July-August 2021 | Health

In the moment

A Rockville meditation teacher focuses on being kind to ourselves

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Photo by Lindsey Max

Whether Ofosu Jones-Quartey is encouraging conscious breathing, playing therapeutic sounds or leading emotional check-ins, his guiding philosophy remains the same when he teaches mindfulness meditation classes.

“Be present with kindness,” he says. “Just to notice what’s happening in your own mind and body, and to notice that with a kind and caring attitude.”

Jones-Quartey, 40, was introduced to meditation by his mother, a Buddhist and meditation practitioner, when he was 6. But it wasn’t until 1999, when he was a sophomore majoring in law and society at American University in Washington, D.C., that he decided to pivot toward the practice of spirituality. “My then-girlfriend, now-wife, was pregnant with our first child,” says Jones-Quartey, who grew up in Silver Spring. “I felt that I would be a better father if I was taking the time to look within and understand myself more.”

After reading books on meditation, Jones-Quartey studied Vipassana, which he says is similar to mindfulness meditation, for several years beginning in 2002 with teacher Bhante Buddharakkhita, a Buddhist monk he met at a monastery in West Virginia. “The way that I was practicing before having a teacher, I was being pretty hard on myself and feeling like I needed to have a perfect mind or have perfect meditations,” he says. “Working with the teacher and ultimately working with yourself over time will get you to realize that kindness towards yourself is really the most important thing.”

Since 2004, Jones-Quartey has worked at Insight Meditation Community of Washington as a co-leader of its family program. He teaches for D.C.-based Minds Incorporated, which brings mindfulness into classrooms, and records meditations on the Balance meditation app. He also has co-written a mindfulness-based positive psychology curriculum for the Ryan Bartel Foundation in Waterford, Virginia, which aims to prevent youth suicide. Jones-Quartey describes his teachings as secular.

Jones-Quartey, who lives in Rockville and teaches all ages, says that introducing mindfulness practices to young people can help them navigate adolescence. “The three words that I love most are ‘you are enough,’ ” he says. “When you can introduce that concept to young people, I think that creates an opportunity to counterbalance the innate difficulties that come with growing up.”

During classes, he uses singing bowls that create “healing tones” and produce “sound baths” when multiple bowls are played for an extended time. He also incorporates songs that he says encourage kindness, such as “Who Am I?” by Nina Simone.

Among Jones-Quartey’s other mindfulness strategies is suggesting his students pay attention to sensory experiences, like the feeling of their feet on the ground. “[I’m] giving them the alternatives and tools that they can use to still be mindful while they’re doing their everyday activities,” he says.

Having struggled in the past with anxiety and depression, Jones-Quartey says meditation has provided a refuge. “It’s the difference between being out in the middle of the ocean without a life raft…and being out in the middle of the ocean with a life raft,” he says. “At the very least, these practices helped me stay afloat, and at their best they carry me to the places where I really want to be.”

In his own words…

Countdown

“A great practice that’s great for beginners or advanced people alike is the five-four-three-two-one practice: five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste. That’s something you can do at any time, and that is a mindfulness practice bringing you into the present moment.”

You’ve got a friend

“I like for people to take a moment and just check in with how they’re feeling, mentally, emotionally and physically…and then, based on how you’re feeling in that moment, consider what you would say to a best friend or a loved one who was feeling the same way—what words of support or encouragement or gratitude might you share with someone who was feeling exactly how you’re feeling right now.”

Be positive

“Because we have negativity bias as a survival mechanism, it’s just easier for us to see the negative things about ourselves, easier for us to think the negative things about ourselves, easier for us to say negative things about ourselves, and in the extreme examples, easier for us to do negative things to ourselves. So the biggest hurdle is getting people to see that they don’t have to believe everything they think.”

The bright side

“When you’re faced with uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances, you can either view it as problematic, or you can view it as a kind of challenge or puzzle that you can work with and solve. And when you have a perspective that everything is workable…then circumstances become less insurmountable and they become opportunities.”