Category Archives: Mindfulness and Teachers

What Time is It? Inspiring a shift from tic-toc to lub-dub.

by Royan Kamyar

royanRoyan Kamyar, M.D., MBA is Founder and CEO of Owaves, a lifestyle medicine technology company based in Encinitas, CA producing software tools for wearable devices that inspire and motivate the next generation to engage in healthy lifestyle activities.  Royan has presented at TEDxUCSD and been quoted by Forbes, Reuters, FOX News, Xconomy, U-T San Diego and the San Diego Business Journal.  Royan earned his M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine, MBA at the Rady School of Management, UC San Diego, and BA and BS in Biochemistry and Business Administration at UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business.  He serves on the Formative Board of Directors for UC San Diego Center for MindfulnessMindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute and is an active member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Image Credit: Dadara

[Image Credit: Dadara]

Imagine a flowering plant. A baking cake. A rising stock price. A healing wound. Time passing can be a beautiful thing.

Why then does the cartoon above resonate so deeply with us? Is it our fear of mortality? Our never-ending list of to-do’s and things left undone that haunt us moment-to-moment? Are we as a culture, as a species, doomed to brood on the past, fear the future, and run away from the present?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies our sense of “time scarcity” as a leading source of stress in the United States — a primary cause of heart disease, our number one killer. Meanwhile, growing positive psychology research demonstrates the healing power of “being in the present.”

What if our relationship with time shifted? What if we began to view time as a source of inspiration instead of dread? What if each glance at the watch put us more “in the moment,” made us feel more focused, centered and alive? Few realize that our modern timekeeping system is fundamentally arbitrary. Hours, minutes and seconds have no home in cosmology, but rather the digits of our hands…

Technology is evolving as we speak to put smartphones on our wrists. The era of smartwatches with heart rate sensors and real-time monitoring systems is dawning upon us. With processing powers greater than the earliest mainframes and NASA spaceships embedded into our timepieces, we are no longer compelled to settle for a construct of time rooted in hand gestures, ropes and rocks. What if we, as a community of innovators and healers, took the first step in evolving our modern-day answer to the age-old question, “What time is it?”

Mindfulness & Innovations in Timekeeping

The mindfulness community actually has a long and storied track record of innovation in timekeeping, centered around spiritual observations, holidays, rites, rituals, meditation and prayer:

32,000 BCE – Cave art found in France and Germany depicts lunar and seasonal cycles of the “heavens”, representing the first known calendaring system. Its creators are believed to be astronomer-priests of the late Upper Paleolithic Cultures.

4,200 BCE — Ancient Egyptians calculate 365 days between alignments of the sun and Sopdet, goddess of Sirius the Dog Star, marking the Nile’s concurrent flooding and enrichment of the soil.

3,000 BCE — Stonehenge in modern-day England demarcates the annual winter and summer solstices, serving as burial grounds and a venue of ancestor worship and rituals.

2,400 BCE – The first known clocks are the shadow clocks or “obelisks” of ancient Egypt, erected by clerics in pairs at temple entrances for ritual observances.

2,100 BCE — Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians of the Middle East establish twelve phases of the moon, or “moonths”, per lunar calendar year. Holy days are declared on the first, seventh and fifteenth of each month.

1,000 BCE – Egyptian clerics develop water clocks or “clepsydras” to continue tracking proper timing of rituals throughout the night, i.e. in the absence of sun and shadows.

100 BCE – Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhist monks advance incense timers to replace the more flammable and inaccurate candle clocks of the day. Utilizing various scents, one smells the time change.

1200-1300 AD — Benedictine Monks of Western Europe become the first clockmakers of the region and create the mechanical clock. Adding weights and escapements to water clocks automates ringing of the communal prayer bell.

1582 AD — To more accurately celebrate Easter in its relation to the March equinox, Pope Gregory XIII spearheads the Gregorian Calendar widely used today. The Gregorian Calendar arrives closer to the tropical or “solar” year than the preceding Julian Calendar.

The Origins of Tic-Toc

The divisions of years, months and days are rooted in cosmological events and account for consistent measurements across disconnected cultures. Subdivisions of weeks, hours, minutes and seconds, however, are largely arbitrary and varied more greatly throughout history.

Weeks, for example have seen lengths of 3 to 13 days depending on prevailing leadership. Decisions usually hinged on what was deemed a reasonable workweek as per autocrat or religious text, i.e. “… on the seventh day he rested.” Papal States used six hour days as recently as the 1800’s with 6 o’clock pointing fixedly to sunset, and the Japanese had a twelve hour system with intervals that varied in length according to the season. Decimal time was used by China throughout most of its history dating back to 1000 BCE, was espoused by the French Revolutionary thinkers of the late 1700’s and resurfaced in 1998 when the Switzerland-based Swatch company proposed “Internet Time” of 1000 beats per day.

The sexagesimal system which lies at the heart of our modern-day “tic-toc” was similarly devised for convenience, not derived from scientific fact or basic principles. The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians used sixty as a mathematical base due to its ease of counting with two hands. Each finger segment on one hand represented a number one through twelve demarcated by the thumb, and each digit of the other hand represented a multiplier. Multiplying twelve finger segments by five digits provided a max count of sixty. The number sixty is also considered a “superior highly composite number” in mathematics, meaning it is easily divisible and lends itself well to fractions.

hands

[Image Credit: Ministry of Education, Brazil]

The Problems with Tic-Toc

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn presents a valuable anecdote from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in his manuscript Full Catastrophe Living:

Linda described feeling as if a large truck were always right on her heels, driving just faster than she can walk. It was an image people could relate to; the vividness of it sent a wave of acknowledging nods and smiles through the room…

Her mind was the truck. It was always right behind her, pushing her, driving her, allowing her no rest, no peace.

In the modern age, feeling overwhelmed and out-of-sync is an increasingly common experience. Heart disease is real, heart attacks are real, and the CDC sobers us with the knowledge that this “time scarcity” mentality is a chronic stressor.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that one of the central tenets of mindfulness-based stress reduction is to encourage patients to adopt the present moment. As Dr. Kabat-Zinn explains:

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

The ancient Greeks embraced two definitions of time to help carry this distinction. “Chronos” was used to discuss chronological or sequential concepts of time, with which we are most familiar and tic-toc describes quite well. “Kairos”, on the other hand, translates to the “eternal moment” in which everything actually happens. This latter concept is missing from our current communication of time and resonates with Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s teaching.

Among pools of evidence collecting around the importance of present moment awareness, Science published a Harvard study in 2010 demonstrating a link between “mind-wandering” and mental health. Over 250,000 data points from 2,250 subjects between the ages of 18 and 88 shows our minds are focused on the past or future 46.9% of the day, leading directly to poor mood. As summarized by study co-author psychologist Matthew A. Killingsworth:

Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.

