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Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Explains How Mindfulness Strengthens Community Engagement

Stephanie Held
February 18, 2019
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The #mActivityPeople interview series focuses on the mindful lives and health routines of mActivity’s inspiring community. Submit your own on Instagram—post your mindful mActivity (tag us @mactivitynh!) and include the hashtag #mActivityPeople for a chance to be featured on our blog.

Today is the last day to make your reservation for mActivity's LEAP Dinner on February 28 to support supplemental education for youth in New Haven. Journalist and member Jake Halpern will lead an in-depth discussion on the local family featured in his 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic narrative Welcome to the New World, the dinner will be catered by the family and our space adorned with portraits of refugee women and children by artist and mother featured in the comic, Adeebah Alnemar.

Welcome to the New World is a New York Times comic series that chronicles the struggles of a real-life family of Syrian refugees as they began their new life in Connecticut. Because this endeavor represents the importance of commanding our deepest pathos for community and attention to the moment, we sat down with Jake to discuss our favorite subject: mindfulness.

It's something that defines him. Each morning, as Jake works on new scripts for the series at mActivity, he sits in our saucer chairs listening to music – usually something forlorn and melancholy like Yoyo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. The sun pours in through the windows, he drinks coffee, and soaks in the moment. Here’s how he practices mindfulness for strengthened community engagement.

Fend Off Distraction

Photo courtesy: "New World, New Language, New Ways" by Adeebah Alnemar

“If you define mindfulness as being grounded in the present moment, that is what good reporting is. In 2016, The New York Times asked me to meet a Syrian family who received a death threat on election day. The high drama of the moment commanded my translator and me immediately into the present. Our job was to listen to the family's trauma and try to help them cope, while simultaneously preparing to summon their story with intensity again in words and pictures. It required totally fending off distraction.

"In the end, it’s rare that we’re exactly where we are and totally engaged in what is happening in the moment. But, if you have pathos for another human being, and you try to feel what their life is like and what they’re going through, that level of empathy gives you new perspective. To take myself back to these moments, and make them feel as real and as potent as they did, also takes a deliberate amount of focus. That’s the work I’ve often been doing at mActivity.”

Listen To Understand Others

© Reporter Jake Halpern, illustrator Michael Sloan

When we listen to understand others, we recognize their importance. “Illustrator Michael Sloan and I are turning Welcome to the New World into a book. It is five chapters; one of them is a very long flashback about how the family escaped Syria. It has just been lengthy, lengthy interviews with every family member and time spent looking for ways to weave their narratives into a storyline.

"The youngest son was 10-years-old when he ventured out onto the streets to get food for his family. His father was detained so it fell upon him to navigate the post-apocalyptic landscape. He described jumping over dead bodies and rummaging through the shelled out remains of shopping malls cluttered with huge glass shards to try and find the one place in the city that sold milk. It’s a heavy lift but to tell stories well, we are required to put ourselves aside. The book will be available next year,” said Jake.

Have Gratitude For What Is

Jake Halpern at mActivity

Having gratitude for what is means accepting and appreciating your circumstances without trying to change it, hide it or fix it. When it comes to his offbeat career, Jake expressed thankfulness for our co-working space. “For hours, I’ll go through hundreds of pages of transcripts trying to piece together stories. I think every writer fears that they’re going to become Jack Nicholson from The Shining, so I can honestly say that I feel a real and earnest sense of gratitude every morning when I walk into mActivity. It's really a positive place; people who come here want to work out and connect with others.

“I think that at times I’ve wanted to be a staff writer or have more job security. Being an outsider has its disadvantages, like getting space in the magazine and making sure I’m not forgotten about. Other times I actually feel very lucky that I work for myself. When you work for one company, you’re being forged into their cultural mold. When you’re out on your own, you have more room to kind of just do your own quirky thing, you know?” he said.

Why did you choose mActivity?

“Like most things in life, I didn’t choose mActivity, I just sort of wandered in. I had been told that you could use the workspace coffee area without being a member, so I worked there for a few days and I just kind of got drawn in.

“I’ve always been a fitness enthusiast – if I have a lot of email to do, I’ll get on the recumbent bike and email while I’m bicycling. I’ll lift, run, take breaks from writing to stretch. Sergio has given me some really good advice, and Burch, Pablo, Alexa, Alicia and Cameron all make the space very welcoming. To me, the whole setup feels more like what you might find in California because it’s so outside the box, forward thinking.”

Purchase your tickets to attend our LEAP Dinner on February 28, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. where 2018 Pulitzer Prize-Winner Jake Halpern will discuss his book based on Welcome to the New World.

For local non-profits, reservations to use our conference room for events are free; hourly and daily rates are available upon request for business and private use. Click here to book a room at mActivity for your next event.


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