Meet your neighbor...Michelle Seaver, co-founder of the Community Mindfulness Project
NEW CANAAN — For Michelle Seaver, the mind is like one of those glass snow globes — it can be as restless and turbulent when shaken.
“With all that movement, it takes time for things to settle and, if we use our breathing as an anchor, we can think more wisely and make better choices,” the 47-year-old said.
Seaver and her husband, Nick, are co-founders and board members of the Community Mindfulness Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 in New Canaan that promotes secular group meditation and well-being.
As part of the Community Mindfulness Project, Seaver and other members reach out to local organizations in town and nearby municipalities like Stamford, Trumbull and Norwalk. The nonprofit currently has around 12 “facilitators,” individuals who help guide the meditation practices.
However, the road to New Canaan took some turns for Seaver, particularly to France and Thailand first.
The Vancouver native had explored the benefits of meditation back in the early 2000s when meditation was still only an up-and-coming trend. Though she had worked in the tangential field of organizational psychology while living in New York City, it wasn’t until 2003 that Seaver and her not-yet husband began to consider going on retreats designed to improve their understanding of meditation.
To learn more about the Community Mindfulness Project, visit communitymindfulnessproject.org
“We came across a New York Times article by Daniel Goleman,” Seaver said. “It inspired us to read more.”
The couple got married near Avignon, France in 2003 and that’s where they embarked on their first Vipassana retreat, a 10-day experience based on Buddhist meditation traditions, where they meditated at 4 a.m. every day and followed a structured schedule.
“We had previously tried to meditate on our own, focusing on one object, but we realized one has to train the mind with patience and consistency,” Seaver said.
Seaver’s interest was piqued. Some years later, she and her husband applied to participate in The Shamatha Project, a study that included B. Alan Wallace, a leading figure in Buddhist meditation and other scientists from around the world. In 2007, the Seavers were accepted into the study.
“We went on a silent retreat for three months by Red Feather Lakes in Colorado,” Seaver said. “The study was focused on how the period of meditation affects the qualities of attention and the ability to detect small differences.”
After the three months concluded, the Seavers decided to continue into what turned out to be an 18-month full-time study.
“We saw the power of meditation and how it impacted our lives and we had to bring this to others in a meaningful way,” Seaver said.
In 2009, the family saw the birth of their two twin daughters and in what came to be another adventure, the Seaver family headed to Phuket, Thailand to continue their endeavor to learn more about meditation. Seaver was director of mindfulness and social and emotional learning at United World College Thailand and served as a teaching assistant to Wallace, the expert she had previously met in Colorado.
“It was such a cool opportunity and a window of time where we could experience a different culture. It was even more interesting because it’s a Buddhist country,” Seaver said. “We were there for almost four years and it was a most meaningful experience.”
At the school, Seaver worked with young children, helping them start off their day with breathing practices.
“The kids come in rushed and stressed,” Seaver said. “This way, they start off the day more peacefully and can settle their mind.”
Seaver and her family moved to New Canaan in 2013 and, with years of experience now under their belt, Seaver and her husband met fellow New Canaanites Will Heins and Erika Long, who were also proponents of meditation. After a group dinner, they began conducting meditation sessions together.
“We started sitting together and soon enough, people began to join us. It grew very organically,” Seaver said.
Seaver reached out to the New Canaan Library back in 2014 to ask for a space for their group sessions and admits she was surprised the library welcomed them with open arms. Since then, the library hosts the Community Mindfulness Project every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in the Lamb Room for lunchtime meditation.
“When you think about it, meditation five years ago was still on the fringe,” Seaver said. “People thought we were nuts when we first began, even more so when we chose to devote 18 months to the study. But now I think they would have a different reaction.”
Seaver believes the Community Mindfulness Project, where she now works full time, will continue to grow in the coming years.
“Our approach is that it’s free and open to the public but we do charge some organizations and we can tailor the experience depending on the case,” Seaver said. “We’re passionate about making this accessible.”