Mindfulness: Start ‘Em Young
October 17, 2019 § Leave a comment
“A well-known teacher was asked to describe the modern world. He answered: Lost in thought.” I’m currently taking a 30-day online mindfulness course from Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach—a series of short guided meditations—and this was how the third session began. Lost in thought: a modern epidemic. I’ve thought about this observation multiple times since, always with sadness and identification. How much of my daily life is spent worrying, planning, remembering, regretting, being somewhere other than where I am?
When we’re lost in thought, Kornfield notes, we’re missing out on what’s in front of us, perhaps on the very parts of life we cherish most. He quotes from the great poet Khalil Gibran: “…and forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
This is my third attempt in the last eighteen months at developing a regular mindfulness practice. I’ve never lasted more than ten consecutive days. This month has been a mixed bag, too. October has thrown me a number of curve balls, and the pull to become lost in thought—mourning, stewing, deliberating—often eschews the discipline of sitting for a guided meditation.
I want to be better at this. To be more present in my senses, to more fully embrace the adventure of life. To feel the warm sun on the back of my neck, the hard earth beneath my feet. To smell the crispness in the air. To notice my daughter singing in the bathroom.
I want to be better at this for my kids. The ones watching me model being lost in thought as if my life depends on it. When my son experiences an emotion, I wish for him to notice how it manifests in his body, instead of ruminating on it or wishing it away. When my daughter walks home from her violin lesson, I wish for her to notice the shifting beauty around her, even while she plans which games she’s going to play with her waiting friend.
Author Julia Denos has teamed up with illustrator E.B. Goodale to produce another beautiful picture book (I regret not making time on this blog for their first, Windows) which is itself a kind of guided meditation for kids. Here and Now (Ages 4-8) gently and effectively brings children’s attention to the present moment. It grounds the reader in her own bodily sensations, while also connecting her to the wider world. It prompts parent and child alike to think about what might happen if we turn towards, instead of away from, the present moment, with all its beauty and mystery and wonder.
The book begins with the experience of holding the book itself. “Right here,/ right now,/ you are reading this book.” We see four hands on the page, two large and two small. The title page tells us that these hands belong to a mother and child, part of a mixed-race family whom we will follow through the book.
Many of us might assume reading a book is at odds with mindfulness, that as it draws us into a fictional world, reading only enhances our propensity to be lost in thought. Certainly, this can be true. But Here and Now also reminds us that we need not entirely divorce ourselves from what’s happening around us, that we can pause and check in. “You are sitting,/ or you are standing,/ or you are wrapped up in bed./ Under your bum, under your feet,/ is a seat,/ a floor…/ or a cloud (if you are on an airplane).” I love that last bit, by the way.
Gradually, perspective shifts from the self to the environment. Below the child’s feet (or bum) is the Earth: “the grass and the dirt,/ the earthworms and the fossils,/ the rocks.”
The camera pulls back even further, reminding us that while we are rooted to the Earth, the Earth itself is “spinning in the middle of space./ We don’t know why./ But it is.” I love the quiet acceptance here: we don’t have to understand something to be aware of it.
The narrator then asks us to consider the different things that might be happening elsewhere at this exact moment. A telephone might be ringing. Rain might be forming in a cloud. An ant might have just “finished its home on the other side of the planet.” Most of what’s happening in this moment has nothing or little to do with us. Some things, however, might have implications for us, whether now or later. “A friend you haven’t met yet is sitting down to dinner.”
Our attention is called to the living and breathing things around us, both “wild ones/ and tame.” Pictured, surrounding the girl and her family at the park, are dogs, ducks, geese, squirrels, turtles, fish, bunnies, bees, butterflies, spiders, birds, ants, and chipmunks. Though Goodale says this spread was the hardest to paint, we readers are rewarded with lots to notice.
Denos continues to add layers to her meditation—her calm, hopeful tone turning ultimately to the “unseen work being done” around us. “Muscles are growing,/ cities are growing,/ babies are growing./ Cuts and broken bones are sewing up and healing.”
In the book’s final pages, awareness returns to the self. In ways we can’t see but can still honor in this moment, we “are becoming.”
If we build a book like this into our everyday routines when our children are young, perhaps it won’t take quite so much work for them to bring presence into their daily lives as they get older. Perhaps they will invite more curiosity into their relationships with themselves and with the world. Guided through these pages, we realize we don’t want to miss out on the here and now.
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