The tic-toc almost by definition puts us in a sequential frame of mind rather than in the moment. This shift first took hold in the Western world during the Middle Ages with the spread of the mechanical clock. Benedictine Monks lived ascetic lives centered on punctual communal prayer six to seven times per day. Bells (Celtic = clocca or “clock”) were rung manually to inform the community of established timetables. By adding weights and escapements to water clocks, a bell could be rung automatically without requiring a brother present, and more dependably as well.

As the National Watch and Clock Collectors Association notes:

Time no longer flowed like water through a clepsydra — it ticked. It was no longer a seamless continuum, but a succession of short periods.

The streaming of water, passing of a shadow or burning of a flame became replaced by the now familiar “tic-toc”. With the dawning of the Industrial Revolution and mass scaling of clock and watch production, “dollar watches” put everyone in a mechanical state-of-mind and helped synchronize the workforce. Time became money as factories calculated hours worked as key labor costs and employees as wages. As per American historian Lewis Mumford, “… the archetypal model for the industrial era was the clock.”

The tic-toc represented a major departure from cosmological cues for the average person organizing her or his day, as the sundial became officially obsolete in the 1800’s. Perhaps the greatest divorce came more recently with the International Committee for Weights and Measures decision to re-define the second in 1967. A “second” no longer represents an arbitrary fraction of Earth’s rotation around the Sun, but rather:

9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133-atom.

While this advances our computer networking capabilities and satellite communications, the tightening of our “tic-toc” does not necessarily serve to heal our emotional relationship with time. In fact, the focus by such governing bodies on the physics and engineering components of time misses the human implications that actually define it.

Within some of our lifetimes, Albert Einstein brought forward the general theory of relativity, which proved without a doubt that a second for you is not the same as a second for me:

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

Our speed, our culture, our circumstances, our environment, our climate, our neighbor, our mindspace all dramatically impact our individual perceptions of time. Further, Einstein’s contributions to quantum mechanics helped show the existence of time actually depends on our perceptions of it. No consciousness, no time. So these changes in perception that we feel and experience on a regular basis are not simply novelties or asides in the calculations of time, but real occurrences that get neglected in our current approach.

In the 1950’s, University of Minnesota biologist Franz Halberg coined the term “circadian” (Latin = around a day). Known as the “godfather of chronobiology,” he helped establish a fundamental, evolutionary relationship between our biology and time. We now know that every cell in our body, down to the DNA level, has some “awareness” of (or dependency on) the time of day. This is true for virtually every known organism, even those that are single-celled.

The implications of these “circadian rhythms”, or physiological patterns dictated by the rise and fall of the sun, are both broad and deep. Recent research encouraged the World Health Organization to label night-shift work as a “probable carcinogen”, in the same class as UV radiation, due to its devastating impact on circadian rhythms. Poor circadian rhythms are also linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and mental health disorders. Our 24/7, hyper-connected, always-on smartphone culture makes the bulk of us “social-shift workers,” exposed to blue light late into the night… and shifting our hormones into dangerous patterns.

circadian

Why then has nothing changed? Does our new subjective, dynamic definition of time, no longer static and mechanical, not change the underlying formula? Does the realization that our biology has a fundamental, natural and overarching relationship with time not beg us to re-evaluate why this is not factored into the perennial question, “What time is it?”

Introducing Lub-Dub

The arbitrariness of our current timekeeping method, combined with the facts that it is out-of-date and fosters a stressful mindset, presents us with a wide-open opportunity to improve. Coupling our evolved understanding of time with modern needs and the latest technologies, perhaps we can imagine a way to re-define the concept so that it better serves our bodies, hearts and minds.

Consider your daily routine. It might look a lot like this: wake up, meditate, eat breakfast, drive to work, work, eat lunch, go for a walk, work some more, drive home, cook dinner, spend time with family, relax and read a book, go to sleep. What is the optimal way to get you from one “daily milestone” to the next? When you realize the bulk of these milestones don’t generally change from one 24-hour block to the next, you begin to sense there might be a better way to organize and track your day.

Peter Galison, physics professor, historian and philosopher at Harvard University defines clocks accordingly:

We’re always looking for things that repeat, over and over again… and that repetition, that cycle of things, forms a clock. That’s all time becomes, is some repetitive process.

So since my daily activity patterns generally repeat from one day to the next, what if they became my “tic” and my “toc”? So my cadence became linked to “breakfast time” and “exercise time” rather than some mechanical, arbitrary construct that lies beneath it? In essence, I become my clock. Lub-dub.

What we can imagine is a shift from a quantitative, mathematical and mechanical view of time towards a more heartful, experiential and soulful view of time — one that makes sense on an emotional and psychological level.

Amazingly, this approach has a biological basis as well. In his study of circadian rhythms, Dr. Aschoff also coined the term “zeitgeber”, German for “time giver” or “synchronizer. ” The zeitgeber is any external or environmental cue that “entrains” or synchronizes an organism’s biological rhythms to Earth’s 24 hour light/dark cycle and twelve month orbit.

Decades of chronobiology research tells us that these same types of intuitive markers for progression of the day, or daily milestones outlined above, are in fact biological zeitgebers. Meals, exercise, and socializing each play a role in establishing our cyclical physiological relationship with the solar environment. This has implications for: our sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, patterns of hormone secretion, blood pressure, digestive secretions, levels of alertness, mood and reaction times just to name a few.

brain

[Image Credit: Nature Reviews Neurology]

Timothy Monk, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute summarizes the value of this framework well:

Circadian rhythms are driven by endogenous processes, are self-sustaining, and rely upon circadian time cues (zeitgebers) to remain appropriately oriented to the individual’s environment and desired routine. The gold-standard measures of human circadian rhythms have been core body temperature and salivary or plasma melatonin levels. However, one can also make the case that the behavioral circadian rhythms related to the timing of sleep, meals, work and social interactions are just as valid circadian rhythms as the physiological ones. Moreover, these are the rhythms most salient to the individual himself or herself.

An additional “bonus” of shifting to this type of intuitive, biologically-based system is that these same behaviors — nutrition, sleep, exercise and socializing — are deemed by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to be the fundamental building blocks of a long, healthy life. Also called “lifestyle vital signs,” measuring and monitoring these parameters might be more meaningful in predicting long-term morbidity and mortality than the traditional set of vital signs for current and future generations (due to an overall shift from acute to chronic and preventable disease). Following the age-old adage that you cannot manage what you do not measure, taking these health fundamentals into account would help prevent and treat diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and more.

For example, we know that heart attacks are most likely to occur shortly after dawn due to concurrent rises in blood pressure and cortisol levels. We also know they are more likely to occur at the beginning of the workweek, when stress from anticipating future events reaches its peak. What if your timekeeping tools took this knowledge into account, and helped you time activities accordingly? Perhaps optimizing algorithms to discourage Monday AM work meetings when possible? Or suggesting stress-reducing sounds or images during these times? Something as simple as a picture of a loved one, left in ambient view on your wristwatch at the right time, might go a long way in dipping your odds for a cardiac event.

