Tag Archives: Inner Kids

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).

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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.

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An Introduction to Mindfulness for Teachers and their Students

kaisergreenlandsusan-1Susan 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). Susan teaches children, parents and professionals around the world and consults with various organizations on teaching mindful awareness in an age appropriate and secular manner. We’re thrilled to announce that Susan Kaiser Greenland’s Inner Kids training, for the very first time, is now open to the general public by application. 

bridging2013badgeWe are grateful that Susan Kaiser Greenland delivered the opening keynote addressThe Mindful Child: Teaching the New ABCs of Attention, Balance and Compassion at our 2012 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference. This year’s conference February 1-3, 2013 features many more great presentations including a special Mindful Parenting workshop presented by Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn. Please click here for this year’s agenda.

When I say the word mindfulness to a group of educators and ask what the word signifies I get several definitions.  The term is ancient and not surprisingly has taken on many definitions over time.   This is a paradox of language:  As a word becomes popular, its original meaning can become vague.   Although the movement of mindfulness into mainstream secular society is relatively recent, we already see some instances where its meaning has become blurred.  That is why I’ll begin this introduction to mindfulness for teachers and their students by describing what I mean when I talk about mindful awareness.

The root of the word mindfulness (called sati in Pali, the language of the original mindfulness texts) is memory or recollection.  In classical Buddhist training mindfulness is used as a tool to investigate inner and outer life experiences.  Buddhist scholar Andrew Olendszki describes the classical view of mindfulness:

“[M]indfulness derives from a root meaning memory or recollection and refers to the cultivation of a certain presence of mind that remembers to attend with persistent clarity to the objects of present experience.  Like meditation in general, it involves placing attention deliberately upon an object and sustaining it over time, but unlike one-pointedness and absorption [meditation], mindfulness tends to open to a broader range of phenomena rather than restricting the focus to a singular object.  Like a floodlight rather than a spotlight, mindfulness illuminates a more fluid phenomenological field of ever-changing experience rather than isolating a particular object for intensive scrutiny. This alternative mode of observation is necessary because mindfulness practice is more about investigating a process than about examining an object.” (Olendzka, 2009)

With this classical view in mind, the secular mindfulness approach we teach is not a narrow one that offers techniques for every “difficult” situation, but rather a process-oriented approach through which educators learn a way of being with youth that strengthens and supports how they communicate and teach.   By investigating inner-and-outer life experiences with mindfulness, educators and their students refine attention while developing social skills and greater social/emotional awareness that strengthens the attachment relationships between children, teens and their teachers. It’s not uncommon for educators and youth to describe mindfulness as transformative. This inner-transformation hinges upon how well we communicate key universal concepts to newcomers. Articulating key universal concepts simply and accessibly is the first step. The second, equally important step is to create opportunities for youth and educators to experience a visceral understanding of those key concepts and provide a framework within which they can contextualize them.

The framework Inner Kids uses is the ABCs of Attention, Balance & Compassion through which we simply articulate more than forty key universal concepts. These key universal concepts are derivative of wisdom traditions, modern science, psychology, and educational pedagogy and are common to one or more of these fields.  As a mindfulness-based program we pay close attention to universal concepts drawn from Buddhist training that can be taught in a secular way. These key concepts are not only universal but also comprehensive. They’ve already been translated into well-established secular adult programs (most notably Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn) and the secular programs for adults have been the subject of extensive peer-reviewed, scientific research studies for decades.

The process of investigation known as mindfulness is experiential learning at its best and can be taught to youth through a series of games and activities that provide students (and their teachers) opportunities to understand key universal concepts. By singing songs, playing games and participating in mindful awareness activities a framework will emerge naturally within which students can better understand and contextualize life experiences that feel “more or less mindful” to them. We couch this framework within the language of eight strategies (or life-skills) that help students manage life’s ups and downs. These strategies are stopping, focusing, choosing, quieting, seeing, reframing (if appropriate), caring and connecting, and each of them relates to one or more of the ABCs of Attention, Balance & Compassion. We introduce our strategies in a circle, with focusing in the center because it is at the heart of classical introspective training and a pre-requisite to utilizing the other seven strategies effectively. Here’s how the seven strategies emerge through the investigation of inner and outer experience with mindfulness:

It becomes easier for students to stop when they have a heightened awareness of sense impressions (I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling upset, I’m feeling out of control) that cues them to pause and reflect before speaking or acting. As students slow down, breathe and focus, their minds tend to quiet and a space opens up in their moment-to-moment experience that allows them to see what’s happening in and around them more clearly and make wiser choices. Through this process students become more attuned to their inner and outer worlds, and as a result they notice how everything and everyone is connected and changing. As they begin to recognize these connections and patterns, other qualities like caring and connecting naturally emerge.

