John Orr, 35, started practicing mindfulness about 10 years ago to cope with and better understand the difficulties he was facing in life.
“Those difficulties were rather significant, and looking around at my friends, I noticed that they were all facing similar difficulties, and I needed to find a solution for myself,” Orr says. “Otherwise it seemed like the difficulties of our lives were going to continue.”
Those difficulties for Orr’s best friend of 23 years did continue, as he took his own life at the age of 26, leaving behind a daughter, family and friends, who Orr says “cared about him deeply.”
“He was a great friend—a better friend than I’ve ever been to anybody—and I don’t consider myself a bad friend," Orr says. "He was just really caught up with a lot of drug use, and he couldn’t find a way out."
It was his death, Orr says, that motivated him to consider thinking that things could have been different.
“Things didn’t have to end up that way, and if he had the tools to better deal with the stresses of life early on, I think all of that could have been avoided,” Orr says.
So Orr founded Mindful Youth
, a nonprofit organization focused on helping at-risk young people
improve the qualities of their lives by learning to pay attention to their thoughts and emotions while leaving judgments behind.
“I felt that early intervention would be better—to intervene proactively rather than reactively," he says. "That’s a strategy that seemed worthwhile to me."
Mindful Youth’s primary focus
is to provide group therapy and mindfulness training to identified populations like those who are, for example, incarcerated in the Hamilton County Juvenile Youth Center
. Orr, who is a licensed professional clinical counselor, also provides individual therapy and serves as a consultant, providing mindfulness training to organizations that work with at-risk populations.
During therapy sessions, Orr says he incorporates an element of formal meditation.
“Let’s say a difficult thought were to arise," he says. "We’d frame it like, ‘Well okay, is the thought really serving you?’ Taking it a step further, we look at it as, ‘Thoughts are just thoughts—they’re never facts. They can describe facts, but thoughts are always thoughts, and we don’t necessarily have to listen or identify with every thought that arises.'"
“When it comes to looking at emotions from a mindfulness perspective, we try to help the person create space so that they can see that while they have these emotions, that’s not the entirety of who they are. And so if they can make the space for them and just kind of allow them to be there, they may not be succumbed by them and they may have the power to choose how they respond," Orr says.
He says the effects of mindfulness on youth, particularly at the Juvenile Youth Center, are amazing because the population the organization serves there is composed of young men who have a lot of anger and who are “quite vocal” about it.
“We don’t tell them to try to calm down or anything, but the results we get from that are—these guys just report that they’re feeling calmer, that they have a better understanding of how to manage their anger, that they have more insight into who they are and they can see this idea that, ‘Okay, if this is what’s going on with me, I’ve got a tool to deal with it,’ which is pretty cool,” Orr says.
What began as a tool for Orr to use in his own life has evolved into one that he’s now able to share with others, with the hope of helping young people to deal with the abundance of mixed messages they are exposed to daily so they can figure out a coping mechanism that enables them to be happy and productive individuals.
“I was looking for some answers in my own life, and meditation was just appealing to me—there was something that just drew me to it, and as I explored it, it became one of the greatest journeys I’ve ever been on and a journey that’s always with me,” Orr says. “I don’t have to go anywhere, and it’s always been very rewarding. At times it’s been challenging, but for the most part, I feel like it’s completely changed my life, and it continues to do so on an almost daily basis.”
to Mindful Youth.
with the organization to share your mindfulness practices.
John Orr for more information about mindfulness, or about an opportunity for Mindful Youth to teach young people, organizations or families about its practices.
By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.