Learning To Surf: Mind Full or Mindful?
Mindfulness has been an area of high interest for me as of late. According to Dr. Amy Saltzman, author of A Still Quiet Mind, Mindfulness is, "the universal human capacity for paying attention with kindness and curiosity." Eline Snel, author of Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents) defines Mindfulness as, "nothing other than present-moment awareness, an open and friendly willingness to understand what is going on in and around you. It means living in the present moment without judging or ignoring anything or getting carried away by the pressures of everyday life."
You Cannot Stop the Waves
A favorite passage of mine by Eline Snel discusses this with a fantastic metaphor.
You cannot control the sea. You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf on them. This is the central idea underlying mindfulness practice. People have problems. Such is life. We all experience sadness and stress and there are always things we simply have to deal with.
When you are really present in such situations in life, without supressing anything or simply wishing that they weren't happening, you can see what might be needed. When you focus your attention and see the "waves" for what they really are, you can make better-informed choices and act accordingly. At such moments you become aware of your irritation as soon as it rears its head. And once you realize that you have run out of patience or that you are tempted to hit someone, you have a choice. You are then less likely to get carried away by either your own emotions or those of others. You can pause, wait, take a breather; look at the situation and note what you are feeling, thinking, or wanting to do. You become aware of the forces that whip up the waves, aware of your tendency to react automatically, and perhaps find that you are less preoccupied with how the waves "should have been." (Sitting Like A Frog, pg. 10-11)
Like all things in life, the ability to reign in your thoughts to the present moment takes practice. A lot of practice. It's a skill that many, if not all, adults (and children) struggle with, myself included. Maybe you've heard of the phrase amygdala hijack? A term coined by author and psychologist Daniel Goleman. This speaks to what happens when we are emotionally triggered and let the 'waves' of intense emotion carry us out to sea. It's when this happens that we say and do things that we later wish we hadn't.
Sticking with the wave metaphor. Have you watched how surfers sit out in the ocean on their boards waiting for the perfect wave to approach? They use all of their senses to feel a wave coming and then watch as it rolls below them and continues toward the shore. With practice, you can do the same with your emotions.
A personal experience. Recently, my husband said something that made me really angry. I paused and without even meaning to, began paying attention to my body. I could feel the tightness in my chest, how my skin became hot, how my mind became a tangle of wires. The words that formed in my mind were far more snarky and rude than what he had said to me. The pause I took to focus on how my body felt was enough for me to see the wave for what it was. I responded instead by saying something to the effect of, "I'm going to take a shower and get ready" in a terse tone. I walked upstairs, and as I did I began thinking of six rude things that I could have said. Once I reached the bathroom door I thought, Whatever. Forget this. I'm letting him have a piece of my mind. I turned around with tight fists to head back down the stairs but stopped myself once again. An unbiased spectator probably would have thought I was straight-up mentally unstable. Pacing back and forth like a fool. I eventually showered and then was able to have a calm conversation afterward that lasted two minutes and was no big deal.
I cannot emphasize how difficult it is for me to do that. I have a long history of having heated emotional conversations that rarely ever end well for anyone involved. I think I can attribute my mindful automaticity in this scenario with my recent (and somewhat intermittent) practice with meditation. I've been using the Headspace App for awhile now. Don't get me wrong, I still get carried off to sea, I'm just working on it becoming a less frequent of an occurance.
Meditation sounds cheesy, I get it, but the science behind it is is undeniable. The more you practice paying attention to how your body and mind feel in a calm state, the easier it is for you to notice when a 'wave' is approaching, and the less likely you are to be carried away by it.
"It Is Easier To Build Strong Children,
Than it is to repair 'broken' adults." I saw this quote recently on Pinterest, and it definitely resonated with me. Especially with how extremely difficult it has been (and continues to be) for me to change my own emotional reactions this 'late' in life. Not to mention that meditation is actually really difficult to do. My mind stays present for about 10 seconds before I begin thinking about something random. It's hard work.
We expect a lot from children. If you want to see an "amygdala hijack" in real time, watch one little kid cut in line in front of another little kid. There's a large possibility that you'll probably see the 'cutter' get immediately yelled at or shoved by the student (s)he cut in front of. What happens next is usually a teacher saying "We don't shove our friends! Go to the end of the line"... That student will then stomp to the end of the line angrily or shout with indignation, "but they cut!"
Mindfulness programs and curriculums are popping up in schools all over the country and world. Teaching kids the skills they need at a young age to pause before reacting, and to be in the present moment is so extremely beneficial. I recently purchased two books that I've been exploring to use through my professional practice, both of which I cited above.
Sitting Still Like A Frog
Sitting Still Like A Frog includes a disc of short meditation practices for kids, with one specifically geared towards bedtime for those children who have a difficult time calming their minds before bed. The book speaks to being a mindful and present parent, as well as how to instil these skills in your children. It's a small book, and is not overly verbose, and simplifies the concepts in really nice and practical ways. I also think this disc would be really ideal for teachers to integrate into their classrooms. There are simple 3-5 minute practices that are fantastic for kids and helps to break down what it actually means to pay attention.
A STILL QUIET PLACE
This next text, A Still Quiet Place, is geared towards school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health personnel. Dr. Amy Saltzman emphasis that those who teach mindfulness must have a strong consistent practice themselves, and should have ideally completed an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training. This text adopts the MBSR protocol for use with children. I have not yet attended one of these 8-week trainings, and thus have not yet started using it personally. I really want to attend one of these trainings soon though. I'll share more when I know more!
Lastly, I've mentioned this guy before when I went to hear him speak. I just wanted to include a link for your reference!