Given that educators have a heavy workload, it’s important that mindfulness doesn’t become yet another “add-on” to an already overloaded classroom routine. Mindfulness-based activities can be easily ‘dropped-in’ to what educators are already doing and are well-suited to circle time, a morning meeting and/or classroom transitions. Mindfulness-based songs, stories, and activities needn’t be dreary, sedentary and quiet. They can be fun and stimulating as they introduce the strategies and key universal concepts that support the ABCs of Attention, Balance & Compassion and give students and educators an opportunity to practice them together.

Before sharing mindfulness with your students you’ll want to learn about it yourself.  A good place to begin is with Congressman Tim Ryan’s new book A Mindful Nation.  Born and raised in Ohio, and representing constituents deep in the middle of America, Congressman Ryan is an unusual guy.  Those of us who advocate for research to investigate the effect of mindfulness-based social and emotional learning programs in public education have found a friend in Congressman Ryan and owe him a debt of gratitude. In his book he explores the science that supports mindfulness and offers dynamic, real-world examples of secular mindfulness in schools, the military, and the workplace.  If you live near Santa Monica, California, you can hear US Congressman Ryan speak on February 19th at public talk entitled:  “Mindfulness: Can it go mainstream?” In this event sponsored InsightLA, Congressman Ryan will join the editors and publisher of the new magazine Mindful [link to mindful.org] for a conversation about mindfulness going mainstream.

This post is an excerpt of an article published in the California Association of Independent Schools Faculty Newsletter for the Southern Regional Meeting, 2012 

Making Happiness a Habit through Mindfulness

Susan 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). Susan teaches children, parents and professionals around the world and consults with various organizations on teaching mindful awareness in an age-appropriate and secular manner. We are grateful to have Susan Kaiser Greenland delivering the opening keynote address The Mindful Child: Teaching the New ABCs of Attention, Balance and Compassion at our Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference. Her keynote will explore the development of greater concentration, mindfulness and compassion with children and young adults.

What if happiness was a habit that we could teach children? We can. Qualities that lead away from happiness (strong negative emotions) and qualities that lead toward happiness (ethical actions) are all rooted in habits developed in the past. Mindfulness helps children and teens recognize the habits that lead to happiness and break the ones that don’t.

Habits are easy to make, hard to break and everybody has them. Some habits are physical (cracking knuckles and twirling hair), some are verbal (using certain words or phrases) and some are psychological (worrying, daydreaming, judging and over-analyzing). By repeating a habit we reinforce the brain circuits associated with it and make the habit stronger. The stronger the habit, the stronger the neural pathways, and the stronger the effort and determination required to break it. If teenagers check their Facebook pages first thing in the morning, every morning, checking Facebook will soon become their default, automatic response to waking up. If they hike or meditate first thing in the morning, every morning, hiking or meditating will soon become their default, automatic response to waking up. The more a habit is repeated the stronger it becomes and the more likely it is to become a person’s automatic response to a specific experience.

There is a well-established, evidence-based curriculum that uses mindfulness to develop life-skills that make people happy. It rest on three universal qualities attention, balance and compassion. Countless parents and educators, who have tried this curriculum themselves, are now passionate about teaching mindfulness to youth. They form the basis of an emerging grassroots movement to bring mindfulness to education.

Mindfulness is a refined process of attention that allows children to see the world through a lens of attention, balance and compassion. When children learn to look at the world with attention, balance and compassion they soon learn to be in the world with attention, balance and compassion.

Making compassion a habit.
To make compassion a habit all kids need to do is promise that everything they do will be kind and compassionate and keep that promise. Sound easy? Anyone who has ever taken a vow, and then tried to keep it, knows that saying you’ll speak and act in a certain way is easier said than done. The best way to keep a promise is to make it a habit and that’s where mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is the mental quality by which children and teens remember to check-in with themselves throughout the day and make sure they are on track. Mindfulness helps kids remember their intention to be kind and compassionate and notice if they’re acting and speaking in accordance with it. We don’t expect children to be perfect, any more than we expect perfection of ourselves, but using mindfulness to notice when they swerve off track and away from their intention allows them to correct their course.

