Mindfulness for Teachers/Parents/Recovery Course- now open

Join the community of mindfulness practitioners.

In this six-week online course, you will learn the basic practices for mindfulness including focusing on the breath, sitting with feelings and connecting with others in meaningful ways. Each week there will be a live conference call (which will be recorded and accessible for later viewing) with the guided practice for the week, forums to extend the practice and support along the way.

There will be individual forums for each of the communities- teachers, parents, and people in recovery. The mindfulness practices are the same but you will build community and discussions around the issues that affect you the most.

The courses will run May 29-July 10, 2019. Access the course, forum, and support from anywhere you have an internet connection. The course is $75.00. Scholarships and discount rates are available.

Register here for Mindfulness for Teachers/Parents/Recovery Course.

Mindfulness for Educators (it’s official)

Each month you will get a chance to practice mindfulness (which as a parent and an educator I am well aware is a challenge), workshop ideas and share successes and challenges.

If you are a professional interested in teaching mindfulness to children and youth (PreK-12 educators, social workers/school psychologists, therapists, after school providers, etc.) and you live in or near Knoxville join us the first Monday of each month from 6:30pm-8pm at the Meaningful Life Center. Together we can do what we cannot do alone!

To learn more see the link below (registration is not required but may be helpful). You can join the group at any time.

Mindfulness for Educators

Is Mindfulness a form of Meditation?

Building on the post “Mindfulness in Education: Is It Religious?” I wanted to address another question that is often raised, “Is mindfulness a form of meditation?” This is a seemingly tricky question because people associate different ideas with the word ‘meditation.’ Some associate the idea with yogis in the mountains or perhaps peace and tranquility. Whatever association exists or does not exist, the question needs to be addressed.

People often think of meditation as a practice of Hinduism.

Meditation Defined

Let’s start with the word “meditation.” To meditate means to think deeply and carefully about something. So when you focus on anything or contemplate an idea you are actually meditating, plain and simple. Meditation can be simple or complex. It can religious, philosophical or secular. What you focus on dictates what kind of meditation you are doing. All meditation is NOT religious/spiritual in nature.

Umbrella- The Metaphor

We can think of meditation like an umbrella. Similarly when we think of the word education we can use the same analogy. Education is like an umbrella term. Under education we can see that there are many different kinds of learning, some of which are completely unrelated. For instance, under the term education we find religious education, public education, private education, formal education, informal education, youtube tutorials, etc. The list goes on and on branching off into subsections as we go. Religious education may be completely different than watching a youtube video on fixing your car. However, they both are forms of education. Meditation is the same.

Under the umbrella of meditation we find various kinds: religious, philosophical, and secular with an endless list of subsections of each including problem solving, contemplating love, self-reflection, etc. My Granny used to say every time she saw me, “I’ve been studying about you.” Knowing she was a very religious woman I thought she was studying the Book of John (my given name) in the Christian Bible. It took a long time for me to understand that she was actually thinking about me. She was meditating on me, given me close consideration. When someone says mindfulness meditation we may think they mean they are meditating on something religious. But this is not always the case.

Forms of Meditation

Religious

In traditional religious/spiritual paths the object of meditation may be God, a mantra, or prayer. Often the goal is to connect with a Higher Power, to “see the reality of things” in a spiritual sense, to “let His (or Her or Its) will be done.” This can be found in almost every religion/spiritual path including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and many more.

Religious meditation can take many forms including contemplation, prayer, mantra, and chanting.

Philosophical

Thinking about the underlying nature of reality without a religious/spiritual interpretation is meditation. As a Religious Studies major in undergraduate I was shocked when I picked up a book with ‘meditation’ in the title but on further study realized there was nothing about “meditation” in the book. This was my first insight into how even I had preconceived notion of what meditation was. Thinking deeply on Reason and Logic is indeed meditation. It is meditation on philosophy, not religious meditation.

Thinking deeply about Reasoning and Ethics is an ancient form of meditation associated with Philosophy.

