Meet the teacher: Joshua Bee Alafia

Turning the lens on Joshua Bee Alafia, contributor to buddhify and buddhify kids


By Dana Jaffe

Recently, our editor Dana Jaffe sat down with each of the buddhify teachers to find out what they’re all about. Here she engages in a discussion with Joshua about his roles as a filmmaker, writer, and meditation teacher.

You’ve done some teaching through the Lineage Project, a group based in New York that brings mindfulness programs to incarcerated youth. Can you share more about that experience?

This is something I started doing back in 2010 and continued with until I left New York recently — so I taught with them for about seven years. It was very hard, difficult work, in terms of teaching kids who don’t really want to be there and who are miserable about being in jail. They don’t really want to practice listening to themselves and looking inwardly when they’re going through so much. It was extremely challenging, but it was also very rewarding in the long run. Reaching kids in that kind of oppressive atmosphere was nothing short of magical and really felt great.

It involves a different approach to teaching. When you’re dealing with people who have been severely traumatized, both outside of prison and through the experience of being incarcerated, you’re not going to be given the sense of trust without earning it. Most of the class is me working on earning that trust, through talking and opening up about how I went through a lot of similar things when I was young, and then the last few moments of the class is me trying to share this sense of tranquility and freedom in a mindfulness meditation practice. This is completely opposite from teaching other folks, where the first thing we’re doing is usually sitting for 45 minutes and after that it’s a dharma talk. The process is kind of inverted.

Do you see a relationship between filmmaking and meditation?

I think filmmaking, like film watching, is a concentration practice. You go between being so caught up in the protagonist’s story that you’re in this vicarious receptivity, where you can even have reflexes. It can even cause muscle contractions, visceral contractions, and expansion. But then, you also have this mindfulness moment of I am watching a movie or I am in a body. I am experiencing this. I am a participant, in this, experiencing it.

I approach filmmaking with the same kind of reverence and honor as teaching meditation. You’re in the position of guiding the mind through a story in a very meticulous methodical way, releasing information as it’s appropriate. You don’t just cut to the moral of the story in the first two minutes, you know? It’s a journey. A lot like the journey of leading someone into relaxing the body, being present in the body, and then opening up to the sensations of the breath and opening up to maybe emotions or thoughts, which are very slippery.

Taking people through the four foundations of establishing mindfulness is very similar to taking people to three acts of a story. Or playing with form and not having three acts. How are you going to tell this story differently? How are you going to expand this sense of narrative? They’re both very interrelated for me. The story or films I make are my dharma.

What’s been the most interesting part of being involved in the buddhify process?

I really like doing the studio work and thinking about the various people that might hear it. For the Kara program, I was thinking about people who are suffering in the hospital and being this warm, friendly presence that they’re listening to intimately with headphones. It’s like you’re whispering in someone’s ear. Guided meditation is such an intimate thing really. It’s this very intimate place where you’re being allowed into someone’s mind and subconscious.

It’s something that should be honored and approached with a certain degree of reverence, people’s intentions should be pure. I remember growing up and listening to self-help tapes in the 80s that somehow entered the elementary school, and feeling like it wasn’t pure, having this doubt in the intentions of the speaker as being completely genuine. There’s something that just lacked sincerity. Little did I know that I would years later be one of those voices, so I try to make it as real and sincere as I can. Luckily, buddhify has been giving me material where I can feel that way. Even though I’m reading from a script, I really bring it from the heart.

Do you have a favorite track or section that you worked on, and what is it about it that you liked?

I think it was in the Kara project. It was about dealing with pain, working with pain, being with pain. I just like giving options to that immediacy of difficulty. What’s interesting is, once you start working with it, it then becomes a little slippery. Most pains that I’ve dealt with, emotional and physical, once an exploration of exactly what is being felt or perceived undergoes, it then goes through a metamorphosis and the relationship with it changes and even the experience of it changes. To me, that’s like the sorcery of this practice. It’s like the alchemy of changing something from one thing to another. Changing something from lead to gold. It’s very satisfying being a part of that because I personally have found it so effective.

I'd love to hear what's next for you. What are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m really just trying to stay out of the reptile mind as I’m in kind of survival mode working to establish myself in a new city, uprooting from a city in a reality that I was in for 20 years. I’m looking for space to teach. I’m writing. I’m writing scripts and also writing a book when I can. I’m feeling very optimistic and very blessed and also being very real with the challenges of starting over, being the new kid on the block.

Does your book have to do with mindfulness?

It does. I actually have two books I’m working on right now. I don’t mention them really because they’re in such primal phases, but I chip away when I can. One is about my journey as a filmmaker, which is called “Chasing The Sun: No-budget Filmmaking in Cuba, Brasil, Ethiopia and Brooklyn.” The other one is about my dharmic journey, the journey of finding now. optimistic and very blessed and also being very real with the challenges of starting over, being the new kid on the block.

About Joshua

Joshua is a man full of talents and full of heart. An experienced cinematographer, editor and film-maker, Joshua also a long-time meditation teacher with a specialism in mindfulness for people of colour and disadvantaged young people. Now based in Chicago, we first worked with Joshua on Kara, our project for people affected by cancer.

You can experience Joshua’s contributions to buddhify under the Growing the Lovely category and to buddhify kids through the meditations for Going to Sleep and Using Technology. You can find out more about his work at http://www.joshuabeealafia.com.