At the start of 2016, I am reminded of beginnings. There is something about 1/1 that spells enthusiasm, growth and transformation. With that in mind, I am starting a new blog series that will focus on teaching mindfulness lessons through picture books. Why picture books one my ask? Picture books have a special place in my heart, since they were my "go to" resources when I was learning English. These books contain simplicity of language, complexity of thought and are full of cultural references that provide a very engaging way for learning a new language, culture or a new concept. I intend to share these lessons mainly with parents and teachers because if adults learn and practice mindful awareness children will naturally follow.
There are few lessons on mindful awareness that come from one of my favorite books called "Swimmy". This insightful story follows a little black fish (Swimmy), a sole survivor of a bad day, on his journey through the ocean that leads him to help other fish enjoy the ocean without fear.
It is the Swimmy's ability to be mindfully aware of the world around him that saves him from being eaten by tuna (being a fast swimmer helps too!) and helps him in continuing and enjoying his journey through the ocean. Swimmy practices a basic form of mindfulness awareness called focused attention. It involves a practice of intentionally directing and maintaining attention to either internal or external sensory experiences. It is usually done through a seated breathing practice, where one gently focuses and redirects attention to the breath. One can find a quiet place, take a seat in a chair or a cushion, close the eyes or look down and deeply breathe engaging the diaphragm. Initially 3-5 minutes of breathing practice are enough for a start and one can work to extend that practice to 10, 20, 30 minutes or more. This practice helps settle and calm the mind. Over time and with the repeated practice, one becomes more aware of its surroundings both external (sounds, sights, smells, tastes) and internal (thought and feelings). This repeated practice develops cognitive flexibility and attention skills and helps one approach life situations with receptivity and acceptance rather then being reactive and lost in impulse and fear.
Another lesson on mindful awareness comes as Swimmy continues his journey through the ocean, experiencing emotions of fear, loneliness, sadness, but also happiness, awe, surprise, and delight. The lesson Swimmy teaches us here is about the equanimity of emotional states and realization that emotions come and go. Just like Swimmy we need to recognize our emotional states and reactivity patterns, and learn to "swim" through them without attachment to any of them. The emotional awareness is another important mindfulness awareness practice. Developing a better understanding of ones emotional experiences and reactivity patterns can be done through reflective practices such as writing in emotion journal. One app I found to help with recording and charting emotional states and situations is InFlow app, but one can also simply keep a written emotion log recording situations, facts, physical sensations in the body, and thoughts. I strongly recommend that one keeps a log for few weeks in order to notice patterns of emotional states, reactivity and situations, so one can anticipate emotionally charged situations and be proactive in dealing with them.
Lastly, as Swimmy practiced mindful awareness in silence, experienced variety of emotions and took time to reflect, he was able to share kindness with others and help devise a creative solution, all of which are the wonderful byproducts of mindfulness practice.
So what are you waiting? Start mindfulness practice today.
People often ask me how to teach their children to calm themselves, be better listeners, sleep better and pay attention. They want to know programs, books, websites and apps that I recommend. Often they are surprised to hear my first recommendation: be truly present with your child! Give your child the greatest human gift, your attention and full presence. Yes, I know it is hard, we are parents and multitasking is the name of the game. Now is never the right time. But to your child present moment is the only time that matters. Kids are egocentric and for them now not later is important. So the next time your child needs you and you are tempted to just send this text or finish cleaning dishes try giving your child your full attention and presence. Trust me that text and those dishes won't go anywhere, but your child will feel appreciated and become a better listener.
Here are 7 steps in how to become more present with your child:
1. Stop what you are doing- Really just stop. Stall and lower yourself to your child's level, engage in eye contact and get ready to listen.
2. Listen, really listen- Don't assume you know what your child is going to tell you. Do not finish their sentence. Listen to what they have to say.
3. Tell them what you think you heard them say and verify that with them- It sounds like..... It seems to me..... You are telling me...Is that right? Am I on a right track? Did I understand that right?
4. Check with yourself-Be aware of what is happening inside your head and body while you are listening to your child. Are you still stuck on that text or think about what you will need to do in few minutes? Bring yourself to the present moment and listen.
5. Special, undivided time-Make a bedtime, dinnertime or have another special time during the day when you give your child the undivided attention. Leave the cell phone in another room. It is you and your child.
6. Be a model-If you are upset with your child, take a few deep breaths, and tell them you are upset with them. Do not yell that you are upset. The way we as parents deal with unpleasant emotions is how our children will learn to deal with them. They do as we do not as we tell them to do.
7. Enjoy your children-Join them in play, read with or beside them, take walks, tell jokes, watch clouds, dance, jump in puddles, etc. Your children will be happier and calmer and so will you!
To be honest I don't know! I can say that I have decided to practice it based on neuroscience or out of curiosity, but honestly I can't tell you the reason why I first started practicing. Maybe it was after sitting in frustrating meetings where nobody was listening to each other or after reading a book called "Search Inside Yourself" by Chade-Meng Tan or maybe after visiting my son's Montessori class and saw kids immersed walking the line on the rug. Maybe it is just a collection of these experiences. I would probably never know...But what I do know is that my life is somehow different.
The practice is easy, but hard to do. Sitting alone and deep breathing or spending time listening to sounds or walking and paying attention to each and every move is not something I thought I would enjoy doing. No time and no patience were the first excuses. Than came too tired, too boring, what for, etc. Until I realized that I need to really understand my intent behind the practice.. I decided to do it to become a better emotional communicator to myself and others. I do it to understand myself better, to be intentionally open, observant, and nonjudgmental with every feeling, every thought and in every moment. And that is why I continue..