month in India this past June and July where they volunteered in the school, dug irrigation trenches and painted buildings.
“Going to India gives you such a new perspective,” she said. “You see how a whole other portion of the world lives and realize, wow, I’m so lucky to have what I have, and I should use my resources and privilege to help other people.”
Elgee talks passionately about the community service she does in the Wood River Valley as part of the program and said she is always excited to go to the weekly meetings. “I can’t think of one kid my age who wouldn’t thrive in this program,” she said. “It feels like it’s a program built for people who want to build a better world or make themselves a better person.”
Mindfulness for Families
The Flourish Foundation also offers programs focusing on childbirth and parenting mindfulness. Redman said that in the case of a pregnant mom, mindfulness training provides strategies to experience the changes and challenges that come with pregnancy.
“There are so many changes that are going on physiologically and psychologically with the anticipation of becoming a new parent,” Redman said. “We provide strategies to not only be with those changes in a more nonreactive way, but to ride the ebb and flow of the birthing experience in terms of pain or other things that give discomfort and cause them to feel overwhelmed.
“A lot of these skills translate into working with their spouse, and having more patience, more kindness, empathy, and compassion for themselves as well.”
A Lasting Impression
Redman has many stories of contemplative practices positively impacting people, but he singled out his memory of a 12-year-old boy. “I was working with the sixth-grade class who had been through the mindful awareness curriculum the previous year. I asked ‘What does mindful awareness mean to you?’ The first student who raised his hand said, ‘Mindfulness to me is something that has allowed me to accept that my mom was just thrown in jail, and when I feel lots of anger and other emotions, I’m able to find peace inside of myself.’
Redman continued, “I was thinking how many different routes this 12-year-old could have gone, but instead he had a way of going inside and being in touch with some of the difficult emotions he was experiencing and knew how to work with those constructively. It was very humbling to me.
“When I see these kids catch fire with this, it restores my sense of hope,” he said. There are kids in this next generation who really do care to make a difference, and they are showing up already at such a young age. I think this really bodes well for the future.”