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Tech Addiction and Digital Well-being

The other day we finally had a glimpse of beautiful, spring weather.  I literally pried the Xbox remotes from my sons’ hands and shoved my boys through the front door to go play with their neighborhood friends outside.  In addition to recognizing their dire need for a dose of vitamin D, my concern about their overall well-being, particularly a need to unplug from electronics, moved my hand to lock the door behind them!  After changing into shorts and sneakers, I headed out myself for a jog. Twenty minutes later, a few doors down, I jogged past my sons and their friends sitting on the grass in the shade of a tree… STARING AT THEIR PHONES!

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For a while now, a big topic of conversation has been the pros and cons of technology as it has come to shape the lives of kids today.  As a school librarian, experiencing the shift from “book lady” to “digital turnkey,” I have experienced how my newer role in the lives of my students has shifted as well.  I have witnessed firsthand the profound benefits of access to diverse and reliable information in an instant, the breaking of boundaries through long-distance communication and seamless digital collaboration, and the realization of visions and dreams through access to cutting-edge technologies.  Sadly though (devastating, actually), is the subsequent “brain hijacking” that can result from over-reliance and escapism through tech. I must confess that I, myself have been among the afflicted. Many a night I have found myself scrolling through nonsense while a half-read novel sat unopened on my nightstand.

At Google’s Annual Developer Conference, Google I/O, this past month, an interesting thing happened revealing an interesting shift in perspective on the part of those responsible for hijacking our brains.  

Sameer Samat, Google’s VP for Android and Google Play, gave a firsthand account of the surprising relief he experienced when compelled to surrender his phone on a vacation.  His story was a prelude to the unveiling of a collection of new features falling under the category, “digital well-being.” Placing your phone face-down will activate “Shush” mode so you will not hear alerts. You can also track your usage and even place limits on time-sucking applications.   

In addition to special features such as the ones Android has introduced, there has been a surge in new apps targeted toward users seeking a little zen.  During the Google Play Award Ceremony, one of the winning apps was Simple Habit Meditation app, founded by Yunha-Kim. The app contains guided meditations for a host of life situations ranging from “Calm Nerves” to “Breaking Up.”  The app also has meditation timers, reminders and a calendar to track progress. It is just one of a number of apps offering similar features.

As exciting as these new considerations for the tech user are, I firmly believe that the only real way to foster well being is to teach kids to do just that… to “be,” WITHOUT the distraction of any device. The first solution to ANY problem, however, is awareness. Tech companies earnestly acknowledging “digital wellness” is a step in the right direction.

Alas… when I think of brain hijacking and digital wellness, I think back to Hurricane Sandy which decimated much of Long Island.  Although my home did not endure major damage, there was the upheaval of two solid weeks without power in my development. My sons did not yet have cell phones.  It wasn’t fun all the time for certain, but there was something magical about watching my kids fill the place with origami cranes and boats and tripping over board game pieces that got away.  Lego projects resurfaced. We had longer conversations with the neighbors than we had had in all the years I had lived there as people came outside in search of human contact because they lost the digital distraction that was TV.  In short, I loved observing my children and neighbors being mindful and PRESENT.

Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes From Inspirational Folks, by Gavin Aung Than

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As any teacher can attest, it is often infinitely easier to manage and “teach” our students than it is to teach our family and friends.  In my home, this is no exception. I have not-so-inconspicuously left books about mindfulness around my house so that my clan might pick them up and instantaneously become enlightened, and well,… no such luck.  This is until I brought home Zen Pencils.  With its graphic format, I successfully conned them into thinking this book was NOT a book of inspirational quotes and anecdotes like the ones that adorn every wall in our home, much to their chagrin. As the blurb on the back cover promises, this book will “inspire and motivate even the most cynical of readers.”  Truth.

The compilation of text here is impressive in and of itself.  We have an eclectic collection of words of wisdom from the likes of the enlightened Confucius, to historical phenoms like Theodore Roosevelt and Marie Curie, to literary geniuses like Neil Gaiman and Jack London.  The book even contains an awesome comic titled, “Who’s the Crazier Man” by controversial performer Henry Rollins which begs the reader to question what it means to BE “at all times.”

