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Creating a Brighter Future Through Recreation W/ Moni Lowen #28

What are your thoughts on the value of recreation and leisure and their impact on human development?

In this episode I chat with Moni Lowen, the Executive Director with Recreation Opportunities for Children (ROC) Eastman. She has several decades experience reducing barriers to recreation opportunities for children. Moni is helping children have a chance to experience the benefits of meaningful recreation and, in doing so, foster happier lives and healthier communities.

A few key topics include:

  • The value of recreation and leisure in life quality

  • The barriers to access of recreation and leisure

  • Treating the root rather than the symptom - getting off the endless treadmill of sickness and mental health

  • How to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue in care-giving jobs (like social worker, teacher, etc.)

I hope you enjoy!


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Stu Murray:

I had such an amazing conversation with Jackie a while back, and at the end of that I asked her if she thought there was anybody that would be of value for me to talk to within her network and came back resoundingly to you

So thanks for making the time to chat today. Oh,

Moni Lowen: This is gonna be very fun. And, Jackie is one in a million. I aspire to be more like her and, um, I'm, I am not , but No. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me to do this. .

Stu Murray: Yeah. No, it's a pleasure. And I've heard and checked into some of the work you've been doing with Rock and watched the videos and had the opportunity to chat more with you and have been totally blown away.

And for our listeners, I'd love for you to just kind of give an overview, a big picture view of what [00:02:00] you guys are doing at West right now. Yeah,

Moni Lowen: so, um, started very small about 13 years ago. Part-time staff, which was me, it was a pilot project with some government funding, kind of looking into how does, how do recreation activities for kids in low income families how does recreation impact a parent or parent's abilities to potentially the independent off of social assistance, EIA programs. things like that. And so there was a study done in Ontario and that indicated that in that study, 15 to 20%, um, or was it 10 to 15%, of single mothers on assistance, were able to do well off of assistance just by their children, engaging in positive recreation activities, mind blowing, Right?

How does that make sense? Why does that happen? What's that all about? I have a lot of theories about that, but nothing proven. [00:03:00] So Province, Manitoba wanted to give it a shot here and started a couple or three different pilot programs, and ours was one. So we started out very small, just getting introductions to families. Most of them, single parents, all of them struggling with multiple, multiple barriers. Very isolated and our role really was to dive in, with the kids and see what their values and interests were in a recreation leisure type activity setting. What's their, what, you know, what's their mojo?

Things they've never really been able to participate in. It was incredible even at that stage. But the inter, the part that is most interesting to me is we kind of went in thinking, Okay, so we know finances are a problem. So if, if we can figure out how to pay for the activity, get the equipment needed, probably support some transportation cuz we live in rural Manitoba and that's very challenging always for families.

Then we should be good to [00:04:00] go. Let's get these kids doing something fun and magic will happen and the world will change.

So in some ways that's, you know, we did see some of that. What really pushed us deeper was when you talk about removing barriers to a family. So that can happen. That list of barriers was about 10 times deeper than money and fuel in a vehicle. So, yeah, we can dive into that .

Stu Murray: Yeah. And we will. I would love to, to go back in and before we even do, you started to talk about like that's pretty profound. That recreation can have such an impact on supporting families. That one variable alone. To be able to isolate that and recognize the profound impact that can have. And even as myself growing up in a middle income family, the amount [00:05:00] that shifted our family dynamics and the opportunities that provided us, I, I can speak to that, but I imagine people from across the spectrum, particularly those who have been restricted in access to different aspects of society, could have even more profound impacts.

And I'm wondering what are some of your theories around why that has really been such a catalyst to family or societal transformation?

Moni Lowen: Yeah, so, Again, just my theories and sort of some experiences. I'm a parent as well, and so I can speak to the emotion behind parenting. I think at its very core, when your children are happy, when they are feeling, when their bucket is filled, and it doesn't even have to be every day, right?

Buckets don't get filled every day. But when in general, your child feels positive and happy and content, [00:06:00] a parent's whole world can open up to, like they're, okay, what am I now able to focus on? In terms of, whether that's employment, whether that's working on mental health, whether that's working on physical health.

I think it just really, really opens up the, a parent's ability to think about the future and to think about the things that maybe they've been putting off. Because I gotta tell you, when your kid's struggling, Hmm. That is all you think about. You put off everything about yourself.

And kids are struggling. That's not new. Certainly, the last two and a half years have, have intensified that, but, kids living in poverty that it's there, it's so deep. The stigma, the isolation. I think, just to touch on this a little bit, when, when we first started, I was quite blown away by [00:07:00] how little the kids that we had the opportunity to chat with, how little time they had spent thinking about activities that they wished they could do because it wasn't an option. So when you think about, yeah, when you think about sitting down in someone's home and you're excited, right? We're gonna, we're gonna find something cool and this is gonna be great.

And you're met with, I have no idea. I don't know what I like, I don't know what I value. I have never allowed myself the brain space to say, I wish, because the answer is no.

Stu Murray: Mm-hmm. . I think of the Maslow's hierarchy of needs there, where I mean, how do we work towards self-actualization or let alone community and connection and any kind of fulfillment at those levels where our base needs of food and shelter are perpetually in jeopardy. It seems like a no-brainer for me [00:08:00] as far as how do we ever get beyond these things if we can't get to that. So I'm not really surprised that so many of these children haven't even thought about that because that's just not within their sphere. They're trying to meet more basic needs first.

Moni Lowen: Yeah, precisely. And I'm a big fan of that hierarchy conversation. Recreation tends to be considered tertiary in that pyramid. And so we regularly argue, that maybe it should be secondary . Because it does meet, it really does speak to a lot of those secondary needs. You know, the safety, the belonging, the community. Yeah. So it's, yeah, it is kind of mind blowing how much it can

Stu Murray: impact. No kidding. And to riff on that for a second, what values and skills do you think are developed through the opportunity of being able to participate in recreational activities?