Secular

Under the heading of “secular meditation” most ever other kind of meditation arises. People can think deeply about their day to day problems, the object of their love, or sensations in the body or on their breath. There does not have to be a focus on religious ideas, a foundation of belief or an philosophical stance. Mindfulness practiced in public education settings can thus be defined as a form of meditation. However, just like the umbrella term ‘education,’ the kinds of topics/subtopics that fall under the umbrella term ‘meditation’ may just as unrelated. While there may be some outward characteristics that look similar religious meditation is not associated with secular mindfulness meditation. For more insight into this see “Mindfulness in Education: Is It Religious?

While secular mindfulness meditation practiced in education may share some outward characteristics with religious meditation, what we practice in public schools is not religious.

Clarification

When someone asks me, “Is mindfulness a form of meditation?” I take a deep breath. I am not always sure what motivates the question. Often I ask a clarifying question like, “That is an interesting question, what do you mean?” I can determine whether someone has a preconceived notion, perhaps some fear related to term ‘meditation’ and can more easily answer whatever concern or idea someone might have. I remember that we do not all start with the same information and it is best to meet people where they are. I want to be clear in how I explain and educate people instead of trying to dance around the topic. I will directly answer the question posed and explain it: Mindfulness as practiced in public education is meditation but it is not religious.

Mindfulness in Education- Is it Religious?

Mindfulness is becoming very popular in K-12 settings. As rising stress levels for teachers continue and students present more and more social/emotional struggles educators are looking for solutions. Having show immense success in scientific research helping adults deal with difficulties, mindfulness is showing promise with children and young people.

Questions about whether mindfulness is religious or not are on the rise with the growing use of mindfulness in schools.

Rising Concern

As mindfulness becomes more popular some people are fearful that religion is being brought into schools. Many simply have a basic misunderstanding of what mindfulness is and its purpose. While the topic of science is often given for the explanation as to the “why” mindfulness is important, some people need to know what it is before they will even listen to what research shows. And sometimes it is even more important to state what mindfulness is not before people will listen to what it actually is.

Religious???

Getting my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies was helpful in my understanding that mindfulness in schools is not religious. The characteristics of religions include a set of beliefs about the nature and cause of the universe usually including some supernatural or superhuman power, a set of devotional rituals and practices, and a moral code. By this very definition mindfulness, as presented in schools, is not religious.

Mindfulness in education does not include or need any of the following to be implemented:

  • a set of beliefs about the nature or cause of the universe
  • any concept of a God, supernatural or otherworldly power
  • devotional rituals or practices
  • moral code

What about Buddhism?

While we can determine that mindfulness in education is not religious some are still concerned about what role Buddhism plays. Look up the word “mindfulness” and undoubtedly you will get all kinds of links about Buddhism. This is enough for some people to be completely convinced that educators are trying to bring religion into schools. And to a certain degree, I understand. Even though I know that the mindfulness in schools is not Buddhist, I have never heard or read anyone explain it clearly and directly. This topic needs to be addressed.

Mindfulness and Buddhism- what is the connection?

Historical Ties vs. Association

Education itself has historical ties to religion. The earliest versions of formal education was with priests of both polytheistic (many gods) and monotheistic (one God) religions. Pretty much everything we do in education has a historical tie to people whose culture was religious. Writing, Mathematics, Science, History- all originated from cultures that held specific beliefs about the nature of the universe, a concept of supernatural powers, rituals, moral code.

A distant relative of cuneiform and stylus, writing and pencil, as used in public schools, are not a religious practice

For example, the earliest writings were created and used by Mesopotamians called cuneiform using a stylus. These people were polytheistic. However, most people are not concerned about students writing in school or using a pencil as being a  “religious practice.”  But if we are teachings things that originated with a people who were religious why should we not be concerned that students are being taught religion? Because while there is a historical tie, the practices we use in school are not associated with the religious beliefs and rituals of the people who created the activities. We have brought the methods that serve us and our students into schools while leaving the culture and religious beliefs of the people who began the practices in the past (aka, historical tie, not association). If there was an association then we would connect what we do with the people who created those practices. Do we praise the Mesopotamian god, Nabu, the patron of scribes, literacy and wisdom? Absolutely not! Writing, while having a historical tie, is not associated or connected to those early Mesopotamians nor their religion. We simply use the activity of writing to benefit us and our students.

