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Mindful : February 2018
system, a lot of times they have been treated pretty roughly. We realized early on that an area that was not being addressed at all was the trauma that parents had experienced, par- ticularly trauma around history and colonization. So the next step was to address some of that, and mindfulness was a key component. When parents come to our pro- grams, we don’t view them as the problem. Instead we educate them about the origins of the problem, about the trauma that has been passed down through history and still exists today. We developed a program called Finding Center to help people use mindfulness as a kind of centering, to help them remember who they are and engage in what Michael Yellow Bird calls neurodecolonization—changing the conditioned processes of thought. I find that talking about mindfulness in that context is really meaningful for American Indian parents. My other project is a book and group curriculum called Mindful Families. Most programs are focused on adults, and the kids are kept sep- arate. But in Indian communities the children aren’t kept separate. So we developed a program for parents to use with their children, so that fami- lies could practice together, incorpo- rating mindfulness with storytelling. How does your work help the children involved? One of the things we teach parents early on is to stop, take a breath, and move from doing to being. We prac- tice paying attention to breath and body, knowing the mind will wander, and just bringing it back when it does. Parents notice that the practice makes them feel calmer, less stressed, less anxious, less angry. of us needs to consciously consider how we’ve been affected—not only by the physical aspects of our history, but also by the psychological, mental, and spiritual aspects. Long exposure to genocide, the destruction of Native American culture, poverty, trauma, unemploy- ment, and marginalization have led to health problems, substance abuse, and overwhelming stress for Native Amer- ican families. What other ideas have influenced your work? While at UCLA, I went to a lecture by Dan Siegel, who cofounded the Mindful Awareness Research Cen- ter there. He talked about how it’s possible for scientists to see specific regions of the brain related to inter- connectedness—“self to self,” “self to other,” and “transcendent self.” These regions get activated when someone is practicing mindfulness, and when those regions light up, the “well-being region” of our brain is activated. I sat there listening, and I thought, that’s “All My Relations,” which is central to the Native American worldview, and it’s related to being in balance and understanding our inherent intercon- nectedness. That deep interconnectedness is one of the most profound ways that mindfulness fits within the American Indian way of looking at things. In traditional times, Native Americans lived naturally in the present moment. But today our attention is spread over so many things, and there is so much stimulation coming at us all the time, that those parts of our brain don’t get as developed, and we have difficulty finding our balance. How do you integrate these modern-day mindfulness practices into your work? I have worked a lot with American Indian parents who are involved with the Child Welfare System, and many of the problems of child neglect are related to parental substance abuse. When parents are in the child welfare Then we encourage them to use the child as a mindfulness bell, giving that child all their focus in the present moment, with no judgment, with beginner’s mind. We g uide them to notice things about the child that they appreciate. That helps them shift from notic- ing what’s wrong to seeing the things about the child that are wonderful— things that might be missed if you are doing instead of being. That creates a nurturing and positive interaction, which cultivates positive emotions with the child. It’s fun! How do you bring the Native American tradition of storytelling into your work? Stories are how we come to understand ourselves and the world around us. For American Indians stories are medicine. In relation to mindfulness, storytelling involves being present with yourself and the audience, and speaking from Sage is recognized in Native American traditions as a sacred herb with centering and purifying properties. Renda performs a smudging ceremony with sage as a way of opening the circle: “It helps us to remember who we are.” 56 mindful February 2018 the mindful interview