Moni Lowen: Yeah, that's a long list. Very long list. So there's, I mean, this is research to death too. You can, you [00:09:00] know, Google it and you'll find lists. But from our experience, I would say the most important ones are that, I mean it would fall under belonging. Kids constantly are hearing what other kids are doing.

They are constantly, Hearing how much fun that hockey game was, how much fun, that, that pottery class was. How much fun a recital at a piano recital, right? They're constantly hearing. And I think it's, and you might know this better than I do, but it's kind of built into the school system now, where sometimes in the mornings they go around the circle Monday mornings, you know, say one thing that was interesting about your weekend, or one thing you wanna share, and this constant uh almost opportunity or almost, pushing to the top of the priority to say something cool that you did.

And what if you don't have anything to say? It's a constant . [00:10:00]

Stu Murray: Yeah. Yeah. It really is. And even in education, it probably parallels very similar within our social structures, is that we have prioritized curricular outcomes and objectives rather than, Fundamental desires for belonging, for self-actualization, for being an authentic human being.

And I think there's two fundamental needs that we have, It's this desire to belong and to fit in. And on the other side is to be authentic and express our own unique values. And I have found, through my experience, that recreation was such a beautiful place to lean in and to practice both of those.

And it's not enough for us to be able to put that on a PowerPoint or to put into some government advertising campaign or splash some money onto these things, which is typically what we do. And so for me, I've found in education, it's like it's great that we're having [00:11:00] these circle talks. It's great that we're starting to bring that into our awareness, but I think it's not enough.

I actually think we need a restructuring of what it is that we inherently value. And if we inherently value. Creating humans who are fulfilled and have the skills and tools to be able to direct their own lives and the values that underpin those beliefs and actions that they take, well then we need to create systems and structures that prioritize meeting those things.

First and foremost, curriculum is secondary. All of these things ought to be secondary. The first thing we need to do is really re systematize and refocus what we're trying to do here.

Moni Lowen: Amen.

Yeah, and you're right. Even, you know, certainly provincially, nationally, regionally, let's go globally, recreation is not well represented. It is not marketed well. [00:12:00] Which is exactly what you were saying. and this has so many avenues to this concept, One of which is that people that work in the recreation and leisure industry are not typically advocates.

Mm-hmm. They are not shouting from the rooftop. They are quietly working, to provide opportunities to engage people, to listen well. I can't tell you how many people, in the recreation industry that I know, and I've been in that industry for a while, pre pre rock. We are a nose to the ground, get the work done, kind of a bunch, with very few people interested.

In doing the work of marketing the value of what we're doing. So we definitely do have some, we have some people that are working really hard at that. But I [00:13:00] think, this also ties in with recreation is, in my opinion, probably one of the most important and simplest and most accessible thing we could do in the world, in the world of, health, like illness prevention.

So that would, Yeah, physical, mental, social. You wanna talk about people's wellbeing and health and preventing many, many illnesses and many reasons why people end up needing the medical system in all of its layers. recreation, like the things that we do. Yeah to make our day better.

And I wanted to ask you this too, right? Because everyone has a thing, or two or three, if you're lucky that when you've had a really bad day or a week or a month and you sort of say, Okay, this is getting bad. [00:14:00] I'm not doing very well. Most people, I should say, there's a lot of people who are very isolated that don't have that thing.

They don't know what that is, and they don't know how to, they can't access it. But many people that you ask, What is your thing? When you've had that really really bad week or month and you do something and you suddenly feel the weight lifted, you feel you've got this again. You feel like you can do this stuff again.

What's that thing for you? .

Stu Murray: Mm. That's a wonderful question. And my challenge is actually limiting that to two or three things, right? I, Which means you're very lucky, very lucky. I consider myself very fortunate and I love the idea of having practices that I can come back to that can reground me, because I know being a human in this wild world is a messy, complex thing.

And so I, I was fortunate way back when I was playing football at university to have gone through. [00:15:00] So many different injuries. I mean, the the injury part is not fortunate, but where that led me to was to practice yoga and to start moving my body in a different way. And that sent me on a journey to India and brought all kinds of different shifts where I've been fortunate to now be able to teach others embodied movement and to connect them with their breath and move into AcroYoga as a way of creating social connections and learning how to create containers for trust and responsibility and healthy boundaries and, you know, on and on and on.

So I think I've now recategorized all of these things for me, as more broadly opportunity to move and to get back into my body, to get out of my head where all the stories are living, and to remember that I have the ability to choose. If I can choose to breathe in this moment, then I can choose to reclaim my power and to come back to the fact that I am able to choose moment to moment.

[00:16:00] How my ship is being directed. And that's such a fortunate thing, and that's what brought me into education in the first place, is that I wanted children at a young age to be able to step into that sense of empowerment, to be able to self-regulate, to be able to co-regulate, to be able to come in together, into these spaces where they feel safe, where they feel seen, where they can be in their own power and find out what is true within themselves and not need to look outside of them to allow their life to be dictated by somebody at an external authority.

Moni Lowen: That's beautiful. Yeah. And I can't remember who said this. I, it was a quote I read the other day, that it's so much easier to, grow a child than to fix a man or to fix an

Stu Murray: adult. You're right. The layers of deconditioning and unconditioning and reparenting that I've had to do for my inner child, for my wounded child, and only becoming as [00:17:00] an adult aware of the reactive patterns that I've had because I've been holding on to, you know, patterns of rejection or fear of abandonment and how these things can hijack my neurological response to situations around me.

