The Lemonade Hurricane: A Story About Mindfulness and Meditation, by Licia Morelli

This adorable gem-of-a -picture-book is the perfect introduction to mindfulness and meditation for the littlest learners.  Beautiful, engaging artwork accompanies simple text in this book, providing for the perfect read aloud.  The book invites opportunities for valuable discussion through the experience of Emma and her little brother, Henry.  

Emma, a mindful little girl herself, often likes to stop and pause when the business of life becomes too much.  Her brother Henry, however, is what she describes as a “lemonade hurricane.”  Pictures in the book can be used to invite little listeners to discuss Henry’s positive, and sometimes negative behaviors (like knocking over Emma’s block castle).  She expresses her desire to be rid of the “hurricane” so she can enjoy her brother more.  By modeling simple mindfulness meditation techniques, Emma teaches Henry to be still.  In this state, he imagines himself seated peacefully on an elephant.  Here students could be asked where they would envision themselves to be peaceful.

A delightful author’s note at the end of the book provides a further discussion of the “lemonade hurricane” analogy. Thicht Naht Hahn, a Buddhist monk, had in his youth likened a clear glass of apple juice in which the pulp had settled, to the clarity of the mind when settling into meditation.  The glass of lemonade, when the pulp is stirred by a “hurricane,” would become clear when still.  The final page of the book introduces mindful meditation exercises that can easily be practiced with a class of little ones, followed by questions for reflection such as, “How did sitting feel?”

Any young one with a little “lemonade hurricane” sibling is sure to relate, as will the child who him or herself struggles with sitting down to “just be.”

Fika: A Most Mindful Coffee Break

I’ve read and written about the Danish concept of Hugge, a term for which there is no, direct English equivalent, but which translates loosely to coziness, the joy of time with friends, and gratitude for the simple things.  Tapping into my inner Scandinavian, (I’m not really Scandanavian, at least not to my knowledge!) I have discovered a second term; fika, coined by the “happiest people on earth.”

Fika translates literally to “coffee” but the term encompasses more of an idea aligned with hygge.  The word can be used as a noun, but also as a verb, “to drink coffee.”  To the Nordic countries, which consume more coffee than any other area in the world, fika is as integral to daily culture as sitting down to any other meal.  But as hygge is more than just “cozy,” fika is more than just time for a caffeine buzz.   To my understanding, it has very much more to do with mindfulness and mindful communication.  It is about consciously taking a break from the hustle and bustle and stress of everyday life to be completely present over a steaming cup of warmth, and if possible, in the company of others. VERY hyggelie…

In my own life, I have made a conscious point of experiencing fika every morning (I give the experience an energetic kick by pulling in some Reiki.)  The brain processes content in chunks, and the same way a body builder needs to pause between reps in order to maximize the effect of a workout, we need to stop and pause throughout the day.  The true experience of fika in the Scandinavian sense takes place during work day and has been a most powerful bonding experience for me and my colleagues.  

Luckily, one of our most frequent library regulars is a Family and Consumer Science teacher, who contrary to our protests, brings in homemade confectionery delights that knock each one of our diets out of the water.  So be it.  A steaming cup of vanilla Joe, a heavenly slice of banana nut bread, and a hearty laugh with fellow teachers is just yet another reason the Danish have got this whole living life thing right.  

Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress, by Laury Grossman, Angelina Alvarez, and the students of Mr. Musumeci’s 5th Grade Class

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Buy on Amazon:

Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress

Hats off to Mr. Musumeci’s 5th grade class of 2013 – 2014 (Reach Academy, Oakland, CA)!  I wish I could give a copy of this book to everyone I know, both children and adults.  This book, with a foreword by MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) founder, Jon Kabat-Zin, is written and illustrated by kids, for kids, and it is the most accessible and complete description of mindfulness for children I have read yet.  

The most powerful parts of the book are the students’ own illustrated accounts of instances when mindfulness could be helpful in dealing with difficult emotions and situations.  This could be infinitely helpful to students and teachers alike in defending the why of mindfulness in schools.  The students cover topics ranging from dealing with anger when hit in the face with a soccer ball or cut on the lunch line, to loneliness when family members go away, to nervousness when their ride is late to pick up from school, and how to effectively “shield” from bullying.

