You’ve probably heard the word… mindfulness. These days, it seems to be popping up everywhere – books, magazines, websites, on TV… on the Today show! Even Oprah is a fan!
It’s definitely a buzzword and quickly making waves across many fields including psychology, business, and education.
But what does “mindfulness” actually mean?
Many people use the term interchangeably with “thoughtfulness” or “awareness.” It’s true that to be mindful, one is aware of their thoughts and feelings as well as what’s happening around them. But there’s a very important aspect of mindfulness that is often forgotten – our attitude.
When Jon Kabat-Zinn first introduced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, he emphasized that mindfulness extends beyond the present moment experience; it includes an attitude of lovingkindness and non-judgment towards oneself and others. It includes being open to and curious about what is going on in our internal world.
So, here’s the tricky part. It’s not just what we’re aware of; it’s also how we respond to that awareness.
How often have you noticed something – a thought, body sensation, emotion – and told yourself “come on, that’s stupid” or “suck it up?” Maybe you’re not one to say such negative words, but you’ve noticed the tone of your inner voice is pretty harsh.
The voice is there for a reason- it has a purpose- but most often, it doesn’t make matters easier… it actually makes them worse. Being hard on oneself and having a loud inner-critic is a very common experience, in both adults and children. Just because it’s common, however, doesn’t meant it has to be this way! There are things we can do to tame that inner critic and be with thoughts and feelings in a nurturing, compassionate way.
Studies show that practicing mindfulness leads to:
- Stress reduction
- Improved focus & attention
- Better Sleep
- Emotional stability & resilience
- Boosts immune system
- Less chronic pain
- Reduction in anxiety, depression, anger, & confusion
Mindfulness allows us to not only acknowledge what is happening in the present moment with acceptance and a sense of freedom, but it allows us to fully embody and own who we are and what we do at any given moment.
How does attention play into all of this?
In Buddhism, there is a difference between direct experience and our reaction to that experience. This is considered the “first and second dart.”
The first dart is the direct, objective, and observable experience – the five senses, body sensations, thoughts, feelings and emotions. The second dart is our interpretation or judgement of that experience. These interpretations and judgements are patterned ways of thinking based on experience, and they are often not 100% accurate. They’re our stories, but not necessarily fact. It’s this second dart that causes so much suffering because we get hooked into our perception of how things should be versus how they are.
The mind is a tricky thing. It can be in the past, regretting mistakes or stuck on hurts; it can be in the future, worrying about tomorrow, your to-do list, or what you’re going to cook for dinner. Attention often flies all over the place!
The body, however, can only be right here, right now. Often, simply shifting attention from the activity of the mind to the sensation of the body brings us into the present moment. The body is our anchor in the now, and it is an incredibly powerful tool. I like to think of it as “lose your mind and come to your senses.” Dropping attention from racing thoughts, plans, regrets, or fantasies and redirecting that energy to the body, feeling and sensing what is happening within, opens the door to connecting with our deepest truths. From this embodied place, we are able to tap into our gut instinct.
The magic of mindfulness allows us to accept our present experience so we can see clearly, choose, and create who we want to be and how we show up in the world. From this place, both children and adults alike can utilize the wisdom within themselves to realize what they can and cannot change, what they do and do not have control over.
This profound power not only relieves pain and suffering, but encourages growth and the ability to thrive.
In psychotherapy there is a saying, “where attention flows, healing follows.” Paying attention to our inner world in a curious and compassionate way facilitates an innate, natural healing process.
This is how transformation happens. It is the paradox of change… when we accept and allow, troubles can can flow and we can grow.
But how is my kid going to be able to do this?
Kids are absolutely able to harness the transformative powers of mindfulness! In fact, it has been argued that it is easier for kids, because their conditioned patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving are less ingrained than in us!
Mindfulness provides an opportunity for “time in” – a chance to stop, breathe, and observe what’s happening on the inside. Children can learn to be with their inner experience without a sense of right or wrong, without that inner voice of blame and shame. Even more importantly, they can learn non-judgement from caregivers and other people around them when prompted to “check in” versus “get out.”
With children, it’s simply a redirection of their attention. For instance, rather than saying, “you have too much energy and are acting crazy! Take a time out!” you might say, “let’s take a time-in and see what’s going on.” It gives the child permission to have energy, to feel what they’re feeling, and offers them a way to cope and be with it in a positive way.
Schools across the US are introducing mindfulness classes and breaks into the schedule, and they are seeing outstanding results.
Some programs report that mindfulness in schools has been helpful in:
- Reducing depression, increasing optimism and positive mood
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Improving focus and attention
- Improving memory and the ability to learn
- Improving behavior
- Improving the capacity to cope with challenging situations
Your practice counts, too!
Being aware of present moment experience in an accepting, loving way has also demonstrated benefits for families and parenting. Practicing mindfulness reduces reactivity in parenting and family relationships. It can shift relationships from blaming and shaming to owning and sharing. When parents are aware of what’s going on in their own experience, they can respond to their child’s needs and behaviors differently and with more understanding and empathy. Mindful parents demonstrate and model how to relate to oneself and others in a respectful, kind, and compassionate way. You truly are the base from which your child learns, grows, and explores the world.
Is practicing mindfulness difficult?
Though mindfulness is often formally taught as a sitting meditation, it can be practiced in a variety of forms. Yoga, walking, dancing, studying, playing, eating… just about anything, really, can be utilized as a mindfulness practice. It’s about returning attention to the present moment over and over (and over) again in a non-judgemental way, no matter how much our mind wants to distract and divert to the past, future, or fantasy. So long as attention is in the here and now, noticing what is happening in all of the realms of being…you are practicing.
If you’re interested in learning how to cultivate loving awareness in the present moment or helping your child or teen learn these important skills for a bright future, contact me to set up a free 30-minute consultation by clicking here.