Meet Angelike Dexter: a mindfulness and Mindful Self-Compassion in Los Angeles
Interviewed by Ellie Duke
I always go into a class remembering Chris Germer’s advice: “love ‘em up!"
A former labor and employment attorney in the entertainment industry, Angelike Dexter was first introduced to mindfulness strategies for children after joining one of Tandy Park's baby groups in Santa Monica. Particularly because their daughter found the world a challenging place, finding tools for teaching emotional balance was a gift.
As her own practice and work with her own children deepened over the years, Angelike was inspired to teach other kids mindfulness as well. She participated in Susan’s Inner Kids training program in 2013 and has taught mindfulness to kids since that time. Personally transformed by Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), she is also trained in teaching MSC to adults and teens. She currently teaches mindfulness and MSC to kids and adults in Los Angeles in all manner of settings, including public and private schools, camps, and community centers. Angelike’s approach to teaching — and to life — is to be “warm, thoughtful, and to give people a sense of what it feels like to be treated mindfully, respectfully, and lovingly.” She says that remembering to find joy in your life is a most essential mindfulness practice, and that “laughter together, especially as a family, is key.”
Angelike speaks about her teaching experiences, the value of mindfulness, and the importance of finding joy.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your work thus far?
Time and energy constraints, for sure. My first job, right now, is to be available for my own kids, so after-school and weekend time is precious to me, and I am careful about the balance of teaching vs. family time.
What’s the first thing you do when working with a new group of students?
The night before I taught my first Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) class I was lucky enough to be on a conference call with Chris Germer (one of the two co-founders of the program). I was really nervous, especially because the first MSC class is information-heavy and I was worried about imparting all the details. He kindly laughed and told me that my biggest job in the first class was just to “love ‘em up!” He said if the students felt loved and heard in the first class, they would come back for the second — and what other job is there for a teacher in a first class but to make sure the students want to come back again? So I always go into every class – for kids or adults – remembering Chris’ advice to “love ‘em up!” I especially make sure those kids labeled as “trouble-makers” get that feeling from me as well. I think those kids don’t often get the experience of being respectfully heard and responded to. And often it’s those kids who really connect with the material and end up being the ones that take practice into their lives if they feel safe with the teacher. So I try to balance being serious and thoughtful with each student with really enjoying their company; that balance of being loving, fun, and serious all at the same time is what I think of as being mindful in a relationship, and I endeavor to give each of my students (no matter that age) that experience in class.
What advice do you have for kids and families who are struggling?
I think we spend so much time trying to “fix” things in service of perfection that we often forget that learning to embrace and grow from struggle is a deep part of life. I would want kids and families to know that they’re not alone — our common human experience with pain and difficulty actually unites us all. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you and your family for going through difficult times; you are deeply not alone. This understanding can really help with resistance – and resistance to struggle can cause a lot of pain in life; finding ways to kindly sit with difficulty can bring a lot of ease. A long view is often helpful as well — struggles shift and change over time; they just do.
If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you’d most like to tell yourself as a child?
I think I was often stuck in a lot of resistance, wishing things were different than they were. My work in self-compassion has been really helpful in working with obstacles like shame and the self-critical voice when softening resistance. In some ways, I wish I could go back and give myself a fully-stocked mental and emotional toolbox chock-full of all the lessons I’ve learned though my practice and study. But, then, I also truly believe we are deeply shaped and changed by our difficult times and the ripple effects of even bad experiences often lead us to what we need. And maybe I wouldn’t have been as grateful to discover those lessons then as I am now!
Are there any stories of working with kids or caregivers that you’d like to tell?
I’m always touched by those students who seem really closed off or resistant and then have an “ah-ha!” moment where the practices seem to hit them personally. I recently had a “tough guy” 7th grader in an 8-week class who was often either shut down or disruptive. I did a class with them on kindly holding difficult emotions and some softening exercises around that. After the practice he offered that he was really working with grief and he had felt that soften. In the later classes in the series, he would separate himself from other students so he could fully immerse himself in the meditations without distraction, let me know that he was practicing daily at home, and told me that he would be signing up for the next series of classes to re-experience the lessons he had not fully participated in at the beginning of the series. To me that’s really beautiful and why I love to teach.
What books have most inspired you and are there any on your shelf begging to be read?
Over the last year or so, I keep returning to Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Norman Fischer. I’m re-reading it now for the fourth or fifth time. I am deeply inspired by his simple and accessible presentation of the Lojong practice and think that it is powerful stuff that can inform our teaching even in absolutely secular settings. We have such deeply ingrained — and often desperately negative — slogans running through our heads all the time, all of which culminate in knee-jerk and lightning fast reactions and judgments of ourselves and others (especially our children and those we love), which can lead to very unkind words and behaviors. I am inspired by the fact that we can actually change that internal script and replace those slogans with more open, accepting, and loving tendencies.
Do you have any questions you think we should add to future profiles, or is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am just so deeply grateful for all the amazing students, fellow teachers and guides along the way, and especially to Susan, who has been such an inspiration and model for all my work that has unfolded and continues to unfold in such interesting ways.