Category Archives: Mindfulness

Mindful Kids

children photo

As more parents, grandparents, teachers and child-care workers find meaning and wholeness in practicing mindfulness, they are introducing it to children as well.

Meditation and yoga are becoming popular in classrooms and after-school programs. As children learn age-appropriate ways to meditate, they build stronger relationships, do better in school, and become better able to deal with strong emotions.

If a golden age of stress-free childhood ever actually existed, those days are long past. Bullying, parental divorce and academic pressures are regular life for many children. According to research studies and teacher reports, mindfulness practice can help them cope.

In one inner city elementary school, for example, teachers promote emotional intelligence through Yale University’s RULER program, which includes ten minutes of meditation a day. Children trained as peer educators lead their classmates in guided meditations such as “May I be free from suffering and stress. No stress.”

The program is resulting in improved academic performance, more positive relationships and enhanced physical and psychological well-being for the students.

And meditation doesn’t just help troubled children. As young people learn greater awareness of their thoughts, feelings, bodies and environments, they grow emotionally.

Mindful Schools is an organization that has brought mindfulness practice to over 300,000 K-12 students in 60 countries. The program takes teachers and counselors through a six-week course where they learn to cultivate present-moment awareness through meditation and yoga so they can share these practices from their own experience.

When they finish training, they bring a research-based curriculum in mindfulness to their schools and counseling centers. With age-appropriate activities that involve simple language and movement, the teachers explain mindfulness and teach the children how and why to practice it.

The course emphasizes practical skills. The children learn, for example, that “mindfulness is noticing what is happening in the present moment…. It can help us calm down when we are angry, sad, frustrated, or have any difficult emotion.”

The youngest students learn to sit quietly, pay attention to their physical sensations and listen to sounds, thereby absorbing mindfulness in a way they can understand.

As children get older, the program guides them in thinking and talking about locating themselves in the present moment and how this lets them contact inner sources of strength.

Preliminary results of a study involving 937 children in Mindful Schools programs demonstrate gains in paying attention, calming difficult feelings and showing greater caring and respect for others.

Learning this kind of emotional fitness early on builds a foundation for meeting life with wisdom and confidence. What a gift for both children and society.

Busting Out of the Depths of Blah

How can you free yourself from a dark mood?

In “Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods” we imagined that one Friday night you suffered through a miserable Happy Hour and by Saturday morning you were in a funk. But then you started to see you were caught in an illusion. You remembered you have the power to lift yourself out.

Next step: productive action. Accomplishing something reinforces your sense of worth. It gets you out of your head and into your life. Doing a bit of housework, putting on music and dancing, or walking your dog can all shift your mood.

If at all possible, leave the house after that. Walking alone might send you back to ruminating, so if you want some exercise, you might lift weights at the gym instead.

But what if you’re working or caring for children and you can’t leave? Focus your full concentration on your task, which is a form of meditation. You might use a thesaurus to find precise words for your report. Really listening to your child can keep you out of miserable feelings.

Your mind will keep coming back to what was troubling you. Expect this. It’s not a problem. Just keep gently redirecting your attention to the business at hand.

Is your work boring? Does your mind wander even when you feel good? I faced this when I cleaned houses for a living after graduating from college. During this time I grappled with resentment and frustration about working a job I didn’t like. But tedious activities can make for dynamic meditation. A friend suggested I start focusing attention on my chores. While dusting, I started to notice how the cloth felt against a hard surface and to see the furniture change as I wiped it clean. As I washed acoustical ceiling tiles, I smelled the Lysol. This transformed not only my job but the rest of my life as well.

In the next post we will look at how problems, actions and thoughts set off bad moods and how to turn things around.

Meditation on Qualities of Mind, Heart and Body

Meditate on your mind as peace : : Your heart is peace : : Your body is peace

Meditate on your mind as wisdom : : Your heart is wisdom : : Your body is wisdom

Meditate on your mind as contentment : : Your heart is contentment : : Your body is contentment

Meditate on your mind as balance : : Your heart is balance : : Your body is balance


What if you took a day with a few other people and turned your attention to unrest we cause when we do injury to this planet? What ideas might you come up with? What small, practical steps could you, together, begin to take?

