AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
How did a high-powered career in finance lead Elisabeth Rose Wilds to the world of mindfulness education for homeless 18- to 21-year-olds?
One word: Stress.
Wilds explains that she studied Tai Chi and Qigong and various healing arts practices to help her survive the long hours and intense stress of her New York City job in finance.
"It helped me negotiate and maintain who I was and not get swept away in what I was involved in," she says.
In 2008 Wilds, who resides with her husband in Ivoryton and New York, left that pressure cooker world of money management to share the stress management techniques she'd learned with teens and young adults at the international nonprofit Covenant House NYC, where she established a healing arts center.
"I wanted to work in an environment where people had a lot of stress and I could (use) a lot of the communication and team-building skills I learned in finance, combined with mind-body-spirit connection, and things I learned from all these other practices over the years," Wilds says. "I've really helped a lot of kids. I'm not a therapist-I'm not going in and doing therapy. It's more about bringing in healing arts groups, helping them empower themselves, and find that quiet place within."
Wilds created guided meditation CDs to use in her classes at Deer Lane Recording in Ivoryton. Owner Tom MacGregor produced the CDs and wrote musical themes to follow the story lines.
When she witnessed the success of the program at Covenant House, Wilds was motivated to reach the younger set; in 2010 she founded A Brighter Light in the World: Products based on the Healing Arts, featuring The Happy Heart & Peaceful Mind children's book series. She formed a team of writers and artists, many on the shoreline, who were willing to share their gifts and talents.
The series complements Educating the Heart programs based on Positive Psychology, as well as mindfulness-based programs offered in schools in the U.S. and U.K. Each book includes notes for parents with suggestions on how to incorporate the concepts into daily life.
"The books really focus on the heart," Wilds says. "We talk a lot about the heart in our culture, but we don't really have a relationship with our heart. When we calm our heart, our mind starts to calm, we get more present, connect to the world in a healthy way. It doesn't mean we're being weepy and overemotional but being open and accepting."
Wilds points out that children today get a lot of stimulation and that mindfulness techniques are great tools to help them cope.
"How do we get kids back into balance after carting them around to 10 different activities?" she asks. "They're always going somewhere, doing something-it's great to do it in a balanced way…so when something disruptive happens, they're not thrown off balance so much and still respond in a loving way."
Wilds co-authored the first book in the series, "Teaching Mindfulness to Children & Teens" with Kathie (Valentine) Ardel, who had a healing arts practice in Old Lyme for many years, and has since moved to Virginia. Ardel also is the illustrator for a new book in the series written by Wilds: "The Adventures of Body, Mind & Spirit: That Rascal!"
Wilds is currently working with artist Roberta Schramm of Old Lyme on the children's book "Bizzie the Bee-Bee Mindful," to be released later in 2013.
Newest book in series
Ken Shuey of Madison is the author/illustrator of the seventh and newest book in the series, "I Am a Mountain." Geared for preschoolers through third grade, the picture book introduces the concept of Oneness-"the way it feels when one focuses on being the wonderful creative force of nature that we all are," Shuey says. His vivid watercolor illustrations are of the many life forms that share the planet with people: mountains, rivers, trees, birds and dogs, the moon, the sun, a brilliant rainbow.
Shuey has a BFA in painting and a MA in Asian studies. He is a fine artist who has exhibited internationally and locally and is an elected artist member of the Connecticut Plain Air Painters Society and a member of the Lyme Art Association. He traveled the world with the Peace Corps, worked as an educational scriptwriter, assisted Betty Edwards in her International Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain seminars, and taught art in Connecticut schools, including the New London school system.
He adds publishing to his lengthy resume with "I Am a Mountain," his first book-the result of years of studying Buddhist teachings and Eastern philosophy, beginning in the 1970s when he was living abroad in the Peace Corps.
"I've always been interested in various philosophies and religions," Shuey says. "Especially in the last 10 to 15 years, there's been so much new stuff written-a whole collective consciousness (due to) dissatisfaction with organized religions."
Shuey first wrote the text of "I Am a Mountain" as a meditation poem for adults, and then did an oil painting uniting the elements of the universe. He made a dummy of the book, which he showed to Wilds after meeting her at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.
"She said 'I really like this. Why don't you make it into a children's book and I'll publish it?'" Shuey recalls. "I changed some of the words, made it a little simpler, and illustrated (each page)."
Shuey hopes the book will help children to develop an appreciation and love for all the unique and beautiful life forms on earth, and a love of self as an integral part of the whole.
"What I like to do with kids is say, 'Close your eyes and think about what it feels like to be a mountain, a tree, a lighthouse?'" Shuey says. "And try to be that thing in your mind and really identify with it."
He credits his daughters, Elisabeth West, a graphic designer and film editor, and Kate West, a film writer, with their help and advice on the type and the text of the book. He thanks Wilds for her "dedication to helping young people learn to be mindful and experience Oneness."
A Brighter Light in the World products can be purchased at www.TheHealingArtsCenter.org and at local bookstores.