Mindfulness: Being Present in the NOW
Mindfulness: A Gift For You and For Others
Mindfulness: Being Present in the NOW
We tend to hear the term “mindfulness” tossed around quite a bit these days. If you asked 10 different people what “mindfulness” is you might easily get 10 different answers! Words attributed to “mindfulness” often include relaxation, thoughtfulness, awareness, meditation, and being centered. In reality, it can mean all of these things and more! According to Mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Sounds simple enough. But is it really? When was the last time you were fully present?
Let’s explore being more present:
Someone once told me that if I lacked any ability to focus before becoming a teacher, teaching will certainly make me more unfocused. I now believe this to be true. Walking in the door on any given day, I have my binder of plans ready to go, my teacher bag full of items for the activities of the day, and my much-needed cup of hot coffee grasped in my hand. No sooner do I walk down the hall, when I could be called for a quick chat by another teacher, accosted by an enthusiastic student who can’t wait to tell me about his new toy, another student crying because she hit her head on a locker door and of course the birthday cupcakes supplied by a doting mom that I forgot were arriving! Meanwhile, I am handed papers to sign, messages to read, urgent emails to respond to, last-minute extra copies to make, and lunch counts to prepare. Before I know it, a parade of young children pours into the classroom and spy the cupcakes that I had placed on the back table for a class snack! Energy overdrive! The excitement level immediately rises! I quickly gather information about the lunch count and attendance before the Pledge of Allegiance booms over the loudspeaker to signify the official start to our day. By the time we settle into guided reading around the table, my eyes finally lock onto my coffee cup. My long-awaited sip is…cold. My pure example of being pulled in many directions points to the fact that I am not fully present in any of those situations.
I’m sure on many levels as parents and caregivers we can all relate to one another. Being stretched to the limit and distracted seems to get the best of us from time to time. Modern-day fast-paced schedules, dual working families, and, of course, the “convenience” of technology all make for a whirlwind day at any point. If we stop for just a moment, perhaps we can give others and ourselves this present moment. Right now.
There is no moment like this moment:
Mindfulness or “being present” is an ongoing, daily decision to make. The multitude of distractions during the day is enough to make even the effort to be mindful a somewhat daunting task. But small steps and practice can make a world of difference for you and those around you. Mindful.org adds, “While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.” If we expect our students to practice mindfulness, perhaps we as adults should become more adept at it ourselves.
Hit the “pause” button on your day:
Children naturally demand our attention out of necessity - especially younger children. Some advice to parents and teachers: Deliberately put aside things that might distract you from the person standing in front of you who needs your time and attention. It is much easier to muddle through conversations. We utter the necessary “uh-huh,” as one begins to ramble on while we, on autopilot, check email, Facebook, the latest, our calendars. Even if we do stop to look at the person in front of us, our minds are often elsewhere. The next thing you might realize is that the person, big or small, has walked away and you are left with mear pieces of a half-understood conversation. Feeling unfulfilled and frustrated, that person walked away from you. Where you really there?
Next time, I challenge you to put all distractions and to-do’s and even daydreams aside and fully focus on the person in front of you. They deserve it. You deserve it. So give the best of yourself and all of yourself to people who desire to speak with you or spend time with you. Sadly, time and again, young students will divulge to me that their parents are always on the phone or computer. Children thrive best in environments that are stimulating and affirming to their development. According to a recent publication by the National Physicians Center, “Infants who perceive their parents to be connected and responsive to them also feel more secure and are able to trust their parents, which will become the basis for later discipline and teaching.” This ability to trust is derived from feeling safe in their environment as their needs are deemed important and met almost immediately by caregivers. We cannot be more helpless than in infancy. Our world is deemed safe or unsafe based on whether or not our most basic needs are met. The publication from the NPC further notes, “Problem-solving and cognition Another study showed ‘increased maternal responsiveness facilitated greater growth in target infants’ social, emotional, communication, and cognitive competence.’” Being present is essential to attain to the needs of an infant and young child.
A Missed Moment:
While watching my son’s baseball game, I looked over at an infant babbling and squealing to get her mother’s attention. We know our sense of self comes from a nurturing interaction between parent and child and through a parent’s responsiveness to the needs of the child. This mother, oblivious to the coos of her infant, stared at her phone almost entire game as she haphazardly rocked her child in the stroller by idly pushing it with her foot. Desperately seeking eye contact, the baby began to frown and cry, in which the mother just rocked the stroller harder. A precious moment in time, a moment of joy and growth was lost... to a screen. This is just one isolated incident. How tragic to think this very scenario is played out regularly between parents and children in our age of technology. I cannot stress how important, even for myself, to be ever mindful of distractions that can, little by little, erode the very foundation of our relationships with others. Pause put the device away, and be present. The effects can be lasting.
Really listen and meet their eyes:
Putting distractions aside is just one way to try to be more present in a moment. The other is to practice active listening. Listen carefully to the words spoken by the person in front of you. Look that person in the eyes. Think about what he or she is saying. Then naturally, as a result of intent listening, respond with a question or statement that is appropriate. I once attended a workshop through my church in which the speaker said, “Thinking only about what you are going to say, in an effort to look good and so that others like you, is an act of pride.” Why? Because you are NOT really focused on what the other person is trying to tell you. You are solely focused on yourself: your nervousness, how others perceive you, and how to not make an ass of yourself. That is pride, not humility. Humility requires stepping outside of yourself to really focus your energy and mind on that very person in front of you at that very moment. When a conversation flows naturally out of being truly caught up in the words conveyed, a more fluid and natural response likely occurs.
A natural exchange of ideas:
A naturally unfolding conversation is like a free-flowing dance between partners. Give and take. Eventually, the conversation unfolds naturally. If time allows, you may find yourself talking for hours! Fully present, fully engaged, and fully refreshed, knowing, that on some level, you and this person really had a precious moment connecting and understanding one another! There is no substitute or rich conversation. How many of us feel cathartic after a pleasant evening out filled with laughter and thoughtful exchange with friends? It can be that way more often with little moments of mindfulness!
Enriching our lives with many moments of NOW:
So, the next time you feel a tug on your sleeve from a little one, or when a coworker has a quick suggestion to offer. Stop. Make eye contact, and really listen to what he or she is saying, however silly you think it might be because if you want people to be more mindful of you, be fully mindful of them. Enjoy the journey of being present to those around you!