Take a moment to find peace at the center of your being, the peace beneath the turmoil. Your heart is like a stone that rests at the bottom of a stream as water gurgles above it.

Meditate for three minutes, just noticing your breath coming into and leaving your body. This will lower your cortisol level.


You made a number of wise decisions today. What were some of them?

A human resources manager described how she finds her intuitive heart. “It’s the same voice that tells me which person to hire out of all the good people who make the final cut.” How do you find your own wise inner voice?

Feel gratitude for the heart that has been beating without your deliberately thinking about it since you were in your mother’s womb.


You may wish to take stock of the many good things you’ve done this week. Write about them. Appreciate the person that accepted challenges, helped people, worked hard and skillfully.

Enjoy the ease and satisfaction you get from remembering when you did something hard, something you didn’t want to do, something that scared you. You did it anyway. You grew bigger and more robust as a result. Your spirit is happier now than it was before.

You’ve moved your body this week. Perhaps you’ve lifted weights, walked, danced, done yoga. Now consider buying vegetables of all colors, slicing and chopping them to make a meal full of delicious flavors. You know what else to use – whole grains, coconut oil, meats from farms that raise animals responsibly.


You might practice listening to different sides of issues. Talk to someone with different political beliefs: a liberal, a conservative. Hear this person with an open mind, with a decision to understand why they see things the way they do. Look for the common ground you share. You will see that this person’s story is your own story.

Listen to your heart about the tragedy of Freddie Gray. Feel your compassion for the young man whose life has been cut short. Feel your compassion for the police officers. Every human person has the intention to do what they believe is good.

Again, meditate for three minutes to bring your physical plant into harmony. It strengthens your immune system and lowers your blood pressure.

Readers: What are more ways to honor our peace, wisdom, contentment and balance?

Am I OK Enough?

Once, someone important found you lacking. Perhaps this person honestly intended to help you, not criticize you. Or maybe they were just taking something out on you. Someone further back hurt them, and they passed it along.

Now in the present, the criticisms we’ve taken to heart lack any practical value. To flourish, we need to start from a foundation of self-esteem, an awareness of our worth. We all know that. But how do we clear away the shame messages and remember that at our cores we are glorious? Whole, shining and alive?

One way is to look at ourselves, the unity of our minds, hearts and bodies, more clearly. We usually take for granted the thousands of wonderful things we are and do. If we pause and reflect, though, we may well be gratefully astounded by ourselves.

How would we get through our days were it not for our minds directing us? Minds do the big things: create systems of roads connecting all parts of a country. Enable us to walk onto airplanes and move through the air. Work out peace treaties. Think up games. And little, vital things: we check e-mail and get dressed in the morning.

Our desire to listen to people and heal ourselves and throw birthday parties springs from our hearts. Part of us feels connected to the melting polar icecaps and picks up little kids when they cry. We send money to Doctors Without Borders. We put our arms around our friends and play with our pets when we’re tired.

Our hearts and minds can move around in the world doing interesting things thanks to our bodies. Without our bodies to act, we couldn’t read books to kids. Nobody would go to aquariums and watch sharks. Fabulous brunches wouldn’t matter. Or even exist.

Think for a moment about all the amazing things our bodies do, things we never think about. Our brains coordinate the complex business of keeping us alive. Our blood carries carbon dioxide to our lungs that we breathe out and nourish plum trees with. We experience the extravagance of the sunlight on our skin because we have nerves.

How could a creature who is and does all these things be anything less than magnificent?

In the next post we’ll continue to think about these things in light of a Meditation on Four Aspects of Being. In the meantime —

Readers: How does your mind give to the world?

How has your heart spoken to you this past week?

What do you enjoy doing with your body?

The Secret to Growth

Yesterday, warmth and bright sunshine.

Today, cold and rain.

“I like this! I don’t like that!”

Everything coming and going.

Take what comes and don’t run after what goes.             

–Haju Sunim

My friend, Suzanne, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years ago. She usually does quite well, but it’s been a real challenge for her lately.

About three months ago, she started having insomnia and getting irritable, her warning signs that she’s getting sick. Over the past two months her mood swings have settled into depression. As far as her energy goes, she’s working part time right now and reads the rest of the day.

She’s lucky to have a great psychiatrist who’s working closely with her to get her medication right. But until her brain chemistry straightens out, she could remain depressed for quite some time. She just needs to wait.