And I just, I got to a point where I realized the harm that these things, these unconscious patterns were doing to others in my life, and I wish I knew earlier, but I feel blessed. I know now to be able to step in and be empowered and to see the places where these wounds and triggers and traumas are coming up and wanna take the reins and to ground myself back into my nervous system to re.

Take control of my breath and be able to become the master and not the victim to all of these situations that happened. And man, that's transformed the relationships that I hold. And I wish it's one of my deepest desires that [00:18:00] children who are growing up into this ever growing complex world could be equipped with the tools and skills to be able to start to do that at a much younger age.

Moni Lowen: Yeah, absolutely. And in a tiny, tiny sense, and I'm gonna go back to Jackie now too, but, some of those concepts that you're talking about in a, again, a very small way, With, with Jackie and her grad student team we developed, some game based tools that we play with our rock families, that really are aimed at drawing out some of exactly what you just said.

So, I learned very quickly that when I sit down with a child and a parent and I do the, what do you wanna do? Well, crickets, , right? That's not an answer that many people can answer or our question that many people can answer. And so with Jackie and her teams help, it [00:19:00] ended up being like a nine or 10 module kind of a thing where we start at the basics, like, and again, all game based. It's actually kind of fun. But like the first, you know, what is recreation because. What you find fun is different than what I find fun and is different. Everyone's definition of activities that they enjoy is completely different. So we start from bare basics there, and then we move up into needs and values and in a very simplified way.

Do you like to do things on your own? Do you like to do things with your friends, with your family, with strangers? Because some people do . Do you like do you wanna be in nature? Do you wanna be in a gym? Do you wanna be sweaty? Do you want to be calm? Do you want competition?

Does competition, do you hate competi? So those needs and values. And then we get into sort of some more pragmatic, you know, how do we find those things and [00:20:00] what activities meet those values and needs. We have a budgeting game that families think is super fun, which I remember when we were creating it.

We, Nobody's gonna play this and it's fun. But we have one tool. It's a skills base, you know, what are you good at now? And it covers the entire range of, I'm a good friend. I'm an encourager to, to, I'm really good at hitting a volleyball so people can stay in the safe zone.

I run fast. I am really good with animals. I have good hand-eye coordination. They can stay in the safe zone, but there's also cards here that people can pick that are deeply personal and deeply emotional. And at the end of this, so we've done this many, many, many times, not just with families.

We do this at conferences. We do this with big groups of people, and everybody leaves [00:21:00] feeling like they had a great big group hug. Wow. Yeah. You leave with a list of what everyone, said that they feel you're good at. And we do, we write it all down. Everyone goes home with a piece of paper and we say, like, and in the family's homes, we put it in your fridge.

Right? Put it in your bedroom. This doesn't describe you entirely, but there's some really good qualities about you that people see.

Stu Murray: Mm.

Moni Lowen: And when you're having a bad day, go read. Yeah, go

Stu Murray: read that list. Totally. Totally. And to me, that almost comes through as an invitation where it's, Okay, this is what other people have seen in me.

Here's an invitation for me to step into that, because there's so many times that I don't see that in my myself. And so instead I fall into my traumatic patterns and responses, and I'm not acting as that best version of myself and which creates a negative feedback loop. And when we have the opportunity to break that and to [00:22:00] see ourselves more clearly reflected through other people, that becomes this invitation for us to step into a higher version of ourselves.

Mm-hmm. . And I love that you create that groundwork with those games and are doing these things. Again, back to recreation being such a fundamental root of shifting that is part of recreation is these conversations, is these skills that we can develop and. Talking earlier about avoiding like catastrophic amounts of money in our healthcare system or our prison industrial complex system or what, whatever these systems it, we have a reactive way in our society to address these things, and we're just pouring more and more money into reactive problem solving, and yet our young children are prescribed more antidepressant medication than ever.

And so really the part of that is going back to the root and figuring out, well, what are part of the roots of these things and how do we prevent children from getting to that place? How do we [00:23:00] prevent a child from getting into juvenile prison? Where in Canada, that reincarceration rate is one in four, pretty much like It's not about punishing people or giving them some pharmaceutical medication.

Ramps up our pharmaceutical industrial complex. We really need to go back and dig in deep. And those things aren't necessarily glamorous and that's not where all our advertising budget is being spent and all of these things. So as you said we lack a certain kind of advocacy around this, that can really articulate the fact that we are in the work that you are doing and others similar organizations are actually going to the root of these things.

And I'm sure for that you'd have hundreds or thousands of stories that you could share to elucidate some of how you really are helping to treat the root.

Moni Lowen: Yeah, absolutely. I have very little hope that this would ever happen, but, my brain keeps going back to, if pick a [00:24:00] number, if we're spending 10 billion on health treatments or putting the fires out.

What if for 20 years, and again, this is why it won't happen, but , what if for 20 years we doubled that, we spent 20 billion on treating the existing illnesses is spent another 20 billion on prevention. Which man, I, there are lots of ways to spend that money but for 20 years do both.

Cuz I feel a hundred percent convinced that if we did that long enough, we would be back to the original 20 million. But most of that would be in

Stu Murray: prevent. Yes, no doubt. And then the implications go far beyond the symptoms that we're actually trying to prevent. Not only would you [00:25:00] have less kids who are taking ADHD medication or antidepressants or whatever, and less children entering into that prison pipeline, we would also have more resilient individuals, more caring individuals, more confident people who have better communication skills.

And so I think you could extrapolate that far beyond the symptoms that we're trying to prevent and look at the culture as a whole as to what we could create within that. I think there's actually no limit and it's really hard to even imagine a dollar estimate to the implications of that.

Moni Lowen: I agree.