Gavin Aung Than’s illustrations, which vary in style from simplistic to realistic, and vibrant, contrasting color to analogous color pallets, serve a purpose greater than that of grabbing the attention of the reluctant reader.  They are designed to push your thinking about the text to another level. (Fans of Zen Pencils can browse through more of Than’s art on his site, zenpencils.com) My personal favorite comic in the book that illustrates this is The Most Astounding Fact, by Neil deGrasse Tyson for which Than artfully depicts the universe in the eye of a newborn child.

Question:  How do you engage cynics in timeless and universal lessons about mindfulness, perseverance, courage, confidence, sacrifice, and dignity?

Answer:  Give them Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes From Inspirational Folks.

Here is a book that this librarian will NOT hesitate to buy for my friends for Christmas.  They will actually read it!

Let It Go…

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Mindfulness is about paying attention.  Sometimes, however, when I think about mindfulness I sometimes get caught up in thinking about about it as a state of being that has to be grasped or “attained.”  Even though the practices of meditation and mindfulness require practice, what I need to remember is that the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits of mindfulness come from a conscious effort that isn’t reaching or grasping, it is simply LETTING GO…

Things To Let Go Of

Attachments

Attachments lead to yearning and emptiness due to the perception that there is a void needing to be filled.  If you fixate on something you do not have, your mind forms the assumption that something is missing, when in fact, you have all that you need.  That car, that job, whatever it is your neighbor has… Our Western society perpetuates a sense of entitlement. Even the perception that one needs to be part of a traditional family structure in order to be “complete”;  In reality, the only one thing we do need is other people in the form of meaningful relationships of any kind.

The Past

Clearly, holding on to guilt and resentments hurts us.  Although our foibles are our greatest teachers, there is a difference between remembering what is done, and continuing to linger in the feelings of what is done.  This applies to the positives as well.  I think of the people who dwell in the glory days of their youth.  Reminiscing is fine and good and shared experiences can create and maintain bonds between people but living in that time robs you of creating new beautiful experiences.  Who wants to find themselves saying, look at all the fun we had looking back at us looking back at us looking back?

Ill Feelings Toward Others

Anger.  Resentment.  Jealousy. I like to think of the Buddha quote, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  Harboring any sort of ill feelings toward others robs you of your own joy. And note: what others think of YOU is none of your business. Those who matter don’t judge, and those who judge don’t matter.  Just do you…

Gratitude Is The Solution

We must always employ mindful awareness to see the beauty in the things that are right in front of us.  Always. And there is ALWAYS something beautiful to see. If we can truly appreciate even the smallest blessings in our lives, even when there is the pain of tragedy and loss, we can enjoy peace and serenity through mindfulness.  

Let’s sum up with an analogy.  If you think about your life and the passage of time as a river, you don’t want to swim against the current, because you will exhaust yourself and get nowhere. If you grab hold of a fast moving boat, you will exhaust yourself with holding on and miss valuable ports along the way.  If you let go and float, the current will carry you and you will save your valuable energy.  Let it go…

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live, by Christophe Andre

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live

 I love art.  We can all appreciate some type of art as it is a reflection of the things that make us human.  For myself, as a person with a passion for sketching since I’ve been able to hold a pencil, I have always appreciated the incredible amount of skill required to create realism from splotches of pigment using brushes on a two-dimensional surface.  Now the artist who selects subject matter that evokes deep and profound feelings, is nothing short of a magician. I remember being in the Smithsonian Museum of Art and witnessing a woman moved to tears while looking at a painting on a wall. Whatever she saw, tapped into her soul the way certain literature and poetry does for me.

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And now for the book.  I confess I bought Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live because the title implied content that would target art teachers in my school building; I didn’t imagine that this would be the impactful, mindfulness lesson it proved to be for me.  Like all truly wonderful books, this one has shifted my perception; of art slightly, and of life tremendously. Such a simple but profound analogy! Gaze upon the seemingly small, insignificant moments of life as you would stop and gaze at works of art with mindful appreciation.  

