Amy Edelstein has certainly taken more than her fair share of journeys—physically, metaphorically, and spiritually.

“I set out to live a life that matters,” Edelstein says. “It mattered to me not what I did but why I was doing it.” That approach has led her to extraordinary people and experiences that have shaped her path, her work, and her outlook. A trip to India in the 1980s introduced her to a radically different perspective on life and inspired her most recent book—Adventure in Zanskar: A Young Woman’s Solitary Journey to Reach Physical and Metaphysical Heights (Emergence Education Press, 2021). It also sparked a lifelong pursuit of mindfulness tools she now shares with thousands of teens, teachers, and administrators in Philadelphia schools and beyond each year.

Adventure to the Other Side

At just 21, Edelstein went on a solo journey to Zanskar, India, the highest valley in the world. The greater region of Ladakh had been declared restricted in 1947 and remained off-limits to foreign visitors until 1974, when its borders reopened and a new era of trekking and tourism began. In 1983, Edelstein began a long walk—some 300 miles across mountain passes reaching as high as 16,000 feet above sea level—and a months-long stay exploring a culture untouched by modern life.

Like many who go out into the world in hopes of finding their true selves, Edelstein found instead that what she was seeking was already within her. As she writes in Adventure in Zanskar, “The passes had left me breathless, so jagged and so deep, and the valleys between them, elephant-grey waters churning and icy sleet. What are these experiences? Are they imprints or something more? The Self that I’d been seeking leaves no mark, for it could never come or go. If it was always present and never separate, who or what was there to take?”

Edelstein started writing the book after her return to the United States, but when Andrew Harvey published A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)—his own story about a spiritual journey that began in the remote region of India—she feared there wasn’t space for her story too. She shelved the project for decades. But as it did for many of us, the pandemic created an unexpected opportunity to revisit unfinished projects.

Edelstein’s nonprofit, Inner Strength Education (ISE), which teaches mindfulness and systems thinking in high schools, got doubly busy. Classroom teachers needed a break, students needed stress reduction, and ISE was able to pivot to online delivery—operating in 70 high school classrooms each week. During that time, Edelstein decided to pick up the story she’d begun more than three decades earlier.

“Writing is my stress relief. In the midst of the business, I needed to write something I loved, just because,” she says of revisiting her journey through monasteries, temples, guest houses, caves, and the sides of the valley. Informed by the journaling and poetry practice she’d cultivated since the age of 8, her memoir reflects her passion for the rhythm and musicality of words. Together with the original journals, photos, and maps from her time in Zanskar, the book (her sixth) was published in 2021.

Bringing the Lessons Home

Edelstein, who began meditating in 1978, calls herself an “avid practitioner of the contemplative arts.” After seeing how embracing a contemplative life based on both Eastern and Western philosophies invigorated her creativity and deepened her sense of self, she wanted to bring new tools to a group often overlooked by typical meditation programs—students in underserved schools.

That’s why, in 2014, Edelstein established ISE to foster inner strength and outer stability among youth. Through in-school programming, the organization supports students, teachers, and administrators throughout Philadelphia. The courses and resources have become instrumental in teaching self-reflection as well as interpersonal and social-emotional wellness skills. Interest in ISE’s offerings exploded during the pandemic as stress management and resilience training became even more crucial.

ISE now directly reaches more than 20,000 students in Philadelphia schools, and the organization’s free mindfulness app for teens (Inner Strength VIBE) is available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store in nearly all English-speaking countries. The app offers journal prompts, guided mindfulness practices, affirmations, and monthly challenges to help users overcome overwhelm and amplify joy in their lives.

Meanwhile, through Edelstein’s Conscious Classroom (theconsciousclassroom.com), teachers are invited to participate in virtual training programs—either self-paced or through live video sessions—to help them understand the benefits of mindfulness. The courses are designed explicitly to help teachers learn how to better support their students, particularly teens, to navigate the challenges of modern life. Programming for teachers themselves shares self-care advice so they can feel revitalized and reconnected to their purpose.

Edelstein is eager to see these resources expand, both in scope and in reach. In fact, a recent study from Syracuse University showed that the 12-week ISE mindfulness program (consisting of weekly 45-minute classroom sessions) had a significant positive effect on students’ self-regulation and self-compassion abilities. The research articles resulting from the study underscore the value of these skills and the importance of openly discussing the need to pay attention to how we’re feeling—both in the day-to-day sense and in the midst of big challenges.

“We’re changing lives,” Edelstein says, “and also changing the climate in which we talk about these issues.”

Cultivating Connection

Promoting a sense of self-awareness and curiosity about how we show up in our lives is also what helps Edelstein guide new and seasoned writers alike in discovering how to tell their own stories. With her self-paced online writing course, Edelstein says she helps people recontextualize their experiences. It’s so easy, after all, to compare our most embarrassing or regretful moments with the highlight reels we see others sharing on social media.

It’s also common for us to miss the thread of our own lives. What connects our various experiences? What patterns exist, waiting for us to notice them? What can we learn about ourselves and the universality of the human experience through finding and nurturing our own story?

Edelstein notes that she doesn’t see herself outside of community, although her journeys are often solo adventures. “It is a contemplative life,” she says, but she remains devoted to creating communities through teaching, retreats, and other tools.

“When we’re rooted in wholeness, we are able to be present with ourselves, others, and with the world around us,” Edelstein says. “There is fullness and perfection right now, yet paradoxically, the world also needs to be uplifted. From the deepest perspective, there could never be any separation between us as human beings and the Divine. When we’re able to find—or create—environments that value this sense of essential unity and oneness, we amplify it. We bring more light into the world. Connection begets more connection.

“In the face of the hardship and strife, keep reminding yourself of that connection,” Edelstein says. “That’s why we’re here.”


Amy Edelstein is the founder of Inner Strength Education, the cofounder of Emergence Education, and the author of six books, including Adventure in Zanskar: A Young Woman’s Solitary Journey to Reach Physical and Metaphysical Heights. For more information about her work, to purchase her books, and to listen to her podcast, visit amyedelstein.com.

This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.

About the Author

Mallory Herrmann is a writer and editor in the Kansas City area. Her work has been featured in Unity Magazine®, Career College Central, and the Lee’s Summit Tribune.

More

No Results