It wasn’t until I spent my 21st birthday on a meditation retreat that I found anything remotely as soul cleansing and wonderful as hippy camp. Instead of singing camp songs, it was days of silence and contemplation. And instead of making tie-dye, new little joys came in mindfully doing laundry or washing dishes.Read More
Butter Blog: Mindfulness News, My Practice, and Exercises for Families and Kids
Mindfulness has been all over the news lately. The last month has been a blur of joyful holiday gatherings with family, and it felt like at each get together someone else would mention a different article or TV program they’d just seen touting the benefits of mindfulness. In case, like me, you’ve also spent the last few weeks away from your computer I wanted to give you some of the mindfulness highlights.Read More
Lately I’ve noticed that the internet has been abuzz with something called the ice-bucket challenge, wherein people film themselves getting drenched in ice water and then challenge friends to do the same in order to raise awareness for various causes, most recently it’s ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I hadn’t thought much about ALS until this started blowing up my Facebook news feed, so I guess the ALS Association has succeeded in raising awareness.
I’m all about raising awareness, particularly as it relates to the present moment and understanding our human experience. That’s why today I thought it would be fun to try the (drum roll please…) Ice Cube Challenge: To raise awareness… generally.
This challenge is to raise our awareness of our sensory experience, pain, pleasure, and the accompanying thoughts and emotions. To do it, all you’ll need is a cube of ice on a plate and a bit of quiet time. You don’t have to challenge any friends and you don’t have to post a video online. And rather than a challenge, I’d say it’s really more of an experiment. (But that’s not as catchy, is it?)
Take a moment to become still, bringing your attention to the sensation of the breath as it comes in and out. After a minute or so of this (or about 10 slow, quiet breaths if your kids are taking part), slowly place the ice cube on the palm of your hand. Notice what happens—in your mind and on your skin.
Pay attention to the sensation of the ice, perhaps noticing stinging, burning, or tingly sensations. Pay attention to what story is in your mind, perhaps it is one of needing to wait it out until the cube melts, or feeling scared you’ll damage your skin, or thinking about last winter and the snowman you made. Simply notice what goes on in your mind. Are you feeling particularly averse to this? Hoping it will end soon? Or maybe it’s a hot summer day, and this feels particularly soothing. Watch your thoughts, your physical sensations, and any emotional response you have to the experiment.
When you’re ready, put the ice cube down.
Notice what thoughts, emotions, physical sensations are happening now. Relief? A desire to try it again? Feeling cold all over or just in your hand?
You did it! You raised your awareness! Nice work!
This experiment reminds me of the incredible impact that mindfulness can have on how we experience pain. Instead of getting caught up in the stories of the pain—“I’m getting frostbite, I’ll lose my fingers!” or “My head is going to hurt like this forever!” or “How could I have stubbed my toe, why wasn’t I looking where I was going?”—with mindfulness we take a gentle and compassionate approach to investigating the sensations of the pain as they arise. Without awareness, our aversion to pain can exacerbate our suffering, causing us to tense up and focus only on the worst-case scenario. If we can soften to pain, and look at it lovingly (instead of with frustration, fear, or annoyance), it will often transform before our eyes. Our own silent judgments often inflict their own kind of damage.
Taking a moment to feel our pain and let go of the judgments and the stories offers pain a chance to be felt. What did you notice with the ice cube? Did your fingers fall off? Did the stinging cold last very long, or did it shift as you paid attention? We might notice that the headache we thought would last forever actually comes in spells of intensity, waxing and waning, throbbing here, barely a dull ache there. And while the pain might not change too much, with mindful attention, your relationship with the pain will likely have shifted.
As the oft-quoted maxim states, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” There will be headaches, cuts, bruises, stubbed toes, and ice cube experiments. What we do with this pain is up to us—we can dwell in it, wallow in the stories and judgments, or we can feel it and show it our love.
I challenge you to see what happens the next time you have a headache. Get quiet and watch it for a bit with some gentle attention before you take any action.
A quick post to share an article I saw this past week: Why Children Need Mindfulness Just As Much As Adults Do.
As you probably guessed based on the programs I offer for children, young folks can and DO benefit from mindfulness practice just as much as their grown ups do.
Carolyn Gregoire writes in this Huffington Post piece that research points to mindfulness helping children thrive in school, deal with cancer and other chronic pain, treat autism and ADHD, and even lead towards self-actualization.
As someone who regularly practices and teaches mindfulness, it is heartening to see research findings like this. :-)
Contact me today if you're curious about how mindfulness could help you and your family!
What does it feel like to be a strong, brave superhero? How does it feel to cower in fear?
Take a moment and pretend with me that you are a strong superhero, fueled by empathy, compassion and a brave heart. I don’t know about you, but my chest puffs up and my shoulders roll back—I feel fearless and courageous with each deep breath. Now try the other option, cowering in fear from an unknown assailant. My breath shortens, my shoulders tense up, and my stomach is already in knots.