These kids have done their research too.  There are pages relating to the science behind mindfulness, specifically how it changes brain function.  Illustrations accompany information about brain chemistry, the brain on stress, the release of hormones cortisol and adrenaline when we enter fight or flight or flight, and how mindfulness practices can set things right.

The last portion of the book contains techniques for practicing mindfulness such as mindful breathing, body scan, mindful walking, mindful noticing of feelings, and mindful communication.  My favorite is a technique called “shark fin” which I intend to use with my own students.  There is even a bit on mindful eating.  The scripts are designed to be recorded by the reader and listened to for practice.

They close by reminding the reader to practice mindfulness every day and wishing the reader a happy life.  They liken mindfulness to a seed growing inside your body, and mindfulness practice being what helps it grow.  Such a powerful experience for the students involved in creating this, and a such a gift for all who read it!

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Brace yourself for a terrifying ride!  Schlitz’s 2013 Newbery Honor Book combines Gothic horror and Dickensian historical details to carry a dynamic cast of characters through a plot that will keep young readers biting their nails until the very last page.  The characters experience grief, fear, terror, and longing, all of which are ultimately overcome by courage, love, and determination.  The intermingling of magical elements such as curses and enchantments will appeal to the fan of high fantasy.

The tale is set in Victorian London, with characters struggling to make ends meet on the streets, as well as some swimming in wealth and material luxury.  We begin with the Venetian puppet-master, Grisini, with his magical cart-drawn show.  He travels and performs with two orphans he has taken on as his wards; Lizzie Rose, from a family of successful theater performers, and Parsefall, the tough yet fearful ragamuffin with a tortured past.  The troupe is discovered by Clara, the wealthy daughter of a doctor who is immediately taken by the performance and particularly, the talented, free-spirited children.  She convinces her parents to commission Grisini’s puppet show for her 12th birthday at their elaborate home in which the sorrow and despair of a past family tragedy looms heavily.  

An attempted murder, a missing body, trouble with the law, a kidnapping, and a most evil curse land Lizzie Rose, Parsefall, and Clara in the home of a rich, aging witch named Cassandra who has a maleficent agenda.  Grisini, the witch’s friend/foe from the past, informs her that the children hold the potential to release her from the torturous suffering caused by a magical fire opal worn.  His motives, of course, are selfish as he desires the opal for himself.  The children, though unrelated, overcome their obstacles due to the love and care they have for each other as siblings.

Even though the plot line is certainly suitable for the recommended grades 4 – 8, the only consideration for recommending this to young readers is the incorporation of British English which might prove difficult for some (particularly Parsefall’s dialogue).  

An Attitude of Gratitude

I have been reading and researching extensively about mindfulness (Clearly, “Mindful Librarian”).  It’s everywhere!  Although this is heartening on one level, it concerns me as well. We are not purely individual.  We are all energetically connected.  I feel that the spread of mindfulness, in the way it has been practiced by masters of old, has the potential to radically change our society for the better.  

So what is my concern?  Let’s think of “mindfulness” by the very simple definition of living fully in the present moment, calmly accepting and releasing thoughts, feelings, baggage from the past, and fear of the future.  These techniques can and are used in military combat training.  A villain committing a crime can in fact be “mindful” as a means of focusing and completing his job.

In order for mindfulness to really transform our society for the better we must not fail to attach the principles of compassion, gratitude, and self-love.

Compassion

When listening to others, don’t merely hear them while your mind wanders.  Really LISTEN and perceive what they are trying to convey.  Don’t only hear the words, but check for physical cues that could be driving their message.  Are they angry?  Nervous?  Distracted?  Project loving kindness toward those you encounter.

Gratitude

When you consciously focus on the present with all of your senses, do so with appreciation.  In nature, I find this to be easy.  But even at work in my library I try to take a few moments to be consciously mindful and grateful to have this job at all, and grateful to have this forum for reaching and teaching kids.  Being mindful of your physical self should produce feelings of gratitude for all of your senses and life itself.

Self-love

Effective mindfulness will automatically affect your level of self care.  When you eat mindfully, you stop when full and consciously make healthy food choices.  You recognize when your body needs rest and try not to push it when you don’t have to.  Being present enables one to be free of guilt by not fixating on the past. The act of meditating itself, results in a wealth of benefits for self on mental, spiritual, and emotional levels.  

