Episode 3: Michelle Kinder, Momentous Institute


Episode 3:  Michelle Kinder, Momentous Institute


Links of Topics Discussed in Episode:

Momentous Institute:  https://momentousinstitute.org/

Changing the Odds Conference:  https://momentousinstitute.org/events/changing-the-odds-2019

Transcendental Meditation (TM):  https://tm.org

Susan Kaiser Greenland:  https://www.susankaisergreenland.com/

Roots Black Bean Hummus:  https://www.rootshummus.com/hummus/black-bean-hummus/

Trader Joe’s Beet Crackers: https://www.traderjoes.com/digin/post/3-seed-beet-crackers

Welcome to Your Mindful Hour podcast. I'm your host Melissa Marks. Today I have the honor of chatting with Michelle Kindler, the outgoing executive director of Momentous Institute. She is stepping down later this year after a 20 year history with the organization. Michelle is continuing her commitment to social change through speaking, writing and consulting with leaders and organizations interested in socially conscious leadership. You'll see how Michelle lives a technicolor life. She is someone who always strives for excellence in all she does and finds that meditation gives her the very best results. She shares about non- striving, dropping in and serving others. If you're a parent or a teacher there are also a lot of great insights into the benefits of meditation for kids. I hope you all enjoy the show.

Welcome to the show Michelle. I am so so grateful and excited to have you on today. Thank you so much for making the time.

Thank you so much for having me.

This is one of my favorite topics to be self reflective about and I'm excited to get to talk to you.

Thank you so much.

So this is kind of fun.

My first encounter with you, which you don't know this, but I thought it would be fun to share with you...was actually shortly before I met you in person. And it was several years ago and it was when I attended the last part of your amazing annual conference, The Changing the Odds Conference and you were wrapping it up for all of the attendees, which gosh easily there were a couple thousand people there. And I was immediately struck by your presence on stage. Oh yeah. You were very absolutely...it's so true. You were very warm, very poised and articulate, and I just felt like there appeared to be a very profound presence within you which made a real impact when you spoke.

Oh gosh that's such a nice thing to say. I credit the audience of that conference for a lot of that. The way that that large group manages to hold space and allow kind of a giant room full of people to feel so intimate. It makes it feel like a chat. I'm so grateful to that group that comes together.

That's that's a really powerful. That's a very powerful message that you are alluding to and I want to dig deeper into what you do it at Momentous, and the conference and all of that. But before we jump into that I would love for you to simply tell us about you. Who is Michelle?

I would love to. So I've actually now worked at Momentus 20 years and I started there as a part time family therapist/ part time school counselor. So my my background is mental health. And prior to that I did grad school at UT Austin and undergrad at Baylor and studied theater which actually ended up being my way of sort of staying at Baylor. Baylor is a wonderful university but it was not a perfect fit for me. And so I needed to either transfer or find this friend. And for for me that was the theater department. And that worked beautifully and I kind of found my tribe there and found you know incredible joy in that creative expression. And it turned out to be the most extraordinary prep for becoming a therapist and then an executive director because in learning theater you spend an outrageous number of hours learning to like truly listen and be in the moment and and actually let something authentic come from you from, being truly present, and truly in the moment instead of you know acting. And so it was like just totally unplanned on my part but a wonderful step from studying theater and studying therapy and then moving into more administrative roles. And prior to that, we're kind of going backwards, prior to that I I was actually born in Guatemala and I grew up there and my parents were missionaries down there. They spent more than 30 years down there. Half of us were born there. We were all raised there. And that was an incredible way to start my life. Wow. I think that too was kind of prep for everything that came after in terms of having you know from literally from birth, having a foot in both cultures or two cultures and seeing how people who had different backgrounds different circumstances different beliefs attend to things differently. And so it's in my bone marrow to appreciate difference and diversity and and I've I've never been sort of seduced by this idea that there's a truth with a capital T because I had that experience growing up that there never was. There were always at least two ways of doing things. Everywhere I looked. So I just I feel so grateful to my parents for giving me that early start and also for giving me kind of a view of of a life of service that stuck.