Ok, so thankfully that wasn’t real life. But it’s incredible to me to see how much the mind can impact physiological responses in my body. Just by calling these scenarios to mind, I was able to conjure up a physical reaction.
In real life, that sort of thing happens all the time. I get stressed about an upcoming deadline—my heart rate quickens, my shoulders tense, etc. Or, I think about something I’m feeling grateful for—my heart opens, I relax, and my body loosens.
How do we teach children the impact that their minds have on their bodies?
Through play of course!
Take a few minutes with your child to come up with a handful of personalities to act out together. Here are a few I came up with:
- A ballerina or musician nervously getting ready for opening night
- A brave lion
- A grumpy troll
- A joyful child, filled with wonder at his or her first trip to Disneyland
- A business person on the way to a very important meeting
- An elderly person
- A superhero, ready to save the day
- Someone feeling suspicious of the people surrounding them
- A lost tourist
- An explorer mapping new terrain
- [Your ideas here!]
- I’d love to hear what other personalities you come up with! Please post them in the comments!
Together, write your ideas on slips of paper and take turns drawing them from a hat to act out together or for one another. If you don't have a child, you can always act some of these out with a friend or at your mirror!
Once you have exhausted all of your ideas discuss which personality you each enjoyed the most. Why did you like that particular personality? Which personality was the most uncomfortable to do? What did each of you notice happening in your bodies during your play-acting? You may need to offer some examples that you noticed: tense shoulders, happy heart, scrunched forehead, etc.
The next time you or your child feels anxious or nervous about something, try parading around the house like a brave superhero for a bit and see what happens. :-)
Gratitude is one of my favorite practices, mostly because it makes me feel good. :-)
When I practice gratitude I feel like my life is full of abundance and that I am connected to the rest of the world. It helps me cheer myself up when I’m bummed out and it helps me to savor and enjoy things when I'm feeling great.
I have plenty of ways I bring gratitude in my daily life, but today I’ll share one that makes for a fun art activity.
Drumroll please... Gratitude webs!
You’ll need a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. If you’re feeling extra artsy, or if you have kiddos participating too, you’ll probably want some crayons or colored pencils as well.
You can each come up with something or someone that you feel grateful for—something that brings you joy to think about, and that you feel happy is in your life. Maybe it’s your computer, your pet, your spouse, your parent, the dinner you just ate. The possibilities are limitless. Today, I chose my morning cup of coffee.
Ok, write that item down in the middle of your page. You can circle it if you like. I chose to draw a picture of the item too.
Now start thinking about what all came together to make that person, place or thing possible. Did it need nourishment? Did someone build it? Did you get it at a store? Did a farmer plant it?
Make a line coming out from the center item going to one of those things that made it possible. If you can think of a lot of things that made it possible, make a lot of lines!
Now, take some time to think about what made those things possible. Did the farmer water the plant? Did someone drive it to the store? Did someone sew the cloth? Did your item need sunshine? Love?
Make a line coming from the outer items to all of these new parts you’ve just reflected on.
You can keep doing this until you run out of space, or out of imagination.
Way to go! You’ve just created a gratitude web! The next time you feel grateful for your item, you can also feel grateful for all of that webbing you added around it. Without all of those other parts, the thing you were feeling grateful for wouldn’t be there to begin with! No matter how many times I do this activity, I'm always amazed at how connected we all are.
Here's one for the kids (and any grown ups who like to act like kids)! Practicing mindfulness can be quite fun!
I have found that a great way to get children interested and engaged in mindfulness training is by inviting them to participate in a way that they already feel comfortable doing.
Most children are eager to let their imaginations run free. The animal ears activity is a fun way to bring mindfulness into creative play.
The intent here is to foster mindful listening—an open awareness of sound without judgment. Inviting children to pay attention to the sounds around them is an easy entry into mindfulness. And getting to do so through play makes it all the more fun.
With your child, brainstorm some animals that have good hearing. Each of you can choose one of these animals to ‘be’ for this activity. Together, put on your animals’ ears. Now pretend that you are out in the wild and need to be extra still and extra quiet in order to listen to all of the sounds around you. You may even invite them to close their eyes so that they are relying only on their animal ears.
Try this for about a minute, or longer if they are enjoying it! You could even try it in a few different environments--inside, outside, at the park, etc.
After you have finished listening to your environment(s), share what you heard. Did you hear loud sounds? Quiet sounds? Sounds from inside your body? Other animals? Vehicles? Ask your child how the different sounds made them feel. As an animal, did it make him want to run and hide? Go out hunting? Stay still?
Finally, invite your child to draw a picture of some of the sounds she heard that she doesn’t usually hear.
You can take a listening safari together at home, or even on a walk outside (though, you may want to keep your eyes open for that!).
I’d love to hear in the comments what animals you were, and what sounds you noticed. :-)