And the long term, this wouldn't be a short term fix, for lack of a better word, this would this would have incredible impacts. For centuries. If we could move that thing around.

Stu Murray: I'm curious, you're not, I know you're not a psychological expert in any of this world, but based on your [00:26:00] perspective of what you've seen, like why is it, do you think that we focus so much on the symptoms and really underplay or downplay some of these root causes that could potentially, you know, shift the symptoms or heal them entirely?

Moni Lowen: do you want my sarcastic remark? ,

Stu Murray: give me anything you want.

Moni Lowen: I feel at its core it's political, uh, money. Mm-hmm. And I do have, sympathy for this. I do understand that when you are in a position to make. Really big financial decisions for any level of government.

I understand how daunting that must be, and I understand that the fires just keep coming, right? There's a new fire every day. And when you actually don't have the capacity built in to do more than put out fires, you can't get to the prevention part. And how in the world would [00:27:00] people in those positions, whether they're the politicians or the government staff, how in the world would they convince anybody to put in double the money for a while so that we could work on preventing the fires rather than putting them out?

It's and maybe that's where I like, honestly in with compassion. I don't. Think that it could happen anytime soon. It's completely overwhelming when people have a capacity, right? We are not machines. And so whether it's whoever's capacity, and money would be one of the capacity, like one of the limit, but it's also people's energy and abilities.

And if you can't do more than just put out the fires that keep popping up, I'm not sure how you turn that ship around.

Stu Murray: You're right. And when we talk in such a way, it's definitely easy to find compassion for those that are in those situations. And[00:28:00] it's very challenging.

The scope at max of some of these positions is four years, and so we're not creating long term sustainability plans. I mean, in education, we had a new 10 year plan every four years do that math. How does this work? But these are the structures and so it's hard. It's hard to fault any individual that operates within that, but we just don't work on the scope of that society needs us to shift. And so it seems in the larger picture that we're actually stuck in a paradigm paralysis where we have these four year election cycles and where our metrics are focused around in education, they were focused around mathematics and English scores and all of our test scores because they're easy to capture.

And so just the same, a lot of these metrics they need to be for the bureaucracy able to be reduced down to simple things that we can put out in a radio ad or put into this little report. A as we start to shift that, if we wanna [00:29:00] start looking at going down to the route rather than the symptoms and these easy metrics, well that's an entire paradigm shift that we need to look at.

And we need to say, Okay, well, we're gonna halt the way this is going because we know it's a runaway train and it's been out of control, it takes dramatic shift and dramatic courage and dramatic, just a tremendous mind shift and trying to convince a population of that when we've done something for so long.

To tell people you're gonna get rid of report cards because we wanna shift away for, I mean, people are up in arms, even if that's what the data says, that's where we should go and offer a different kind of feedback to our youth as a way of being constructive. We get stuck in these things and so I do empathize with those challenges, but then here we are, . Mm-hmm. .

Moni Lowen: Well, and I wonder too, is this a heart versus a brain thing? So in the last few years, even funders, right? If we're applying for a grant or anything like [00:30:00] that, I feel like every conference I've attended for the last five years, the conversation is storytelling. and I understand too, that's the industry I'm in. I am not a mathematician, , although that'd be fun too. But when the push is telling stories, well, to send your message. Whether it's to funders or donors or, so in a non-profit world especially, but I would put recreation in a non-profit world.

The push is to tell great stories to evoke emotion, but I think for how, since the dawn of mankind, I'm not sure we've been encouraged to make decisions based on emotion. Mm

Stu Murray: mm I, yeah, I think that's a fascinating thing to, to sit with and to riff on and reflect on. And I think perhaps at the dawn of human [00:31:00] civilization, we probably did think more with our heart, what I would refer to actually as instinct.

And we had more of an instinct, intuitive, right. Instinct, intuition. So that idea of the wild self and that, look at any animal on this planet. They are instinctive. Any non domesticated, at least animal on this planet, they follow their instinct. So how many times have we now, I think particularly maybe in the last several centuries, actually have doubled down on a mechanistic reductionist understanding of the world, right?

Newtonian principles. If it can't be measured, it doesn't exist. And so the more we shift our perspective into thinking that is the only way of understanding the world, it's a beautiful way of understanding the world. And it's led to so many innovations and so much progress. But when that capability becomes detached from our heart, then we start creating technologies and [00:32:00] systems that we don't have the heart center.

Attention to be able to use those things, right? And so we find ourselves in a cold war or we find ourselves where we're at a point where we're abusing these technologies because we don't have the connection to that intuitive instinctual knowing, because that part of us knows that we need to take care of one another.

We know that everybody is better off when our neighbor is better off. And that's this piece that we've almost separated and ed ourselves away from and created this separatist version of the world that when we look at it through that reductionist lens, it's hard to remember that. And so I think. Moving forward, it's not actually returning to the caves and going back to that instinctual way, but it's how do we leverage these beautiful advancements that we had technologically and philosophically, and integrate that with a more heart centered knowing [00:33:00] that story base, sitting around the fire telling what really evolved us as humans.

How do we merge these two together as we move forward? Yeah,

Moni Lowen: let's do that.

But you're right. So at an individual level, we feel we know how much our hearts impact our decision making. Where exactly, where did we start saying that, you know, bums and chairs and numbers and metrics were how we made system decisions.

Cuz I think if we could bring more of the heart back into those, I think everything would change. I really do.

Stu Murray: I do too. And something that I discovered about a decade ago when I was studying environmental studies and religious studies and philosophy at school, I learned about this little country called Butan.