CFM OWAVES

[Image Credit: Owaves]

Now time becomes something we can control, name, juggle, design, manipulate and relate to according to our personal biology, desires and needs. Granted, a universal timekeeping system would always need to lie at its base. Meeting times must be coordinated and train crashes prevented. And yet, analogous to “personalized medicine”, we can evolve or grow from this generalized base to create a truly individualized and relevant concept of time that inspires and heals rather than stresses and reduces.

Commonly in mindfulness courses today, we are taught that certain external stressors cannot be changed, and are best addressed by mobilizing our internal resources to better respond and adapt to our environment. Yet our maligned relationship with time seems to be universal and we know now, increasingly, that our historical perspective of time is incomplete, arbitrary and malleable. Perhaps we should learn from the mindfulness leaders of millennia ago, and play an active, creative role with regard to understanding, communicating and measuring time.

As we speak, physicists and engineers continue to develop incredible methods for fine-tuning existing calculations of timekeeping tools to better run the machines of the world. I propose it is our duty, as a community of healers and innovators, to ensure that human health and well-being is plugged more squarely into the equation.

Continue to explore the Mindfulness courses presented at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Registration is open for our local 8-Week Mindfulness programs along with our Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Programs that are held in various locations in North America.

 

Discover Koru Mindfulness: Mindfulness Sparking Joy, Mindfully

Weeks ago I read an article by Penelope Green about a woman named Marie Kondo who gives advice on de-cluttering our lives. I was quite taken by her advice, and I have continued to ponder her suggestion that if we pay attention when sorting through our stuff, we will see that some of our possessions “spark joy” while others don’t. According to Green, Kondo says we should keep only those items that spark joy. I decided to turn the search for sparks of joy into a daily mindfulness activity; to my delight, I found joy sparking in all sorts of unexpected places.Sparks of Joy MindfullyThe first thing that is remarkable about this is the fact that I remembered anything for several weeks. The half-life of my memory seems to be about 24 hours, so I’m usually completely blank about anything that occurred more than five days ago. That just tells you how compelling Kondo’s idea is.The second thing that is remarkable, is that I read this article the day after I had completed a clean out of my closet, doing the semi-annual migration of seasonal clothes between the storage boxes under the bed and the closet. During the migration, I tossed out or kept items based on some idea of what I “should” keep. If something was expensive, then I “should” keep it, even if I was not fond of it. If something was old and showing a bit of wear, I “should” toss it, even if I loved it.The sorting was mostly a cognitive exercise, without much attention paid to feelings. After all, what feelings does one expect to have for a tattered hat or an old pair of socks?

Then I read about Kondo’s advice to pay careful attention to our emotional responses to our possessions when we are clearing out our clutter. Items that “spark joy” should be kept. Items that do not “spark joy” should be honored and thanked for their service, and then tossed.

“Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day.”

I must admit it had never occurred to me to systematically assess my possessions for their ability to spark joy. I tend to think of friends and family, occasions and events, sparking joy, but not possessions so much. It seemed like a great mindfulness exercise though, so I returned to my closet and my cast offs to apply the joy-sparking test.

I was surprised to find that many of my possessions did spark joy, and it wasn’t always the ones I expected. The disparity was enough to require a re-sort of the keepers and the cast offs. For example, the pale pink sweater that is incredibly soft had been placed in the cast off pile because really, I’ve just been wearing it too long. It looks tattered. When I picked it up, though, I felt definite sparks of joy, identifying the tired sweater as a keeper. But the expensive tweed jacket that had survived the cut the day before? It was a joy kill, so into the cast-off pile it went.

Other surprises. The socks that I’d kept when helping my sister clean out our mother’s belongings after her death three years ago sparked smiles and warm memories. Strangely, her sweater just made me feel sad. So I kept the socks and gave the sweater an honored farewell. Sadness is a useful emotion, but it didn’t feel like a prompt for saving old things.

I was so delighted by this new mindfulness game, that I carried on into the kitchen. Sorting through drawers, eliminating those things that did not spark joy and noting with delight how many items surprisingly created sparks. The bright yellow lemon squeezer and the tattered old wooden spoon were definite keepers.

In our Koru Mindfulness classes, we ask our students to choose an activity that they do daily and do it will full attention and mindfulness. We call this our “mindful daily activity”. The idea is to bring the practice of mindfulness more fully into our lives by paying closer attention to moments that typically go unnoticed.

Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day; it is helpful to take notice of them. For several weeks now my mindful daily activity has been to apply the joy-sparking test wherever I go. All manner of things are joy-sparkers: evening light, brisk wind, distant laughter, salty chips, soft mittens, warm water, and on and on.

I have been delighted to find this to be a useful and transformative exercise. It has helped me see that I am surrounded by little puddles of joy that I usually fail to recognize. Yes, I have problems. Yes, life is busy and things don’t always go as I would wish. But if I pay attention, there are little sparks of joy all around me. I just have to remember to notice.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

Are you OK with a 2-and-a-half-year-old child undergoing bariatric surgery?

by Char Wilkins and Jan Chozen Bays

mindful-eating-360x200A two-and-a-half-year-old boy weighed 79 pounds, three times normal weight for his age, and he suffered from sleep apnea. After his parents’ two attempts to control the boy’s weight through dieting failed, surgery was approved.1 A laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy was performed on the boy which involved removing the outer margin of the stomach to restrict food intake, leaving a sleeve of stomach, roughly the size and shape of a banana. Unlike a lap band, the surgery is not reversible.

You might take a breath right now and become mindful of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Anger? Fear? Denial? Sadness? Any judgments?

Welcome to the world of excess that affects all of us . . . at any age.

Over a period of 14 years (199-2012), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected information about the prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in the US, examining differences in the trends by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. During that time, 17.3% of children in the United States aged 2 to 19 years were found to be obese. Additionally, 5.9% of children met criteria for class 2 obesity and 2.1% met criteria for class 3 obesity. Although these rates were not significantly different from 2009 to 2010, all classes of obesity have increased over the last 14 years.3

We in this mindfulness community need to not only contemplate our responsibility to the obesity crisis which is fed by greed in its many forms, but we need to act, not react.

Dr. Rohit Kohli, MBBS Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, while acknowledging bariatric surgery can be a life-saving procedure, said:

There are case reports now in the literature and in the public domain in which 4- or 5-year-old children have undergone bariatric procedures. We should definitely think about this, as a community, with open eyes. There are consequences for bone development and metabolic concerns such as mineral and vitamin B12 deficiency or beriberi developing in these children. When we put all of this together as a consequence of a bariatric procedure and weigh it against the benefits that we have just outlined, it is a fine line that we need to walk.

As a pediatrician, first and foremost, I have learned to say, “Do no harm.” We need to take a step back, acknowledge that these procedures work, but in the same breath try to understand the consequences, both moral and physiological.2

But we who practice and teach mindfulness can do more than “do no harm.”

