Ahimsa Activism: The Lineage Project
Karen Schwartz: What does your organization do?
Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco, Executive Director: We bring mindfulness programs to New York City’s most vulnerable youth. We go directly to where young people are, and we work inside juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, public schools and in collaboration with government community agencies that serve the most vulnerable youth across the city.
We use something called the Lineage Model. It’s a three-part model that includes meditation, mindful movement, which could be yoga, tai chi or chi gong -- we’re doing a pilot with capoeira -- and then a group discussion around a theme, which could be compassion or working with stress. Each class has all three components.
We work closely both with front line staff at a site -- counselors, teachers, administrators -- and with the people that run and work in the agencies that fund the sites. These are very difficult and demanding jobs, often with high burnout and not a lot of opportunities for self-care, so we believe that mindfulness offerings can help staff with their own self-care, and that it will hep them in terms of how they interact with the young people they serve.
KS: Can you give us an example of someone whose life has been made better through this work?
GH-P: One of the young people in our program told us about how he had used mindfulness to keep from getting in a fight. He was about to throw a punch and remembered a mindfulness teaching about taking a pause and bringing awareness to the moment. In the moment he paused, he thought about the consequences of getting into a fight -- the potential criminal justice consequences and the other consequences. He paused and he stepped away. That’s just one of many stories we’ve had young people report back about interacting differently with a police officer, or thinking about being in a fight.
Many of the young people we serve are profoundly traumatized and have themselves experienced violence, and can struggle with self-regulation, self-harming behaviors, stress and aggression to others. Mindfulness is a tool that can have a lot of direct daily benefits to those who have experienced trauma in terms of helping them gain increased self-awareness and self-regulation. I think for all people mindfulness gives us the skill set to bring our awareness to what’s happening to ourselves and can keep us out of the loop of injuring ourselves or others.
KS: Who Inspires You?
GH-P: I would say -- it almost sounds cliche, but it would be my mom. She passed away about two years ago and one thing that really strikes me is how much she taught me in how she approached dying She was very mindful in her approach. I remember very clearly going with her one day to an oncology appointment. She was very sick, and in fact my father had died a few months before and so she was also grieving. Outside of the oncologist’s office there were flowers, and she said to me, “Aren’t these beautiful?” and she literally stopped to smell the flowers. Similarly, a few weeks before she died we were at my sister’s house and there were beautiful flowers in the backyard. [My mother] was in a wheelchair and I think she was probably on oxygen at the time, but she asked us to go inside and get her camera so she could take photos of the flowers. She documented flowers till the end of her life and put together a photo album of them. I was really struck by how she was able to focus on what was beautiful and to have the mindfulness to see the flowers and to invite other people to experience them.
KS: How can people get involved with your organization?
GH-P: We love that question! We hope everyone comes to our benefit at Barry's Bootcamp on September 17th. People can also go to our web site, lineageproject.org. We offer professional trainings in our model, which can be useful not just to people who work with us. They’re open to yoga teachers, social workers, classroom teachers, concerned citizens. People can also contact us around volunteering opportunities -- we have both classroom and administrative opportunities. We certainly welcome financial and in-kind donations...and people can also sign up to receive our newsletter, where they can learn when we have different fundraising events, like the one coming up, and how they can participate in community events.
Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco is the Executive Director of the Lineage Project.