Friday, January 15, 2010

More than a Mind

Today was one more day in what feels like an endless stream of unschooling days.  We've been off of our regular schedule due to seasonal flu but, despite a little sleep deprivation, we're in good spirits and enjoyed the relaxing feel of this day.

Being off of our schedule is usually hard on us.  By the end of winter break I was itching to get back to school but this week has been different.  It's given me a chance to observe how much learning takes place even when we're really not planning for it.  It's also helped me connect more deeply with each moment.

This slowing down and connecting moment-to-moment is called mindfulness and it's a practice that has greatly benefited our family.  If you're not familiar with it, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to both your inner and outer world without judgment.  It's being fully present in the moment instead of lost in plans, worries, or other distracting thoughts.  When we come to the moment with all of our awareness, we give our children the thing they want most from us -- us.  But the benefits don't stop there.

With mindfulness, we learn to see ourselves and those around us with more clarity.  We begin to recognize our habits, good and bad, and create an opportunity for growth and transformation.  When mindfulness is practiced as a family, we learn how to create joy and manifest a deep, loving bond with our kids.  We see them for who they really are and this allows us to engage more effectively in their lives.  We can't be there for them if we don't know them.  What's more, our ability to model and teach mindfulness can only come from the depths of our own practice.

Practicing mindfulness is teaching me to have patience and compassion for myself -- something that I didn't even know I was missing. This practice is certainly on the rise in the West and there are some great online places to learn more. 

For more information, check out mindfulness together, a social network created by Susan Kaiser Greenland, and mindfulkids, a site operated by students of social activist and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. But don't think that this is something complicated.  Mindfulness just means paying attention without judgment. 

Today's mindfulness activities consisted of watercolor painting, a game of chess, piano, and a little dance/movement.  Most importantly, today we engaged in nurturing, constructive activities together and gave each our full attention. 

Both dance and painting demand mindful attention.  In dance, our awareness drops down into our body.  We get out of our busy thoughts and focus on our movements.  The same thing happens when we express ourselves through music or visual arts.  Just engaging in these activities with your child is the beginning of developing mindful awareness.  When we dance or play music our inner light turns on; we connect with that part of ourselves that is more than our mind.

Playing chess is a little different.  It may sound challenging to play with a young child, but as a beginner myself, it's really fun.  I think the trick is seeing through your child's eyes.  We turn our game into imaginative play and make funny voices while trying to capture pieces.  Remembering the direction of each playing piece is an excellent memory building tool and taking the time to consider the consequences of your move before making it is a wonderful life lesson.  

In chess, as in life, there are always consequences for unconscious actions.  Learning to pause long enough to consider the effect of your actions is an essential part of our at-home curriculum.  Bringing your attention to the game and keeping it there gives your child the attention they crave and gives you an exercise in patience.

The last mindfulness practice for this day is one that we have planned for bedtime.  Connecting with our kids and engaging in their education means honoring their inner world and not just their mind.  Today begins Winter Feast for the Soul, a 40 day spiritual practice commitment.  This forty day event was was inspired by a quote from Rumi: "What nine months does for the embryo forty early mornings will do for your growing awareness."  My family is committing to eight minutes of stillness each day -- four minutes in the morning and four at bedtime.  We're starting and finishing each day breathing together, bringing our attention to our breath, and just... being... still.  

I'm still looking forward to getting back on our regular schedule on Monday but until then, I'm remembering that a child is more than a mind and enjoying things just how they are... right now... in this moment.
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