Effort and Mindfulness


When people begin practicing mindfulness they often hear things that seem contradictory. Some common phrases someone might hear are:  “making the effort to practice every day,” “practice without effort or controlling anything,” “letting go,” “focus your attention,” “don’t control your breath,” “non-attachment,” and many more. A new practitioner may get confused. Am I trying to use effort and control or am I letting go and not being attached? The answer is, “Yes.” So, in reality, you can do all of the above at the same time- use effort, have some control, let go and practice non-attachment at the same time.


Using effort is absolutely necessary. Effort simply means “determined attempt.” Let’s be clear. I did not say, “Perfect attempt.” People have some messed up ideas about what mindfulness is, I know I did. Sitting down to practice the first time many of us leave the first session saying to ourselves, “I am freaking crazy. I had so many ideas. I am NEVER doing that again.” But what we find if we return again and again to the practice is that when we at least try to bring our attention to the present moment purposefully without judging ourselves we are practicing mindfulness. The problem is not that people cannot bring their awareness to the moment. The problem is that when people bring their awareness to the present moment they find something other than expected.  Judgement sets in. Mindfulness is lost. This is where most people leave mindfulness saying that it is crazy, they are crazy, or simply it “just won’t work for me.” The people who persevere simply recommit in their effort. Perhaps the biggest nuts are the ones who return to sit with the millions of thoughts and feelings to see what will happen. But those who do put in the effort find more beyond those initial findings.

Control Freak 

I am a member of at least 3 groups that are known to be control freaks- parent, teacher and recovering addict- I know control. When we approach mindfulness one thing we might find in that present moment is…..I am a control freak (among other things). Let me just reassure you- we all are. Some just hide it better than others.


We may want to control how we feel, what we look like, how other people feel, the outcome of a situation, the weather (teachers suddenly become mystical creators and forecasters of snowy weather in winter), our children, and list continues. When we sit to practice mindfulness we might feel out of control. We notice how many thoughts we have, we become aware of emotions that have been buried in work or ice cream, we see clearly the reality of our minds- and it ain’t pretty and serene. It’s alright. If we continue to practice we may come to accept even these times when things just aren’t pretty.

When we begin focusing on the breath we might find we are controlling the rate. I once had someone tell me that the breath is not a good place to start with mindfulness because we try to control our breathing. I disagree. The breath is a wonderful place to start because mindfulness is about bringing awareness to whatever is happening without judgement. When I notice that I am controlling how I am breathing I used to say, “AAAAHHHH I am controlling my breath.” Now I notice it without judging it. So what, I am controlling how slowly I am breathing.

Letting Go and Non-attachment

I very much dislike that the movie “Frozen” ruined this saying for me. Every time I think, “Let It Go” I want to break out in song. But now that we have some applied some effort and found out how controlling we are, it is time to let it go. This is the part of mindfulness that I find the most rewarding and the most difficult.

Our identities are wrapped up in what we do and feel. What are the main questions ask you daily- How are you doing? What do you do (for work)? With feelings we can feel “bad” or “good.” We don’t want to feel “bad” because in some weird way that makes us “bad.” If we lose our job or it is a stressful day then our identities suffer. But here is the secret- we are not what we think, we are not what we feel, we are not what we say, we are not what we do. All of these things arise in our minds and are expressed but none of them are our true nature. Mindfulness, in my experience, is about realize this point.


Our minds subtly convince us that we are the things we do, say, feel and think. When we can understand that “I had a thought” instead “I am that thought,” or “I am holding anger” instead of “I am anger,” or “I work at a job” rather than “I am my job” then we can create some distance. When we can bring those unconscious thoughts to our conscious awareness without judging them or ourselves then we experience non-attachment. When we are able to step back in this way then we can let go of our preconceived notions of what we “should” be thinking, the way the situation “should” be, or what someone else “should” be doing. Instead we can be aware of how something actually is, have a level of acceptance of the way is right now, and let it go with a level of compassion for ourselves, others and/or the situation at hand.