To conclude, in order to achieve and share the greatest benefits of mindfulness, consider others, have a grateful attitude, and be gentle with yourself.

The Wheel of the Year

Tomorrow begins our Memorial Day holiday weekend, so my colleagues and I thought it a good time to sit down and go over our calendar for the rest of the year.  I nearly fell out of my seat!  Three more weeks of classes??  There is still so much for us to do.  (Let’s not even consider the dust-covered reference in need of weeding.) 

Now for the past two months I have been patiently (sort of) enduring the freezing rain and grey sky, along with the unusually slow first blooms of spring, in the great anticipation of summer vacation, as most of my teacher-friends will sympathetically understand.  But sitting down today with the May and June calendars set in front of me made me wish things could slow down… just a little, and reminded me of the importance of being mindful and present and truly appreciating the wheel of the year.

The wheel of the year, for me, has to do with more than just seasonal changes; it has to do with deeply personal changes as well.  Anyone in tune with nature may inherently understand this.  (Really FEELING the seasons was one thing I sorely missed when living in the tropical climate of Florida for six years).  The wheel of MY year is as follows:

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State Arboretum of VA

Spring – Spring is the time for rebirth in nature.  It is the season for spotting baby wildlife and daffodils pushing their way through cold, stubborn soil.  Personally, it is also the season for burgeoning ideas.  This is the time I take stock of what worked and didn’t work for my library program over the course of the school year, as well as in my personal life, and I begin to plan.

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Orlando, FL

Summer – During summer, nature is in full swing.  All animals, birds, and bugs (eww) are out and about.  The weather permits all sorts of outdoor activity and the mood is generally festive.  Summer, for many, is a season for action.  During the summer, if I am not working, I usually take some type of class or try something new.  (Last summer it was stand-up paddle boarding!)

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Long Lake, NY

Fall – Fall is the harvesting season.  We reap the benefits of the previous year’s hard work.  The leaves begin to burst forth with amazing colors, wilt, and then drop to the ground.  The animals begin to forage in preparation for the cold.  Fall, with the beginning of the new school year is a time for letting go of everything, both good and bad, in preparation for the new.  (New backpack, new notebooks, new attitude)

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Sag Harbor, NY

Winter – The trees are bare.  The air is chill.  The birds are silent.  Fauna is in hibernation.  This used to be the toughest month for me, as I so love the outdoors and sun on my face.  But as we humans are forced inside and out of the elements, winter becomes a time for introspection and HYGGE.  Instead of sunshine, there is candlelight and fireplaces, warm blankets and hot tea.  For me, winter is the easiest season during which to meditate.  With the holidays it is also the time to make a marked effort to reconnect with family and friends who may have been neglected during the bustle of the other seasons.

To conclude, as we yearn for those last days of school leading to summer, be mindful of the natural and personal changes occurring throughout the wheel of the year.  (Well… we can be a LITTLE psyched for the beach!)

Bloom Where Planted…

TML yard and coffee
My here and now…

“But I believe one should bloom where one is planted, and now I have roots here as well.”

A colleague of mine who started her career teaching art at the high school was moved down to my middle school some years ago.  Next year, she is moving back up there and is absolutely delighted, as photography is apparently her true passion. I never would have guessed that she longed to be elsewhere doing something else because she has inspired so many students here who have created such amazing work these years, and her disposition has always been so sunny and bright.

I told her the transition will be bittersweet.  I am happy that she is able to be doing what she prefers, but she will be surely be missed!  She emailed back the most amazing thing, “I believe one should bloom where one is planted, and now I have roots here as well.”  (As a librarian, of course I had to run and find the original source.  (It is 1 Corinthians 7:20-24, by the way.) Talk about mindfulness!  What a great way to look at life.  You hear stories all the time about people trudging through life and work with their eye focused on the promise of a blissful retirement.  Then the follow up story of the same individual, once reaching their perceived utopia, being either disappointed, or with not enough health or longevity to enjoy the destination.

Now when I think of this in terms of myself and my own life, I realize how very lucky and blessed I am HERE and NOW.  During the hustle and bustle and stress of everyday life and work I periodically lose sight of this, and yes, I do have a plan for an early retirement (ahh… palm trees!), but in the meantime, my sons, though they drive me nuts, still want me to play soccer with them;  my job, though stressful at times, allows me to express creativity and be helpful to kids; and palms, though beautiful, do not change colors in the fall, or allow the sun to shine through just so at sunset, or hold on to the winter snow until dawn when the sun hits and they glisten.