So how’s she holding up with all this?

“I was pretty angry, especially since it’s been dragging on for so long. But here in the past couple weeks I’ve had a shift. I realized that this is hard, but it’s just hard. It’s not horrible. It’s just hard.

“I know I’ll be stronger on the other side of this. I’m not happy about it, but I’m ok. A couple weeks ago I was not ok. Now I am.”

What is the secret to personal growth? Acceptance. Take what comes. Don’t run after what goes.

Accepting all experience, even the unpleasant parts — that’s mindfulness. What is there to see, to learn? Are there perhaps some gifts here?

If Suzanne fights her situation, she’ll have two problems — her emotional pain and also the suffering caused by resisting. But she gets it that her illness and this current rough patch are opportunities for her growth. When she sees it that way, depression is not a bad thing.

Learning to grow through difficult times starts well before the troubles hit. Reflect today on how precious your growth is to you. Think about how helpful hard times can be. We don’t need to feel victimized by painful experiences. Emotional growth is far more valuable than being comfortable and avoiding pain. If you want to deepen your wisdom and empathy for others, you’ll know that difficulties are a good thing.

If you’re facing some kind of difficulty in your life right now, know that you’re a strong person, even if you don’t feel it. Let this period of your life show you your inner resources of wisdom, peace and balance. We all have these qualities — we just need to realize they’re there and cultivate them.

Try to see this as an opportunity to become a richer person, a more compassionate person. Let this process show you what you need to learn.

Readers: What have you learned from your difficulties? Please share in the comments.



Savoring Our Food

Green Grapes on the Vine“Wolf…Wolf……..Wolf!” Can you hear that sound at workplaces all over the United States? It’s the sound of us wolfing down our lunches while we sit at our desks, trying to work and eat at the same time. Some of us are under tremendous pressure to produce more and more at work as a condition of keeping our jobs, and personal needs like nourishing our bodies fall off our priority lists. Almost all of us have lives that are over-scheduled to the point where we eat in our cars, eat standing up, rush through meals without tasting our food.

We deserve better.

Savoring our food is a radical act. There isn’t much cultural support for eating slowly enough to thoroughly enjoy food or even to be aware of what we’re eating. You may feel that it’s unrealistic or even weird to close your eyes a few times during a meal to notice sweet, bland, and sour flavors and to feel a crispy food become soft. However, doing this actually changes us. If we start chewing slowly enough to taste our meals and snacks, we begin to carry mindfulness into the rest of our day without even thinking about it.

I love grapes and had some for breakfast this morning. They’re from the farmers’ market and are especially delicious. If there’s any food that is worth eating mindfully, it’s these grapes. I put one in my mouth and closed my eyes. I wanted to eat them quickly because they’re so good. But accepting my desire to rush, I chewed them slowly. After a bit, the delightful sweetness faded, and I noticed how much I disliked that. The textures held my interest: very juicy, a tough skin, slippery beneath the skin. Who knew?

Try this exercise and see what happens.

A New Way To Handle Overeating

Your intention was to not overeat. But now that you’re done eating, you don’t feel so great. You aren’t stuffed, exactly, but you’re uncomfortably full.

Guilt starts rising up. Normally this would be the moment where one of two things would happen, or perhaps both. You’d begin berating yourself: “I can’t believe you did this again! What’s the matter with you?” You might also say, “Well, I’ve blown it, so I might as well keep eating.”

But instead you pause and catch yourself. You’re committed not to perfection and fast weight loss, but rather to freeing yourself from a painful relationship with food.

You’re going to need a moment to regroup, so if you aren’t alone, excuse yourself and head to the bathroom or someplace private for just a second. Now give yourself a hug, or gently touch some place on your body. Remind yourself about some quality you like about yourself, or about some loving thing you did today, or something you do well. You might say something like this to yourself:

I’m a wonderful person. I had some trouble just now, but it’s over and I’m moving on from here. I haven’t committed any crimes. I don’t have to keep eating.

Now close your eyes and take a few breaths. No need to breathe deeply, just notice the air moving in and out of your body. If you’re sitting, feel your legs and bottom and back against your seat and your feet against the floor. Notice the feelings swirling around inside you, and just say to yourself “feelings.” Do this for a few moments, and chances are the swirling will begin to subside. Notice the thoughts running around inside your head. Don’t engage with them, don’t start arguing with them or building them up. Just say, “thinking.” Again, chances are that they’ll start quieting down.

