Mary Shorten used to be so shy, she could never even think about speaking up on her own behalf, let alone for a social justice cause. But one program changed everything.
As the president of the Concordia chapter of Art of Living, an international organization that teaches social justice, self-empowerment and stress relief, Shorten knows first hand the power their workshops have to change lives.
She first became involved with Art of Living when she was in high school in Ottawa. Through their Youth Empowerment Seminar, she was able to shed her usually reserved self, stepping out to get involved in social justice movements in her high school and eventually on an international level.
“When I was a kid I wouldn’t talk to anyone but my parents. And then, [after] one course I had so much confidence and I was able to speak out to anybody. My classsmates were really shocked, even my physiotherapist!” said Shorten, who believes her motivation to get involved stemmed from new found self-confidence.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a well-known spiritual leader in India, founded the Art of Living. The organization has centres in 140 countries around the globe, as well as chapters in universities around the world and serves as a “network to tap into different social projects,” according to Shorten.
On top of teaching youth the tools to manage stress, negative emotions and personal difficulties, the organization offers people the inspiration to get involved.
“Art of Living inspires a shift from one’s personal small world, where you’re concerned with [your] own desires and [your] own problems, to the bigger picture. I’ve seen youth all over the world go from being just worried about school or a relationship, to being concerned about changing their society. [They] become so much happier because of this new focus,” said Shorten.
Locally, the Art of Living is involved with a multitude of projects. They work with Dans La Rue and help organize their annual clothing drive. Another of their latest projects involves getting students at schools around Quebec to do good deeds. At Val-Des-Ormes elementary school in Rosemere, the Art of Living: Kids for Kids program had children raise $1,000 to buy one handicapped child an adapted bicycle by contributing 10 cents a day to a jar for each good deed they did.
Art of Living also offers a seminar called the Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP). They bring students to work in urban and city centre slums where they follow a training program on how to help rebuild infrastructures within poor communities, while connecting with the youth of the area and passing on the same skills.
“Youth of this age are so dynamic and have so much energy and enthusiasm,” said Shorten who said that many of the tools taught in the Art of Living program are useful in helping youth to make the most of those very qualities.
Shorten believes that youth are the driving source behind society. They have “such a strong desire to make a change in society,” said Shorten. “[Yet] youth are [living] in this world where human values are floundering and where stress is taking over our lives. Not just the stress of ‘Oh, I have a paper due,’ but really serious stress where youth are feeling a sense of isolation and disconnection to people around them, and, as a result, become very depressed.”
Shorten said that once youth are given the support they need to deal with day-to-day difficulties, they will be empowered to help society as well. “This [stress] is not a natural state and when youth are given the tools they need to get rid of stress and feel a sense of connection to the world and feel a sense of responsibility, then it’s the natural state of youth to go out and be a force in a drive for change.”
The Art of Living is currently offering a workshop called Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES+). The workshop, amongst other tools, teaches yoga, meditation and particular breathing techniques which are said to help reduce stress and manage negative emotions.
Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES+): http://artofliving.ca