Mind Full or Mindful?
‘In today’s rush we all think too much – seek too much – want too much – and forget about the joy of just being.’ Eckhart Tolle
A few years ago, I would walk out of work, head down, shoulders lowered, eyes glued onto the face of the mobile phone in my hands still checking emails. I had physically left the office, but emotionally and mentally I was still there. This happened daily and would continue when I walked through the door of my home. This was my habit until one day a colleague walked out with me and commented on the trees that had blossomed along the footpath. This was a rude awakening. I did not even know that there were trees along the path, let alone noticed the white blossom flowers that had bloomed, nor had I looked up and paid attention to the white clouds that slowly swept across the sky making elaborate shapes. As children we laid on the lawn, watching the clouds make vivid images above our heads, however, as adults we barely look up to take note as our minds are full with information. We are busy.
Our times of rest and relaxation so often become just another race to get things done. How often do we feel the need to continually be busy, feeling guilty if we sit even if it is just for five minutes? It is said that we have about 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day. There are often constant streams of thoughts that move throughout our minds, and quite often, a lot of the time, our minds are not actually focussed on what it is that is being done. Maybe you can relate to sitting down at work or home with your family and caught yourself jumping between tasks and feeling like you are not doing anything properly. Or perhaps, you’ve noticed how easily it is that you can get hijacked by social media and waste hours scrolling mindlessly, when you could have spent that time doing something far more productive.
Life is like walking a slack line. We’re always balancing things; work, play, health, sickness, friendships, families and our relationships. It is a little (and sometimes more than a little) stressful. As soon as we tense up, the line starts to shake and we are more than easily thrown off. It’s these times we may regret the way in which we treat others, ourselves and most importantly our children. The slack line gives immediate feedback and meditation and mindfulness can help us make use of this feedback. The idea of mindfulness is to train our minds so that we can choose where to focus our attention and keep it there.
Mindfulness allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing the calmed and skilful response instead of succumbing to our primitive reactions. It is also good for our children. There is an emerging body of research that indicates that mindfulness can help our children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset, and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus. Do I even need to ask if you want that for your kids?
Applying Mindfulness in your Life
Establish your own practice. You would have trouble teaching your children ballet if you had never danced. To authentically teach mindfulness to your children, you need to practice it yourself.
Check your expectations. A core principle of mindfulness is letting go of expectations, and this certainly applies to teaching mindfulness to yourselves and your children. Are you expecting mindfulness to eliminate tantrums? To make your active child calm? To make your house quiet? If so, you are likely to be disappointed. The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness, to be present, to recognise their thoughts as “just thoughts,” to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognise when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for self-regulation. It is not a panacea, and it will not completely get rid of what is normal child behaviour, like tantrums and loudness and whining and exuberance and arguing.
The more present you are with your children and yourselves the more happy and resilient you and they will be. It will support you to remain in the present moment and to engage more fully when interacting with others, including your children. Research shows that parents and carers who practice being mindful around their children contribute to improving their child’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Dedicate a window of time each week to mindfully play with your child or children. Turn off all other distractions such as the TV, and put your mobile away and on silent. Try to give them your full attention during this time and if your mind wanders off to all the things you should be doing, that’s fine – that’s just what minds do! Use your child as an anchor to come back to every time your mind wanders away.
Create a time for your family to appreciate and savour their food at the start of a meal by spending the first few minutes of dinner in silence, just eating and enjoying the food. It’s a surprisingly nice activity to do with the whole family, and done regularly, can become a lovely ritual.
1. Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight.
2. Notice and relax your body. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here; the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.
3. Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath, in and out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
4. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
5. Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
6. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.
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Photography via UnSplash