We can help people learn to eat mindfully. We can help them understand how conditioned patterns around eating can impact the way they eat for their entire life. We can help people make connections between thoughts and emotions and disordered eating. We can help them rediscover how to listen to the body so as to know what hunger, fullness and satiety are. We can help people of all ages slow down and re-discover the pleasure of eating through engaging their senses.

And we can help them find alternatives to work with a truth they already suspect: You can never fill the hole in your heart by filling up the stomach.

Our kids are eating their anger, sadness, disappointment and fears.

We tend to point fingers and talk about the issues that swarm around food, eating and body image: the media, fast food chains, genetically engineered food and stressed life styles. Most of us feel pretty helpless in the face of corporate and global forces that shape our lives. We have to acknowledge that we cannot change all these external factors. However we can change our relationship to our bodies and our food. We can choose to focus our time, energy and love on helping one person, one child.

Bridging BadgeJan Chozen Bays and I (Char Wilkins) have been teaching people for many years, individually or in small groups, how to rediscover a kinder and more joyful relationship with themselves, food and eating. A few years ago we formed a teaching partnership in order to spread the benefits of mindful eating by training other professionals in these skills. In our full-day workshop at the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in February, we’ll be exploring fun ways to help children use their innate wisdom to eat for nourishment and enjoy the process.

  • What do you think about mindful eating for kids?
  • How do you feel about bariatric surgery for children? Laparoscopic adjustable gastric band, the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, or a nitrogen inflated balloon placed in the antrum of the stomach?
  • Do you have experience with mindful eating?

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

LiseeMaree-Bleicher-300x168-2Visit LeesaMaree Bleicher, along with M. Mick Gardener, at the 2015 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference in their 90-minute breakout session called enlighten: a Trauma Informed Mindfulness Based Therapeutic approach combining Restorative Justice as an answer to youth involved in the criminal justice system. Promoting the concept of: Survivor Empowerment not Victimization of Recovery not Incarceration.

LiseeMaree BleicherAlbert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Nowhere is this spark as bright than in the heart of a youth. Nowhere does there lay a stronger elixir to waken your purpose than in the sparkling enthusiasm of a child’s spirit. And nowhere is there a grander purpose than the need to ease the suffering of a child.

The beautiful thing about helping children is that buried beneath the armor and attitude is this snow-white innocence, this flawless foundation, this feral potential still connected to God, or source, or that which is greater than us individually. This goodness remains steadfast despite the harm adults have done.

Our mission is to guide them back to this place of bliss, if only momentarily. In the shift to recovery, not treatment, we have come to understand “recovery” as recovering that which was lost from us: innocence, joy, light, that feral potential. Discovering the road back to that place of purity and reclaiming our power is the key to freedom from suffering.

Our mission, should we choose to realize it, is to be the guides whose purpose is to steer youth back to reclaim their potential. We do this each time we teach that even in the unbearable moments in life and in the dark of a night of unimaginable pain, there shines a dim but powerful light that will one day illuminate the darkness. And within this light, there shines their power and their way out of suffering.

Ideally we strive to plant the seeds of patience, tolerance and acceptance in our youth.

We affirm: “Life is not fair 8359890249_ed085986b0_b-360x200-1and no you did nothing wrong. No it is not your fault. No you do not deserve what happened to you. No one can make it better, but one day if you just hang on — have faith — one day, I promise you will be OK. One day you will emerge from this stronger and more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

When the testimony of sharing lived experience trumps our cool “professional boundaries,” we make a true and lasting difference. Speaking from the heart and sharing our human experience plants seeds of hope, inspiration, and resilience in youth. Nowhere can we feel the way of freedom from suffering than knowing someone who has walked down a similar path of torment, come out standing steady despite someone else’s best effort to make them fall, and still has enough fierce courage left to tell their story.

Speaking candidly, most youth who like myself come to be in jail, in foster care, or other programs do so by force of their external circumstances. Many come from fragmented, broken homes where they witness and endure unspeakable acts of cruelty from the adults who should be protecting them. Rarely do youth land in these places by their own choice.

Emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse manifest in the blueprint of our souls and spirits. Such abuse might express itself as a 4th grader bullying his classmate, a youth stealing, a youth who yells obscenities at authority figures, who refuses to eat, who is promiscuous, who skips school, who takes drugs, who cuts their flesh in an effort to feel or not feel pain. It’s the days of silence before an attempted (or successful) suicide where we often mistake the symptom for the cause and fail in our attempts to “treat” them. It’s that approach which undermines the very core of their suffering. And it’s where we as adults fail them yet again.

It was in the vacant blue eyes of an 8-year-old boy named Travis who came to live in my home when I first realized how futile, how misguided, and how inhumane this system to care for children was. It is still raw, and I am not sure yet if I can fully capture how profoundly my time with him altered my heart. This experience both expanded my heart beyond what I thought was possible and then reduced it to nothing when he was gone.

One day while we were together, Travis “disconnected.” Fell silent, withdrawn. And I asked him, “What are thinking about? What makes you so sad? You can tell me anything, and I will believe you. And there’s nothing you tell me I won’t think is important.” After awhile, he came to me and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why sometimes I can be happy, and all of the sudden I feel sad. It comes out of nowhere.” I looked at him, cupped his tiny perfect chin in my hand, peered into his blue eyes and wrapped my arms around him. I hugged him tightly and said “I know. And it’s OK. I feel like that sometimes too. And you know what? One day you won’t feel like that all the time. One day you’ll take that sadness and turn it into happy.”

All he was unable to say was conveyed in the way he hugged me back. And in that precious moment when he mumbled “Thank you.” I thought my heart would break.

There was nothing I learned from a text book, nothing from evidence-based practice, and nothing in the foster parent orientation that prepared me for that moment. I reacted from my heart.

My only desire was to ease his suffering and instill within him the tiniest notion that no matter what he felt, it was OK and that it was only temporary.

The reality is that when we come into a child’s life to aid them, they are held in a punitive, restrictive, inflexible system. We don’t always look past that to what brought them into that system to begin with. If we increased our awareness, we would see that few children are delinquent, homeless, end up in jail, or in foster care by their own volition. They come to these places battered, bruised, and sad, having been victimized by adults.

In the months that passed with Travis, after my heart ran ahead of any reason, I watched a sad little boy turn into a bright, happy, fun-loving child who didn’t need medication or to be bounced around from foster home to foster home. What he needed was to be loved.

Now, there was nothing I could have offered Travis that ever could have replaced what his parents failed to give him. My love was a Band-Aid to soothe him until he could grow enough to care for himself. But far more miraculous than anything that I gave him was what he gave to me.

One of my tendencies was to over-explain myself; to offer excuses and/or apologies for nearly everything to everyone. One day, I was going on and on to a friend about why I didn’t do something when from the top of the stairs I heard this little voice say, “LeesaMaree, stop that. You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s OK whatever you do.” I froze at his wisdom and the fact that he cared to try to ease my suffering. Wow.