Logic vs. Mindfulness

“Cogito, ergo sum.” René Descartes’s famous conclusion often interpreted as, “I think, therefore I am.” Our society holds the mind as extremely important. The push toward intellectual horizons of college, life long learning and figuring out the meaning to life are just some of the ways we find the mind held in the highest regard.

question-1301144_1920A Mind of Its Own

Add to society’s focus on the intellect in fact our minds want to think. Gestalt psychology gives us the perspective that our minds want to understand, to come to a place of completion, and wants everything to fit well into a box. Even if we don’t have all of the information about a situation our minds try to fill in the blanks to complete the story so it makes sense to us. While this is an important function of the mind and it is much needed for us to function in the world, it can also cause great difficulties. We can fill in the blanks with incorrect information, we can go down a rabbit hole of worry and stress that is difficult to get out of, and ultimately our mind never stops its ceaseless endeavor to think, think, think. Mindfulness gives us another approach.

The practice of mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the moment without judgement. One of the ways we can disengage from the mind’s constant need to figure things out is to focus on one of our five senses- tastes, touch, smell, sight, or listening. By bringing our awareness to one of these five things it allows the mind to take a place to come home to and rest. However, anyone who has tried to practice mindfulness knows, the mind is afraid to be taken out of the limelight. The mind raises its voice and says, “Hey, I’m still here. Look at me!”

The Practice of Mindfulness

Many people think mindfulness is about being “zen.” Yet, what many don’t realize is that calmness and centeredness really comes from persevering through the phases where the mind jumps up and down wanting attention. Having been at mindfulness retreats one common comment made is, “Everyone looks so calm while my mind is going crazy and won’t stop.” What the person finds is other people nodding in agreement- all those who seems so serene were actually sitting with the intensity of the mind going in a hundred different directions. They just didn’t get up from the room to do something to distract themselves. At some point everyone who practices mindfulness for any length of time has their thoughts highjack their attention. That line is so important I’m going to say it again, everyone who practices mindfulness has their thoughts highjack their attention- even the people whom you think of as being the most “zen.” Mindfulness is NOT about staying focused. It is about noticing that our mind has gone off doing what it does again (thinking, plotting, planning), gently bringing our attention back to our object of focus (our breath, our feelings, our sensations), and beginning again……and again……and again……..and again.


Logic and Mindfulness

While logic and mindfulness can seem diametrically opposed they are not. They are simply different parts that support an overall holistic approach to being human. Practicing mindful sitting is like playing scales on the piano. Even the best pianist still does it. However, when we are proficient in that practice we bring our mindfulness to all areas of our life including logical thinking. We can be mindful of our logical thinking bringing awareness of the nuisances, deceptions and profound insights that arise. So what I tell people is, “Don’t stop thinking. Just do it mindfully!”


Non/Attachment: Mindful Parenting

When people think of mindfulness they sometimes mistakenly believe that sitting quietly is self-centered. Parents seem to really struggle with this concept. For certain, there are a limited amount of hours in a day and making space for a practice is extremely difficult. However, there is growing evidence that mindfulness actually helps people to be more engaged in relationships. If mindfulness can help us to be more effective in building and maintaining relationships this might encourage parents and even people in general positive justifications for taking a few minutes of silence to practice mindfulness. But how does a practice that teaches non-attachment lead to healthy attachment?


Attachment Theory

Attachment is an emotional bond between people that is healthy, deep and enduring that can span across time and space. This strong emotional bond gives those who experience attachment a sense of security. By having someone we can depend on deeply then regardless of what happens, even tragic situations, we are grounded in a healthy relationship that we can look to for support. Through attachment we can develop “attunement” which is a neurological process that helps us understand and connect more deeply with others. For some people their parents are the first relationships that help them form attachment and attunement. For other people the relationship with their parents do not support healthy attachment which makes it more difficult to form healthy relationships with other people outside the family unit. At this point, some people like me say, “I didn’t get everything I needed (or think I needed) as a kid. Well, I am screwed.” But not all is lost! There is hope!


