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.