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How it this done?  Using paintings of a variety of styles and spanning historical and geographical time periods, the author teaches valuable mindfulness lessons.  With each painting, the author invites the reader to perceive the big picture first, then literally zooms in on details which bring a deeper meaning.  Quotes and actual instructions (lessons) also accompany each insightful analysis. My favorite of which is when the author invites the reader to literally halt before physically turning the page of the book in order to physically check in.

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Instructions and lessons include the importance of immersive awareness, during which you attempt to “feel without thinking,”  the importance of listening as a means of gaining presence, and allowing and acknowledging painful feelings like sorrow or anger.  A topic of particular interest to me is the author’s addressing of the quality of attention and how today’s society bombards us with fast-moving, flashy, irrelevant content.  This, which the author refers to as a “psychotoxic environment,” has the ability to not only rob us from fully experiencing the present, but can in fact significantly damage our well-being.

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The challenge, as I’ve been learning daily during my personal quest to live mindfully, is to remember to consciously employ these mindful living lessons.  In a gallery, art on the walls is motionless and the placement in the gallery invites undistracted contemplation. Real life moves by quickly and catching all of the beauty and nuance requires attention, attention which can only be achieved by mindful moment-to-moment awareness  characterized by freedom of distracting, biased thoughts.

I was delightfully surprised to find this book to be, for me, the most enjoyable series of lessons on mindful living yet.  Andre succeeds in conveying deep ideas both clearly and beautifully. Stay tuned for a review of his follow-up, Happiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully Through Art.

Purchase on Amazon:

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live

Golden Sparkles: An Introduction to Mindfulness, by Catarina R. Peterson. Illustrations by Mateya Arkova

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Golden Sparkles: An Introduction to Mindfulness

What ARE “golden sparkles?”  As the beautiful text by Catarina R. Peterson unfolds, accompanied by the whimsical illustrations of Mateya Arkova, the reader begins to understand that “golden sparkles” describes the sensation that fills our hearts during mindful interaction with the world around us. Golden Sparkles taps into the awe and wonder of a child’s experience and gently conveys the methods for maintaining this inherently mindful outlook throughout trials and tribulations of later life. It is a simple analogy used to describe a most profound experience.

Peterson’s book charmed me right from the start as it is dedicated to each member of her preschool class, (each addressed individually), who she thanks for being both teachers and fellow learners, NOT mere students.  In my experience the most mindful and reflective educators perceive their students in this way.

The language of Golden Sparkles is poetic with a gentle rhyme which flows quite like the breath, gently “in… and out…” making it a delight to read aloud.  Highlighted words throughout the text conjure peace and relaxation.  They are defined sequentially in a glossary at the end of the book and can serve as talking points between reader and child. Timeless universality is an important theme, as children are reminded that through mindfulness practice, golden sparkles are literally just “a breath away” no matter where, or who you are.

There is depth in the simplicity of the illustrations.  Arkova skillfully uses a soul-soothing, pastel palette to immerse the reader in Peterson’s story.  A delightfully depicted trio of friends, each with their unique charm, effectively capture the calm, serenity, and gratitude that can be achieved by applying mindful attention to everyday activities (a picnic, a bike ride, a meditation).  Golden sparkles literally emanate from their hearts!  

The foreword by Vicki Zakrrzewski, Ph.D., Education Director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, invites readers to ponder the long-term effects of mindfulness practice on children.  I think of the ways mindfulness has improved my life and it warms my heart to know that authors like Peterson may succeed in introducing mindful living practices to the children, as they will shape our future world.  During these turbulent times marked by devastating current events, this gem-of-a book is a “golden sparkle” in itself.

Order: Golden Sparkles: An Introduction to Mindfulness

Loving-kindness…

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It is February, the month that many associate with hearts, chocolates, sappy cards, bouquets, and other symbols of “love.”  When I was a child, February was the month that my dear ol’ dad used to buy my sister and I Whitman’s Samplers for St. Valentine’s Day which we savored.  As I got older, February was alternately a giddy or depressing month based on my current romantic status (During my teens, this was usually bleak!). Through latter years, with the hustle and bustle of career and family life, I gradually lost all interest in February, save for the beloved “mid-winter recess” from school that New York teachers and students enjoy!

