Toddlers get the best stuff: Mindfulness

My first clinical exposure to working with children is based in Play Therapy, so when it comes to my own child, fall back on those non-directive, child centered  skills. Practically, this means I follow BittyJack around narrating whatever he wants to do. Unless it's raining, we spend at least 45 minutes every day exploring outside. He especially loves the rocks in the drainage ditch next to our house, and delights in dropping them, one by one, into the raised garden bed of our very tolerant neighbor.

BittyJack's curiosity about the natural world is a part of childhood that many of us lose as we grow up. We get used to the world around us and filter out all but the parts that we find most interesting or important. Neurologically and practically this is an important skill. If we gazed in wonder and awe at the individual pattern of every ceiling tile, then we'd never get anything done, but when we lose the ability to tap into that sense of wonder we can get into trouble. Life becomes boring, repetitive and void of meaning when we become jaded to the fucking majesty around us waiting to be attended to.

We can regain a sense of wonder through a practice of Mindfulness.

As a profession, we are super into mindfulness right now. The empirical benefits of this ancient practice are so well documented as to be commonplace, but the idea of slowing down and participating fully in a world that encourages multitasking is powerful.

There are many mindfulness techniques to begin a practice, but I usually start with Mindful eating. Many of us who grew up in American culture have some version of what I call "food weirdness"– which could be anything from a sense of defensiveness or guilt when asked to describe your diet to a clinical eating disorder.  I start with mindful eating because it can help change a person's relationship with food, and, as a mother of a toddler, I'm about snacks.

  • Do only this, no distractions or multi-tasking for this time. Focus.
  • Take a few deep breaths and relax.
  • Select a piece of food.
  • Notice the food. How does it feel in your hand? What do you notice about it?
  • Take a moment to appreciate where the food came from and the work necessary to produce it and get it to you.
  • Look carefully at its color, shape and texture.
  • Hold you piece of food under your nose. Inhale.
  • Eat the food very slowly, as if it was your very first piece of food.
  • Consider that you are the only person who will ever eat this food.
  • How do you chew? On one side of your mouth or the other?
  • If you notice any distraction from being with your experience of eating, stop chewing, take a few deep breaths and, when focused, continue.
  • Allow feelings to arise as you experience eating this way. Notice the feelings. Try to neither hold onto them nor push them away.
  • Savor, enjoy and relax.

Imagine if you ate one bite of every meal like this. Would it change the way you look at food? Would it change the way you interact with other things, like your phone or your relationship with someone you love?

Once you've got the hang of mindful eating, try observing things you usually ignore, like rocks. Notice how each rock is unique, and yet is immediately identifiable as a rock.  Notice how each rock has its own texture and shape. If you have the opportunity, notice how each rock makes a slightly different sound as it hits the earth after being lobbed over the neighbor's fence. Appreciate all the things that came together to make this moment possible.

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