This article appears in the January issue of 400 Life.
About 10 years ago, Patrick Delaney knew he needed a change. He suffered from anxiety and a pressure-driven inner monologue that neither medication nor traditional counseling could relieve.
His good friend and fellow teacher, Jessica Place, shares a similar story. As a stressed out high school English teacher with high expectations and impossible workload she kept forgetting why she loved teaching in the first place.
Albeit a few years apart, both found a fresh perspective on life through a growing practice known as mindfulness. And their biggest passion became sharing what they’d learned with others.
They started in the classroom. As teachers for more than 20 years, they saw first hand the pressures students faced every day. They introduced mindfulness practices to help them find quiet time to reflect, teach them to tune out nonsensical inner chatter and equip them with the tools they needed to keep their focus on what mattered.
In the same way, they’ve been able to help fellow teachers reshape the way the classroom pressures affect them, dissipating some of their stress. They learn to students not as an overwhelming group with high demands, but as individuals who learn differently and inspire creativity.
“This school year, I have implemented meditation on a weekly basis in my 10th honors literature classes as part of our De-Stress Wednesdays,” said Place, a teacher at West Forsyth High School who still has general anxiety, but manages it through mindfulness.
“At first my kids wonder what the heck I’m doing, but then they love it. In fact, they crave it. They don’t have a lot of other chances to just sit and be quiet and reflect.”
“A lot of schools have started to implement mindfulness practices into the way they do things, like by having meditation rooms, or quiet space, but it hasn’t made it into the classroom officially,” said Delaney, a former West Forsyth teacher who now teaches Mindfulness and Language Arts at Gateway Academy.
“Everyone has that same inner chatter that I had. By studying it and listening and doing it, you still hear the chatter, but you learn meditation and how it works, and realize you don’t have to buy into it. That was a big relief for me, and one that makes a huge difference to kids, too,” Delaney said.
It’s a relief for high school kids, because the pressure they’re under at school isn’t just from academics. The social side of high school brings an entire new lot of pressures with sports teams and peer groups and the expectations that come with them.
“What we try to teach our students in mindfulness meditation is you don’t want to get caught up in those stories that your mind tells you,” said Place. “Those are just thoughts. Thoughts come and go. When we get attached to those thoughts, we cause ourselves suffering, so our job is to teach you how to let those thoughts remain just thoughts.”
In 2017, Place and Delaney agreed it was time to make their hobby official, and the North Georgia Mindfulness Project opened its doors to serve clients such as recovering addicts, parents of young children, adults suffering from stress and anxiety and more.
Heavily influenced by the mindfulness-based stress reduction program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and borrowing the best practices from proven methods across the subject, Delaney and Place have built a unique eight-week curriculum based in meditation.
Through group therapy sessions ranging from 10 to 20 people or via one-on-one training, Delaney and Place help individuals target specific distractions, trigger points and stressors and then equip them with the tools and mindset to overcome those hindrances — without equipment, expensive therapy or medication. They’ve helped individuals overcome trauma, transform negative behaviors, and make positive life changes.
“Research says there’s a change in the brain that happens over the eight weeks that you’re with us,” said Delaney. “In that time, you’ve built your practice, we’ve coached you through it and you can go on from there by yourself. It’s not like counseling and therapies where you have to keep coming back indefinitely.”
The program is extremely effective with recovering addicts, who can learn to manage triggers and address their feelings from a different headspace. It’s also beneficial to adult couples to improve communication, and parents to teach the tools needed to raise young children in a busy world where it’s hard for them to express their emotions. Hint: this works for adults, too.
“It all comes down to learning this skill,” said Delaney. “It’s the skill of sitting and following your breath. Yes, your mind wanders, but then you come back. During those eight weeks, we pull from all the research that’s out there to customize a session based on our clients’ needs to teach them that skill.”
“Our goal is to help as many people as possible and get the word out that this is something that works,” said Place. “It’s based in science and research, its not just trendy. It’s effectual. It’s life changing. We’re not therapists, we just want to start from this moment where they are, and help them to have happier and calmer lives.
“Most people don’t even realize they need this until they start. It’s something they’ve been missing — this idea of simplifying and getting rid of the extra stuff we think we need but we really don’t,” she added.
“The bottom line is if you feel better, you’ll learn better. If you can slow the dialogue in your head a little bit you can be present for others,” said Delaney. “With mindfulness in meditation, we can teach people how to do that.”
This year, the Mindful Project kicks off with classes this month, and again in March. Mindful Living (Jan. 15 at Dove Yoga and March 11 at New Beginnings Counseling) is perfect for parents with young children, married couples or adults, in general.
Story by Jennifer Colosimo for 400 Life.