And they [00:34:00] are just nestled up in the Himalaya mountains next to Nepal and between Tibet and so traditionally in the economic system, the capitalist economic system that we have, everybody wants to destroy capitalism entirely. But what do we replace it with, right? What's that look like as we shift but the thing is there is that we've used GDP as a measure of growth and development and prosperity, but that doesn't matter how many people are left on the streets or how many kids don't have access to recreation, or how many families are going through divorce or whatever metric we want to insert there. And so all that matters for the wellbeing of an economy.

And thus the nation is how much GDP we're, how much gross domestic product we're actually churning out and creating here. And so Butan shifted that away quite a few years ago to the Gross National Happiness Index, where they said, Well, we're gonna take it upon ourselves because we know that wherever we aim, Our bow, wherever we [00:35:00] shoot that thing is going to be the energy and the attention and the money that we direct into that system.

And so instead of focusing on gdp, let's redesign these new metrics. And they've been going through the challenging process of, well, what are those metrics? And those include how much time do you have to spend with your family? How happy are you? What's your leisure and recreation look like? How much money are you making?

Is that enough to feed your family? Right? So as we've shifted what we fundamentally value, And realigned our policies and behaviors and actions with that. Well then we've started to see a shift in that and they've had tremendous success and have become a talking point for much of the world, and people are starting to sink their teeth into that.

And so I think what's happened is we've started to value progress and development at all costs. And so we forgot our fundamental human values and have created systems where humans become deplorable. Humans can become numbers in order to drive a [00:36:00] machine. Where really at the heart is it should be, you know, we need to lift everybody.

We need to lift this entire ship up so that everybody can do better off. And that's a fundamental restructuring and remembering of our fundamental values.

Moni Lowen: I think that's brilliant. I love that they're figuring out what that, uh, how to measure that and Right. And this is not unique to me but like the a hundred percent guaranteed, the happier, the more content, the more fulfilled people are, the more productive they are too. I promise. Yes. It's not just about us, you know, flitting around with fairy dust because we're so happy.

I promise you that the productivity is a byproduct.

Stu Murray: Mm, yeah. Absolutely. And that again, comes back to this fundamental level of story where we've inherited a story of separation and [00:37:00] scarcity and so baked into our subconscious is the idea that. More for you means less for me, and I need to exert a force to achieve anything.

And it just becomes this runaway train where you can see step by step how we can get more and more disconnected from the humanness, from this underlying desire for belonging and for authentic expression. And instead, we pursue external metrics that might validate that, but becomes this realm of hungry ghosts where we're consuming, consuming, consuming.

Check the boxes, check the boxes, check the boxes, and all of a sudden you run into a wall where every box has been checked and you're in a midlife crisis because you've got the mansion, you've got the family, you've got the cars, you've got the big salary and the job, and all of these things that you had been promised would bring you that joy and all of a sudden you're miserable because there's something underneath.

That we are really, truly longing for, and [00:38:00] I think we've placed it in the wrong thing. And so it's going to take, in my delusional opinion, an internal reflection on what is it that I value and how do I integrate these values into my day to day, into my relationships and connections, And how do we then leverage that inspiration and harness that on a collective scale and take collective responsibility to hold one another accountable.

It's not that politician or this, as you said earlier, they're just caught up in their own story that we've collectively created, but we have a collective responsibility to shift that narrative and to recreate systems and structures that allow people like you who are doing that work to be empowered and have access to the resources so that we can really make an even more profound difference in the communities that we live.

Moni Lowen: Yeah, precisely. And just touching on one thing you said, I think people are at a loss. As to how they even discover those values in themselves. I think a lot of work [00:39:00] could be done, and from whether it's in school at the early ages. But I think there are a lot of adults now that would agree with everything you just said, but don't have a, have no idea how to do that or how to start, or how to incorporate those things into their current life.

Right? Like sometimes when you, when we talk about these concepts and these personal journeys, it feels so daunting. And sometimes the public perception of the people that are doing that well, well, they quit their job and they sold their house and this concept of, but I can't do that, you know, that won't be me.

So how do I. How do I discover those things? How do I learn about myself? How do I do better within a structure that I feel I need to also do what I was doing? Mm-hmm. . So it's a very complicated, very complex task, for lack of a better word, [00:40:00] that I wonder too, maybe, and I think there are tools out there, but I wonder if they're not readily available, you know, how do you do some

Stu Murray: of that work?

Yeah. There are definitely tools out there. There are a myriad of tools out there. And I'm curious, obviously you're somebody who's reflected on these things and, and are doing that you've embarked on that self-empowering journey of taking responsibility. And I'm curious for you what pathways have you seen and what might you think might help others be able to start to step into that new story?

Moni Lowen: That's a hard question. I think the part of listening is insanely important. We all have filters and we all have lenses that are there that we may not even realize are there.

If someone is speaking to you, if you're seeing something, if you're hearing something, how is that being filtered and how are you receiving it? And is it authentic? Is it real? Cause we shift things, our [00:41:00] brains automatically shift things. And so I think this is a journey I will be on the rest of my life.

To sort of ponder and process if what I heard, what people said to me, you know, what did my default lenses do with that? And should we reconsider that? And if I desire, and I do to be a good listener, but more than just being quiet, right? But to hear, to hear what people are saying, then I will have a lifelong journey of reflecting on what I did here and what that can teach me and, how I can move forward with new perspectives and new information.

And I think we, we have a lot, we all have a lot of defaults that kind of pop up and wanna prevent some of that learning. And it's uncomfortable sometimes. So I think, yeah, that would be a, that would be a personal, what are my default lenses? Why are they there? What do I do about that? I don't [00:42:00] like them , how do I do better?

Mm-hmm. . Yeah. And people are there. Yeah. People are there, People are experts in their own world, right? So I would say, our rock families have a hundred percent been my greatest teachers in my lifetime. Mm-hmm. The things, you know, you go into something with preconceived notions. We all do and that's okay.

