Jesse O’Brien is a man of many talents. Not only is he a dedicated family man (with wife, Cat O'Brien, and three kids), he is also a foster parent, musician, and former pastor, who has participated in the Amazing Race, as well as NZ Idol.

Currently Jesse is a student and whānau support worker in a Hamilton primary school, helping kids, teachers and whānau improve their wellbeing.

“I’ve always had a full, constantly moving, people-focused life,” he says. “I’m busy, my neurons are always firing and I’ve spent many years thinking having a jumbled brain was just how I was wired.”

So the last 18 months have been a journey of discovery for Jesse, as he’s gradually learnt more about mindfulness.

From prayer to pausing

“I touched on it many years ago, as a pastor, when I had morning routines where I prayed quite a bit and read the bible, but it never really clicked with me,” Jesse says.

“About a year ago, a friend recommended a prayer app, and around the same time Cat and I watched a documentary called Minimalism.

“We decided to embrace the concept by decluttering the house, and then started thinking less about the physical and more about our thoughts.  We kept hearing about mindfulness and although I didn’t really know what it was, I unearthed it bit by bit and could see the benefits.” 

Jesse had been considering what sort of wellness training he could do for his job when his principal, by chance, emailed him about the Mindfulness Education Group’s Pause, Breathe, Smile (PBS) programme.

All life is connected

Jesse says the four-day course was like a shining light on what he had been looking for his whole life. “It was intense, but very rewarding.” 

One of the more interesting facts that stuck with him and helped change his thinking concerned a breathing exercise about the inert gas Argon.

“The concept behind that was that one percent of the air we breathe is Argon; it’s not converted or absorbed, it just goes in and comes out again, which means in our lifetimes we would all have breathed the same Argon” Jesse explains.

“It struck me just how connected we all are by that flow of Argon - it literally connects us to everything on the planet - and how important it is to be kind to each other and ourselves.”

Less stressful classrooms and a more relaxed life

The PBS programme has already positively impacted on Jesse’s work.

“I had used some of the PBS techniques with students before going on the course, but now I’m applying it within the right framework and bringing the ideas across into my dealings with students.”

Jesse is working with three classes: Year 5, Year 6 and Year 3-4. “We’re going to use the tools from the programme to run PBS in those classes, give it space to be what it is, and then customise it as necessary.” 

He believes the PBS programme can go a long way towards helping with stress and anxiety. “Eventually I would like to see every student in the school do the programme.”

The course has also improved Jesse’s personal mindfulness practice. He continues to apply his new knowledge through a daily mindfulness routine, which he’s changed to include music and movement, breathing exercises and a gratitude journal app, as well as prayer. 

“Since I’ve started on this path, I’ve realised that this thing called mindfulness works. It’s cleared my busy brain, so I now focus on one thing at a time, before moving on to the next.”

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