Peter Brooks has a storied legacy that he strives to uphold every day in everything he does. His grandfather was the legendary singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, a man that creatively broke barriers and brought happiness to many through his music.
Indeed, creativity runs through Brooks’ DNA, and he’s harnessed that energy to help veterans work through PTSD symptoms. By utilizing guided meditations and teaching artforms that lead students to a place of mindfulness, Brooks hopes he can reach more people suffering from PTSD in the state of Maryland.
A Real Raconteur
Like his grandfather, Brooks could be considered a modern Renaissance Man. While Cab Calloway sang his way through the Harlem Renaissance, Brooks is offering people relief by seizing a current moment where creative approaches to mindfulness and mental health are experiencing a Renaissance of their own.
The concept of mindfulness and guided meditation dates back hundreds of years and has been used over the centuries by religious groups and secular teachers alike. The practice of mindfulness has been found to be helpful for treating PTSD specifically, increasing sufferers’ ability to cope with feelings of anxiety and depression that often accompany the disorder. In a recent survey, 83% of all US veterans and active-duty servicepeople reported having experienced PTSD since their military service, dating from 9/11 onwards.
Many seek ways of coping with the symptoms of PTSD, some turning to drugs and alcohol. It is Brooks’ hope that a change in perception and a pathway to peace and calm could help people steer clear of maladaptive coping methods.
Brooks, an artist with an MFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, who also serves on the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and works as a consultant to the Native American House Alliance of Philadelphia, has combined years of study and experience with ancient practices, performance art, and meditation to create his “Secular Shamanism” approach. This guided, creative mindfulness practice seeks to provide distraction and relief from anxiety and feelings of depression associated with PTSD and other mental health concerns.
“It starts with the idea that meditation, prayer, singing, intense focus, and hypnosis are the same,” says Brooks. “It’s when you are just about, but not quite, asleep. Your state of mind is what they call semi-conscious.”
Meditation for Healing
The soothing effects of meditation and mindfulness have been historically used by millions of people worldwide. By integrating ancient techniques such as Tibetan singing bowls, Hindu mantras, and Native American songs and recitations, Brooks has created a mosaic approach to healing. It all combines in what Brooks’ calls a “brain hack,” melding focus with positive messaging.
The arts-adjacent approach makes Brooks’ classes stand apart from other mindfulness or meditation applications.
“The funny thing about it is that humans have been doing this on their own for centuries. We just never looked at it from the perspective of the arts,” says Brooks. Using what he calls “recipes,” Brooks applies 10 proven mindfulness practices to help those suffering from PTSD tap into their semi-conscious state, much like one may feel when they are just falling asleep. In a world where we are constantly at attention — especially when suffering from post-traumatic stress — being able to “hack” one’s brain to find a calm, restful state of being can be life-changing.
Veterans developed this semi-conscious state of awareness in the military — being alert while being semi-awake — and Brooks helps them find that skill once again. This time, however, it is to allow them some reprieve from devastating anxiety. Now, Brooks is bringing his innovative approach to Maryland libraries through an arrangement with the Maryland State Arts Council, offering “Healing Arts Classes” for veterans free of charge.
“I targeted my class toward veterans because of their honor, relationship to the land, and history. As a result, these practices are simple to understand and deploy.” Brooks explains.
While his classes are targeted toward veterans, anyone is welcome to join and learn the creative mindfulness techniques. Brooks is aware that stress and anxiety, especially within the current upheaval of the pandemic and the politically-charged news cycle, are not unique to simply one group.
Brooks currently hosts his classes out of several Maryland library locations, but aims to expand his reach. He hopes to serve the veteran population of Maryland for years to come, bringing back their warrior spirit to help them combat declines in mental health.
“Not only have priests, artists, and meditators been doing this for thousands of years, but the best warriors have, too,” Brooks explains. “These techniques build upon training as a member of the United States Military, so my class will come very easily to veterans. Even if you were never in the military, you will be shocked at how easy it is.”