At first, I was unsure of what exactly the class would teach me. One thing I had heard about mindfulness is that it teaches you to slow down, to take life as it comes and appreciate each moment in the present. And while I could definitely appreciate that, I have always lived my life planning ahead for the future.
I was thinking about college when I was seven, worrying about grad school when I hadn’t even graduated from undergrad yet. Right now, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the 90ish days I have to plan a wedding. Wouldn’t slowing down and thinking only about the present leave me unprepared for what was ahead?
Oh, how wrong I was.
During our first class, the instructor walked us through some simple meditative breathing. We called it a “drop-in.” For two minutes, we focused solely on our breaths. At first, I was a little antsy. Instead of concentrating on my breathing, all I could hear was that little voice in the back of my head, rambling off everything I had to do in the upcoming week.
But as the week evolved, I began to appreciate the few moments I had to just sit and listen to my own breaths. It was relaxing. Soon, I was able to sit for 15 or 20 minutes without hearing the laundry list of tasks I needed to do. Not only that, but I found myself to be happier and really enjoying every minute of my day. Food tasted better. Tasks were more fun. Spending time with my family and friends became much more treasured and appreciated.
But the most important thing I learned from class came during the third day. The instructors had a picture of a cow up on the wall. They talked about “rumination,” which is the process that we know as cows “chewing cud.” However, we also talked about how rumination can also be used to signify thinking about things over and over. When the instructors asked how many of us had a tendency to “ruminate,” all of us laughed before raising our hands.
“We need to let go of ruminating over things,” one of the instructors said. “Remember that our thoughts are just mental events. They are not facts.”
I pondered this while the instructors continued to talk about rumination. After all, how many times have we made assumptions based on our thoughts?
My mind always flashes back to when I waved at one of my friends at the mall, and she did not wave back. I immediately believed that she was mad at me and didn’t want to speak to me. I ignored her calls, only to find out later that it hadn’t been her at the mall! I had been waving to a complete stranger. My thoughts about her being mad was just a mental event. It was a story. It was NOT a fact.
I have filed that lesson away in my brain because I want to make sure that I talk to my middle school students about this. Many of my students go through life believing negative things about themselves: “I’m not pretty.” “No one loves me.” “I’m weird.” I want to encourage my students to remember that their thoughts – these supposed “facts” – are not their destinies.
But I’ve also made note of what my teachers said before we left, “If you do not show you practice mindfulness, your students won’t practice it either.” So my goal for the rest of summer is to embrace mindfulness, to live in the present… and to be prepared for whatever happens to come my way.
I took my class on mindfulness through Growing Minds. It is a fantastic organization that encourages mindfulness in schools and in your personal life. If you are interested in taking a week-long class like I did, you can check out their website.