Meet Angie Harris
“My first son was born and my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer within months of each other. It was all happening at the same time. As a result of this timeline, all of my son’s first milestones and my “firsts” as a mother were happening alongside terminal illness, facing life’s impermanence and death. I had life blossoming and growing, and then life on the decline right in front of me. I was experiencing these things not just within the same day, but within the same hour, and within the same minute. Here’s where my 20 years of mindfulness pointed me to recognize and experience the joy. If I hadn’t had these practices I would’ve ignored a lot of the joy, and I would have been overcome by the suffering the way many of us tend to be.”
I have been a practitioner of mindfulness for almost 20 years. When I was 19 I lost my mother. As a way to manage my strong emotions, a dear friend taught me mindfulness and meditation. At the time I was a typical college student, going to parties and doing all the things that college students do. But, thanks to the mindfulness practice, I started taking time out to sit still. I started doing yoga, reading about contemplative practice and its spiritual roots. I was eager to figure out how I could fit this into my life.
In 2010, it was another personal tragedy that took me from practicing mindfulness to teaching it; my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the time she had three young children: Zach six, Xander three and Lila one. I looked at those kids and I knew I needed to guide them through this time and show them what had been shown to me — because it had been a game changer. The meditation practice that I was taught after the loss of my mother at age 19 kept me grateful, kept me in college and kept me functioning — period.
I began researching how to teach young children to meditate.
I came across a school in California, Mindful Schools, that was offering a training in Rhinebeck, New York at the Omega Institute. It was at that training that I realized that much of what I had been doing for myself for the last 20 years was quantifiable. So, with my years of personal experience, and what I learned at the Omega Institute, I created a curriculum and began teaching my niece and nephews the mindfulness work that had helped me so much when I lost my mom.
Soon after I began intentionally teaching my family mindfulness I got a call from the director of their school, Atlantis Montessori. She asked me, “What are the children learning? I want to know what’s happening with them. They are taking time for themselves when their emotions get too strong. These four and five-year-olds are walking into the corner and just sitting and breathing. Who is teaching them how to do this?” When I told her about my experience and the knowledge I had received, she asked me if I can teach other children in the school how to manage emotions through Mindfulness too.
So, I started teaching mindfulness at the Montessori School on a Friday. I stayed for 10 minutes. The next time I came she asked me to stay for 30 minutes, then 45. Eventually I was teaching a full Mindfulness class one time a week. Things began to blossom when parents – whose children had graduated from the Montessori school — would ask me to come to the new school that their kids were attending. Teaching mindfulness to children took on a life of its own. All the while I was managing my sister’s illness and helping with her children.
I always say, “Every moment has room for Joy and suffering, but the suffering is so much louder in our minds, then the joy can be silenced by the suffering.”
How I got here:
I greatly admire teachers but when people ask me, “When did you know you were going to do this?” I always say, “Life chose this for me. I didn’t choose this for myself.” People find me who need what I have to give. Life has pointed me in their direction.
Why I do this:
“I am living proof of the truth that emotional management can be taught and practiced.”
I have realized how much children need to know how to manage their emotions. This includes all children, not just children who are suffering with moms and dad who have terminal illnesses. All children are struggling with how to manage their emotions in a healthy way. They simply do not know how, however it CAN be taught and practiced. I am living proof of the truth that emotional management can be taught and practiced.
Working with Parents
My grandmother used to say, “The fish rots from the head down.” This concept of do as I do informs all of my teaching. I walk the walk through daily practice. When I’m working with parents I asked them, “If I’m not behaving with self-regulation why would my son? If I’m yelling and screaming and banging and cursing, why would my son speak with intelligence and kindness? It has to start with the self.”
“I am not seeking to quiet down the outside world as much as I once did. This desire to control the uncontrollable creates tremendous suffering. Instead, I am accessing the quiet that lives within all of us. I am the eye within the storm.”