But to be open, to other perspectives and drop your own agenda. Like drop it. It's some weird preconceived agenda thing. Drop it.

Stu Murray: And listen, I love that so much, and I think so many people just want to be heard, and perhaps it's part of our inability to hold space for discomfort or what that might stir in us, or as you said, bringing in our preconceived ideas.

But so much of the time, I, I fundamentally believe that every [00:43:00] individual knows what's best for themselves. They just might not see it. And so it really does come back to, well, how can I be as clean of a mirror as possible and park my trauma and park my baggage at the side so that I can show up, present and grounded for this individual, for them to be able to share whatever they're needing to share.

And through that sharing, may they receive more clarity on what they need and what they want, and how they can go and get that.

Moni Lowen: Precisely. And it's tricky. It's really tricky. That's an understatement. Yeah. Right? We have so much in us that affect how we hear things and how we listen.

And, I would add that when you're in a position where you are supposed to be the support, right? there's a huge piece in there where you have to be well enough to [00:44:00] be a support to someone else. And I'm not entirely sure how many I'm, There must be people out there well enough to do this where it, it's just part of their day. They love it. They feel good about it. I think the stories we hear and the struggles of the families we work with, they're really heavy. It's hard. It's hard. We wouldn't be in this job if we weren't helpers, and if we didn't, if we weren't sort of, and we laugh about this all the time, we wouldn't have sought out this kind of work if there wasn't a part of us that was a fixer

Mm-hmm. and being a fixer is a problem. Nobody wants to be fixed. So they don't, No, it's not cool and it's not appropriate. And so there's a real shift and it's happened to every single one of us, within our team. Where you start and you're excited and you're gonna fix . [00:45:00] And then we have conversation after conversation after conversation, and we bring that down and we say, I get, like, I get it, like fixing feels good.

Uh, but you didn't fix what you think you did there, . Yeah. You actually

Stu Murray: didn't do that.

Totally. So what tools and strategies do you implement personally and also with your team to be able to shift away from fixing and really into like genuine, authentic space holding?

Moni Lowen: Yeah. So in our training is, we really like our initial training. We talk through a lot of we talk actually a lot of what you and I are just talking about.

We talk through a lot of that. We talk about our agendas, our preconceived notions, our desire to fix our, we spend a lot of time talking about listening. Well, we talk a lot and constantly about keeping ourselves well, which includes conversations [00:46:00] like boundaries and rest. And these aren't new concepts.

Anyone who is in a job that is supporting others, these are really big pieces to being able to do it for more than a few months. , mm-hmm. And I don't mean systemic boundaries, I don't mean, you know, my heart breaks for, you know, whether it's government, social workers, or, child and family services workers.

There are so many structures in place, so many dos and don'ts, and their hearts are so big. And the dos and the don'ts kind of. Break you . I do. And yet, when put it into a rock perspective, we don't have hours. We're very much in a position to respond, quickly and at all hours of the day.

So that has problems too. Our team is so giving and so compassionate and so [00:47:00] eager to help, that then the challenge becomes burnout and mm-hmm. I need to not be responding to texts and phone calls and you. , things like that until 11 o'clock every night. Well, no, , please don't in a simplistic way, I, my, one of my mantras that I say all the time is, there's no such thing as a recreation emergency

That doesn't mean that there isn't such a thing as an emergency in our family's lives. That That's right. Because of our trusting relationship. They're asking for help. Yeah. Right. So those are two very different things. The relationships we build with families is incredible. And we're super grateful that, that they reach out when they need help in other areas of their lives. We just have, we have to be careful about connecting them to the community. People that do. Right. Rather than we're sitting down to dinner and every [00:48:00] one of us has done it. Someone's got a flat tire. I gotta go . Hang on, . Are you leaving your family dinner? ?

Stu Murray: Yeah. Right. Because that's important for you, so, Yeah.

Well, it's beautiful that obviously you are, you and your team are becoming that first point responder for so many of these families and. Is representative of the level of trust that you've cultivated with these individuals and these families. And I think that's so beautiful. But again, as you said, perhaps an extension of that, wanting to fix it, it's hard to hold all of the pain and suffering that we do and in education is so well, we have these talks around burnout and compassion fatigue all the time.

And yet it's a perpetual practice. And I like what you said about talking about boundaries and not systemic ones, but personal ones that are held in a constructive way and what are [00:49:00] ways to leverage and use boundaries in a way that allow you to stay open and establish relationships of trust, but also protect your energy so that you can show up for these families sustainably long term.


Moni Lowen: that's the million dollar question. We struggle with that one for sure. Yeah. I think, there is one little, little piece that I use and some of us use. So people are amazing. We might in the moment feel panicked and reach out to someone for help. And depending what that panic is about, it might, you might really need something right then, right?

You know, immediately. That's legit. But I would say that more often than not, there's no recreation emergency. And so just give it some time. Hmm. Whether we receive that message, in the [00:50:00] morning. and maybe when we have a moment we can respond later afternoon. Maybe that's the next date. People constantly amaze us in their ability to have a little bit of time to pause and figure it out. Mm. And I think this is true for all of us, right? This is not just rock families. This is not just people who have even more challenges than some. This happens to all of us where, in that moment it was urgent.

An hour later it really wasn't, right. And you gotta figure out when it's appropriate to do that and when it's not. But I would say specifically in what we do, I would say that more often than not, it's okay to have a pause, which also takes out the intensity, right?

So then, your response can be, [00:51:00] Hey, like, you know, where are you at now? how are you feeling right now? And is there still something that, that we can support here? Or, and often it's like, No, I got it. I figured it out. Awesome. Mm-hmm. , you're brilliant. Yeah. You're amazing.