This year, however, the month of February, with Valentine’s Day smack in the middle, I will be thinking about loving-kindness.  Loving-kindness, or Meta Prayer, as it is known in Buddhism, is a mindfulness practice that has benefits extending far beyond stress reduction or relaxation.  “Extending far beyond” is in fact a key component of this type of meditative practice and the attention focuses first on self, and then farther and farther outward to all of mankind.

It Begins With Self

Mindfulness expert, Shauna Shapiro, delivered an excellent TEDx Talk (The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger) during which she illustrates that mindfulness is not just paying attention, but paying attention with kind curiosity.  To love yourself, you can’t be judgmental.  This is the part of the loving-kindness meditation that develops our sense of SELF-COMPASSION.  When I dug a bit deeper into the meaning of self compassion, I learned that it differs from self-absorption, and selfishness.   Self-compassion isn’t about putting myself first, or placing myself on a pedestal looking down at others.  Instead, it is about fully accepting myself as I am and recognizing that I am worthy of all the wonderful things this life has to offer.

It Moves Out Toward Loved Ones

This, for me, is the easiest part of practicing loving-kindness.  Most all of us, at least those with the capacity for compassion, inherently wish the best for the people we genuinely love and care about, and consequently, suffer when they do.  What makes this part of the practice special is that we are consciously sending well wishes out to the universe in their favor.  In other faiths, including the Christianity in which I was loosely raised, we are encouraged to pray for loved ones and come to believe that God can grant our wishes.  As a Reiki practitioner, I definitely feel that channeling energy and sending forth a healing intention toward another can yield real healing during a planned session.  When I send favorable thoughts to loved ones during regular loving-kindness meditations, for me, the greatest benefit is GRATITUDE.  I remember to be thankful for these people in my life.

Toward Those Who Inhabit Our Daily Landscape

The Starbucks barista who prepares my morning coffee.  The main office secretary who manages the sign in sheets at work.  The lady who mans the security gate of my development.  The neighbor who sings out loud while she jogs each morning.  These are the people in my life to whom I feel relatively neutral.  And they are precisely the people I tend to take for granted.  Since our contact is limited, I tend to discredit the impact a kind word from any one of them could impact the course of my day.  Conversely, a warm smile or a simple compliment from me can start a chain reaction of good in their world.  Remembering to send energy to these individuals in my loving-kindness practice heightens my AWARENESS of the far-reaching effects of every single person we encounter every day.

Toward Those Who Raise Conflict

Here comes the challenge, and honestly, the reason the loving-kindness meditation is important for all people to practice.  When we think about those who raise conflict in our lives we need to remember that there are two types of conflict; internal and external.  The latter has never been a tremendous issue for me.  For the most part, I tend to play nice with others.   Internal conflict, however is something I grapple with on a daily basis.  They are people who make me jealous, impatient, intolerant, sad, and angry, and even though these emotions may not lead to an altercation, they cause suffering in my soul. I love the quote about hate being like holding on to a hot coal with the intention of throwing it.  I am the only one who gets burned.   By consciously projecting love and light toward those who cause conflict in my life, I cultivate FORGIVENESS, and more importantly, TOLERANCE.

Finally, Toward All

This, final part of my loving-kindness meditation feels me with a profound sense of CONNECTEDNESS.  I extend well wishes to all of the people in all of the world: people who live different lives but share the basic characteristics that make me human.  No matter how alone or isolated I feel, I am reminded that I am in fact part of something much larger and more powerful than Jen.

The loving-kindness meditation, as I have come to practice it, enables me to acknowledge my own feelings with kindness and to cultivate more of the good stuff…  forgiveness, identification/empathy, connection, self-compassion, selflessness, gratitude, and love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!  

