I am a scientist and a skeptic. Pseudoscience is one of my biggest pet peeves. However, when someone is able to demonstrate the scientific validity of a phenomenon, I am much more likely to sit up and pay attention.
Over the past year, as I searched for effective ways to deal with anxiety and stress, the words mindfulness and meditation kept appearing. While initially skeptical, I was happy to find plenty of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of meditation. Here is an article that provides an abundance of real studies demonstrating the benefits: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today
Mindfulness came out of Buddhism, but is gaining momentum in secular circles. Simply put, it is: “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition)
So, I have been (mindfully) meditating daily for the past 6 months. Although I am just a beginner, I feel it has made a real difference. I am calmer and able to deal with problems. I spend less time ruminating over nonexistent issues. The practice of repeatedly bringing myself back to the present moment is incredibly helpful. I can better control what I spend time thinking about. I wish I had learned this a long time ago!
I’m not qualified to put instructions here. Perhaps look at this instead: http://secularbuddhism.org/meditation-support/basic-meditation-instructions/
There’s a reason “mindfulness” has become a pop psychology phenomenon over the past few years. It is a direct reaction to our culture of multi-tasking, to our preoccupation with constant entertainment and stimulation and to our increasingly urban lifestyles. We feel something is missing, and that something might just be “being in the moment.” Whether we are ruminating over the past, worrying about the future, or caught up in digital entertainment, we are rarely taking the time to really appreciate or reflect on our current situation.
So, what does this have to do with children?
I’ll tell you.
I think we are unintentionally robbing our children of mindfulness.
Young children are naturally mindful. Just watch a 2-year old follow an ant around on the ground. See how they carefully examine every leaf or rock along a path. They are seeing things for the first time, and they are paying attention. Then, as we rush them along, we teach them that the present isn’t important. We spend a great deal of time discussing future plans, and setting out lists of goals. We put them in front of screens for some peace and quiet, and they no longer need to be in the present moment. They are passively entertained. They forget about the journey.
So, as I continue on my personal journey, I am considering ways to help my children develop practices of mindfulness. It may help shield them against future anxiety, depression, stress, and a host of other problems.
There are many options and variations when it comes to mindfulness and meditation. I started with guided meditations, which I found as podcasts. I read books and websites, and gradually I decided I prefer to meditate silently (and ideally outdoors).
Related practices like yoga or tai chi probably have similar outcomes. Other ways of practicing mindfulness can involve listening to music or creating art. Drawing from life requires you to pay very close attention to your surroundings. Some recent research even demonstrates how activities like knitting have meditative effects.
I think time spent mindfully in nature is doubly beneficial. Walking meditation can be a truly pleasant experience. I also think that getting to know the flora and fauna of our local ecosystems can also help us pay closer attention to our surroundings (this is part of the reason for my “species of the week” blog entries!)
While it may be difficult (nay, impossible?) to have young children sit still for 20 minutes at a time, some of these other activities may come more naturally.
“Mindfulness” may be a popular buzz word right now, but there is probably a good reason. It is time we all started to pay attention.
This is all still fairly new to me. If you have any excellent resources, tips or information, please share!