So oh my gosh what an interesting background that you that you have. I would never have known that about you. Thank you for sharing that.

You bet.

So. So let's jump ahead a little bit. In your your history, your timeline, I really am very intrigued by theater and how you're right--there is so much about being present in that world and how it does truly translate into mindfulness, being present in the moment. Was there any formal meditation or mindfulness training that you also did at any point in your life?

Yeah I got interested in meditation and mindfulness when I was hoping to get pregnant with our first child who's now turned 17 next month. And, I was just thinking about life in a really different way and so began to study yoga and mindfulness meditation back then but not in any way seriously. It was kind of more just dipping in and out for years and then when my second daughter was born--she's she's twelve --and when she was born during those those few months that I was home with her I began to study yoga with the intention of doing yoga teacher training and I was a therapist.

That was my role. I was working a couple of days a week at Momentus. So as a therapist and and then working on this yoga teacher training I was just as happy as I could be hanging out with an awesome baby and a 5 year old and I guess five or six months into that.

The organization approached me to come back in full time and lead the therapeutic services team and so I kind of shelved the yoga training at that point. But the meditation and yoga have continued to be a big presence in my life since then.

So it makes me curious to know when you were in that initial first part when you were pregnant with your first child, was it then when it really the idea of including meditation came to you? Can you tell me more about that? Was there more of an awareness in general that you wanted to cultivate with with your your new baby or tell me tell us more about what that process was like in the initial stages?

Yeah I think it started, the door that sort of opened for me first was yoga. And from there I started learning more about mindfulness meditation and reading a lot of John Kabat-Zinn and and and others and and it was for me just sort of standing in awe of this responsibility of bringing a human into the world and making space for them to become who they are going to become and not wanting to miss it. I feel like when my daughter was born I began to have daily experiences of time standing still and I think it was just that relationship with her sort of pulled me into just naturally pulled me into mindfulness in a way that I'd never experienced before. And so then that of course fueled my curiosity and my awareness that there's what happens to us and then there's how we relate to it and I I have some power and control in developing practices that will help me drop in and not miss the good stuff.

It's really beautiful Michelle. Thank you for sharing that. So in terms of your present day life MICHELLE KINDER today do you have a specific routine, morning routine.? Do you do you practice your meditation regularly or on the fly or how does it show up for you in your your daily life?

Yeah. So over 700 days ago I I began a streak of doing meditation every day and it's been interesting because I yeah it's it's been absolutely transformative like I can see so many threads of other ways. My life has shifted because of that practice that I also had an interesting wakeup call because when I hit the five hundredth day I decided I would write an article about how that impacted me and so I sat down to write it and and I got so convicted by the fact that I had sort of dipped into this streak mentality but that my practice hadn't deepened, that I was a student doing it you know but I wasn't allowing my practice to deepen and so that was a huge wake up call. Needless to say I did not submit that article. I said I promptly enrolled myself in transcendental meditation course which was I guess about a hundred a little less than two hundred days ago. And in an effort to to learn how to deepen my practice I've been doing T.M. now for almost 200 days and that also has just taken everything to a whole new level for me. So now I do two 20-minute meditations a day.

I know it's really hard to put these things in words especially the deepening of someone's meditation practice, so this is somewhat of a challenging question. Can you describe how it's deepened in the last two hundred days?

So I track on two things like what is happening sort of when I'm meditating and then I track much more closely on what's happening in my life as a result of a deepening meditation. But but when I'm meditating what I've noticed is a greater capacity to sort of drop in and be meditating instead of doing meditation.

