Still quiet place within
Mindfulness practice has well and truly entered the mainstream not just for adults but for children as well. In many schools, both here and overseas, teachers trained in the discipline are teaching awareness skills to their young students and reporting transformative effects.
Teachers such as Dr Amy Saltzman, scientist, holistic physician and mindfulness coach who shared some of her own experience teaching mindfulness at last year’s Mind & Its Potential conference. Saltzman works in a low-income school in Northern California and says that kids even as young as four, five and six can tap into that “still quiet place inside of them,” and that by the time they’re nine, 10 and older, are able to apply mindfulness to their lives much like adults can.
Bearing in mind there are so many definitions of mindfulness, the one Saltzman likes to use in her work with children and adolescents is that of “paying attention in the here in now … to our experience… with kindness and curiosity … so that we can choose our behaviour.
“So we can pay attention to our breath, we can pay attention to our body, we can pay attention to our thoughts, we can pay attention to our feelings and we can pay attention to our impulses, actions and interactions.”
Saltzman says that when she’s working with young people and their feelings, her intention is to support them in what she tells them “is having their feelings, so really knowing what they’re feeling without their feelings having them,” in other words without their feelings causing them to behave in ways they may later regret.
In fact, one of the main reasons any of us develop this habit of self awareness – no matter how old we are – is so that we can consciously choose how we are in the world.
Saltzman talks about ‘almost moments’, that second before you act out an uncomfortable feeling and do something harmful, even life threatening. She says, “These ‘almost moments’ show up for kids every day whether it’s hitting their brother or their cat or the bully in the playground; whether it’s dropping out of school or using drugs or having unprotected sex.”
The point is to accumulate such moments in our lives. Saltzman mentions a tragic mass suicide that took place in her home state in 2010 when six young people stood in front of an oncoming train. She suspects that if they’d known how to skilfully manage their painful thoughts and feelings, they’d probably still be alive today having only almost followed through with their plan.
Saltzman describes a practice she’s developed called PEACE, an acronym that can help all of us increase our almost moments. It stands for the following:
P=Pause. Simply being aware that something is difficult and pausing.
E=Exhale. After you exhale, inhale, exhale and inhale … for as long as you need to.
A=Acknowledge/Accept/Allow. Things are difficult. You feel what you feel. Life is what it is but this doesn’t mean you have to like it.
C=Choose. What do you want to do next? At its best, choosing involves clarity, courage, creativity and comedy (although Saltzman’s preferred word is ‘humour’ but that starts with an ‘h’).
E=Engage … again in the situation but take your time if you need to.