Posts Tagged 'mindfulness'

Be Present to Receive the Gift

By Karisse Callender

downloadA lot happens during the holiday season. There’s a lot of food, celebrations, family visits, travels, and time with loved ones. No matter the situation or our experiences, there is a gift we can all give to ourselves – the gift of mindful living so we can be present, in the moment, to fully experience life.


Here are some mindful tips and suggestions for the holiday season to help you remain present:

  • Practice gratitude: I use the word practice because being grateful takes intentional effort and it is a habit that needs to be cultivated. During this season, take a moment to think about at least three things you can be grateful for. It can be as simple as “I’m grateful for having a meal today,” “I’m grateful for a safe place to sleep,” “I express gratitude today for waking up.” A gratitude list can help to remind us of the simple things in life that make the biggest difference. On the days when it seems hard to find something/someone to be grateful for, think about what you would express gratitude for if you were having a good day.
  • Set intentions: Think about what you want this holiday season to represent for you. Is this a time for you to bond with distant family? Create new rituals with loved ones or for yourself? Is this a time to be contemplative and introspective? Whatever your intention, write it down and work towards it.
  • Journal: This is a great way to keep track of your thoughts and feelings over the holiday. It’s also a way to sit with what you are experiencing, in the moment. What did you learn about yourself? How did your intention(s) manifest? What were you able to do for others? How have you grown in the year? What lessons from the holiday can you take into the new year? How have you shown yourself loving-kindness over the holiday?
  • Radical acceptance: It would be ideal if things happen the way we want, all the time. However, that’s not the reality of our lives. When we feel confused and have no control over how things happen, you can remind yourself that “it is what it is, it is as it should be.” In other words, you are recognizing what is happening, as it’s happening, and acknowledging that it is out of your control.

Mindfulness is less about sitting still and more about being present in our lives – each moment, each experience, each day. When we take the time to be attuned to what is happening within and around us, we learn more about ourselves and our needs, and what we are capable of giving to others. As we think about what we can give to others, another mindful practice this holiday season is to remember and reach out to those who may also be in distress. Some may experience grief, a sense of loss, poverty, homelessness, and discord in relationships. As we think of the ways we are blessed and the simple privileges we have, let us also think about how we can be the difference for others.

May you all be happy, healthy, and at peace during this season and the new year. Be well.

Mindful Minute: How Middle Schoolers Are Learning to be Mindful

brain-744237_640By Sabrina Bartels – I have a routine when it comes to reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sunday mornings. It’s always the sports page first, so I can catch up on my Packers/Brewers/Golden Eagles news. Then I usually drift to Jim Stingl’s column, since he writes some of the best human interest stories I have ever read. Finally, before I go through the ads and clip coupons (I live an exciting life,) I read Alan Borsuk’s column. He writes about education, and I’m always interested in his opinions and thoughts on various things, from the Common Core to standardized testing. This past Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the district I work for was featured in his column.

Borsuk’s article was entitled “West Milwaukee School finds a mindful minute goes a long way.” One of the intermediate schools in our district was named a “pilot school” for us to integrate mindfulness into the daily curriculum. West Milwaukee has not only trained their entire staff on how to use mindfulness, they have also taught all of their students to use different mindfulness strategies when they are stressed, frustrated, or upset. They start each week with Mindful Mondays, and many classes start with a “mindful minute.”

I can definitely see the benefits of mindfulness. It calls on people to live in the moment, and be aware of their emotions. While it does focus on breathing, it also incorporates imagery and training your mind to slow down and be more positive. This is huge for intermediate students, who often revert to thinking about only the negative aspects of situations. In addition, I think mindfulness could potentially get students to disengage from drama and live more in the moment, instead of living through their technology. By encouraging students to take a mindful minute whenever they are about to engage in some sort of conflict through text message/Instagram/Snapchat, I imagine there could be a decrease in drama.

If you would like to join in on learning to be more mindful, or would like to have your students do what West Milwaukee is doing, I have a few suggestions:

  1. Take a class. My district works a lot with the group Growing Minds. I took the Growing Minds class for educators two summers ago, and it had an impact on the way I live my life. I would strongly recommend doing a session, since it will teach you the importance of mindfulness, as well as several techniques you can use to kick-start your own mindfulness growth. My district also did a session with Patricia Jennings who is an education professor on the East Coast. If you can work with her, it’s definitely worth it.
  2. If taking a class is not something you can fit into your busy schedule (which I can definitely understand!) check out a few books on mindfulness. The two I have read are “Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, and “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom” by Patricia A. Jennings. If you use Jennings’s book, she also has pages on other books, websites, and classes you can take.
  3. Get “App-y.” Load up your iPad or iPhone with some mindfulness apps. Headspace is one that I used when flying overseas when I really needed to stop stressing about the long flight I was on (and the screaming child a few rows back.) It is definitely an app for an older crowd; if you are looking for something a little younger, apps such as Smiling Mind are focused towards elementary kids.

Enjoy your mindfulness journey! To read more about West Milwaukee Intermediate School, check out Borsuk’s article here.

Mindfulness From a Middle School Counselor

mindfulnessBy Sabrina Bong — If you recall in my last post, I expressed my excitement (and concern) about taking a class on mindfulness.

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.

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