February 27, 2020

Mindfulness Speaker Series Sparks Conversation and Community-Building

A reflection of Matthew Hepburn's inspiring mindfulness and meditation events at Andover.
by Sarah Bakanosky

Mindfulness instructor Matthew Hepburn opened his evening keynote in late January with an invitation. Mindfulness meditation, he said, can offer something utterly simple: the opportunity to create space for our inner world to be revealed. As soon as we become a student of this inner world, a whole new mode of relating to ourselves and the world around us can emerge.

Hepburn’s visit was part of the year-long Mindfulness Speaker Series hosted by the Tang Institute and the Office of the Head of School at Phillips Academy. Now in its second year, this program brings a well-respected speaker to campus each season. Alexis Santos visited Andover in the fall, and Sebene Selassie will visit April 17-18. All events in this program are free and open to the public, and it has been meaningful to witness the many different people—students, alums, parents, trustees, community members, meditation and yoga students—who have attended these events. These events are one of the ways in which the Tang Institute supports Andover’s efforts to be a private school with a public purpose. Participants have consistently remarked that spending time in community while learning exploring the practice of mindfulness brings about a sense of calm and well-being that is especially valuable today.

The practice of mindfulness allows an individual to, as Hepburn says, “become a student of the present moment.” Individuals learn to observe and respond to what is happening in their lives, as opposed to reacting instinctively.

During his visit, Hepburn spent time with students and adults in the Andover community and had two public-facing events. One highlight was his visit with Brotherhood, an affinity group for young men of color that Hepburn has met with three years in a row. Andover student Ellerman ’21 reflected on Hepburn’s visit, saying, “Matthew radiates peaceful and soothing energy. Being next to him, I felt inspired to continue mindfulness. As a person of color, Matthew is able to relate to me and many difficulties I have faced; it is encouraging to see a person like him as a mindfulness teacher.”

For his public-facing events, Hepburn spoke about “Building Momentum Towards Happiness” and “Equanimity: The Art of Deep Balance.” These events have been appreciated by individuals new to mindfulness, as well as long-time practitioners. Over time, a pattern has emerged: Friday evening events usually feature a talk, a guided meditation, and a Q&A. The daylong workshops on Saturday provide opportunities for more extended practice (both sitting and walking meditation), as well as time for personal reflection and small-group inquiry.

Join Our Mindful Community

If you’d like to receive information about upcoming mindfulness programming, events, and speakers, please join our distribution list (https://signup.e2ma.net/signup/1886511/1894791/). We also gather local educators interested in mindfulness for conversation and idea sharing; if you are a school-based mindfulness educator and would like to meet others with similar interests, please reach out to [email protected].

I have lived in Andover for decades and though I once came here with the hope to have the beneficial influence of Phillips, I had largely forgotten it. What a tremendous benefit to once again enjoy your school. It was so wonderful to see so many other community people last Saturday: very heartening in this divisive social climate.

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