In May 2018, my work as a clinical educator and mindfulness meditation teacher brought me to Israel for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, especially as it pertained to cultural relations within the country. Growing up and coming of age as a rather progressive Christian, I developed friendships with people of many faiths, including Muslims and Jews. All of us in the Abrahamic traditions seem to have an opinion about the State of Israel in the scope of our larger opinions about how we frame who is different than us.
Juditta Ben David, an Israeli clinical psychologist who follows my work and planned on taking a main course that I offered with EMDR Israel in Akko, contacted me a few weeks before my visit and issued a special invitation. Juditta is the founder of an exciting project called Mindfulness in Arabic (MiA), a multi-faith, multi-language, international organization committed to providing culturally sensitive and trauma-informed instruction in the powerful meditation approach of mindfulness to refugee populations. Juditta works closely with project manager Nadia Giol, a multi-lingual specialist in non-violent communication, who identified as Palestian-Israeli in a recent interview I conducted with her. The group asked me if I would be willing to come and offer a guest teaching to some of their volunteers. I had the privilege of offering a guest teaching and sharing some of my experiences of working in Bosnia-Hercegovina from 2000-2003. Although I am of Croatian ancestry, my most special times in Bosnia were spent interacting with people on all sides of the centuries-old conflict, relishing in those signs of our common humanity. I wasn’t sure if I would find such overt celebrations of our common threads as people during my visit to Israel and I was delighted to have encountered them during my meeting with the Mindfulness in Arabic (MiA) core.
Mindfulness meditation is the art and practice of coming back to awareness in the present moment. While there are several different techniques for practicing it, many rely on using all available senses to work with present moment awareness and respond to whatever the moment may reveal. Other techniques work very powerfully with the breath as a vehicle for achieving deeper states of relaxation, meditation, and disconnecting from the reactive patterns that cause stress. Although mindfulness meditation is the heart of Buddhist meditation practice, there is nothing uniquely Buddhist about it, as many global faith traditions practice approaches that can be described as mindfulness.
There is a mounting body of clinical evidence testifying to the mental health and recovery benefits that people can experience from regular mindfulness practice. Even the most traumatized individuals can learn to use mindfulness practice to widen their tolerance for intense affect and emotion without shutting down or developing problematic long-term mental health symptoms. Mindfulness practices can increase relaxation and rest responses, even if an individual is living in an environment that is less than ideal. The Mindfulness in Arabic (MiA) group, who have experienced the power of consistent mindfulness practice first-hand, is committed to teaching these skills and making resources available to refugee and other underserved populations long-term.
On a larger scale, practitioners of mindfulness meditation can also experience a greater sense of connection to our larger, global consciousness and sense of interconnectedness as people. There is no doubt in my mind that the volunteers and project leaders I met are driven by this higher purpose. Noticing a dearth of resources in the Arabic language, especially in colloquial dialects of various refugee populations, the group was motivated into action. You can listen to an interview with founder Juditta Ben David and Project Manager Nadia Giol that I conducted in Klil, Israel during my stay. This interview remains, and forever will remain, my most treasured gift that I brought home from Israel, inspiring me to continue working in the service of those elements that bring us together:
To learn more about Mindfulness in Arabic (MiA) and how you can get involved, please go to: www.mindfulnessinarabic.org