Mindfulness: Actualized In My Library

After a long, restful, mindful holiday with my family, I am finally back to my blog! It just feels like the perfect time to reflect on my progress so far this past year implementing mindfulness in my library. As readers may know from my previous posts, my interest in mindfulness began as a personal quest for stress reduction and the Buddha-like serenity I saw so cleverly depicted on the faces of models in yoga and meditation magazines. Through personal practice I have slowly begun to achieve these and more… better sleep, better health, more compassion, and a deep, grateful appreciation for all that surrounds me. Although life isn’t perfect, and I still experience negative emotions from time to time (I am human after all), through regular meditation and mindful living practices, I bounce back quicker and feel a significant “shift” overall.

In my quest to spread the benefits of formal mindful practice and mindful living to the students in my school, I have taken a number of avenues. As part of my long-term plan to make mindfulness an inherent part of the learning and growing experience at my middle school, I have begun to implement “phase one” which is to familiarize all students, faculty, and administrators with the concept, and to provide opportunities for both organized and informal practice. Thankfully, I have been lucky to gain the support of both parents and administrators in this endeavor.

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Mindful Spaces:
First, came the creation of “meditation stations.” At each windowsill in my library, there is a bench. For years I have toyed with the idea of getting them upholstered, but it was difficult to justify the cost. This year, I applied for, and received, a mini-grant from our PTA for meditation cushions that can move from the window areas to the floor for guided meditation sessions as needed. Very cozy and so very hygge!

On the walls of these window nooks, I posted colorful QR codes leading to soothing meditation music. Our students have been issued their own Chromebooks this year which they can use to scan them. Pop in earbuds, and welcome serenity! In baskets, I have also placed coloring sheets, colored pencils, and scrap paper on which they can doodle or journal.

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Picture books, which we have often used as a fun way to teach complex ideas (think The Day the Crayons Quit to teach about unions) can be found here as well. Books such as Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids, and Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress are two of my personal favorites. In addition to inducing calm and mindfulness through the sheer beauty and simplicity of the the drawings, they provide clear, tangible definitions of mindfulness, and in some cases, simple strategies for practice.

Students are free to use these “mediation stations” during recess at lunch, after school, and during class with a teacher’s permission. Administrators have begun to use the spaces as a “time out” for students. A comfortable, soothing, place where students can take a moment to just breathe and be present with themselves affords them the opportunity to identify and accept their thoughts and emotions and recognize how they may be affected physically by them. They can then pause to think through their next actions. This has proven very effective at calming an angry or distressed student. The teachers have been made aware of these spaces and increasingly take advantage for their students who need it.

Collection Development:
When I was getting my masters degree in Library and Information Science I clearly remember the unit dedicated to bibliotherapy; reading text to promote mental wellness and foster an understanding of self.  Books containing characters who break poor patterns of thinking and behavior through reflection and mindfulness, along with the latest nonfiction devoted to mindful living, yoga, and meditation, provide a treasure trove for stressed children and teens who may feel they are suffering alone. I have devoted a special section of our library to texts on these topics, along with some eye-catching signage, to promote circulation. It’s working!

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Monday Morning Mindful Message:
It’s Monday morning and the homeroom bell rings. Students settle into their seats and brace for the upcoming week. Most are ready, but some… not so much. Anxiety plagues many, and what better time for inspirational words of encouragement and the promotion of a mindful attitude than the Monday morning announcements? Each Monday I read such a quote over the PA system. On a few occasions, I have followed this up by posting a QR code in the library leading to a Padlet (https://padlet.com) on which students and faculty can post a comment, reflection, graphic, or website related to the quote of the week.  I also email teachers a graphic like the one below so they can post it on their smartboards.

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Feel free to email me with questions or comments regarding mindfulness in school. The main purpose of my blog is to connect with like-minded people out there! And stay tuned for an articles on Mindfulness in the Makerspace, MINDcraft Club, and Mindfulness Professional Development.

Mindful Thanksgiving Day CHALLENGE

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Maleficent in laws, impossible menus, bumper-to-bumper car trips, stress, anxiety, fear… oh my!  Sadly, these are the situations and emotions that plague many of us during a holiday that should IDEALLY be marked by gratitude, bonding, serenity, and joy.  Mindful living techniques to the rescue!  To me, mindful living, being completely, non judgmentally engaged in the present moment, provides me with a type of “lens” through  which I can shift my perception of situations that have the potential to unsettle me.

