Guest post by Stacy Sims, a mind-body educator and author. She is the founder of City Silence and the True Body Project. Her first children’s illustrated mindfulness book for children will be published in Fall, 2016 by Blue Manatee Press.

“Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive.” Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life

City Silence ProjectWhen I piloted the True Body Project ten years ago, it was clear to me that our contemporary culture wasn’t making things easier for girls to thrive. In fact, it seemed to me that we were collectively conspiring to make life more difficult for adolescent and teen girls. Can you imagine composing a resilient narrative and worldview when you have suffered stress and trauma, have few rituals of wellness, have superficial relationships via dopamine-driving social media, and are encouraged to constantly broadcast the avatar of your identity before you even have one?

I created the True Body Project curriculum to allow for a safe space in which girls could actively, easily connect their minds to their bodies and to write, make art, and advocate for girls and women everywhere. Over the last few years, I have had the good fortune to sit with men and women, boys and girls in various parts of the world and in our Cincinnati-area schools. I have found that most every human I meet is desperate to feel less desperate, more enriched, more joyous. We are all waiting to exhale.

While I have been deeply inspired by the human spirit, watching survivors of sex trafficking, homeless veterans and refugee children persevere in unthinkable circumstances, I have also been struck by the complexity and depth of trauma and chronic, toxic stress.  When we are revved up in some version of  habituated “fight, flight or freeze” responses, our nervous system hijacks all of our energy toward the often futile resolution of the sense of imminent danger.

Pay attention to what happens to your breath and your muscular tension next time you fall into the world of your email, Facebook, or a circular domestic argument. When we are triggered in this way, we cannot access the higher levels of the brain, including empathy, commitment, compassion, focus, creativity and long-term choice making. Contemporary neuroscience now recognizes what Eastern and other contemplative practices have known for centuries: we need silence to down regulate the nervous system to restore us to our best selves.

When we have a dysregulated nervous system, our minds are always trying to make sense of how we feel so our narrative shifts toward dire, polarizing stories: “There is something wrong with me. There is something wrong with you.” In order to unwind and restore our narrative, we have to first create a full-body sense of safety. The goo news about being a human is we have these genius bodies that can not only overcome tremendous hardship, but thrive in spite of and even because of them. That’s why I created City Silence, to help introduce simple, barrier-free mindful meditation practices to adults and youth here in Cincinnati and in other parts of the world.

Just a few weeks ago, City Silence piloted Mindful Music Moments at the Academy of World Languages. This K-8 Cincinnati Public School is an international language school with more than 50% of the student population ESL students. Mindful Music Moments brings daily meditation and mindfulness to the entire school via the morning announcements. Through our partnership with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, students and staff listen to an excerpt of classical music and hear a prompt that promotes mindful listening and music literacy and/or internal affect regulation and felt-sense capacity. The first week, the students listened to Fanfare for the Common Man and considered Mindful Music Moment prompts. Week two, Mozart! The students also get to attend Young People’s Concerts at the CSO where they will already have familiarity with the music and the composers.

The weekly lessons also include Character Strength prompts. For Fanfare, we chose “bravery,” explaining that Fanfare was written to honor men and women in the armed forces who were protecting their country during World War II. We prompted students to consider if they feel brave and to think about when they stand up for what they believe.

We continue the pilot at AWL through the end of the school year and will add more schools and social service organizations as we grow. So far, the response at the school has been positive, with students and teachers reporting more calm, focus and ease.  It is our hope that these Mindful Music Moments will help teachers and students settle into the courageous ritual of silence every day so that it is easier to recognize and support bravery,  perseverance, gratitude, and love of learning.