Mindfulness is most frequently defined as paying attention to what is happening, in the present moment, without judgment. It is the practice of focusing our awareness on both our external and internal worlds. Just as we notice our environment, we can also pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and sensations. In so doing, we recognize the transient nature of all experience. In practicing mindfulness we are better able to respond, rather than react, to the changes that inevitably occur in our lives. Mindfulness helps us live in the present, rather than reliving the past or imagining the future.
Mindfulness is a way of being in the world--with one’s self and one’s experience. All of us have moments of mindfulness when we feel very “present-minded”...times when we are keenly aware of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When we practice mindfulness, we have the capacity to shift these passing "states" into lasting "traits". Incrementally, we gain: more self-awareness and self-acceptance, greater executive functioning and choice of focus, a natural growth in our capacity to empathize with others and an increasing capacity for resilience.
Regardless of our ever-changing circumstances and the challenges of life that will inevitably be thrown at us (at every age across the lifespan), mindfulness provides us the grace to manage, to mature, and to be authentically ourselves. A good metaphor is learning to surf: we begin to ride the waves of experience with increasing balance.
Young children are ideal students of mindfulness, as they are typically still very familiar with what it means to be “in the moment”. When we teach them the practice of mindfulness we build their capacity to trust in that innate ability, and we offer an antidote to the complicated and increasing levels of stress they will face in this world.
Older children and teens, as they navigate the challenges of social development, benefit greatly by practicing a variety of skills to help them slow down automatic thinking. As they learn to attend to inner and outer stimuli with more detachment and acceptance, they can more skillfully choose between impulsive thought or action versus pausing--however briefly. Mindfulness--for all of us-- provides the means by which we gracefully respond to our experience rather than react to it.
As students are acclimating to school settings that expect more self-regulation, mindfulness helps both teachers and students to find and maintain better emotional balance.
For more on the importance of social and emotional learning within schools, please see here and bear in mind the ongoing research that CASEL and other organizations continue to present us with.: http://www.casel.org/botr/botr.php?v=ND4ka0RY
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Selected images courtesy of Linda Dugan.