Teaching the Mindfulness Based Living Course for Young Adults

I write this from a place of whole heartfulness, edged with a little fear. The reason for the fear? For me, like so many of us, ‘being seen’ can be a scary thing. Although you can’t see me in the photo, as I’m the one behind the camera, to write this and share how edgy this work can be, is to be seen. Yet, it’s not as scary as standing before young adults in school teaching Compassionate Based Mindfulness, and not anywhere near as edgy as being a young adult being introduced to the practices of cultivating the seed of self-compassion for the first time – in high school!


Last year I began teaching the Mindfulness Association’s Mindfulness Based Living Course for Young Adults (MBLC-YA) close to home. The Gordon Schools (TGS) here in North Aberdeenshire is not only the closest school to my home, but also the school my eldest daughter attended, where my youngest is right now journeying through her final exam years, and quite possibly where my toddling grandchild will attend in years to come. You could say it’s very close to my heart as well as home, as is the school’s wish to support positive mental health and wellbeing for all.

The young people pictured are representatives from 3 class groups of S2 and S3 TGS pupils who recently completed the MBLC-YA course. Their smiles are from a follow-up session of glittery creativity, cultivating kindness towards self and each other, while creating a feedback tree made with comments from their final celebratory mindfulness class. During this final class I gave each young person, of the 30+ who completed the course, two leafs to write comments on. During the final guided reflection I asked them, ‘what did you learn’ and ‘what did you value’ most during the course? There are so many smilesome comments included on the tree you see pictured. Here are a few:

  • when people try to knock us down we will spring back up like a weebles
  • to calm down on some games and when my brother annoys me
  • concentrate A LOT more in writing tasks
  • that school can be relaxing
  • how to be more kind to myself
  • it’s actually ok not to think about the past and the future
  • skiving

(‘skiving’ appears a few time – and still makes me smile. Perhaps an interesting way to describe ‘being’? Especially as those who valued ‘skiving’ gave significant learning comments)

Showing up at school and being seen warts and all, as is the way when teaching Mindfulness, involves a courageous vulnerability, and is definitely something my 13 year old self could not have imagined. High school Maria was an angry, scared, and deeply sad young person filled to the brim with shame. The Maria who graduated with a 2:1 in English 15 years later was a confident, determined, and fairly defensive person, still brimming with silent shame. This new and worldly Maria (now also called Mum) could not imagine stepping back into high school, so instead chose a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and began to teach in College. Shortly after deciding not to teach at all, I began to support students to be the best they could be, by working as a specialist support tutor, a learning support coordinator and then a disability officer. I’ve spent time teaching, training, and for the past decade working for Networks of Wellbeing, a community mental health and wellbeing charity, delivering all kinds of projects and community wide activity. As you may imagine, self-confidence is not something I lack, and yet teaching the skills of mindfulness and compassion, whilst being seen warts ‘n’ all, in a school setting is a challenge. It most certainly works my edges.

School is not, and never really has been, a place to unashamedly be ‘seen’. As a pupil, it’s more often a place of putting on our emotional armour in an attempt to survive the day without feeling ashamed, and also striving to succeed, at something… anything ! Whether this means achieving a clutch of A*, winning an athletic trophy, mastering an instrument, having the most friends at lunch break, or sadly for some of us, being the biggest class clown or a fearsome bully. As a teacher it means balancing personal life concerns, alongside concern for pupils, especially those experiencing trauma and struggle. It also means a burdensome workload that is increasingly full of testing, assessments, and the pressure for the school and its pupils to ‘achieve’.

For me, school was a place of deep and desperate suffering. A place that rubbed salt into the raw wounds of a chaotic and dysfunctional childhood. The moments of feeling calm, relaxed, or kind to myself, were rare and fleeting. Unsurprisingly I left school with nothing but a back-pack full of shame. If you know anything of ACE’s (adverse childhood experiences) you’ll know that holding a handful of ACE’s means it’s a minor kind of miracle to succeed academically, particularly after having not one, but three, hideous high school experiences. No wonder that during my 8 years of College work I was passionate about making learning more accessible for students whilst supporting and celebrating their successes, regardless of the limits or labels others put upon them. After all, experience had taught me that if a bona fied high school fail, with a fistful of sub-standard grades in one hand, and a double deck of ACE’s in the other could graduate, anyone could.

I’m still passionate about teaching and learning, not limiting or labelling people, especially our young people, and celebrating success. Today I teach Mindfulness for pupils on a 1:1 basis, and in group settings using the MBLC-YA curriculum. I also teach the MA’s MBLC for school staff, mental health staff and volunteers, and for people working to improve community health and wellbeing.

This July I travel to Samye Ling for the MBLC-YA teaching retreat as Heather Grace Bond, creator of the marvellous MBLC-YA curriculum, has invited me to co-teach the next cohort of teachers. It’s an edgy idea for me but I’m delighted. I know the course has the potential to benefit so many young adults, particularly those like the young Maria, who rarely felt seen or valued. I can only imagine how helpful the MBLC-YA would have been for my younger self.  In the spirit of being seen, I can tell you that my younger self has happy tears, and is dancing excitedly at the opportunity to share this work with mindfulness practitioners who wish to work with young adults. And, gratefully, the compassionate mindfulness practitioner I have become is ok, and very much looking forward it, even with the wobbly fearfulness that can appear with the thought of being seen.

Are you a trained MBLC teacher who would like to start working with teens? Why not join us?

-Maria Perkins

Maria is a member of the Mindfulness Association who is a trained MBLC and MBLC-YA teacher.

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