Project Mindlab awakens young people’s compassion

FDCW community educator Peter Leslie was awarded a national Youth and Compassion award from the Charter for Compassion in the Netherlands in April 2014 for his work on 'Project Mindlab'.

"‘Project Mindlab’ awakens young people’s compassion," said the jury. “At a time when performance and academic achievement in education are receiving increasing attention, it is very valuable for students to also have opportunities to reflect on the role they want in society and how they find fulfilment. And that is what Peter has been offering students at the Orion Lyceum School in Breda since 2012.”

Peter plans to use the prize money of 1000 euros to establish a foundation that will enable ‘Project Mindlab’ to “expand like a wildfire” throughout the Netherlands. "This prize is not only my work: many people have inspired me and made ​​it possible for me to do this project,” says Peter. “I am so proud of everyone, especially my students at the Lyceum Orion. They have also earned this award through their efforts during the lessons, their curiosity about what it means to be human, and their willingness to organise activities around the theme of compassion.”

Peter, along with six of his students, was also invited to present this project to His Holiness The Dalai Lama as part of the ‘Educating the Heart’ symposium that took place in Rotterdam on 12th May 2014.

How ‘Project Mindlab' started

Project Mindlab






"Become the laboratory by standing still, or sitting on the cushion provided. Proceed to do no-thing. Relax your posture and attitude, and observe, with a light touch, whatever comes into experience. That's the experiment.  Note the specific manifestation of mind as if they were data. Repeat as many times as you can this gesture of full presence, of mindfulness. The laboratory is now portable and you may carry it with you wherever you go. Keep track of your findings!" - Francisco Varela  (Neuroscientist and co-founder of the ‘Mind & Life Institute’)

“My deep motivation to bring the 16 Guidelines to teenagers is inspired by His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s wish to promote universal human values, and Francisco Varela’s vision to pair the oldest wisdom traditions with cutting-edge scientific research,” explains Peter.

“The idea was born in October 2010 at Institut Vajrayogini in Lavaur, France, during a 16 Guidelines Level 2 workshop, when Patrizia Gavoni, Zandra Mantilla, Simona Azzarello and myself were tasked to develop an exercise for teenagers around the guideline of ‘Principles’. We came up with a model that combined yoga, mindfulness, 16 Guidelines and the Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion (the Creating Compassionate Cultures methodology).

The ultimate purpose of the project is to educate, motivate, and inspire teenagers to explore their potential as human beings, so we decided on the name ‘Project Mindlab’ because we felt it captured the fact that teenagers would be experimenting and testing things for themselves (as opposed to being told what to do). In September 2012 I was given the opportunity to set the project in motion at the Orion Lyceum, a high school situated in the city of Breda in the Netherlands.

Having taught yoga to teenagers for the last five years I know that they are very busy in their heads: laughter, chatting, and serious problems with concentration make yoga classes difficult. In one of the first lessons, following yoga, relaxation and mindfulness of the breath, we did an exercise related to the Dutch coalition agreement that had played heavily in the news that week.

I asked the students (12–14 year olds) to consider themselves the leaders of a new country and to discuss with each other in groups what qualities a good leader should embody. They had 3 minutes to discuss this with each other. The feedback was wonderful. They literally named 6 of the 16 Guidelines straight away: Respect, Honesty, Courage, Kindness, Patience, and Service.

I was so happy to hear them discuss with each other in a deeply philosophical manner how a leader must represent the people and lead them with honesty. They also clearly saw that a leader had to embody these characteristics him or herself. These are the leaders of the future so there is hope for this world.

Other positive feedback from the group was when one of the students commented: “Peter, you should teach this mindfulness stuff to our teachers.” “Why?” I replied. “They need it, they’re always so busy. If they’re relaxed, then the atmosphere at school is more relaxed.”

It was an amazing insight for this young man to realize that mindfulness had helped him become calm and focused, and that he benefited from helping others. I challenged the group to practise at home so that then they could teach the teachers. This idea they loved, and we’re well on course to making it reality.”