Mindful Reading

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to mindful reading.  Since reading fiction is a transportive experience, can this even be done?  Books take us to faraway lands and different time periods.  It would seem that this is sort of the opposite of “mindfulness,” for which you need to be fully in the moment.  I feel that mindfulness techniques, however, really can be practiced during reading.  

Beginning the session with a brief meditation can enhance the experience.  Focus first on the breath.   Then calmly acknowledge and then let go of distracting thoughts and emotions.  The ideal posture should be a comfortable, seated position.  Laying down could cause sleepiness.  Slouching will just cause neck and back pain that will serve as a distraction.

To read mindfully, one has to be really “present” with the text.  First and foremost, slow down and savor every word.  Mindful reading is the opposite of speed reading or merely scanning text to get the basic jist.  Try to keep your mind focused and free from wandering.  Pay attention to the emotions you experience as you read.  Create detailed mental images of the characters and don’t only “see” the setting, but envision yourself immersed in it.  Periodically pause and reflect on the meaning of the text.

Clearly, I love to read.  Making an effort to do so “mindfully” just makes the experience all the more rewarding!

The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen

As a reader of professional materials for many years, I have come across sources that run the gamut from containing trite theory to practical, effective strategies.  The beauty of The Way of Mindful Education:Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen, is that the book covers every aspect of mindfulness in education in a way that is both clear and accessible.  Following an insightful foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts), the book is divided into four sections which seamlessly blend into one another.  

Part one of The Way of Mindful Education focuses on the history and effectiveness of mindfulness in education and introduces the ways it can benefit both students and teachers alike in terms of “body,” “mind,” “heart,” and “interconnectedness,” all backed by research.  Part two raises the very important point that in order to teach mindfulness, one must practice mindfulness effectively.  As a “mindful librarian” I not only consider this a practice to enhance my work but also my everyday life, hence the breakup of my blog into “mindfulness in education” and “mindful living” categories. This section of the book personally appealed to me as a parent as well as a librarian.  Part three introduces practical strategies for creating a mindful climate in the classroom at all age levels, reinforcing the benefits for students in distress.  Part four presents actual curriculum samples.  In addition to dialogue to be used at each “stage and age” there are journaling prompts.  Sections titled “world discovery” explore how each lesson can enhance their lives outside of the classroom.

I can’t rave enough about this book.  In addition to clearly defining mindfulness, and explaining the multitude of benefits of mindfulness practices and mindful environments for both teachers and students, I uncovered a multitude of takeaways to help me in my personal mindfulness practice and in the creation of a mindful home environment beyond my mindful library.

 

Walking Mindfully

TML hiking
Me at Bear Mountain, NY

Before I discovered mindfulness, I described myself as an “avid hiker.”  I have always been keenly aware of the restorative power of nature, and “hiking” also served as exercise. Win, win!  I have gone so far as to say that a beautiful nature trail on a sunny day (particularly in autumn) was like my “church.”  It never made sense to me that people could feel closer to God in a man-made structure.

What I didn’t realize though is that during my “hikes,” the way I would take them, I was actually performing a type of mindful meditation, “mindful walking.”  The difference is this.  A hike is quite simply a lengthy walk in a natural environment.  Mindful walking requires a far different level of attention.

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Long Lake, NY

The process for me is as follows…  I do a sort of body scan as I move.  I begin by focusing attention on my footfalls.  I feel the strain in my legs as I navigate up or downhill and envision the blood pumping through my veins.  I focus on my breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth and imagine the oxygen nourishing every cell.  Most importantly, I focus on my senses in the outdoors.  I try to take in every sound, from birds, to the wind through the trees.  I focus not only on the path in front of me, but I extend my focus to the far reaches of my peripheral vision.  I take in the smells of leaves, grass, and flowers.  

Focusing on the experience of walking in this way really brings me into the present moment.  I let go of any worry or anxiety, and if such emotions intrude, I simply acknowledge them and go back to focusing on my senses.  Whenever I finish a great mindful walk, I feel both calm and invigorated due to the bonus rush of endorphin that comes with exercise.  

For people new to meditation and mindfulness, a mindful walk is a great way to get started. Just remember to silence your phone!