Then, I came to deeply understand the bigger context of this whole boundary thing. And I came to know that anytime we seek to engage in the helping of another being, it is not so simply a gift we give. It is not one sided.

The moment we think this, we have already failed. We as the perceived “givers” are really part of a mutually beneficial healing exchange connected to a greater energy. Once we come to understand and seek to increase our sensitivity and re-establish the heart in recovery and treatment, once we incorporate living testimony in our practice, only then will we make a true and lasting impact.

This time of year we celebrate thanks for Bridging Badgemany blessings. But as a “profession,” we overlook the rich and beautiful gifts that the children we encounter give us: the opportunity to care, to express our warmest compassion, and to ease suffering. All these things alter us. They allow us to ascend toward the deeper meaning of our shared human experience. The next time a child or a parent or someone else says thank you for the work you do, with humility and honor defer him or her and say, “No, thank you.”

Thankful

(a poem inspired the youth who have walked into my life and left imprints upon my heart)

The leaves fall…fluttering to the ground…landing like a thrush
Awaiting winter’s rush from summer’s dream
I remember summer… bright green and sparkling
and I remember you…your hand extended towards mine…offering me your heart
Giving me that moment…your time…yourself
You said, “Come this way. Here, let me show you… See the sun how it shines?”
Your smile confused the sun and stole starlight’s sparkle
“Listen. You can hear the grass tell its secrets …follow the burrowing bunny, he knows the way…see the Stellar Jay…as he chats up dawn…urging the flowers to wake up…he knows what I am talking about. His blue wings touch heaven”
I ran away from you…but never far… You were everywhere…in everyone
You tied me with a fragile cord of compassion…bound me to the fertile ground…tied me to heaven…left seeds in my hand
You allowed me to fall but not be crushed
Like the leaves, I too have been pink, russet, pumpkin and golden
It was the seeds you left… clutched tight in my hand
One day I remembered…it all came back in one fell whoosh
You cared …You took the time…You forgave me
You gave me another chance and a million more
You listened to me…You reignited the spark
Oh I am so thankful for You
Oh those seeds you left… I planted them under the moonlight…and when they blossomed…I crushed them and stuffed them in my heart
I knew what to do ’cause you said “the best way to show someone how much you appreciate them is to pass on what they gave to you.”
So…I watered the seeds with tears…transformed my fears…infused them with love
Oh I didn’t have it for myself…that care and concern
But I do for them…the ones that come behind me
So I scattered the seeds in the wind of each encounter
Oh, and I did exactly as you taught me …I gave my heart generously and… I fertilized the seeds with glitter…so that those who come behind me will sparkle brighter…than I ever did

Read About Insights Into Mindfulness at Work From: A Career Professional’s Perspective

By Roxanne Farkas, original post National Career Development Association

Roxanne FarkasRoxanne Farkas, M.A., is a Career Advisor and professional career coach at the University of California, San Diego. She’s a Certified MBTI Practitioner and future Yoga Instructor who loves helping her clients and colleagues create clear, compelling visions of their amazing futures through a creative holistic and integrated approach to career advising. Roxanne may be contacted at rfarkas@ucsd.edu

Mindfulness: What is it?

Within the world of work, we face multiple demands and pressures on a regular–even constant–basis. We’re juggling multiple (and changing!) priorities, balancing competing demands for our personal and professional goals, and handling routine conflict and chaos.

More than meditation or simply paying more attention to our lives, mindfulness is “the intention to pay attention to each and every moment of our life, non-judgmentally,” through the focused development of awareness (Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs, 2014). Mindfulness includes “purposeful action, focused attention, grounded in the current experience, and held with a sense of curiosity” (Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs, 2014).

My Connection to Mindfulness at Work

Participants in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs enter with stress, low motivation, bad health habits, and a deep desire for change. Eight weeks later, through workshops, practical exercises and practice, participants experience deep and profound change. I know, because I participated in the University of California, San Diego MBSR and experienced these transformations myself. I have incorporated mindfulness in my own career coaching and advising, helping my clients to practice and enjoy the positive benefits of mindfulness for themselves. As a result, I feel I like I am helping to create a more mindful world of work through the individual clients I help.

Connecting Mindfulness to my Practice

In my career development practice, I have engaged clients in journal writing, career mapping, and imagery meditation activities to focus on goal setting and career action planning. Activities like these and the following help my clients think more creatively, experience more hope, and feel more confident in their career discovery and development, and ultimately, the work world.

  • Journaling. If something has meaning, write it down. I draw futuristic images of what goals I would like to accomplish someday. I love to brainstorm ideas and personal goals. Writing helps me focus on what matters to me most.
  • Meditate at Lunch. Sit in stillness like a mountain. Life can be so chaotic at times that sometimes just to to be grounded in a relaxing pose will allow me to regain my energy. Use mini meditations to tune into the present and just be.
  • Charting Ideas and Interest. Draw a mapping chart of all the things you like to do, and create a powerful vision for planning the future. Look over your map. What are some themes, hobbies, music, and books you enjoy? Share your map with someone you trust, or who believes in you.
  • Practice Yoga/Running/Movement. Exercise reduces tension and clears the mind. If you have the opportunity to exercise at work – take it!
  • Breathe. Drink lots of water and breathe deeply. Try to stop for one minute every hour and become aware of your breathing.

Mindful Mindset Activities in Career Counseling

In a Discover Your Dream Workshop” I teach, I have students go through an image gathering exercise where I have them draw and predict a future seven years from now. As the facilitator, I offer guided prompts and create a peaceful atmosphere with my calm voice, appropriate music, and lowered lighting.

In my Career Peer Educator Program, we take a guided walking tour of the school campus. I help them draw attention to different aspects of our campus, and ask them to pay special attention to the moment-to-moment aspects of our walk. For example, the way the wind feels right now, or the many different sounds they can hear, right down to the sounds of their own footsteps on the paths.

A quick assignment I often give is writing a “gratitude email” to influential or inspirational staff, faculty, friends, family, or mentors.

In advising, I ask clients to share one favorite quote and explain what the meaning or value may be. In this way, I am encouraging deeper exploration and reflection than they might normally do.

During advising sessions, I will use focused breathing activities to help students focus their attention, relax, and create a more powerful state for reflection and action.

I frequently conduct advising outdoors or at one of the many community centers on campus to encourage students to notice and possibly connect with the many different resources available to them.

My office setting includes artwork, meaningful objects, and inspirational quotes which I refer to during advising sessions to inspire creativity and motivation.

Another favorite activity is creating workshops and panel presentations that focus on careers in wellness, public health, and alternative medicine. Special career panels include Careers in Wellness, Public Health, Alternative Medicine and Wellness Careers.