I'm wired to, I want to excel, you know, I'm wired to just kind of like--we want to excel at anything I touch or try and so I over the last 200 days or really even before I transition into the shifting from striving being how I would sort of level up or achieve or grow--to the dropping of that and the just connecting with the sort of you know I don't want to go to woo woo but sort of the different power sources that are in there for us that we can plug in to and that things can flow through us because we cleared the vessel so to speak-- that's the space. So now is just spending a whole lot less time striving for things and a whole lot more time clearing the vessel moving toward a line that relentlessly and unapologetically and just letting things flow through me.

Beautiful. Very well said. How does that then translate into the quote the doing. Because as you mentioned if you are someone and I'm sure many people can relate to it this drive to to excel and to as you said you are hardwired to do that-how then does it translate into the actual doing?

Do you see different results as a result of letting go of the striving?

Yeah I mean what used to be very effortful and got a fine result now feels effortless and gets sometimes and I say this humbly because I sincerely do not think this is about me but the dropping in.

Seeing it just as it is…it builds more effortless. It feels less personal. You feel sort of driven by a higher self instead of a any more of an eg- based kind of drive. And and the result is far better in the achievement realm than what used to come out when I was driven more from the striving.

There hasn't been a day I could have had to trade in just dropping in for success or achievement.

It's actually made space for just a completely different way of levelling up.

Yes so so well said. Can you think of an example of something that you kind of had to do maybe a double take yourself thinking wow this result that I have is so different than perhaps something I would have seen from myself a year ago?

There's any example come to mind where due to this more letting go and dropping in state that something kind of just effortlessly flowed through you and the result was just impactful enough for you to really notice it as a profound difference

Oh my gosh there's so many examples but one that comes right to mind is is when I'm speaking I speak a lot and it used to be that I would just spend an enormous amount of time almost like obsessively micro editing myself and my presentation and my this and my that, and I still care a lot about that sort of high excellence and whatever I put out but if I have 30 minutes before presentation five years ago I would have run through it again and if I now have thirty minutes before presentation and now I meditate and I and I pray that whatever will come through me will serve whoever is in the room in a way, that I can't predict or control an answer, just a release, seeing and stepping in like humbly and presently into the space instead of instead of me sort of feeling like I'm offering something that performance based or what have you.

Yes yes yes yes. In fact it's funny. This is probably a nice segue into your role at momentous and I definitely want to talk about that and what you do over there but as a segue, I learned about that very thing because of one of your conferences.  I think it was the one two years ago where you had Brene Brown.

Gosh that was great. That was like the rock stars of all of this, this world I don't even know, Richie Richie Davidson, he’s so great. So thank you for putting on such high quality conferences.

But thank you I'll pass that to the team. They they do an unbelievable job of curating and pulling that together.

Yeah it's phenomenal so Rene Brown spoke about this a couple years ago at your conference and it was it was a real aha moment for me because she said up there that she never prepares for I mean obviously she's extremely prepared but she doesn't do what you are saying she doesn't do that sort of memorize her presentation, all her words beforehand. She says she has her slides and she connects to the audience and so every single time she presents even though it's ostensibly the same material it's the same slide deck--the way it comes out each time is different based on who's in the room and her main goal is just to relate to the people in the room and trust that process and I thought yes yes yes yes that's the way to do it and I've been striving to do that myself. But yeah. So that's that's really cool. I love I love that example. How about we now shift gears to talk about Momentous Institute, what it is, what you do there and the connection there to mindfulness meditation.

Yes. So we're a nonprofit here in Dallas. Almost a hundred years old if you can believe it all.

I don't know if you knew that but we started in 1920 and and we were founded and continue to be powered by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas which is a group of six hundred and fifty business leaders and they're very involved in every move we make.  And our work has always been about children. And we're also the beneficiary of the AT&T Byron Nelson. Some people might might click into that even more than in our name and present day we work with over 5000 people that are coming to us for some kind of therapeutic service. So family therapy individual therapy some assessments or a parent education. That type of work and then we have a lab school where we have two hundred and forty eight amazing kids and their families who work with us to identify what are the things that are going to propel children forward long term especially children who may have additional stressors related to family income and the like.

