Mindfulness has become quite the trendy buzzword.
It sounds positive and good, so when we hear advice that we should all be living mindfully, we agree. Who wants to say they are against something good or — even more embarrassing — admit they don’t know what it means?
During the day, I work with children to teach social-emotional regulation through the practice of yoga. Recently, I asked a class of fifth-graders if they heard the word mindfulness.
Almost every hand went up.
When I asked them to define mindfulness, every hand went back down.
In every class I visited that day, I received the same response each time.
The following day, I was leading a teacher in-service at a local school and posed the same questions. I encouraged the staff to at least venture a guess as to the definition, and the principal finally said, “I know it when I see it, but I can’t explain what it is.”
So I gave the following definition:
There’s a cartoon of a man sitting on a park bench with his dog. The dog is labeled, “Mindful” while his owner is labeled, “Mind Full.”
The thought bubble over the man is filled with images of bills to pay, past arguments with coworkers and plans for dinner that night.
The thought bubble over the dog, however, has the simple image of the dog at the park with his owner. The dog is focused on the moment, and he is visibly more at peace than his owner, whose mind is crammed with thoughts of seemingly everything except being at the park with his dog.
Child psychologist Christopher Willard discusses the fact that our minds are always telling us stories about the past and the future.
These often become scary stories in our minds because we cannot go back and change decisions made in the past, nor can we fly into the future and begin impacting events that haven’t yet occurred. This often leads to anxiety because in our minds we have lost all control, and anxiety feeds off feelings of helplessness.
The truth is, we only have control over our present moment. When we recognize this and bring our attention to the present, we will usually find that we are in a relatively safe place. That place might be the car, school, work, the store or home.
No matter our feelings about our present location, when we bring our awareness to our physical presence, we can make simple, smart, kind choices that allow us to move forward in the present and thus stay in control.
That is being mindful.
The benefits of mindfulness are endless. Some, such as the easing of anxiety in individuals and the increase in thoughtful acts between peers, I discussed further with the teachers at the in-service. For the students I am working with, though, I give them my simple definition and leave it at that. Their acknowledgment of what being mindful means is frequently evident in their widening eyes and nods of understanding.
We are always in control of the thoughts that enter our brains. When thoughts about the past or worries about future events start to creep in, we can acknowledge them but also be aware that these are things no longer or not yet in our control.
When we do this, we can then turn our energy to what is in our control — the here and now.
This is mindfulness in its simplest form, and what I am hoping to instill in children so they feel empowered and calm as they go about life in a very loud and hectic world.