Mindfulness at Work in Organizations

With the rising costs of healthcare and a stronger emphasis on wellness, it’s easier than ever to participate in a mindfulness program through work. You can find mindfulness programs in Fortune 500 companies like Monsanto and Google, magazine publishers like Marie Claire (Klein, 2013), and as programs offered through company wellness programs.

Searching for mindfulness in your favorite internet search engine will produce a wide variety of results for further research. Likewise, several great books are available, and you’ll find several mindfulness apps available as well.

Now, as you finish reading this article, take a moment to pause, reflect, and notice your surroundings. Take a deep breath, slowly exhale, and allow your mind to wander…and when you’re ready, take one final, refreshing deep breath, stretch, and feel yourself re-energize for what’s next!

References

Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction FAQs. (2014). Retrieved July 23, 2014 from: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/Stress-Reduction/Faqs/

Klein, K. (2013). Why mindfulness and meditation are good for business. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-mindfulness-and-meditation-are-good-for-business/

flower2For more information about the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Worklife Integration programs please visit our website. “Our WorkLife Integration programs address the stress and pressures that work and life have on our minds and bodies, our work performance and our personal lives.”

Free Gift Offered to Students and Lifelong Learners: “A Mindful Way to Study: Dancing With Your Books”

by Jake J. Gibbs and Roddy O. Gibbs

The Mindful Way to StudyAs a way of expressing gratitude to the mindfulness in education community and in preparation for the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference, Jake and Roddy Gibbs are offering The Mindful Way to Study: Dancing With Your Books FREE on January 16, 17, and 18 as part of an Amazon Kindle Promotion.

“The ability to pay attention is a key component of effective learning. Just think of all the times in your life when parents, teachers, bosses, and coaches have told you to pay attention to what you are doing. You would think that with all of the attention paid to paying attention, we would be pretty good at it. The problem is we’re not, because most of us have never been taught how.

Commonly adopted methods like forced concentration are actually counterproductive to learning and achieving our goals. In addition, too much focus on future goals and rewards takes our attention away from what we need to be doing in order to achieve them. Luckily, there is another way, a better way: the mindful way.

The Mindful Way To Study: Dancing With Your Books is a guide to help students, professionals, and other lifelong learners develop a better approach to their educational and career pursuits. By using mindfulness, or the practice of bringing full awareness to the present moment, the authors blend the latest research with entertaining stories and specific techniques to teach readers how to truly pay attention, and even learn to enjoy it.”

More from Jake and Roddy can be found at:
Website: http://www.mindfulwaytostudy.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mindfulwaytostudy
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mindfulstudy

Roddy Gibbs may be contacted directly at 724-422-6237

Join February’s Unconference: Sitting in a circle and talking about what’s really alive for people

by  Susan Kaiser Greenland

kaisergreenlandsusanSusan Kaiser Greenland, JD, Author, Educator, is the developer and co-founder of the Inner Kids mindful awareness program for children, teens and their families. She is author of The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate (Free Press, 2010).

Mega_XX_Orange_WEB_SIZE

Have you heard that 2014 will usher in an era of mindful living? It must be true because J. Walter Thompson, a giant advertising agency with considerable qualitative, quantitative and desk research prowess, has identified the top 10 trends for 2014 and mindful living is tenth on the list. What’s more, mindfulness is implicit in several of the top 10 trends. In keeping with this year’s second trend “Do You Speak Visual?” here’s a video teaser:

It’s a funny video and so is characterizing mindfulness as a new trend given its ancient roots in the East and, through Pop icons like Alan Watts, the Beat poets, John Lennon and George Harrison, its decades old roots in the Western zeitgeist. But there’s no denying that mindfulness has become trendy and with popularization insiders are both happy and concerned. If you’re curious about the positive aspects of the growing mindfulness movement check out Mindful Magazine published by seasoned veterans in the field and, if you’re interested in insiders’ concerns, read Ron Purser and David Loy’s Huffington Post article Beyond McMindfulness.

The trendiness of mindfulness has created an explosion of interest in sharing it with children, teens and families and not unlike popularization itself, growing interest in kids’ mindfulness has created it’s own set of plusses and minuses. Last year, Amy Saltzman and Steve Hickman reached out to Mark Greenberg and me to ask if we’d join them in hosting a symposium connected with this year’s Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference at UCSD. Together we polled a handful of our colleagues and were especially struck by the following three responses:

* From Chris McKenna with Mindful Schools: “We are looking for issues that are really alive for people and not just theoretical.”

* From Lisa Flook a scientist with The University of Wisconsin, Madison: “How do we engage mindfully (with heartfulness and skillfulness) together and what are mechanisms for explicitly addressing this ongoing group process?”

* From Wynn Kinder with Wellness Works: “ Collaboration and cooperation are messy.”

bridging2014badgeWe went back to the drawing board and the symposium morphed into an Unconference with this Native American adage in mind: “In the circle, we are all equal. When in the circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you”.  Steve carved out a morning for mindfulness veterans, newcomers, and those in-between to sit in a circle and (borrowing from Chris) talk about what’s “really alive for them.” We chose this format with professional group facilitators to ensure the “mindful, heartful and skillful process” that Lisa highlights in her comments above. And, we promise to remember Wynn’s prompt that “collaboration and cooperation are messy”.

Here how the Unconference morning will break down:

* The 1440 Foundation has generously underwritten a significant portion of the event including breakfast starting at 7am.

* We’re honored that Sharon Salzberg will lead a meditation at 8:30am.

* Small, facilitated groups will meet for an hour and a half.

* We’ll conclude with a panel discussion moderated by Mark Greenberg.

Like much of the cutting-edge and field development work that’s happening in the mindfulness world, the Bridging the Hearts and Minds Unconference wouldn’t be possible without a generous grant from the 1440 Foundation.

Veterans slated to join our working circles include Sharon Salzberg from IMS, Mark Greenberg and Christa Turksma from CARE, Jim Gimian and Barry Boyce from Mindful Magazine, Vinny Ferraro and Megan Cowan from Mindful Schools, Lisa Flook from University of Wisconsin, Madison, Randye Semple with USC and UCLA, Lidia Zylowska co-founder UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Wynne Kinder from Wellness Works, Chris Willard who wrote A Child’s Mind, Rona Wilensky, Lesley Grant with Marin Mindfulness, Amy Saltzman from Still Quiet Place, Steve Hickman with UCSD and me.

We hope you’ll join us.

The Unconference will be held on the morning of February 7, 2014.  For more information and to register visit the UCSD website.

Conference Keynote Speaker Daniel J. Siegel, Neuropsychiatrist, on Why Our Teenagers Feel Compelled to Connect on Social Media

by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. republished from The Huffington Post , Dec. 30, 2013

n-TEENS-TEXTING-large570

bridgingTile_forUCSDWe are inviting you to start the new year by reading this insightful post on the effects of social media from Dr. Daniel Siegel  (author of the forthcoming book (Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain). Hear, see, and meet him at this year’s Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference! Dan will offer a keynote talk on Saturday afternoon following the regular sessions. The general public will be able to purchase tickets to hear his talk, and attendance will be free for conference registrants.

