Out Living It Day | Saturday, July 27

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Behind the Scenes with Master Splinter: Mindfulness, mutant ninja turtles and more…

By: Anna "06" Kenyon & Melissa "Master Splinter" Markle

Behind the Scenes with Team FD: Meditating with Master Splinter

With the changes presented by COVID-19, many of us are working from home and practicing social distancing. While we navigate this “new normal,” we may find ourselves craving social connection, community, or a mindfulness practice to stay sane and present. At First Descents HQ, our staff is seeking ways to stay connected while working from home, and lucky for us we have a badass team member who’s leading the charge. 

FD’s own Melissa “Master Splinter” Markle specializes in both connection and mindfulness. She’s the head of people and culture at First Descents, and is a meditation instructor on the side. Now, more than ever, our team is turning to Splinter for tools and guidance to keep the FD family ties strong and healthy. We *virtually* sat down to chat with her, to learn more about where she’s coming from and what insights she can provide on our current situation.

Read on to get the inside scoop on Master Splinter’s role at FD, and all of her expert mindfulness tips! Then, tune in on Thursday, April 9 at 11AM with @first_descents on Instagram Live for a meditation session with Splinter herself!

For starters, will you tell us the story behind your nickname?

MS: I was nicknamed by the program team’s Dolphin Squad during my first month with FD in October of 2016. At the time, I was finishing up a 5-month corporate mindfulness program with Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI, pronounced “silly” for short). As some of you may or may not know, Master Splinter is a fictional character who is a parent-figure, sensei, and Zen Master to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At first I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be named after a mutant sewer rat, but it’s grown on me… 

What’s your role at FD?

MS: I serve as Chief of Staff at FD. My goal is to create an inclusive and fun-loving culture for our dedicated, hard-working team. At FD we aim to keep the vibes high with team-building outside of the office in nature and the outdoors, staff trainings, health and wellness perks, professional development opportunities, and a super fun, goofy work environment where everyone has the freedom to be themselves – where everyone’s voice matters! Our recognition as one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work speaks for itself. Really, it’s not hard to enjoy going to work at First Descents – the team brings an energy of positivity and light-heartedness to every day, despite the fact that our work can be very difficult. 

Any favorite community moments or memories from your time at FD?

MS: My time with FD has been full of the wildest, silliest, most heartfelt moments of my life. Community at FD, both inside and outside of the office, has always been about lifting others up; it’s always been about experiencing growth and learning from one another. When someone else holds up a “mirror” and shows you all the beautiful and life-giving qualities you possess, that are all your own, it changes you from the inside out. Some of my favorite memories have been born out of the rituals and culture that make up FD – dance parties in parking lots on the way to the river, and around the campfire at night – when people let go of the mask they’ve been wearing and show up as their truly ridiculous and vulnerable selves.

How are you staying connected with friends, coworkers and FD’ers during social isolation? What tips do you have for maintaining community support?

MS: Now is an especially difficult time given all that is happening in the world, and in our communities. It’s my opinion that nothing can replace Out Living It in hand-to-hand community with friends, but right now we can use the technology and tools we have to bridge those gaps. That means staying connected via virtual happy hours, book clubs, craft nights, you name it! Nature has not been cancelled, and even if it means a walk in your neighborhood, staying active and spending some time in the sun each day will greatly help any feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation. 

It’s also important to lean into creativity and self-care during this time too – embracing that the world has slowed down and that we have been forced to as well – seeing it as a gift to learn or understand something new about yourself. Personally, I was tired of screens before this whole pandemic happened, so I’ve been practicing intentionality around time spent on social media, and have made an effort to read more books and send hand-written letters and postcards to friends and family. Everyone loves mail!

Can you tell us about your meditation and mindfulness training? Any tips for those looking to start a mindfulness practice?

MS: My journey into mindfulness meditation began out of pure curiosity back in 2015 when I was living in NYC. After attending some MBSR classes and weekly sits at the Insight Meditation Center, I wanted to dive deeper, so I enrolled in a teacher certification program with SIYLI. That training spanned about half of the year in 2016, and was an incredibly rich experience. 

While formal training can be good for understanding the scientific benefits of mindfulness, and how to talk about it, nothing takes the place of a disciplined daily self-practice. Even just sitting at home, in silence or with a guided meditation app for 5-10 minutes every single day will change your life. Like working out at the gym, it takes practice and repetition to see the lasting benefits of a daily meditation practice. My best advice to starting, is to begin with an app such as Headspace or Insight Timer and set aside a few minutes every single day. The mornings tend to be best for most people. It doesn’t have to look perfect – you can even do these lying down in bed before you get up for the day. Also, there’s no such thing as being “bad” at meditation – if your mind wanders a thousand times, and you bring your attention back to your breath a thousand times, you are succeeding. 

What are you personally doing to maintain your own mental and physical health these days? What other tips do you have for staying healthy and happy given the current situation?

There’s so much out there to choose from right now – it feels like everyone began offering free and discounted online services overnight. It’s a great time to take advantage of the local yoga studios and teachers who are posting their classes online, but I advise you not to get caught up in the abundance of options out there right now (advising myself, mostly!). Just start where you are, and try something, anything, without needing it to be the perfect thing. I’ve been listening to newly released meditations on Insight Timer every morning, and have been sharing uplifting articles and poems with friends and family. I haven’t had a solo virtual dance party in my living room yet – but maybe tonight?! I also just ordered some of the cutest puzzles and signed up for a photography course online that offers daily prompts to fuel creativity and inspiration. Lastly, and this goes without saying but is a gentle reminder, in times when you are feeling low, the best thing you can do is help another. If you’re feeling ready to give back, you can find opportunities to volunteer in your community. There are plenty of opportunities out there right now that are virtual and/or don’t put your health at risk. 

Meditate with Splinter!

If you’re looking for any specific recommendations for online meditations tools and resources to check out right now, email me at [email protected]

Don’t forget to tune in to @first_descents on Instagram Live for a 15 minute guided community meditation led by yours truly next Thursday, April 9 at 11AM Mountain Time!

Thanks to our partners!

A huge thanks to our partners at Headspace, who offer free subscriptions to all First Descents Alumni and healthcare providers. If you are an FD Alumni or healthcare provider looking to incorporate a meditation practice into your routine, reach out to FD to receive your free year-long subscription code!


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