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Mindful : June 2019
has been a member ever since. Her father has since passed away, and her mother isn’t doing well, but she says this meditation has given her an anchor. She has a practice she does every day. She’s a flight attendant and even uses meditation while she is up in the air. You call yourself an unlikely meditator. Why? I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish fam- ily and was born in Israel. I lost sev- eral family members to acts of terror, war, and violence, and by all accounts I should be a pretty angry person. When I was eight, I saw the realities ofwar,andIfeltIhadtodosome- thing to fix the world. I discovered meditation when I was in college. Yet, when I began meditating, in the late 1990s, I was really resistant. I wasn’t sure I would fit my own ideas of what a meditator looks like. Certainly, as someone who’d been raised an Orthodox Jew, I almost had to sneak around. God forbid someone saw me walking into a meditation center! What changed? I think it really has to do with just being able to connect and see the humanity in other people. To recog- nize that I had that capability early on made me feel very empowered. People have this fear of speaking to the “other.” When we finally get over that fear and have a cup of tea, break bread, have a conversation with someone who not only disagrees with us, but has a different set of princi- ples—someone who we might even find scary—that’s huge. I grew up in an insular community, but when I realized that there is a whole other world out there and one not looking to harm me, that was a huge thing for me. Being able to connect with people from all different backgrounds, gener- ations, and religions, always keeps me positive. It gives me hope. You’ve led groups in some surprising places—a Miami Heat basketball game, for instance. That happened because a person in the Miami Heat organization approached me. It was a challenging event to put together, since the sports team doesn’t own the venue, and we had to work through a lot of red tape. But it turned out to be (as far as we know) the largest mass meditation at a professional sporting event. My hope is that we will see more collective mass meditation on a grand scale in unlikely venues. It sounds as if you sense a hunger for meditation practices just now. Yes, absolutely, especially for activists. After the Women’s March of 2016, there was a lot of activism fatigue and burnout. Self-care isn’t a pillar of activism. So when the Women’s Con- vention happened in 2017 in Detroit, the organizers asked me to teach a class, which I did. My topic was “Self- Care Is an Act of Resistance.” It was incredible to connect with people who needed to hear that they had per- mission to be not just caretakers, but self-caretakers, too. It was important to provide them with a really good toolkit to incorporate into their lives. How about your own self-care? I connect to nature. I love being in the ocean. The water just calms me. I also have a really great group of friends and we hold each other accountable. If I am feeling angry about what’s happening in the world, talking about it really helps. When I am willing to be vulnerable about what I am going through, I get a sense of relief. Activ- ists can be viewed as the strong ones, carrying everyone on our backs. It’s nice to put that down once in a while. You’ve done work with the young survivors of the 2018 Parkland school shooting tragedy. I got involved with this group because my son is in 11th grade and played lacrosse with kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Being a community organizer, within 24 hours of the shooting, I immedi- ately started working with a bunch of other parents, who would even- tually form the March for Our Lives movement. The activism part of me was activated. We wanted it to be a student-led movement, but we helped with permitting and arranging bus rides to Tallahassee. Then, when the shock wore off, the meditation teacher and mother in me started wondering, how do we heal from this? That’s when we started to offer Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. A network of incredible practitioners from all over the place asked how they could help. So we worked with teach- ers and staff who would be going back into the classroom. It’s ongoing. One of my teachers, Sharon Salz- berg, reached out to me after Parkland and asked how she could help. We put together a half-day workshop, all centered around the power of love and loving-kindness meditation. The response was incredible. Parents who had lost children came, as well as teachers and students. Sadly, as we have seen from the recent suicides of three people in the Parkland and Sandy Hook communi- ties, for some people the challenges can become too hard to overcome. The trauma never goes away. The best we hope for is that it becomes manageable and that they land in a space where they can coexist with the immense void and also function. → “BEING ABLE TO CONNECT WITH PEOPLE FROM ALL DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS, GENERATIONS, AND RELIGIONS ALWAYS KEEPS ME POSITIVE. IT GIVES ME HOPE.” Shelly Tygielski 40 mindful June 2019 the mindful interview