So we use the work that we're doing in therapy and at our school to fuel our research and training efforts which of course includes the Changing the Odds Conference. And then last year we worked with a total of over 9000 professionals and some sort of social emotional health training.

From a light touch that came to the conference to those who lived with us for a year to intern and then everything in between and then our research is really a huge part of our recipes. We do research on everything we do and we kind of look to the team to be unbelievably loyal to whoever is sitting in front of them and giving them the very best care or education.

We also challenge them to always be thinking about kids that will never meet. And how are we going to take what we're learning together with the families that we interact with and and change some narratives around what's possible around structural inequities around just partnering with instead of doing for all sorts of things like that.

So Momentous. One hundred years old almost.  So happy early birthday momentous.

So when did the mindfulness piece come in to the school environment?

Yeah we have Heather Bryant to thank for that, who's our Director of Innovation Impact and at the time she was the assistant principal at the school. And we we've always had the practice of looking inwad for what are we learning that we can share out but also looking outward. What are the trends what's happening. What do we need to be bringing into our environment and testing and trying. And so mindfulness was a seen in some therapist's office long before that that but now it permeates our therapy work and it permeates our school work. And that came about I would say eight or nine years ago we started really implementing mindfulness and. It you know and in ways that you can measure like for example our student at least three times a day will stop what you're doing. Do some breathing. It's kind of settled back into their bodies and get ready to learn. We connect that for them very directly to that they're regulating their nervous system and that that allows them to kind of be in charge of when their amygdala is flaring and when their prefrontal cortex is fully online and just really use mindfulness to teach them about the basic biology of their emotions and give them a greater sense of control and managing them.

That's great. How how did that actually kick off in terms of the teachers? Did you have to start with the teachers first to get folks on board? Was there any resistance to this?

Did this kind come in piecemeal over the years or how did the whole program get get started really?

Yeah. I mean that was back far enough where the word mindfulness had to be thoughtful about where you used it where you didn't. So when we initially started we we called it breathing and we were careful when we said mindfulness and we started with a student facing effort but very quickly realized that like everything you can only give what you have and it was very important for our teachers to also have their own practice and so we worked closely with Susan Kaiser Greenland who wrote The Mindful child and mindful games and she really helped us support the teachers and and both coming along and also developing their own practice and nurturing their own practice. And she was also amazing she is amazing at making sure that the way we entered teaching mindfulness to children was age appropriate and an easily easily kind of just woven into the school day.

Yeah that's really interesting. Can you describe that a little bit more, how does meditation look for a kid?

Yeah so we do chimes and you know, kind of focusing on the sound and and doing some breath work but for little kids that can be just literally three breaths and then you're back at it. Susan talks about “a short time many times with kids”. Do anytime there's a transition. You can see the kids using breath to kind of assist in that transition. Sometimes the teachers will like blow bubbles and encourage them to focus their attention on the bubble and on their desire to pop it without popping it. So there's you know a million different ways. I really can't recommend Susan Kaiser Greenland's work highly enough and she her Mindful Games book also comes in like a deck. So parents or teachers or anyone who works with kids or has kids could just buy the deck and do those fun games with their kids.  And for the kids it's just a game. It's fun it's non-threatening and it doesn't it doesn't ask of them something that feels foreign.

You talked about earlier the research that you all are so connected to and make a point of.

What have you found since these eight or nine years of implementing mindfulness in the school?  What what have you seen as some of the benefits there for the kids.

Yeah. Our Director of Research Karen Thiery can obviously talk circles around me, but I can hit a couple high points. One of the things that we've we were able to contribute to the literature is how mindfulness and the pre-K environment makes a difference in kids ability to self regulate so manage their own emotions, reactions, behaviours, not because someone's watching them but because their nervous system is regulated. So our research showed that there was a direct correlation there. We were also able to show the connection between empathy and optimism and higher test scores on standardized tests.


We did that which is really cool. Yeah.

