Several years ago I began learning about mindfulness so I could teach it as a calming strategy for my students with challenging behaviors. As it turns out, we were learning together because the more I studied about mindfulness, I also became the student and began deepening my own practice. Learning about the neuroscience behind human behavior became the most important piece (and peace) in my own life by having a positive impact on my own challenging behaviors (or reactions) to life! The practice of mindfulness involves cultivating awareness of our experiences from moment to moment with curiosity and with non-judgment, leading to a greater understanding of ourselves and of others. It is the noticing of what is happening at this moment as it really is and not trying to change it. I have loved this description by James Baraz:
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see young children taking these life skills into their own lives: practicing taking a pause before responding to challenging situations, deep breaths for calming, living in gratitude, sharing kindful compassionate wishes to others, and so on. These are the skills which will be needed throughout life and actually become traits of living mindfully. Learning and practicing never, ever ends. Each moment, each experience, each interaction with others, each thought, each choice of words and actions is a learning experience. How we feel about it is how we feel. It is what it is. We feel sad, happy, upset, stressed, grateful, angry, terrified. It’s what we do next that can be cultivated or not. We can allow our brains to be on auto-pilot and simply react to everything, or we can learn to notice and pay attention to how we are feeling, what is happening in our bodies, and create the space to observe with curiosity and then proceed with creativity.
I work in a school setting as a speech-language therapist with a very high caseload and enormous heaps of responsibilities and expectations for one person to carry. It is what it is. Some moments of the day I am feeling joy-filled (usually when I am working with the students) and some moments I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed to the max! I had to laugh when I saw this description by Richard Siken:
“Eventually something… is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, “I am falling to the floor crying,” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well.”
In that moment of awareness of the feelings as they are, and the situation as it is, we have made a conscious shift. Each time we shift to the present moment as it is, we are creating new habits of the mind. We let go of trying to control an experience. It’s not supposed to be anything. Right now, it’s like this. David Beach explains:
“It is not that way. It is this way. It is like this. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s just this. Just this. Understand, we are not allowing it to be like this – it already is. It does not need our approval to be any certain way. Our practice is to open up. To wake up into the now. The vast empty now. And see it for how it actually is. To see that, it’s like this.And like this…And this…”
Throughout my day, no matter what I am feeling, I have cultivated “awe” in my life. I love that moment of shifting and awakening to a grateful moment ( #gratefulmoment ) when, no matter how I am feeling, I become aware of something awe-inspiring. The photo at the top of the page is an example of this. As I walked to my car feeling exhausted after a very stress-filled week I noticed the sun shining brightly on this wall, casting shadows of the delicate flowers. And yes, that wall could use a fresh coat of paint. Smiling.
Dee DiGioia, founder of Mindful Kindful YOUniversity, offers Mindfulness-based Social-Emotional Learning Programs across San Luis Obispo County for youth and adults to learn and engage in practices of mindfulness and movement grounded in science and backed by research to support mental and physical health and well-being. Respond more skillfully to life in the 21st Century!