Daniel J. Siegel writes in his book The Mindful Brain about COAL, the foundational mindfulness practices of Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love. He writes,

COAL is exactly what parents who provide secure attachment to their children have as a mental stance toward them. We can propose that the interpersonal attunement of secure attachment between parent and child is paralleled by an intrapersonal form of attunement in mindful awareness. Both forms of attunement promote the capacity for intimate relationships, resilience and well-being (Siegel, 2007, pg. 26)

Mindfulness helps to the practitioner to develop those skills and the neurological framework similar to those that some people get from their parents. This gives me hope because through mindfulness I am developing a better relationship with myself and others. Through developing attunement in myself I find people more easily I can trust and can more easily identify people whom I can care about from a distance. Even during stressful times I am able to remain grounded in a way that was not possible before being a mindful practice. I have a better sense of overall well-being. My relationship with my children continues to develop in a more productive way.


One more important point that the discussion of healthy attachment and the mindfulness practice raises is to the question that many parents ask ourselves, “Am I messing up my kids?” Ultimately we do the best we can with the information and skills that we have. The hopeful insight is that even if we make mistakes as parents, which we will, our children have the ability, through mindfulness practice to develop and strengthen those areas where we as parents fall short. With some dedication and responsible practice we can all heal ourselves a little more one breath at a time!



Mindful Parenting

One reason I began Possibilities Exist is provide mindfulness training for children and youth. Anyone who is around young people knows that mindfulness is very much needed and that those skills can be beneficial for the rest of their lives. While this is still very much my desire I find myself writing articles directed toward parents. While taking a walk yesterday (the time in which I let my mind wander, explore and imagine possibilities) I realized that the work of providing parents information is extremely important. As a parent and public school teacher I continue to understand the impact my own personal practice of mindfulness can have on my kids.

When talking with someone at Mindful Schools (the place where I continue to get mindfulness education) about getting educators trained in teaching mindfulness to students I was told, “While it is important to teach the students mindfulness it is more important to have mindful teachers.” I brushed this off as a nice idea but I felt it was more important to teach kids.


I am not finding the gem of truth in that statement. As a parent I now know that “while it is important to teach my kids mindfulness it is more important to have be a mindful parent.” There are many reasons why it is more important for me as parent to practice mindfulness than my kids to learn it. By practicing mindfulness I am modeling more positive behaviors which my kids begin to learn, I respond differently creating a more positive atmosphere and ultimately I am better at being a parent. Just like stated on airplanes, “Put on your mask before assisting your children.” If I am not nourishing myself and coming from a place of mindfulness my entire family is in jeopardy of chaos.


I am not diminishing in any way the importance of young people learning mindfulness. I am continuing to teach classes and will post articles directed specifically to children and young people. But right now I am going to intentionally focus on creating some resources and feedback on mindful parenting. So, let’s figure out how to practice this thing called mindfulness before we move on to assisting our children in formally learning mindfulness. Let’s begin!

Discount on Mindfulness Courses- Limited Time

Here is my gift to you: Starting Sunday May 27 through Saturday June 2 all of the Mindfulness for Children, Youth and Families courses are discounted. They are usually $60 but are $45- that is $15 off!!!!!! There is no other place where you can get this quality of mindfulness course for both children/youth AND yourself as parents/guardians. On Sunday June 3 the cost will go back to $60, so make sure to register, make a payment and reserve your spot!


This will be a six week introduction course into secular Mindfulness for children, youth and families. The course will begin Monday June 4 and ending Monday July 9, 2018 at The Oasis Institute, 4918 Homberg Dr, Knoxville, TN 37919.

There will be three different classes happening each Monday:
1) rising Kindergarten-4th grader (6-6:45pm)- limit 10 children;
2) rising 5th-8th graders (7pm-7:45pm)- limit 12 youth;
3) rising 9th-12 graders (8pm-8:45pm)- limit 15 youth.
For the elementary and middle school courses parents need to attend all six classes. For high school students parents can choose to attend or not although it is suggested that parents do attend.

Make sure to reserve your place. Click here for Registration.

If you find you cannot attend all of the individual classes that is alright but the cost is for the course as a whole. If you need extra assistance please contact us.

Winners of Drawing

At the Children’s Festival of Reading yesterday almost 100 people entered a drawing for Possibilities Exist’s newest resource, Everyday Mindfulness: A Week of Mindfulness Practices, a booklet by Lucius Irvin.