The traditional Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, is one of those holidays that may provide the perfect opportunity to consciously practice mindful perception, or to perceive through a “mindful lens”.  All senses are engaged as stimuli are heightened: there is the preparation, the family engagement, the travel, and of course, the food.

So are you ready for the Thanksgiving Day Mindfulness Challenge??!!

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Lil’ Thomas made this for our library.

In the Morning

Before you jump out of bed to start the day, take a deep breath, and feel gratitude.  This is a simple ritual that I try to practice every day.  Be thankful for your body, your breath, and your life.  With all of its aches and pains, your body is a gift, and our ability to sense and feel is a blessing we take for granted when we are caught up in thoughts.  Then extend the positive emotion with a lovingkindness meditation.  This is a Buddhist practice through which you focus intently on love for yourself, then for your loved ones, then to those in your life to whom you feel neutral, out toward those with whom you have conflict (a tough one, I know!) and finally, out to the world at large.

Traveling

How many times have you driven from A to B without recalling the journey at all?  How many times have you blown past your exit because you were so wrapped up in thought?  Before discovering mindfulness, this was my daily work commute to a T!  Ugh…  You know the burning in your face and sickness in your stomach that occurs when people honk their horns or cut you off in traffic?  That, my friends, is the fight or flight response.  The primal part of our brains translate that type of experience as a mortal threat, and like a deer in headlights, our bodies act accordingly.  If this happens to you, recognize the sensation for what it is and find that it passes more quickly.  Fully engage yourself in the process of driving.  Feel the power and the miracle of the vehicle you are controlling to move at such speeds.  Take in the scenery lining the road in front of you.  Notice the angle of the sun.  Focusing in this way will pull your focus away from worry and anxiety about the visit to come.  (Are you flying?  Read Mindful Flight.)

Communication

This first suggestion may be an easy one for me as I am more of a European football fan (soccer) than one of American football.  (Sorry!!  Lol)  Although I won’t suggest you turn off the TV altogether, do attempt mindful communication with your family members.  When people speak to you, look them in they eye.  Give them time to complete their thoughts.  Note body language.  Are they anxious depressed?  Consider this when processing what they share.  Secondly, don’t forget to focus mindful attention on the kids.  See them for the blessing they are, even of they are wreaking havoc and making a mess!  Don’t interrupt their play, just watch.  And finally, don’t forget our furry friends.  Poor pets…  They are often the lowest on the totem pole.  Pay attention to them!  Be mindful that holiday celebrations can be incredibly stressful for animals (noise, break in routine, perceived threats, etc.).

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Jess brought this to work. It was a whole cake before first period!

Sitting Down to the Meal

NO PHONES.  I repeat, NO PHONES.  Rude during ANY meal, this practice takes inconsideracy and mindLESSness to a whole new level during holiday meals.  Pay attention to your family and engage in a practice called mindful eating.  (NOTE: Mindful eating is a common therapy for people suffering from eating disorders.)  As tempting as it may be to gorge yourself (My personal weakness is sweet potato pie.  I am actually drooling at the thought!), slow down.  Take a moment to smell the food before stuffing it into your mouth.  Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing, noticing texture and consistency.  How about temperature?  Note the difference between hot and cold dishes.  LOOK at the food.  See the rich, diverse colors; cranberry, greens, and shades of brown.  Slowing down will enhance your enjoyment of the meal, and potentially avoid the need for antacids later on!

Reflection

At the conclusion of your mindful Thanksgiving Day, congratulate yourself for allowing yourself the opportunity to fully embrace life, mindfully.  How did the lovingkindness exercise in the morning impact your attitude throughout the day?  What miracle of nature did you notice during your mindful travels?  What did you learn about someone in your family that you would have missed had you not payed attention?  How did the mindful eating turn a gorge-fest into nourishment for the soul?

