Meditation can really work. Just ask Grammy-winning artist k.d. lang. “After a day of traveling—the TSA at the airport, lost luggage, no food—you get pretty rattled,” lang admits. “But just a few short minutes of focusing and breathing and settling my mind can ready me to do my best.”
Meditation matters so much to lang that she’s intimately involved in a unique nonprofit called Tools for Peace—an organization dedicated to sharing Tibetan Buddhist teachings on cultivating kindness and compassion through secular tools and language that contemporary westerners find accessible.
TFP works with schools, hosts an annual summer camp for teens, and has even launched a free app—Stop, Breathe & Think—to help people around the world bring a more mindful attitude to the challenges of daily life.
A teacher’s message
Tools for Peace was founded in 2000 by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa Rinpoche, who wanted his message of peace and compassion to reach people in the U.S., his adopted country. Among his students were lang and TFP’s executive director, Jamie Price.
“He was an incredible teacher,” lang marvels, “one who led by example and experience. From Lama’s perspective, the root of all our suffering really begins with our own state of mind and way of thinking, and he wanted to create a program that would address this root cause of our problems and show people how to transform their way of thinking into a more peaceful state.”
Although the organization offers online courses, workshops and retreats for people of all ages, the focus has been on reaching youth with its curriculum. “We decided to focus on teens because we felt we could have a significant impact,” Price tells Organic Connections. “That time of life can be so confusing and difficult, and some of the decisions they make at that age can really change the trajectory of their lives—often in not-so-positive ways. We thought that teaching teens self-management skills and how to relate to other people positively would equip them to be more successful in school and life.”
Kindness in action
Because its curriculum is so direct and approachable, TFP has been able to create partnerships with other organizations to reach the students who need it most, connecting with more than four thousand kids through schools and camps, and partnering with dozens of universities and schools.
These programs have had a direct and immediate impact on participants. Last year, TFP worked with a girls’ soccer team in the Los Angeles area, practicing mindfulness and meditation before games; the team went undefeated for the first time.
The week-long teen camp each summer offers a more immersive learning experience, with yoga, meditation and instruction in the Tools for Peace curriculum, in addition to camp standbys such as crafts, hiking and horseback riding. lang, who in the past has served as head cook at the camp, says, “Seeing such trust and openness come to fruition in one week’s time, among thirty kids from very different backgrounds who didn’t know each other, was extremely gratifying.”
“Our culture is saturated with the pursuit of status and materialism, but we don’t spend much time teaching our kids to be kind people,” Price points out. “Mindfulness and meditation help to foster kindness and emotional intelligence by helping people learn to slow down. When you’re still, you’re more able to notice what’s going on inside, what’s driving you to do things, and your impact on other people.”
Through in-school programs and intensive retreats, spanning age groups from grade school all the way up through graduate school, Tools for Peace has worked for fourteen years now to foster meditation practice and provide tools that help people find a gentler, more spacious awareness that allows for flexibility, creativity and connection to others. And it isn’t only the kids who benefit.
“Every time we do a program, we’re not just impacting the students,” lang indicates. “It also comes down to an opening and softening of oneself.”
For Price, these teachings led her from a driven and intense career as an investment banker to her current position with TFP, focused more on benefiting others than on material success. “It was one of the best choices I ever made,” she says. “I’m more patient, more generous, and in the end, I am much happier.”
For lang, meditation practice has transformed her relationship to her art as well. “It helps me focus on the motivation for my performance, which is to benefit all beings—whether they are in earshot or not—and to make my music and the joy it brings a kind of offering, so that all who hear it can celebrate in this happiness.”
Calm. Spaciousness. Happiness. TFP uses simple tools to achieve its goals, but from these core practices of mindfulness and awareness, deep and lasting changes can emerge.
Learn more about Tools for Peace and the Stop, Breathe & Think app at www.toolsforpeace.org.