So you know unfortunately to get the ears of some people in education they need to see that. Or it just feels like fluff. Yeah. So we're we're we're looking for ways to kind of make sure we're able to show hey this is not an either or you don't focus on social emotional health or academics you actually do both simultaneously to set kids up for the greatest long term outcome.

So cool so cool. Can you think of anything that maybe you have learned from one of the kids one of the students as it relates to mindfulness? Has there been a moment as an example or something one has said to you that you thought oh my gosh I never thought of that.

Oh my gosh there's literally if ever there was a job where you had an oxygen tank right down the hall at all times it's Momentous because the kids are unbelievable just literally walking around near them. You just get so fueled and they say the cutest things. The story that's coming to mind for me is about two brothers who went to our school and one of the brothers told us the story that he was feeling really anxious and upset at home and they didn't have a chime. And so he created a homemade chime with the metal part of his bed and a spoon so that he could do breathing work at at home. And I just love that. I loved that he has identified that as a strategy and knew how to pull it in. Even even though he had to really create something that wasn't easily accessible. So it just it reminded me that that this gift of mindfulness and meditation and breath work is the most accessible, most researched, free. So I think this work has a place in equity in the equity space because it's a way that it can serve everybody regardless of access or opportunity.

Beautiful. Wow so would there be any words of advice for maybe an educator or someone that's connected in the school setting that wants to think about this.

Or perhaps they're a parent and they want to move in this direction for their family. With the I know you mentioned Susan Kaiser Greenland is a great resource but just someone who's been through been through it in the trenches of actually implementing it.

What what would you say to anyone curious to to begin a journey like this?

My number one advice for anyone dealing with anything is to regulate their own nervous system. Just such a huge believer in the fact that back to where it starts and that were all contagious and so in that moment when you're either just proactively wanting to invite this into your home or school that's where it starts. But even in a moment where you're trying to deal with a child who's dis regulated and having a really hard time, the number one way to impact the kids or the adults around you is to regulate your own nervous system so that would be my first one. The other would be to just look for ways to sort of authentically integrate these ideas in and starting small is is great and that it doesn't have to be some big huge initiative to just have the goal of making space for kids or adults to drop into presence.

Beautiful and just to further clarify by regulating your immune system and your nervous system rather, the easiest way would you say would be to connect to the breath?

Exactly. I think that's our most researched most accessible way to just drop back in and bring our prefrontal cortex online. And there's a there are other ways though like you know some time there's there are times that doing breathing work is anxiety provoking for people so if that's one of those moments just moving your body focusing your attention shifting your focus from the problem to your preferred outcome know there's there are lots of different ways that you can kind of be in charge of noticing when your dis regulated and then do whatever practice you've identified that helps you sort of drop back into that regulated state before you take action that there you know that little space that then allows you to to move away from that reactive and an end to a really thoughtful response.

That's very nice. So one last question for you and then we can eat some hummus together which I know you're dying to.

I am dying to.

So my question is this: since you have a mindfulness practice and something that you've been working on for for yourself and this is something that you believe in, what do you think it would be like if you didn't have a meditation practice or a mindfulness practice.

What kind of person would be I think I would just be a whole lot more asleep to my impact a whole lot more of the time.

I know that person because I was that person and I was living a perfectly fine life but now I feel like I'm living a Technicolor life.

Nice. Okay.

Well I could talk to you for a really long time about this but I think that you have shared so much about you and the school and there is definitely a connection between them. To me this is all about mindful leadership right. It's about a connection that you have if you didn't have a personal practice I guarantee you there is no way that that Momentous would have the kind of results it's had in terms of the kids--it it's it permeates through the organization and the fact that the teachers also have a personal practice, that's for me as an outsider observing looking in, and I think anybody that is in an organization whether you're in a school setting or in a corporate environment you have to have everybody from the top down and the bottom up has to be involved with what the mission and the vision of the organization is.