In these fast and furious days of digital overload, we parents often worry about our teenagers’ interactions with one another on social media. Who hasn’t seen a teenager deeply absorbed with a smartphone or breaking off a face-to-face conversation to take a picture for their friends on Snapchat? With heads down and screens lit up, watching our teens plug in can feel confusing, disappointing and even like rejection to us.

It can, however, be helpful to realize that the teen years are a time of incredibly important brain changes. Changes that drive an adolescent to turn toward peers rather than to the parents they leaned on for support during their childhood years.

In one way, it’s simply evolution: Throughout history, adolescents banded together to find safety in numbers as they moved out into the world, a world that was unfamiliar, uncertain and unsafe.

That world remains risky, even with all the advantages that modern gadgets provide us to map out our routes and pinpoint our coordinates. But to leave home and feel safe, we need to belong to other teens on the same journey. As teenagers, we are compelled to turn towards one another.

In order to get ready to leave the home nest, adolescents seek out membership in groups of other adolescents in order not only to feel good, but to survive. And feeling connected to others doesn’t just seem crucial to contemporary teenagers. In fact, the very engrained genetic programming of our brains gives us a feeling that connection is a matter of life and death.

Understandably then, social media can become a modern medium of connection that is deeply compelling for adolescents.

Here’s the great news: Social media provides a way for our evolved (and evolving) teenagers to find that connection in one another. That’s because social media actually provides the opportunity for creating relationships, and even can promote more face-to-face time.

Our traveling son, headed out to a new country without any contacts, checked on Facebook and found some college classmates headed to exactly the same town — with a spare room in their rented apartment! Years ago, when we traveled, such a connection would have been impossible to create.

While this medium may not be right for all teens, especially those with social challenges like anxiety, phobia or communication difficulties such as those on the autistic spectrum, some studies suggest that social media actually enhances positive relationships in adolescence — as it did for our son. And these relationships not only influence us, supportive relationships actually create health in our lives. Isn’t that something we all want for our adolescents? (And, yes, for ourselves too!)

Indeed, many of the changes in the remodeling adolescent brain can be seen to support a drive to explore novelty and to take risks, just like it encourages teenagers to make and sustain social connections. These adolescent changes are not signs of immaturity, but signs of preparation.

The emotional spark and social engagement, the novelty seeking, the courage and creativity of adolescence all have downsides and upsides, but the essence of these changes is to prepare for the transition between childhood dependence and adult responsibility. And social media may just be a modern means to make us become more deeply social and even more fulfilled in our lives.

Instead of viewing their behavior as impulsive or irresponsible, we can now see the adolescent period as one of wonderful transformation, of needed exploration of a new and changing world. The key is how to best make these vital means of social connection deeper, more meaningful and more likely to cultivate a sense of well-being in all our lives.

In the Wisdom 2.0 meeting held in Northern California each year, these are the very issues we toss around in our in-person meetings. You should see the pre-meeting buzz on social media channels that gets us all connected and primed to engage with each other face-to-face!

Together, we can cultivate a new conversation in our culture about how to make the most of these channels of communication, our collective effort to create media with meaning.

Brainstorm_Cover_LGLearn more about ways to communicate with your teen in Dan’s new book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain available on January 7, 2014.

Like Dr. Dan Siegel on Facebook
Follow @DrDanSiegel on Twitter (#Brainstorm)

Can Mindfulness Make Us Better Teachers?

By Vicki Zakrzewski | October 2, 2013 Republished by permission of the Greater Good Science Center University of California Berkeley. Please click here to view the original article.

bridging2014badgeA new study suggests that training teachers in mindfulness not only reduces burnout but also improves their performance in the classroom.

Imagine this: In the middle of a lesson, one of your students deliberately makes an offensive remark that causes the other students to laugh and threatens to derail your lesson. Your fists start to clench and there’s a tightening in your chest. Before you know it, you snap angrily in a way that 1) doesn’t calm the students down, and 2) makes you spend the rest of the day, or several days, wondering if you’re a terrible teacher. Sound familiar?

This scenario is only one of many that add to a teacher’s daily stress level, which, over time, can lead to burnout—a major issue for those in the education profession. However, adding to this stress is often an educator’s own lack of social-emotional strategies for dealing with the stress and emotional intensity of the job, which researchers suggest may diminish his or her effectiveness as a teacher.

Summer_Institute_Teachers_with_closed_eyesParticipants at the GGSC’s Summer Institute
for Educators
Roibín Ó hÉochaidh

So is there something teachers can do to develop their social-emotional skills, not only to guard against long-term burnout but also to help them deal with stressful events while they’re happening? Yes, according to a new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM):
the practice of mindfulness.

A decade’s worth of research has documented the great physical, psychological, and social benefits of practicing mindfulness, which involves paying careful attention to your thoughts, feelings, and environment. In recent years, schools have embraced mindfulness to help improve students’ attention, emotion regulation, and learning. For the most part, the focus has been on students rather than teachers.

A group of the Center’s researchers, led by Lisa Flook, took a different tack: They conducted a small pilot study to test the impact of an eight-week mindfulness course adapted specifically for teachers. The study found that those who completed the training enjoyed a myriad of personal benefits, including elevated levels of self-compassion and a decrease in psychological ills such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. In comparison, a group of teachers placed on a wait list for the course actually increased in their stress and burnout levels.

But what made this study unique is that it also looked at the participants’ classroom performance, such as their behavior management skills and their emotional and instructional support of students. What it discovered was this: The practice of mindfulness made them more effective teachers, possibly by buffering them from the impact of stressful experiences as they were happening.

In other words, the study suggests that when teachers practice mindfulness, students’ misbehavior and other stressors become like water off a duck’s back, allowing them to stay focused on what teachers really want to do: teach.

So how does the practice of mindfulness actually help teachers in and out of the classroom?

To start, the CIHM researchers defined mindfulness specifically for this study as, “Paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment.” Anyone who has taught knows that paying attention in the present moment is incredibly difficult because of the thousand demands on a teacher’s attention all at once. And judgment is a very easy state-of-mind to slip into when confronted by a misbehaving child—you don’t only judge that child but judge yourself for judging him or her.

One of the most basic mindfulness practices involves sitting quietly and bringing one’s awareness to thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, or an external object. Neuroscientists and emotion researchers have found that this kind of practice heightens the activity in the regions of our brain that regulate our attention, which then carries over into our everyday lives.

For teachers, this means that in the midst of the craziness that is a classroom, we remain aware of what’s going on inside our minds and bodies, which can help us rein in our knee-jerk angry reactions to a situation and instead choose a kinder and more compassionate response.