Holding That Gratitude Throughout the Holiday Season

READ one of the following children’s books.  Trust of your Mindful Librarian!  One is more beautiful than the next:

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks (Julie Andrews Collection)

Buy on Amazon

 

There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me

The Giving Tree

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (Classic Seuss)

Gratitude Soup

Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids, by Whitney Stewart with pictures by Sally Rippin

This book is a complete gem.  Even though the intended audience is K through 3, I can see using this in my collection as an instruction manual for mindfulness for my middle schoolers (as well as their teachers!).  The strength of this book is the fact that it provides a variety of actual mindfulness practices for kids.  It can work as a daily guide.  Students can choose their methods based on their emotional needs at any given time.  The book describes activities such as, “Mind Drawing for Focus,” “Protection Circle for Security,” and “Friendship Meditation for Kindness.”  They are mostly visualization and breathing exercises.

Intrusive thoughts that “pop up” during meditation are likened to bubbles.  This instruction is to “pop” them when the mind wanders.  As a Reiki practitioner, energy work is a big part of my mindfulness practice and I love how this book alludes to chakras (energy centers in the body) and the importance of, and simple strategies for, sending and receiving energy.  For example, the “Wise Friend for Decision Making” exercise encourages one to envision a wise friend sending, “white light into your forehead to strengthen your body.”  The center of the eyes is the location of the Ajna Chakra, or “third eye chakra,” and it is the point for insight and intuition.  One instructed to then imagine receiving light over the throat for clear speech.  (This is the Vishuddha Chakra.)

The illustrations that accompany the text are simplistic and delightful.  The main subject is a cute elephant and his little friend (representative of the “wise friend” within) is a monkey.  The book concludes with “Questions about Meditation.”  Worded simply for a child, they are the same questions adults often have regarding the practice.  (“What do I do when I feel wriggly?” or “sore legs?”)  In short, this is a delightful little book, and a great addition to my mindful library.

Coincidence?

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You wake up one morning and recall a dream in which an old high school friend, whom you haven’t spoken to in years, plays a central role. (Let’s call her Mayra.)  The same morning, on the way to work, you turn on the radio and catch an old, unpopular song that you and Mayra once sang at a karaoke party.  Later that day, you get a Facebook alert that it is Mayra’s birthday.  Is it mere coincidence?  Maybe.  Moving mindfully through life though, I seem to be encountering more and more incidences of coincidences, or phenomena perhaps better termed, synchronicity.

According to Dictionary.com, a coincidence is, “A striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.”  The same site defines synchronicity as, “The simultaneous occurrence of causally unrelated events and the belief that the simultaneity has meaning beyond mere coincidence.”  This last part regarding the meaning of such events has been my latest big topic of interest.  Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, refers to synchronicity as “meaningful coincidence” and “acausal parallelism.”  Could the dream, the song, and the alert have been just an interesting fluke?  Mere chance?  Or perhaps something more?

In his book, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, Deepak Chopra states, “Coincidences are not accidents but signals from the universe which can guide us toward our true destiny.”  He writes of something called “Synchrodestiny,” which can be reached by “accessing a place deep within yourself, and [by paying] attention to the coincidences outside.”  As mindful meditation and mindful living practices both involve digging deep within, nonjudgmentally, and living fully in the present moment, it would only make sense that the more I practice, the more I find what seem like hidden messages coming to the forefront of my consciousness and spurring me to action.  

We have all heard the phrase millions of times: follow your gut.  This is infinitely easier to do when you are unburdened by unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Intuition, in the form of a hunch, coupled by signs and connections from the outside world, shouldn’t be ignored.  A relative of mine who lives far away had been on my mind for a few days.  Flipping through a magazine, I came across an article about his hometown.  I followed my gut and picked up the phone.  He happened to be in crisis and so grateful for my call.  Apparently, “coincidentally,” I had the answer to a problem he had been struggling with for some time.  30453989-.jpg

Things like this force one to question the nature of life altogether.  Are our lives parts of some big master plan?  Is there another force at work here? Quantum Theory does suggest that everything in the universe is connected.  As you move mindfully through YOUR life, try paying attention to coincidences and seek out the deeper significance of every encounter.  Every person who crosses your path, whether it be brief or long-term, can leave you with valuable insight if you pay attention.  Whether you believe in guardian angels, spirit guides, God, “The Force,” or none of the above, through mindful attention, you may find that the universe is trying to tell you something.  Listen.