So I want to thank you for maintaining your own personal practice and not just being satisfied by checking the box of your first 500 days. You're committed to that deepening because that's how you're growing and then correspondingly that's how the school can grow. That's how the kids can grow. There is an environment of growth that's present through the halls and through the walls. And it's it's the fabric of how that thing runs. So kudos to you Michelle. Great leadership. Really really. Yeah. Really outstanding job with everything you're doing over there.

Thank you. It's such a group effort and a pinnacle experience for me. I could not be more grateful to get to work with such an amazing team.

Good deal. Well thank you. Thank you. Now let us turn the page and enter into Hummus Among Us. So we have today…

Did you. Do you have your hummus in front of you Michelle?

I do have my hummus in front of me.

So I asked you what hummus you liked. And you said you like black bean hummus which I thought was really cool. I don't eat a lot of black hummus but the black bean hummus I have had I've really enjoyed. I went ahead and recommended the brand this time, so we we collaborated today I would say. You came up with the type of hummus. I came up with Roots the brand. I've not had this Roots black bean hummus before, have you?

I have.

And I love it.

OK. I didn't know that you had it. OK so let's open our hummus. And I always give a little warning to the viewer to the listeners sorry out there because if you do not like the sound of people eating you might want to break away for about 30 seconds while Michelle and I take our first bite of our hummus and then we'll we'll chat about what we think of this hummus.

So fair warning let's see. I'm going to get my my stuff going here. Invite you to do the same.

Oh my gosh. I'm going to keep crunching this is so good.

This is good.

Not me.

It's very yummy. I like this brand a lot and I hadn't heard this. It was funny when I eat one bite and then I'll speak.

That's good.

So tell me what it is about the black mean hummus.

You particularly like side note I'll keep

Get it girl.

No. I love it so much.

You know this is super connected to my growing up in Guatemala days--black beans are a key food and so I still eat black beans at least twice a week.

I love them and I love lime juice. I love anything with lime juice and I was just noticing that's like the third ingredient in this. so much so. Yeah me too. This is the same I'm eating it.

Go ahead sorry.

Well I was just being accidentally punny because I said this goes back to your roots and the hummus is called Roots.


Yeah. OK. So I'm going to put in another plug because I'm eating them with these beet chips from Trader Joe's which are un believable.

They don't taste like beets at all but they're super cute and red and little bitty circles. Actually they're called beet. They might be called beet crackers. OK. Beet crackers from Trader Joe's combined with the Roots black bean hummus. I'm in heaven.

Dang. So is it the Trader Joe's brand or did you just happen to buy them at Trader Joe's?

That's a great question. I don't remember. I think it might be.

I can only find them at Trader Joe's so maybe there are Trader Joe's brand.

OK well I do show notes and I will find this and I will put it in.  This is important because I really want to try it. I've got assorted vegetables here with the black bean hummus, but it's really good really smooth. And it was funny when I bought this this black bean hummus by Roots--I can only find at Whole Foods. I don't know if you've found it elsewhere but as I bought it the woman that was checking me out said Oh have you tried their lima bean hummus by Roots. And I said oh my gosh no I haven't. I don't know if I would normally gravitate to that because I know it doesn't sound like it would be good. So I noted that might be the next hummus to be featured on Hummus Among Us. We'll see.

Oh I love that I'm taking that tip I'm going to go try the lima bean hummus.

Excellent excellent. Well awesome.

I so appreciate you. And you know having hummus with you and chatting about meditation and mindfulness and your incredible journey and just how much you shared today and what you bring to the community--it's really really really great. And I'm a huge fan of Momentous. Huge fan of you. So many thanks to you again Michelle.

Thank you. Mutual mutual admiration society then and I am so grateful to get to have this conversation with you today.

No thank you. Thank you. Well till next time Michele be so well and I will talk to you very soon I hope.

Same here. Thank you so much Melissa. Thanks. Bye.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the show. Please subscribe to the podcast and we will see you back here in a couple of weeks with a new guest and a new take on the meditation experience. Till then love yourself and love others.