Lisa_FlookFor example, in the scenario I described at the beginning of this article, a teacher skilled in mindfulness would notice his or her clenched fists and tightening in the chest, take them as a sign that he or she was about to hit the roof, and perhaps take a deep breath or two to calm down. Then he or she would be much better prepared to calmly redirect the students’ attention to the task-at-hand. Boom, done, just like that. Moment passed, no lingering stress in the body or mind of the teacher, and the lesson continues.

Mindfulness practice is also a way to deliberately cultivate positive qualities such as empathy and compassion. Previous studies have linked mindfulness to increased activity in brain regions associated with these positive emotions. In its training for teachers, CIHM included activities such as loving-kindness meditation, which has been found to help promote kindness and compassion toward others.

I like to think that teachers are naturally empathic and compassionate toward their students. But often these qualities get lost in the stress of classroom life, and what suffers most is the all-important relationship between the teacher and the student. By deliberately practicing mindfulness techniques that cultivate kindness toward others, a teacher faced with a misbehaving student might ask the question, “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”—a more compassionate response that strengthens rather than hinders the teacher-student relationship.

Finally, the CIHM researchers found that the mindfulness group’s self-compassion increased as well—an important component of teacher well-being. Educators have a tendency to beat themselves up over so many things: a failed lesson, saying the wrong thing to a parent, an inability to reach a challenging student, helplessness in the face of a student’s tragic home life—the list goes on and on. And we take it all home at night, leaving us with little psychic space to re-charge for the next day. Over time, our teaching suffers.

Time and again, teachers ask me in workshops and at our Summer Institute for Educators how they can stop thinking about work after they’ve gone home. My suggestion, based on the research, is to have a personal mindfulness practice coupled with self-compassion. Mindfulness teaches us to “notice” our thoughts or thought patterns without judging them as “good” or “bad,” which helps diminish the emotional charge that keeps these challenging school situations reverberating in our heads. Once we’ve neutralized that charge, we can choose to take a more compassionate stance toward ourselves, realizing that all teachers face these challenges and that everyone, including yourself, is doing the best they can.

One caveat: The changes rendered through a mindfulness practice do not happen overnight, nor do they last without continuous practice. Although this study showed significant changes in just eight weeks, Richard Davidson, one of the study’s co-authors and a leading expert on the science of emotions and mindfulness, is quick to point out that mindfulness is like going to the gym: You have to keep practicing to enjoy the benefits.

While the practice of mindfulness is never a “cure-all”, research suggests that it is a powerful foundation upon which teachers can start to build their social-emotional skills—and, in turn, improve their teaching. So while we may never be able to stop that student from making an offensive remark, we can control our reaction—which, in the end, may make the student think twice about doing it again.

Resources for educators who would like to start a mindfulness practice:

In addition to the resources listed below the UCSD Center for Mindfulness offers free guided audio and other resources, 5-Day professional mindfulness retreats through our Professional Training Institute, along with next year’s annual 2014 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth conference.

If you would like to try mindfulness in the privacy of your own home, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) offers these free recordings.

If you would like to learn mindfulness in a class, there are several programs geared just for educators, including the Greater Good Science Center’s Summer Institute for Educators, Mindful Schools, the Garrison Institute’s CARE for Teachers, PassageWorks’ SMART-in-Education, and Margaret Cullen’s Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance.

If you’re unable to attend one of the above teacher-focused programs, there are numerous workshops throughout the U.S and the world teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the program, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, from which the CIHM’s training was adapted.

Help Support Local Mindfulness in Action by Contributing to a Global Vision: mindfulTV

by Barry Boyce

Barry BoyceBarry Boyce
Editor-in-Chief-Mindful Magazine

A longtime professional writer, editor, and trainer specializing in applications of mindfulness and awareness to everyday life, Barry is editor of The Mindfulness Revolution and served as developmental editor for Congressman Tim Ryan’s book, A Mindful Nation. Barry is a member of the Formative Board of Directors for the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Professional Training Institute.

Friends of mine from Baltimore were presenting a program on mindfulness and yoga for at-risk youth a few weeks ago, and I attended for several days. What struck me most was the sharpness and the dedication of the school teachers (K-12), social workers, and caregivers who took part. One of them was from humble Hagerstown, Maryland. (You know the sort of place: people say, “I think I’ve heard of that” or “I drove through there once.”) I know Hagerstown. I grew up in an even smaller town nearby. There are plenty of at-risk youth there, to be sure.

         Meeting the teacher from Hagerstown, and others like her, told me that mindfulness is reaching beyond the big cities now and into the towns and villages, and it’s being delivered by people who care a lot about the health and well-being of our communities—in every dimension: bodily health, mental health, education, social cohesion, and more.

         At Mindful magazine and in mindful.org, it’s our mission to present mindfulness, awareness, kindness, and compassion to a wider audience, and we’ve been hard at work doing that. So, I’ve been so delighted that we’re able to search out stories of people bringing mindfulness into every corner of society, and share them with a wider world. When I hear from a would-be-father who saw our piece on Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting and gained a new appreciation for the significant event he’s about to enter into, I know we’re having an impact. The fact that we can tell the story of the first police department in America to systematically introduce mindfulness into their training means we are breaking new ground. On mindful.org, users can get a window into all the help that’s available for someone who wants to work more effectively with the overwhelming stressors in their personal lives and in their organizations.

         We would like to go one step further, though, in sharing the stories and the work going on in the world of mindfulness and related practices. We want to add sound and moving pictures. I want our growing audience—community really—to make face-to-face contact on their computers and smartphones with people just like them (You are not alone!) and people who are role models for making a little bit go a long way.

         When I look at the little video of my friends Ali and Atman in Baltimore, the mindfulness and yoga folks I mentioned above, I’m struck by how much of a difference it can make when I’m able to see someone and hear what they have to say—with all the intonations and facial expressions (and sometimes animated graphics) that go along with that. Likewise, I’m struck with how powerful four minutes with Frank Ostaseski talking about Finding a Place to Rest in the Middle of Things can be, or Jon Kabat-Zinn on the Benefits of Meditation.Mindful-TV-CROP-logo

         Doing a lot more of this kind of storytelling is a key part of our business plan. Internet TV is powerful. It’s arresting. And it reaches more people because, for one thing, you can get a whole lot in a short time and you can access it anywhere. Adding another channel for these important stories, advice, and instruction is a way to leverage more change. It also creates a rich archive of the pioneers of this movement. We need to record in moving (in both senses of the term) images more of what the people in the mindfulness world have to offer and deliver it to an ever-widening audience. That’s why we’re starting mindfulTV.

         Your support for mindfulTV not only helps us innovate, it also supports Mindful’s ongoing work and helps us reach sustainability. For more information on our mindfulTV initiative, and to learn about our crowdfunding campaign that’s taking Mindful to the next level, go here.

The UCSD Center for Mindfulness and Professional Training Institute fully support Barry’s vision and mindfulTV. We encourage you to donate now to help mindfulTV take advantage of the 1440 Foundation’s matching funds.