Meet the Flourish Foundation, and its Executive Director Ryan Redman
Interviewed by AJ Urquidi
The biggest challenge I’ve encountered has been educating people that transforming the mind goes way beyond feel-good techniques and has a far-reaching impact on sustaining societal and global well-being.
From childbirth classes to programs for senior citizens, the Flourish Foundation proudly offers mindfulness to all residents of Sun Valley, Idaho, regardless of their ages. Fueled by its core belief that people’s inner lives determine the way they engage with the world, Flourish has been inspiring systemic change from the inside out since 2010.
Flourish’s executive director Ryan Redman has been putting Flourish’s ideas into action for much of his life. To better understand Ayurvedic Medicine, Yoga, and Meditation, he immersed himself in India for three years. For the past six years, Ryan has also worked with teens and young adults while organizing international service projects in countries like India, Mexico, and the Philippines. A father of two adolescent boys, he is also a developer of the secular program Cultivating Emotional Balance Teacher’s Manual, designed by Alan Wallace and Paul Ekman. In the mountains of Idaho where he lives, Ryan connects to his environment through hiking and backpacking (and though Idaho is landlocked, he describes himself winkingly as a “closet surfer”). Ryan is a close friend and core faculty member of the Inner Kids training model, and we’re delighted to talk to him about his work with the foundation.
Emotional balance seems to lie at the core of your foundation’s values. What concepts tie together the fascinating range of universal subjects, such as dying, childbirth, and social action, found throughout Flourish Foundation’s programs?
At the core of our foundation is the recognition that our mental life determines the way we engage with the world. Until recently, western science and academia paid little attention to the mind’s role in reality. Although there are many reasons for this neglect, the most obvious one is that we have lacked a sophisticated technology for directly observing the mind and understanding its role in nature.
Happily, through exposure to refined methods of introspection from a variety of contemplative traditions, our modern culture is beginning to develop a much greater appreciation for how the mind impacts personal, societal, and environmental well-being. Otto Scharmer, a professor and leading systems thinker from MIT, comments, “The quality of the results in any kind of socioeconomic system is a function of the awareness that people in the system are operating from.”
In addition to understanding the pivotal role, the mind plays in shaping our reality, for millennia contemplative traditions have empirically demonstrated that the mind can be cultivated throughout the course of one’s life. It is this fact that guides our programming toward different stages of life.
The Flourish site frequently refers to terms like “global crisis,” “global challenges,” and “global change.” What are some of the worldwide issues these terms refer to, what kind of impact could mindfulness have on these issues, and how do you hope to effectively implement these practices?
In August 2016, the term “Anthropocene” was recommended to the International Commission on Stratigraphy by top-level scientists to recognize a new epoch of time for planet earth. What is unique about this recommendation is that the term “Anthropo,” meaning “human,” refers specifically to the drastic impact that human behavior is having on the earth’s geology and ecosystems. For example, species extinction is between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the standard rate, and atmospheric carbon levels are now 60 ppm above the recommended levels of climate scientists.
On a societal level the world’s 500 or so billionaires have assets of 1.9 trillion dollars, a sum greater than the income of the poorest 170 countries in the world, and the amount of money that the richest 1 percent of the world’s people make each year equals what the poorest 57 percent make. Not to mention the estimated 20 million people enslaved in human trafficking, and other societal injustices that movements like Black Lives Matter bring to light.
On a more personal level, the World Health Organization claims that depression will be the second-leading cause of disability worldwide by the year 2020; the CDC estimates that one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds.
Of course, there are many positive steps being made by individuals and communities to address these enormous issues. However, at the very heart of the matter is finding ways to change the human systems that create these challenges. Although there are many leverage points for changing a system, the most profound change occurs at the level of the mind by shifting the mindsets and paradigms from which these systems emerge. Donella Meadows, one of the most renowned environmental scientists of the last century, comments,
People who manage to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm hit a leverage point that totally transforms systems … In a single individual, it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a new way of seeing. Of course, individuals and societies do resist challenges to their paradigm harder than they resist any other kind of change.
Contemplative practices offer a constructive medium for changing our mindset by strengthening and revealing mental virtues conducive to individual and collective well-being. Mindfulness, as a faculty of remembering, allows one to continue to draw upon these virtues outside of formal practice in everyday life and supports a fundamental shift in how one sees the world and engages with it.
Are there any related stories of working with kids or families that you’d like to tell?
I know this shift most intimately within myself. In my late childhood and early adolescence, I used to burn ant piles and kill birds and ground squirrels for fun. Since committing myself to contemplative practices as a teenager, I now find myself scooping up spiders and ushering them to safety and trying my very best to revere all beings livelihoods.
Now that mindfulness has become popular, the word mindfulness has taken on various meanings. Can you help us understand where it comes from and what mindfulness means?
Based on what you know now, what would you tell yourself as a child if you could go back in time?
Protect all life forms, be kind, and watch your mind.
What kinds of challenges or obstacles have you encountered at Flourish Foundation?
The biggest challenge has been educating people that transforming the mind goes way beyond feel-good techniques and has a far-reaching impact on sustaining societal and global well-being.
Are there any books that heavily inspired you on the way to where you’re at now, or any that are considered essential reading for supporters of Flourish Foundation?
Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by the Dalai Lama, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard, and The Attention Revolution by B. Alan Wallace.
What ways do you practice mindfulness and meditation in your own life?
Most helpful to me is my commitment to daily practice. Due to familial and work obligations, my time is limited, but I still manage between 2 –3 hours of formal practice a day. In my meditation, I focus predominantly on methods that yield attentional and cognitive balance, as well as practices that open the heart. Although there is much more to be done, or released, in revealing my greatest potential, I am forever grateful for this time as it influences my day and provides skills that I mindfully draw upon as a father, husband, and working professional.
Any last thoughts on bringing mindfulness into education?
Our hope is that the mindfulness in education movement can move beyond imparting useful tools for stress reduction and work toward creating an engaging, developmentally appropriate, contemplative pedagogy that can be implemented in both public and private sectors from pre-kindergarten through higher education. Ideally, this strand of education will give students the skills to cultivate boundless altruism, inner contentment, and wisdom throughout the rest of their lives.