Making concentration a habit.
Concentrating on one thing and nothing else is a crucial skill in school. Students who have the capacity to direct their attention toward what they’re studying, and keep it there, have an obvious advantage over those who are easily distracted. To develop concentration, and make it a habit, students use mindfulness to periodically check-in and make sure they are still paying attention to their chosen object. “Has my mind wandered or become dull?” “Am I paying attention to my homework, or am I thinking about the past or future? ” “Am I alert or have I faded into a sleepy state of mind?”

Making balance a habit.
Once children and teens use mindfulness to develop compassion by remembering to check-in to make sure they’re actions are aligned with their intentions, and refine their attention by checking-in to make sure they’re paying attention to their chosen object, they are ready to use mindfulness to develop emotional balance. The strong and stable faculty of attention that children and teens develop practicing concentration becomes more refined when they use it to see what’s happening in, to and around them clearly even when what’s happening is emotionally upsetting or charged. Like developing attention and compassion, when developing balance students check-in periodically and notice what they’re attending to. Mindfulness in developing emotional balance goes deeper by developing discernment a powerful quality of wisdom through which children and teens notice, among other things, patterns and habits of action and speech.

Hope motivates change.
I’ve worked with parents around the world and they have one thing in common: Parents want to be happy and they want their children to be happy. They’re worried that the current educational system doesn’t teach the life skills necessary to solve the myriad problems their children will surely inherit. Many parents feel hopeless. When they learn that mindfulness training is – an evidenced based curriculum; with a long, reliable track record; universal in its approach; and taught in a secular way – they feel hopeful again. Hope motivates change and explains the growing, grassroots social-action movement for mindful education.

Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth: February Conference on Mindfulness with Youth in San Diego

Mindfulness, as a powerful and important means of cultivating health, well-being and equanimity, is nowhere more important than in our work with the young people of our society. Alongside the explosive and transformative growth of mindfulness-based programs for adults, there is a particularly heartening and vibrant effort to bring mindfulness to youth of all ages, in a plethora of settings and formats designed to have a significant impact on the lives and futures of literally millions of young people around the world.

To support and grow this important movement, the UCSD Center for Mindfulness has teamed with Stressed Teens to organize and present a first of its kind conference on February 4 and 5, 2012 entitled Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research . The intention of this conference is to bring together a number of key thought leaders in the field of mindfulness, both those engaged in bringing it to youth and those whose influence extends well beyond that one area, with the hope that the synergy created by such a gathering will provide further impetus to a growing and important field.

Keynote speakers, breakout sessions and half-day workshops will form the structure of this gathering, but the intention is to create an overall atmosphere of connection, collaboration, encouragement, support and innovation that will inspire attendees to continue or begin the work of teaching mindfulness to the young people with whom they work. A full description of the conference is available on the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Professional Training website, but a  few highlights include:

Rick Hanson, author of The Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time will be presenting a public talk on Friday evening, February 3 entitled “Taking in the Good: Helping Children Build Inner Strength and Happiness” and then will provide a keynote address on Saturday at the conference itself with the intriguing title “Managing the Caveman Brain in the 21st Century”.

Psychologist and well-known mindfulness researcher Amishi Jha will be offering her insights in another keynote address, entitled “From Dazed and Distracted to Attentive and Calm: What the Neuroscience of Mindfulness Reveals”. Dr. Jha will be joining the other keynote presenters, Susan Kaiser Greenland, Pamela Siegle and Chip Wood on a discussion panel on Saturday as well.

Three post-conference half-day workshops will be offered on Sunday, February 5, allowing attendees to deepen their understanding and training in working with mindfulness and youth. Workshops include one by conference co-organizer Gina Biegel, developer of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens (MBSR-T); another by Randy Semple, who has adapted Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for children, and a wonderful session on “Nurturing Your Self in Your Work With Youth” offered by mindfulness teacher and holistic physician, Amy Saltzman.

These are just a few of the highlights of this inaugural conference that promises to be literally packed with interesting and engaging speakers, presentations and experiences. Co-organizers Steven Hickman, Director of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and Gina Biegel, founder of Stressed Teens, hope that this will become an annual event that makes a significant contribution to the field of mindfulness with youth. If you are an educator, therapist, physician, or just a concerned and engaged parent looking to explore how you might integrate mindfulness in your work with youth, you may want to consider joining this impressive lineup of presenters in San Diego at the Catamaran Resort Hotel on February 4 and 5, 2012. Space is limited, register early and receive a $50 Early Bird Discount.