Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Mindfulness is important. We know this to be true because science tells us so. And science is right clever. That's something we can all agree on, isn't it?
According to actual science, Mindfulness has not only been proven to benefit our mental wellbeing but also our physical health. Mindfulness is used to help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties. I KNOW!! It is incredible. I had to fact check this several times but there are real studies, hard facts, long words and stuff.
Psychotherapists also use mindfulness meditation in the treatment of a range of mental health disorders, including: depression, addiction, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. To name just a few. I like to think of Mindfulness as the Beyoncé of the wellbeing world - whatever it's doing, it's slaying it.
And yet, despite the swathe of supporting evidence, Mindfulness has been a relatively slow burner. Sometimes it feels like it burst on the scenes out of nowhere (it didn't by the way, Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism but most religions incorporate the gist of it and it was one Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, who developed the world's first Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program IN THE 1970s!!) BUT, let's be honest, it's only now that the mention of the 'M' word in casual conversation doesn't render collective eyerolls or an about-turn in the topic of conversation. At last we are starting to realise that the noise and chaos of the outside world will still be there waiting for us (patiently or otherwise), just as soon as we are done. What's more, we'll be far more able to adjust the volume.
So that's that sorted and agreed then? Mindfulness is really rather helpful and important and it can do us all loads of good - if we just get over ourselves and give it a go.
It tickles me that, in times of intense emotional strain, we adults are even advised to turn to typical childhood activities, practices and routines in order to achieve a state of mindfulness, to de-stress and reconnect with ourselves and those around us.
Odd then, that so many people still fail to see how much we could learn from our children, and that our hurry to encourage them to 'act their age' and 'be more grown-up' isn't doing anyone any favours.
Consider adult colouring books, sitting in silence - something akin to being in the classroom or a school assembly, journalling, reading, child's pose in Yoga, taking up a hobby, doing 'something creative', outdoor adventures involving swinging through trees, seeing friends, three meals a day - eating more fruit and vegetables, exercising outside, cutting the sugar and caffeine and getting an early night, etc.
Each of these adult mindfulness/wellbeing activities are encouraged to allow the mind and body the necessary freedom to relax and recentre. From playing outside, to focussing on staying within the lines and bringing colour to a page, or jotting down our innermost thoughts so that they no longer crowd and fog our brain - even something as rudimentary as a return to regular and healthy meals - well considered and eaten slowly and with purpose...as opposed to quaffing them down in front of Eastenders and chasing them up with ice cream and Haribo; scientific evidence tells us that we can do any and all of these things to calm, settle and shut-off the outside world for a given amount of time.
These activities are just some of the ways that we are taught the invaluable skill that is Mindfulness. The more we practice Mindfulness, the better we get at it. For adults, a few months of short daily Mindfulness practice and you'll wonder how on earth you ever functioned without it!
Now, consider the feeling of total relief acquired by the practice of Mindfulness (and you will notice this after just one 10-minute exercise on any of the many readily available Mindfulness apps), and put that feeling of relief into reverse - because that's what we are hurriedly doing to our children and young people every time we berate them for 'being silly' or reward them for 'being very grown-up'.
If you really want to guilt-trip yourself like I'm partial to doing (I'm a huge believer in what I am writing but I'm also an eternally exhausted Mother who has definitely screamed 'For goodness sake! HOW OLD ARE YOU?!' at my sons, on more than one occasion) you can chase this new consideration up with the slap-in-the-face refreshing knowledge that childhood anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders are at an all-time high.
I'm going to park that there for now.
Mindfulness is something that comes naturally to our children up until a certain age , at which point you can almost see the pressures of daily life begin to cast shadow on their ability to mentally escape at any given moment. I used to run a children's storytelling club, and there comes a time, usually around the age of 8, when I swear you can see the change in a child's eyes.
Assuming you've got children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or friend's children who are still lucky enough to have this skill - because, as we've established, it is a skill. How many times has your child seemingly not heard you talking to them? How often do they appear transfixed by the most random of things; gaze out of the window or at nothing at all; stare at strangers (awks); get pure joy from dressing up and playing pretend; create imaginary worlds with their toys; charge around the living room like mad things; or even gawp slack-jawed at the TV or their tablet for hours? You've seen it, right? We all have. Most of us used to do it too...
We call them daydreamers, we say they are 'away with the fairies' or 'in their own world', we say (affectionately but out of frustration) that they are 'crazy'...we might even call them rude, ignorant or gormless (*shudders* please don't do this), but what our children are really demonstrating - most excellently - is how to be present. Physically, mentally and emotionally present and lost in a moment. They are being, most naturally and most beautifully, mindful.
I began this ramble by stating that imagination is the playground of mindfulness. Which is to say, I believe the imagination is the safe space into which free minds retreat. Please don't hurry the children in your life to leave it - let them spend as much time there as they like. When they are ready they will bring a piece of that magic into the real world - and we will all be a little bit richer for it.