Ben ‘SOS’ Riley is a professional MC, music practitioner and specialist in music engagement in challenging circumstances. Here he blogs about using rap music and mindfulness facilitation in a secure unit for young offenders.
Barton Moss Secure Care Center homes up to 20 young people with various complex needs.
Our Brighter Sound project is focused on rehabilitation and encompasses low-level mindfulness facilitation using music production and rap as a medium to convey this practice.
Mindfulness is being aware of self, of how our individual minds and emotions work, how to create a larger awareness of our overall self, and how to use this awareness to engage in the present moment without attachment to negative emotions and thoughts.
Harvard conducted a study on what makes someone happy and successful. They concluded that self-control was the main contributor – to have self-control you must be mindful of your emotions, thoughts and feelings and be able to focus on positive things attributed to your individual success.
We have all had a conversation with a friend where they are telling us all about their week, how they have been and the latest girl/boy they have a crush on, yet, we heard none of the conversation!
Why? Because we are natural time travellers in our mind; we surf through space and time to things that have happened in the past and again, to things that may (or may not) happen in the future, so we miss all of the “super important” information that our friend is telling us – we miss out on the present moment.
Now this is only a light-hearted situation that we can all identify with, but what if you are so caught up in negative thoughts and scenarios, that it causes anxiety, depression or negative feelings that you act on almost instantaneously, without a pause to think of consequences?
We told the young people at Barton Moss a philosophical story which I call ‘The Battle Of The Wolves’:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I tell an adapted version of this story (with some added blood, guts and gore) to the young people and they are asked to write the story short hand in rap (rhythmically applied poetry).
The young people at Barton Moss produced a track using the latest in music production software. We used the story as the hook (chorus) and then asked each person write a verse on how they identified with the story.
Here, we spoke very simply about the mind, consciousness – how the mind works and how to create an awareness of the mind.
The work they have produced has been amazing. Instantly, they identified with the story and spoke about how sometimes their mind is like the angel and demon on each shoulder. This is creating awareness; it’s allowing them to observe their thoughts with a level of detachment.
Every verse has been individually and creatively written from each young person’s perspective. Some have been writing about past experiences of events where they have had negative consequences, and some have written messages to their past selves on how to positively act or react in certain situations which could have negative consequences.
Each verse has been professionally recorded and finished onto their track so they can listen back to the knowledge they have gained about their self.
This is the kind of project that enables dramatic change in the wellbeing of young people with some of the greatest challenges in society. It demonstrates each week the impact that can be made using music making to develop personal skills and facilitate mindfulness, even in what many would perceive as an extremely challenging setting.
This has been a very successful project and we all hope to be back at Barton Moss very soon to discover more about self!