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Mindful : December 2016
Jessica Morey, 37, is the execu- tive director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), a nonprofit organization that offers in-depth mindfulness programs for teens and young adults. Morey herself annually attended mind- fulness retreats as a teenager. After college and graduate school, she embarked on a career in clean energy, climate policy, and finance, remaining connected to teen retreats as a volunteer staff member. In 2011, she stepped away from her career in public policy and accepted her current position with iBme. What draws you to work with teens? They’re incredible beings. They don’t have the rutted mental habits and views that adults can develop over time. There’s so much potential in them for changing and shifting and redirecting. Even those teens who arrive with a tough-g uy swagger or a hard defensiveness—we’ve seen them soften in such profound ways in a week’s time. The openness of child- hood and sweetness of heart are still so close to the surface in teenagers. On retreat, they become so kind and loving with one another. The retreat setting must provide a rich glimpse into their spirit. They care about the world. They see what’s wrong, and they aren’t OK with it. They want to do something about social justice, climate change, animal rights, and other global issues. They have an un-jaded activist spirit. With this generation in particular, what’s so cool is that they couldn’t care less about our issues around gender, sexuality, and race. What’s Getting Real, One Moment at a Time the problem, people? It’s particularly striking around sexual orientation and gender. The youth we work with are like, “OK! Cool!” They don’t want to be defined in binaries. Everyone seems open and not shocked: There are a million options to choose from. Why can’t people choose who they are and whom they want to love? I feel incredibly hopeful for the future, for these reasons. How does iBme negotiate the issues that afflict so many teens? This is a tough subject for us. Mind- fulness has become more popular and mainstream, in part because of research on the therapeutic benefits for depression, anxiety, and addiction. Parents are discovering us through a therapist or a counselor, wanting to send teens to us so that we will fix them or solve their problems. That’s not what we are doing. The retreat involves long peri- ods of silence. The teens have to be motivated and have a certain degree of stability to manage that. We have teens who deal with normal stresses, like grades and sports, but we also see depression, cutting, and anxiety, and they all find the practice hugely beneficial. They see their own essen- tial goodness and lovability reflected back to them. So, why a retreat? If you just start sitting daily for 15 or 20 minutes, you don’t get that taste of peace and insight that you can have on a retreat. Nothing is happening. It doesn’t work for me. So you give up. Most people on a weeklong retreat will have some experience of peace or have insights into their own minds and hearts that can motivate them to keep practicing. You also live with teens, correct? My husband is the director of the mindfulness program at a boarding school in Concord, Mass. He created the program, beginning as a volun- teer and then becoming more and more embedded. This year the school offered him a fulltime position, and we live in an apartment in a boys’ dorm. What is your daily routine? Lately I’ve been doing a lot of heart practices, cultivating loving-kindness and compassion. I practice first thing in the morning, for about an hour. If I really don’t want to get up and prac- tice, I’ll start by lying down, and after about 10 minutes I’ll come up to seated position. It’s a g reat way to convince myself to practice—one of the tricks that I share with my students. Has working with adolescents changed your own practice? I had always struggled with the daily practice, but when I started staffing teen retreats, I got super serious about my practice. Teenagers have the best bullshit meters—I love that about them!—so you have to teach only what you know. You have to be authentic. I thought, “Oh man, I’ve got to get real, to get more serious and intense about my practice and study, so that I can say, in a way that is potentially faith inducing, ‘ Yes, this is a truly beneficial way to spend your time, and these are the results.’” What results do you observe? For me the big shift has been around being OK with myself. It’s a much friendlier internal environment— more loving, kind, accepting, forgiv- ing, spacious, not judgmental or harsh with my own thoughts, experience, and behavior. ● Interview by Victoria Dawson PHOTOGRAPHBYMICHAELPIAZZA December 2016 mindful 73 profile