Seeing and Being Seen

Carlos could not sit still. When teaching mindfulness in his classroom, I’d get his attention for one moment and then literally within seconds he was turning around to talk to the person behind him. This happened continuously. I work with up to 300 kids at a school in a day. By this point, I’ve realized there’s no way I’m going to remember all of the students’ names. Yet somehow, I always seem to learn the names of the “challenging” students like Carlos right away. “Carlos, please don’t …..”. You get the picture.

Seeing clearlyChildren long for attention, even if it’s “negative attention”. The Mindful Schools staff helped me become aware that “being seen” was what was at play, so why not give him attention when he was being “good” or for simply being Carlos. The next day as I walked into his class, instead of walking to the middle of the room and giving the mindfulness instructions like I always did, I first walked up to Carlos. I looked him straight in the eyes and with a big smile on my face I quietly said to him, “It’s so good to see you Carlos!” With rapt attention his eyes were on me and for the remainder of the class. I did this each day I came to his class, and Carlos became my most attentive student. I saw Carlos and Carlos felt seen.

On my last day at that same school, when I arrived at one of the other classrooms, I noticed that Christopher’s chair was upside down on his desk and he wasn’t there. Christopher was another “challenging student”, and I quickly found out that he’d been sent to “detention” during school that day. Since this was my last day at the school, I wanted to have some closure with him. As I was passing through the hallway during the break, there he was in the office. It was obvious he was going through a hard time. I walked in the office and said, “Christopher, I’ve been looking all over for you.” His response was, “You have? Why?” “I wanted to say good bye to you, today is my last day.” For 20 minutes I talked to him about what I did in his class, he couldn’t take his eyes off of me. When I got up to leave and went to my next class, there he was quietly following me like a sweet puppy dog. I saw Christopher, Christopher felt seen.

Mindfulness is about being present. When I am caught in expectations of how I want children to behave, it is difficult to be present and to stay with my highest intention and with what is actually going on in the moment. This can easily lead to frustration. Nothing works or feels right when I teach out of a frustrated state of mind. Mindfulness gives me the space to not take the situation personally and to see what is actually taking place and what is needed in that moment, instead of being frustrated and reactive. By being mindful myself as a teacher, I find students learn best; by example.

You can learn more about Michael Katz on his website.

Randima Fernando

Using Mindfulness to Change Habits

InscriptionThese days we frequently see wonderful and inspiring quotes, like:

“Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.”

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”

For a few moments, we enjoy the wisdom, but soon we are naturally whisked back to our busy lives… and often enough, the next time we should have applied the wisdom, we find ourselves in old reactionary patterns. And it’s not just us — children in school face a similar challenge of trying to apply what they’ve been told in the heat of the moment.

So how do we take wise quotes and actually begin to incorporate their wisdom into our lives, since they always seem to be easier said than done? Fundamentally, it’s a question of how we change habits. And we all know how hard that can be!

Fortunately, mindfulness is a perfect tool to help us change habits. Each time we practice mindfulness, we improve our ability to notice what is going on in our thoughts, our emotions, and our senses. We don’t need to start by changing anything — we simply need to notice what we are doing.

As we begin trying to change a habit, we may find that it takes hours or even days to realize that we were acting, speaking, or thinking in a way we would prefer to change. Gradually, we’ll find that the time between the incidents and our recognition of them reduces. Eventually, that time becomes so small that we catch ourselves just after the incident. The habit still hasn’t changed, but from there, we will soon find that we can actually catch ourselves before we act, speak, or think in an unwholesome way.

We may find that we are able to change the habit in certain circumstances, but not in others. That too will change — over time, we can continue to be mindful even in more stressful situations.

It’s important to realize that it’s a gradual process, which helps us to be patient and realistic. But what you will find is that as your mindfulness practice strengthens, changing habits becomes easier. The more time you spend building up your capacity for mindfulness, the easier it will be to apply it when you need it most.

Randima Fernando

Mindful Eating

Life continually presents us with opportunities to apply mindfulness to our many activities. One particularly fun activity to apply mindfulness to is eating. It’s something you can easily try by yourself at your next meal, and even with friends or family. If you have kids, it’s a great one to try with them.

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One way to think of mindful eating is to imagine that you are a scientist examining your food for the first time. Give your full attention to the whole experience, from observing the appearance and presentation of food to eating it carefully to fully experience its various flavors. If you do this, you may find that a common meal becomes a richer experience.

Here’s how to try the exercise. You can use a raisin, a piece of chocolate, or even an entire meal as your object for mindful eating.

  • Start by looking at what you are planning to eat. What do you notice visually?
  • Now, smell the food carefully.  What do you notice?
  • If applicable, do you notice any sounds?  If you’re eating something like a raisin, try holding it close to your ear as you squeeze it gently. Or if you’re unwrapping a chocolate, listen to the crinkles of the wrapper as you unfold it.
  • What do you feel with your fingers? Is the food warm or cold? Is it smooth, rough, or sticky?
  • Now, put the piece of food on your tongue, but don’t chew on it yet. Just leave it on your tongue and notice how it feels in your mouth. Do you taste anything yet? What activity do you notice in your mouth?
  • Start chewing it, very slowly, just one bite at a time. Notice how the tastes change as you chew.
  • Try to notice when you swallow, and see how far you can feel the food into your body.

fruitThe beautiful thing is that by applying this idea of eating mindfully, you can learn to be more present while you eat. In this way, we become more aware of our reactions to food and eating, as well as our habits around meal time. Also, eating mindfully doesn’t have to mean eating slowly. As you know what to pay attention to, you can eat at any speed.

You may end up enjoying food that you like even more while becoming more tolerant of food that you may not like as much. In some cases, you may learn to appreciate flavors you previously discounted. In other cases, you might identify new flavors that you enjoy. And, you may also find that by adding a little more space between stimulus and response, you can decrease the emotional intensity of eating food you dislike.

If you’d like to learn more about how to teach mindful eating to children or adolescents, whether at home, at school, or in private practice, please check out our Mindful Educator Essentials course for teaching mindfulness to youth.

Megan Cowan

Mindfulness is More Than Just Breathing

It’s easy to mistake mindfulness for breathing; often we attempt to remain focused on the breath for extended periods; instructors are continually redirecting us to our breath; in short instructions it is suggested to simply stay with your breathing; breathing often makes us feel calm. At first glance we might say, “mindfulness is about breathing.”

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image: bioenergytreatment.co.uk

However, there is much more to mindfulness. Ultimately, we can learn to be mindful of anything we are experiencing – seeing, hearing, walking, eating, emotions, thoughts, etc. The purpose of utilizing our breath is to anchor the mind/attention in order to 1. build concentration and 2. know where our mind is.

Staying focused on any one thing strengthens concentration allowing us to be mindful of all our experience with more clarity and strength of mind. Staying focused on something also lets you know when your mind has wandered. If you are attempting to stay focused on your breath and suddenly you realize you have been thinking for some time, you know you have lost mindfulness. Having one thing to return to creates a good “home-base” or anchor for your attention.

With focus and awareness of where your mind is, you can remain mindful of breathing or you can choose to be mindful of any other experience. Being mindful of your range of experience can reveal underlying thoughts and habits of mind that are negative or don’t serve you. Noticing these thoughts and habits is the first step in changing them. Therefore, it’s important to expand your mindfulness beyond your breathing. Try listening to our guided audio instructions to start learning how to do this.