CHILL Counselors Learn from Mindfulness Expert

On April 12, the CHILL Counselors serving local public schools had the opportunity to spend time with Dr. Barry Kerzin, a Buddhist monk and the personal physician to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Although based in Dharamsala, India since 1988, Dr. Kerzin travels extensively teaching and providing counsel on the spiritual and health benefits of mindfulness through meditation and compassion. The Winter Park Health Foundation has worked with Dr. Kerzin in efforts to bring mindfulness awareness and education to the new Center for Health & Wellbeing, opening in 2018. While in Winter Park over the course of several visits, Dr. Kerzin has spoken with WPHF Trustees, staff and Foundation partners, and presented at a Rollins Center for Health Innovation event.

The meeting with CHILL Counselors started with laughter and openness as the counselors introduced themselves to Dr. Kerzin and talked about their educational backgrounds and service within the Winter Park Consortium schools. CHILL Coordinator Aimee Jennings shared with Dr. Kerzin that the CHILL counselors have been studying the neuro-science of mindfulness for the last seven years and even have a summer book club based on mindfulness reading. The group also discussed its current Aetna Foundation grant designed to bring mindfulness education and positive social and emotional health into the ever-expanding use of digital technology. This work seeks to balance the overwhelming amount of digital media which children, youth and their families are exposed to with strategies to keep life in a healthy perspective.

Dr. Kerzin opened the dialogue with thoughts on the “large M” and the “small m” meaning the M is more than meditation; “it’s the larger sense of the word encompassing introspection, contemplation and how responsive we are to our inner worlds. The large M is the goal and the focus on his daily meditation practice. So what is meditation exactly? It’s training the mind to be healthy and positive; cultivating stability and clarity; keeping one’s mind in the present moment; and a way to investigate reality by asking ourselves, ‘Who are we on a deeper level?'”

He then discussed various emotional states the CHILL counselors know all too well from their counseling sessions and gave strategies for moving beyond the negative towards a healthy, positive reaction. For example, when discussing anger, he shared it’s important to recognize the physical cues early on – the clenching of fists, racing heart, flushed cheeks – and take a moment to ask yourself, “Why is the other person unhappy?” By taking the minute to step back, the anger has nowhere to develop. He also recommended envisioning the anger embodied in a cloud that’s drifting across the sky and dissipating. Persistence is the key to mastering these techniques. The counselors all agreed these were helpful strategies they’ve employed with their students.

The discussion then turned to how we, as a part of the broader community, create a sense of mindfulness and wellbeing for all our residents. Dr. Kerzin suggested engaging city leaders, school administrators, key influencers, students and all residents in the conversation is critically important. Working as a team is the key to embedding mindfulness into curriculum, workplaces, and our every day life. Ms. Jennings noted that, “We are human beings, not human doings,” and remarked that “the gift of the future Center for Health & Wellbeing is that practices like mindfulness can become mainstream and help lead to a new normal in our community.”

Dr. Kerzin concluded his remarks with the important reminder: “We all want to be happy and none of us want to hurt.” He led the group in mini-meditation to close the meeting. Patty Maddox, CEO of the WPHF, summed up perfectly the role the CHILL counselors play in not only the lives of their students but in families and our community as well – “Everyone in the community knows CHILL. You are revered for all you do to improve our social and emotional health.”