More than just football: the Netherlands is big on compassion, too

Introdag

Peter Leslie hosts the first Project Mindlab at Orion Lyceum in the Netherlands. Sessions often begin with yoga. Photo: Rudy Schipperen

Peter Leslie, a teacher at Orion Lyceum in Breda, Netherlands and a native of the Bahamas, is the recent recipient of the 2014 Dutch Compassion Award. Inspired by Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, the award recognizes Leslie’s contribution to creating a more compassionate world through Project Mindlab, a program that encourages self-discovery among young people through a combination of yoga, mindfulness and the “16 Guidelines,” a Buddhism-inspired framework for reflecting on the ways we think, speak, act and find meaning in life. The guidelines are an initiative of The Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom, a non-profit organization of which the world-renowned Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama is a patron.

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Leslie and his students hold a meditation “flashmob,” a spontaneous meditation in a public park. Photo: Sopa Bouman

Leslie, a long-time yoga practitioner, first heard the Dalai Lama speak in 1999 at a sold-out event at a convention center in The Hague. After hearing the iconic spiritual leader express his wish to educate young people on how thoughts and emotions influence our actions, Leslie was inspired to get involved, though it was another 11 years before he launched “Project Mindlab.”

As part of his extra-curricular activities, Leslie spent more than a decade teaching yoga to teenage students. While he knew it was beneficial for them, he felt there was more he could do to help their “overactive minds”: “I could tell that they were ripe for more self-exploration,” he says. He wanted to create something which would give his young mentees a sense of power and control. He came up with the idea for the Mindlab, a space for self-study, using yoga, mindfulness, and discussions around the central tenets of the 16 Guidelines (e.g. humility, patience, respect) to educate, motivate, and teach young adults how to become healthy, happy human beings. “For me, taking the time to be mindful of one’s thoughts and kind with one’s self is the ultimate expression of self-compassion.”

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“Treat others how you would like to be treated” is the House Rule at the Orion Lyceum. Photo: Pim van Wulfen

Leslie is a big proponent of the Golden Rule: “Treat others how you would like to be treated.” To that end, he has made this become the “house rule” at the Orion Lyceum. In fact, last year, the entire school, led by the students, signed the Charter of Compassion, making it the first official Compassionate school in the Netherlands. They continually brainstorm around the theme of compassion: How can we create compassionate children, societies and cultures? This kind of thinking has inspired volunteer work, random acts of kindness, #BeKindBreda day, free hugs, and the city’s first meditation flashmob, organized by the students. All of this echoes a central theme of the Mindlab, inspired by Gandhi himself: “Be the change you want to see.”

“The experience of being in the Mindlab with my students fills me with hope and has made it blindingly obvious to me that the potential for a more loving, caring, compassionate world is overwhelmingly present in the heart of every young person out there,” he says.

All it takes is a bit of nurturing, he says, which is what Project Mindlab is all about.

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