The four lucky winners were:

Keela K., Jennifer J., Kathy B., Hedda D.

Emails have been sent to each of the winners and booklets will be sent soon! Congratulations!

If you didn’t win but want a booklet see more information here.

To find out more about the upcoming Mindfulness Courses for families visit Workshops and Events.

Rocking Mindfulness at Reading Festival

What do you get when you mix beads and hundreds of kids on a sunny day- mindfulness at the reading festival!

Yesterday was Knox County Libraries’ annual Children’s Festival of Reading. Talking with hundreds of families about mindfulness was amazing. Kids got to make beaded bracelets to remind them to “Pause, Breathe, and Smile.” We also have four lucky winners (to be announced) of the newest Possibilities Exist resources, Everyday Mindfulness: A Week of Mindful Practices, a booklet with a different mindful practice for families every day of the week. The booklets will be available soon for purchase here on possibilities.exist.org.

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Don’t use that dirty word….self-care.

Resistance to Self-Care

Even after practicing self-care for years I still very much dislike that word. As a heart-914682_1920teacher there are “self-care” trainings from time to time- I always pick something else. So why as a parent and a teacher do I resist self-care and even the concept of self-care? I think the problem is multi-fold. Let’s explore some of the reasons we may resist self-care, some ways to by-pass the resistant brain, and what practicing self-care may look like in the “real world.”

Resistance is the Real Deal

The concept of self-care is foreign to many us. Keeping busy, getting the job done, and indulging in instant gratification all led me away from self care. “It takes too much time,” “I have too much work,” “This is stupid,” “I will do it later,” is what my mind said again and again. The funny SNL skit with Stuart Smalley always popped into my mind. I could just imagine myself standing in front of a mirror saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog-gone-it, people like me.” I surely didn’t want that to happen. All-or-nothing thinking also kept me stuck. If I couldn’t go on a retreat for a few days, or take several hours, or do it “perfectly,” then it wasn’t worth it. That kept me from taking advantage of any benefits at all of practicing self-care.

Tricking Myself into Self-care

Although my mind is fairly smart- it can plan, plot, and achieve- but it is rather simplistic when it comes to resistance. It seems so strong but it is one-pointed. If I go a different route than it is pushing against I can help direct it to where I want it to go. Self-care, for instance, is a thing my mind resisted terribly. I couldn’t find out why I resisted self-care so much. But, like a friend once said to me, “I could ask ‘why’ for the rest of my life without changing the problem. What I need to do is change the question to a ‘what.’ What can I do to change the problem?” This question implies action. My first step to self-care……tricking myself.

Ways I Trick Myself

1. Time is an illusion (not really). In a very real sense I only have so many hours in a day. I have so many things jammed into my schedule that sometimes I don’t know what day it is unless I look at the calendar. But like a sidewalk, there are spaces. If I fill those small spaces- 5, 10, 15 minutes with a little self-care over time (like the cracks in the sidewalk) that care adds up.


2.  Double Trouble- I pair my self-care with other things I am already doing. If I am going to a meeting close to the house I get some exercise in by walking or riding my bicycle. I also stop by a park sometimes on the way home from work. I sometimes take a few minutes to do some mindfulness in the car before going into work or for an appointment. I use stop signs and red lights to remind me to do some mindful breathing. I have even been known to do affirmations in the mirror while getting ready for the day.

3. Adapt and Experiment (one size does NOT fit all)- my schedule changes, my needs change, my self-care needs to adapt. I experiment with different kinds of self-care. Not all kinds of care work for me and even the ones that do work don’t work in all situations and all the time. I approach taking care of myself with excitement and curiosity (and sometimes frustration and begrudging determination).

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Final Word on the Dirty Word…..Self-Care

Taking care of myself, finding ways to trick myself into doing self-care, experimenting with different kinds and adapting to my changing needs takes time. I am never going to be perfect at it. There are times when it self-care is easier than others. There are times when practicing self-care is extremely difficult even though I have done it for years. What I continue to tell myself about self-care is, “Take it easy but do it!” If practice self-care as best I can with the little time that I have my life will blossom like flowers in a side-walk.