Stu Murray: Totally. And that's, sometimes somebody just needs to be heard and seen or vent or whatever it is. And I think that advice could easily flow through into personal relationships where it's important to acknowledge that it's a gift. Anytime somebody feels safe enough and trusts us enough to ask for help.

That's a gift. And so that's an important piece to recognize. So on one end of the spectrum, sometimes we can be so dismissive and just anybody who's asking for anything is just chewing up our time. And we have just walls and existing in our own vacuum. And then on the other side we're like, Oh, what a gift it is that this person trusts me enough.

I know that they don't have anybody else they can turn to [00:52:00] and da, da da da. So all of a sudden, my needs and my values and my time is completely a doormat for anybody who is coming up and offering that. And so it's balancing these lines of recognizing, well, what a gift that is. But I don't always have to stop my family dinner to go and do these things.

I need to create that right container where that can be held also, because if my needs aren't being met perpetually, well then who am I expecting to show up as ?

Moni Lowen: Right. That's age old. If you don't take care of yourself, you can take care of others. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Stu Murray: Yeah. It really is. And so going back, we, last time we had chatted, you had talked about when Rock first started, you guys were going in and really had a bit more of a top down approach with this beautiful mandate and a drive to, to really support community.

But you said, kind of coming in, we [00:53:00] know what's best and we're gonna come and help make that a reality for you. What, how did that play out and what was that shift starting to look like? Yeah, so

Moni Lowen: in hindsight we just giggle about that now. And I think many organizations do this, but there's some words that, you as an organization say, We're gonna try and stay away from this word.

I would say that when we started, there were a lot of shoulds. You should, you should. Oh, you know what you should do? You should. It can feel very top down. Someone says to you, you know, I like water. I like being in water. We get all excited. You should take swimming lessons or you should join a speed swimming club.

Or you should, you know, you should, you should, you should. And they shut down. Your shoulds are not my shoulds. Right. Totally different .

Stu Murray: Totally. So

Moni Lowen: As we learned, that is not particularly [00:54:00] helpful, ever, we made a very conscious shift to at this point, like our guiding principles come from our families.

So we, at one of the simple and wonderful pieces is now we have a permanent seat for a rock parent on our board so that anybody can do. And it's brilliant and I wish all organizations would consider that. But even more than that, and again, here comes Jackie, but she came out with some students and with our team and we invited, some rock parents to spend a day with us.

And we had some fun stuff. We did some crafting, we had lots of food. But we really wanted their input and their feedback and their insight into kind of everything Rock. What makes sense for you in how we have defined our services? What is meaningful, what isn't. There's one really great exercise we did where it was sort of a [00:55:00] red, yellow, green light where here's a list of sort of some of the things we do.

Is this even valuable to you? Do you need this piece always and you feel like you always will need this piece? So that's a red. I will always need help with that one. Are there some things that you sometimes need help with and are the things you never need help with? With that information could develop sort of in the first two years that we get to hang out with the family. It's everything, anything. But then hearing from the families, we knew that sort of after they some, sometimes when they felt they had a good handle on something after those two years.

They would be perfectly comfortable reaching out if they needed help with that again. And they also gave us incredible insight into what many of our families feel they will always need help with. This isn't a teach me how to fish thing, I will always need help with this. So we could design what we did based [00:56:00] around those conversations, which is perfect.

Stu Murray: What that makes me think of Moni is back to our conversation about restructuring. And I think, it seems to me that the systems that you started to use and the ways that you started to ask and solicit feedback from those that you were working with allowed you to be able to listen in a different way and to check your preconceived notions at the door.

And actually fundamentally redesign and restructure the systems that you were using to bring support to the people. And I think that is a beautiful model and a beautiful leadership example of our political systems and all of these different structures that if we did operate under such a principle and actually listen to those who were being impacted by these things.[00:57:00] What potential could we create if we scaled that up and leverage that kind of mentality, right?

Moni Lowen: And it just doesn't seem like rocket science. Like it takes us, takes many of us a while to wrap our brains around it and to figure out how to do that, how to ask good questions and how to listen and hear well and then implement.

That's a whole process. that requires a lot of thought. And there's actually people that do that . We have all heard this, we have all heard forever. Why didn't they ask me? I'm the one who's impacted by this, right? Mm-hmm. the whole saying, nothing for us, without us applies to every single person on this planet.

We're making decisions all over the place without ever talking to the people that, that impacts the most. Again, does that speak to [00:58:00] capacity? I'm not sure that there would be a lot of people that wouldn't think that was a good idea. I think most people would say, Yeah, well that makes sense.

Does it always come back to who's gonna do it? Who's gonna lead it? Who has the skills? Who has the passion? Who will people even trust enough to provide good feedback? Cuz we've all been asked survey questions, we stop answering because nothing ever changes. Why do you ask me if you don't care what I say?

That's a really, really, really big piece of if you're gonna ask the questions, you have to do something with the information that makes people feel heard. And that's

Stu Murray: big. Mm. Yeah. Because that creates trust. I mean, how many times do you have people tell you all this promise you sugar and [00:59:00] these wonderful things and then the actions don't align with that.

That's just the way to destroy trust and relationship is. Promise things and then not follow through on our actions. And so it's that whole idea of under promise, over deliver. Nobody cares about surveys and they're largely meaningless, but those aren't done with the intention of actually soliciting that information for feedback that will inform the systems and processes.

It's for more bureaucratic status and updates in these things. And so then all of a sudden we know that X number of our children are not feeling a sense of belonging, or X number of children are on these prescription medications, or this subset of the population is struggling to even get their kids to engage in something meaningful beyond going to school like it.