Mindfulness- Historical Tie, Not Association

While mindfulness is practiced in different forms in almost every religious and spiritual tradition (although it may be called something else) many of the practices that we see in education today look more similar to those practiced in Buddhism. This is the area that confuses most people and they assume that Buddhism is being brought into schools.  Mindfulness as practiced in public schools has a historical tie to Buddhism, but there is no association. Just like writing, Astronomy, Mathematics, Science, we have taken the essence of a practice and left the cultural and religious beliefs in the past. We have found something, like writing, that can help us and our students. Does that mean that we praise the Buddha or follow the Four Noble Truths? Absolutely not! Mindfulness, while having a historical tie, is not associated or connected to Buddhism in any way. We simply use the activity of mindfulness to benefit us and our students.

Clearly Stated

Let me clearly and succinctly state it: Mindfulness as practiced in public schools is not religious. Mindfulness as practiced in public schools is not Buddhism.

Is using mindfulness without acknowledging its historical tie to Buddhism cultural appropriation?

Cultural Appropriation

As a middle-aged straight white male with an education, relative good health, and just a little bit of money in the bank (hey, I am a teacher, so yes, it is very little) I admit that I have biases. The idea of cultural appropriation has been something I have wrestled with. My conclusion is that educators must be careful to not culturally appropriate mindfulness. The misappropriation may simply be done out of fear. Most educators who use mindfulness know they are not practicing nor teaching Buddhism but are afraid or unaware of how to convey this to people who accusing them of bringing religion into schools. I personally do not like conflict or having someone assume bad intentions about my motive for bringing something that is actually helping kids into the school. However, as educators, this is nothing new. We are often on the front lines of illogical and unreasonable attacks about what we do. Why should bringing a beneficial practice to help students learn skills they can take with them and help them the rest of their lives be any different? It is not.

Educators- speak decisively about what mindfulness is and is not

Educators who are teaching mindfulness need to stand firm and decisively state that we are not teaching religion nor are we trying to bring religion into the schools. At the same time, in order to not be cultural appropriating, we must recognize and acknowledge that mindfulness does have a historical tie to Buddhism while also resolutely affirming that there is not any association to the religion. Not everyone will understand, not everyone will agree. Welcome to education! With a growing track record and adoption of mindfulness in education the results will speak for themselves. While mindfulness will not solve all of educators and students’ problems, we have found a bit of the solution with mindfulness. Have courage, speak the truth, and breathe!

InterChange in Action

Penny for your thoughts? Perhaps not. But there is a penny for one minute of mindfulness.

InterChange was created to give people a way to represent the power of mindfulness. When a person does at least a minute of mindfulness s/he puts a penny in a jar. As time goes by the person can see how practicing mindfulness, even just a few minutes each day, can add up. Eventually those pennies can be donated to a charity showing that mindfulness not only helps the person practicing but creates a ripple effect of positivity within the community.

While I have been practicing InterChange with own my family, recently it went public at Gresham Middle School. Students picked and voted on the charities to contribute the pennies (Young-Williams Animal Shelter is for January 2019).

After just two weeks we collected $14.00 as a school. That is at least 1400 minutes of mindfulness practiced, over 23 hours!

Students are excited with the progress and more students are wanting to join. As more teachers integrate this into their classroom having available pennies is imperative. In order for the program to be successful we need donations. Please consider being active in making a change and helping our students. Click here to learn more.

Upcoming Event: Mindfulness for Educators

Mindful Us is proud to announce that the Meaningful Life Center will be offering “Mindfulness for Educators” workshop.

Mindfulness for Educators- on the first Monday of each month professionals who are interested in teaching mindfulness to children and youth (PreK-12 educators, social workers/school psychologists, therapists, after school providers, etc.) will meet to practice mindfulness, workshop ideas on bringing mindfulness to children and youth, and share successes and difficulties related to this work.

When: First Monday of each Month starting Feb. 4

Where: The Meaningful Life Center, 116 Carr Street, Knoxville TN 37919 https://meaningfullifecenter.org/

Time: 6:30pm-8:00pm

Who: Professionals interested in teaching mindfulness to children and youth (PreK-12 educators, social workers/school psychologists, therapists, after school providers, etc.).

Cost: Free (donations to the center accepted)

For up-to-date information see Workshops and Events.

Effort and Mindfulness

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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.

Effort

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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!