Tuning in ... and out
One of the most rewarding parts of parenting is that moment when you see your child really GET a new thing. It can be small such as the moment the butterfly alights on their arm when they can take a deep breath and know to be still. It can be big like realizing how much power their words can have when they express true gratitude for something. It’s that awareness of what can be, what they can accomplish, sometimes without even doing more than just being aware of their impact on others, that is so very powerful.
How do you teach that? How do you help a child learn that sometimes being and letting others be, and just being aware of all of that is actually a beautiful experience. The best way to teach this is to do it yourself; you know, there’s a lot of power in mimicry. When was the last time you put aside your busyness to just be, and to really focus on what was around you as you enjoyed your stillness? Or to be fully aware of how what you do or say impacts others?
What is mindfulness, exactly? In essence, it is tuning in. Paying attention. Focusing on details. It is not multi-tasking. Letting the importance of a space, a moment, an experience, take precedence over all else, and savoring. Paying attention to how you feel, what your senses are whispering, focusing on that one thing, keeping reactions at bay, and giving it the time it is due before moving on. Not only does mindfulness help your thoughtfulness and gratitude grow, but it also builds your ability to channel your thoughts in a deliberate manner; focus is an important skill that one must hone in order to develop. Mindfulness helps us to tame our reactions, embrace calm, and put thought into responses. Mindfulness is staying in the present, letting your mind really see what it is you are focusing on, and teaching it to not think about what was, or what will be. Mindfulness is not necessarily meditation, but it can be, as both concept embrace being present and focusing.
Quite literally, practicing mindfulness changes the brain: just like exercise strengthens the connections between muscles and bones, mindfulness strengthens the connections between different parts of the brain, a one of which is especially active during times of big emotions and the part that is the calm observer. By giving these two parts of the brain stronger connections, the calm part can help weigh in more when anxiety or stress rears its ugly head. ‘What if’ thoughts are less stressful to a brain that can stay relaxed and focus on the now.
I’m a bit of a hypocrite, actually. Here I am telling you to be mindful, to deliberately take the time to just be and I am also admitting that rather than following my own advice, I often feel as though my cup (and plate, and every proverbial utensil) runneth over. I feel like I must go go go because there isn’t enough time for x, y and/or z. So still, even with that, I do try my best to take the time, as often as I can to just be. To stop and focus on what’s around me, and enjoy the silence, or the noise or whatever is around. Being deliberately aware of what is or is not around can help one to develop their skills for empathy, and for looking outside one’s own self. Being aware of your impact on others or seeing how well things flow around you brings awareness of your space and the space of others, reducing the focus on self. By focusing less on our own self, we start realizing that just like we are responsible for our own self and our own actions, so are others; our own self-efficacy goes hand-in-hand with that of others’. This is a powerful concept to own.
My favorite place to be aware is outside in our little garden. We have a hodgepodge of things growing, mostly green leafy edible things, and tomato plants. I am inevitably awed that these tomato plants still bear fruit although they are undoubtedly the driest, gangliest looking things. I enjoy being able to pick the greens, knowing that my family is going to enjoy these for dinner in a few hours. I love that my kids love to come and help. Guaranteed, if I did it myself, it would be that little piece of peace I crave, but sharing it with them helps them to learn more about nature and how to nurture that which will in turn feed us. They love to water the plants, and inevitably turn to find all sorts of different bugs. They really get what I am talking about when I talk about the wonder of the garden. They are involved from compost to seed to seedling to salad bowl. It’s an amazing lesson for them. Showing them to be more mindful of what they eat helps them to think about what else they are putting into their body. We’ve had many conversations about ingredient lists and processes food goes through before it sits on the shelf. They understand that less is more when it comes to fruits and veggies and other foods, and often surprise me with their intuitive food selections.
It can be easier to leave this sort of lesson up to others. Oh sure, you think: Their teacher will give them some lessons on mindfulness. And while this may be true, incorporating more mindfulness in your own life is a good thing: being more purposefully focused in your life, and learning how to accept without judgment plays a role in well-being and satisfaction. Mindfulness plays a key role in happiness, and who doesn’t want to be more happy, right?