But then it gets parked there and that's where it stops. And I think maybe. As you said, you started asking those questions. Who's going to [01:00:00] do these things? How do we operationalize this? There's enough smart people around, There's enough geniuses in our respective fields that I believe that we do have the capacity if we value this enough and we have the integrity to align our values with our actions.

We are so well equipped in this technological age to be able to leverage our human skills and our technological skills to listen to people in an authentic way with the intention of using that information to create services and structures that actually benefit these people. Let's do that . Let's do it.

Can we please ? Yes. Yeah, And you are And I think where it can be paralyzing is when we often think of these big challenging problems like social situations or environmental things, and it's like being one individual in that large, massive [01:01:00] scope that we try and analyze. We can be reduced down to in action, but then all of a sudden you hear of the stories of the organizations like Rock and Insight.

They are doing that. We don't even need to imagine what that could look like because there are already systems and organizations who are leading the way with that. What we need to do is follow their lead and scale up. And leverage what is possible. That's why I started believing more in alternative schooling and private schooling, because bureaucracy is the first to say no.

And that's not a malicious thing. That's not rooted in any nefarious things. Institutional maintenance is a real thing. And so that most of our money goes towards perpetuating what we already do, even if it's broken. And so we need the leaders like rock and the leaders of these different systems who are just showing, hey, it's possible.

And that provides inspiration and aspiration for us as individuals and as a collective to strive toward [01:02:00] to know that that's not only possible and pull us out of despair really. Yeah. Good point. . So I would say you are doing it . Thank you. Yeah, definitely. It's inspiring. I've resonated so much with recreation and sport and play, and I think fundamentally that's part of what makes us human is the ability to play, the ability to discover through these different mechanisms.

And I think that, to me is a fundamental human right. And so I've been inspired through talking with Jackie and then learning more about what you're doing. That I think that is absolutely fundamental work that needs to be done and appreciate you and your team and the trenches doing that and creating the models of where that's actually going to lead to empowered and sustainable change for communities.

Moni Lowen: Yeah. Thank you for that. I am [01:03:00] also truly grateful for your platform. I think these conversations, as I know you believe too, that these conversations are important. And we're the more we learn from each other and the more that people can hear what others are doing, including yourself, it's always gonna be a benefit.

Baby steps,

Stu Murray: right? Baby steps, inspiration, and courage our contagious, and the more we can lean into that, we can provide that platform for others to step up and to pull each other up and not should all over each other, as you and Jackie would say, But to really just be that beacon of light and be that lighthouse out in the fog that can help guide us.

Because I think inside each of us, we know that these systems aren't working and we have this longing for a more beautiful world, and our hearts know what is possible, and it's our minds that get in the way of us getting there. And so when we have the beacons of the [01:04:00] stories like. The work you are doing with the families.

Then each story, we could sit here and have multiple podcasts on the stories alone of the impact that you have with each of these families and the trust and the opportunities that are being created. I mean, that can light a fire inside of us and provide that aspiration to keep going, to dig a little bit deeper.

We all need that, don't we? Every day. Every day. every day. It's a weird world, right? It's easy to get overwhelmed in it, but humans are amazing. Humans are beautiful. And to come back and remember that. The way we hold people and our images of people is often where they'll step into.

And so if we don't think they're trustworthy and we don't think that they're deserving, Of our attention or whatever that is. Well, then, they'll live into that often. And the [01:05:00] opposite is true. And I'm sure, again, you're working with groups of people who would often have a lot of distrust for organizations because they've been perpetually overlooked, perpetually, pushed aside, perpetually undervalued, and so you're not walking into an easy situation mm-hmm.

And yet the amount of shift that you can do in carving out these relationships, like who knows the ripples of implications that those things could have.

Moni Lowen: Yeah. I wish sometimes people and people could see the ripples of each individual action. Right. I don't think we often get to see those.

And they are big people. People impact each other. Yes. And

Stu Murray: it's beautiful. We do. And that's empowering, You know, it's an empowering thing for us to step into the power of our actions and how they do inform and change and shift the collective consciousness that we're all participating in.

[01:06:00] Oh, wow. You got me inspired and passionate and I didn't know where this could go and if I'd have the energy to go there. But you lit something up in me. And I'm curious, like for anybody who is listening and is feeling that flame of inspiration and would like to connect or get involved or just reach out, where would they be able to go to get in touch

Moni Lowen: or learn more?

Yeah, website is easy., which is Rock is r o. And then I love these conversations, so I would encourage anyone who wants to talk further, can email me. It's just Moni, which is m o n i, rock My phone number's on the website, anything. I'm happy to further this conversation.


Stu Murray: Mm, I love that. Thank you. And we'll make sure to link all of that in the show notes below so that anybody can access that directly. And I guess as we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to add or [01:07:00] share with the listeners? Yeah,

Moni Lowen: We talked about many things. One of our sayings too is that be prepared to be amazed.

And that's whether talking to someone new or supporting someone go in with the idea that you will very likely be amazed. Mm.

Stu Murray: I love that. I love that so much. I think that's a beautiful thing to cap off on and I believe that to be true at the core of my being. And I love talking with individuals and organizations who are living into that principle because it's the truth.

Moni Lowen: Yeah, it is. ,

Stu Murray: I've had such a wonderful conversation with you money. I really appreciate you taking the time and I look forward to continuing our chats in the future. This is amazing.

Moni Lowen: I love it too. Thank you so very much. You filled my bucket today and you were an [01:08:00] inspiration to everyone that hears you talk.

Thanks for tuning into this episode. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok at Stu Murray podcast. Check out the Stu Murray podcast available on all streaming platforms and leave a comment or a review.

Let me know if this episode resonated with you and what you want to hear more of as we move forward in the future. Thank you so much, and I'll see you next Monday.

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