The P’s for Mindfulness Perfection

Let me start by saying that I lied- there is no such thing as mindfulness perfection. I prefer to think of it as the principal at my school says, “Practice makes permanent.” If we do something over and over again it becomes habit for us. Once established habits are hard to break. And we can use that to our advantage!

The 3 P’s

The benefits of mindfulness may be many. Look at any magazine, television special, youtube channel and, yes, scientific studies and you will see the possible outcomes that you may reap from practicing mindfulness. However, those benefits will only come if you practice. That is where the problem often arises for many of us- there are only so many hours in the day. As a parent, a public school teacher, a person who is involved in way too many activities I am even more aware of the limited amount allotted to me each day. But what I have come to understand is, if I take a little time each day to practice mindfulness my experience with all of the other activities will be so much more positive, effective, and meaningful. That is where the 3 P’s come into play.


Personal Practice for Parents

Parents often ask, “What can I do to help my child with meltdowns, stress, getting to bed, _________________ (fill in the blank with the various struggles)?” One of the biggest and most effective answers, which I was reluctant to hear for a long time, is work on yourself as parent. What I realized is that if I can come to a place of some stability then I can react differently. When I react differently to situations then no matter what happens, if if the pattern has been well-established, then the outcome usually changes.

When I began to change…….

A perfect example is when I had a student with whom I had worked on developing a relationship, finding out more about the student and really taking a genuine interest in his life. However, there were days when this student would come in and I could tell by looking at his eyes that he had disconnected. On these days the student would without fail in get in trouble and end up in the principal’s office at some point throughout the day. The student would try to provoke teachers, would say horrible things and even break items in the class. I was just beginning to practice mindfulness and was struggling to bring it into my daily life. I wracked my brain to find a solution. Then it came to me- I could use the disruptive behavior of the student to help me remember to practice mindfulness in the moment. I decided that when I focused on my breathing I would also smile and tell the student, “Thank you,” simply as a practice of gratitude for helping me.

The student came in one day and I could tell something was off. I did everything I could do to connect with the student to no avail. I was teaching and the student got up talking loudly at me across the room. I asked him to sit down as I was teaching. The student only got louder and started saying very rude things to me. I continued to be polite but could feel the anxiety in the room build. The student started walking across the room and stood right in front of me. I felt trapped. I was able to walk around the student to my desk all the while the student is yelling at me for no reason. I sat behind my desk and realized I was trapped. There was only one way into and out of my desk. The student was blocking the way, which caused great anxiety in me. Then I remember, mindfulness! I began focusing on my breath instead of the situation. Then I smiled. All of the other students were taken aback and said, “Oh man, he is smiling.” I told the student, “Thank you.” He immediately stopped screaming and said, “Why?” I simply said, “Thank you.” The student was so baffled that he stood there for a moment almost dazed and then when he realized I wasn’t going to react, he went and sat down.”

Since this time I have had many similar situations with other students and with my own children.


Taking Time for 3 P’s

The amount of time it takes for me to practice can be range from a few brief moments to several day retreats. What I realized though was that I could actually save time if I practiced mindfulness. Those five, ten, twenty minutes that I take to practice save me time in the long run. By being able to be mindful in my daily life I am better able to deal with situations as they arise. How much time and energy are spent putting out fires especially when I add to them, in procrastinating, in doing other things to divert from looking at my feelings? The amount of time and energy it takes adds up to much more than the time I spend doing a formal (alone) practice of mindfulness.

Tips For Establishing Personal Practice for Parents

  1. Find support. This can be a Facebook group, a local mindfulness group, friends and family- anyone who can encourage you in developing a practice.
  2. Talk to your kids about how mindfulness may help you and if you are helped it will support the entire family.
  3. Integrate mindfulness into your daily life. My family does a “Minute of Mindfulness” before dinner together. It might not seem like a lot but I get at least 7 minutes a week that I wouldn’t get without it. Check out information about InterChange. Brainstorm ways that your family can get involved.
  4. Look for my upcoming post, “Finding Time to Practice 101”