You might be aware now of something else that’s bothering you. If so, reassure yourself that whatever it is, you can handle it. If you have time, take a moment to think about it and see what solutions might present themselves. If you don’t have time for this, promise yourself you’ll get back to this before the day is up.

Now go back to whatever you need to do next knowing that you just turned around a moment that could have spoiled your day.

How To Cool Down Arguments

Sometimes a good fight clears the air. Too often, though, heated arguments just hurt a relationship. One or both of you say mean words that you can’t take back. Feelings get hurt. Resentment builds.

This is not to say that you’re supposed to sit on your feelings or that you shouldn’t get angry. Anger is a part of life, and it certainly comes up in every relationship. It’s just a question of how you manage your anger.

“Pause” is the key word. Not “stuff your feelings” but pause, step back and think. Buy yourself some time. You can teach yourself to stop, go inside yourself, and practice a healthy self-restraint.

“Sounds good,” you say, “but how in the world do I do this in the heat of the moment?”

The first step starts long before the argument begins. Decide that, from now on, you’re not going to go to that destructive place. A decision like this is powerful and can help you remember to stop when things start to go out of control. If you argue frequently, remind yourself daily that you’ve decided to practice self-restraint because you love your partner. And because you want to become more mature.

The second step also takes place before an argument. Take responsibility for your own misbehavior. It’s too easy to blame your partner and see him or her as “the problem.” We have a harder time realizing that we are the problem the moment we begin to blame. Fortunately, we are also the solution.

If you do these things, during an argument you won’t so readily indulge the feeling that this other person is wrong and that they need to agree with you. Just stop talking. Do this gently, without glaring or making a face. If your partner takes this as a hostile gesture, tell them you’ve just realized that you’re creating a problem with what you’re saying, and you need to take some time to compose yourself. When you’ve both calmed down, you can have a productive discussion about what made you angry.

This will take time and practice. Don’t judge yourself when you don’t “do it right.” Instead, give yourself a pat on the back for deciding to nurture your relationship and further your own growth.

Healing Self Esteem

So many of us are self-critical to the point where we dislike ourselves.

The Dalai Lama was meeting with a group of Western psychologists when the subject of poor self-esteem came up. He indicated that he didn’t understand this concept. After much discussion with his translator he finally said: we just don’t have that issue in Tibetan culture. Not only do we not have words for this, this condition doesn’t exist for us.

Would that we could say the same thing in the west. Those who were most severely criticized, rejected, or abused as children can suffer terribly with self-criticism and dislike of themselves. Even if we were mostly treated well as children, it’s hard to find someone in our lives who doesn’t struggle in some way with self-esteem.

There are people who seem to have too much self-esteem, but if one’s sense of self isn’t based on a balanced and realistic embrace of weaknesses and strengths, an over-aggrandized sense of self-importance will deflate in the face of real hardship. When this person falls, they fall hard.

“Ok,” you say, “I know I’m too hard on myself. I’m much kinder to others than I am to myself. But I’ve always been this way. What can I do?”

Beginning a practice of the Loving-Kindness Meditation could help ease your harsh judgments of yourself.

The Loving-Kindness Meditation is a short series of intentions you can say to yourself silently or aloud:

May I be filled with loving-kindness.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be free of anger and anxiety.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

A number of my clients have begun repeating this meditation to themselves a few times throughout their day or perhaps for a longer period of time in the morning or evening. They always say it helps. Often within the first week they notice a significant shift in how they feel about themselves.

“Those are nice words,” you may say. “But I don’t believe I could ever be that way. Really loving to myself? Free of anxiety? It would feel like I’m just going through the motions if I tried doing that meditation.”

So take the risk and try it anyway. As you say the words, they become a part of you.

Mindfulness and Strong Feelings

Mindfulness enables us to help ourselves with strong feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, and more. The key is getting out of our heads and into our bodies.

Emotions express themselves as physical sensations. You may feel a lump in your throat when you’re very sad, a tightness in your chest when anxious, a clenching of your hands and forearms when you’re angry. Finding that place in your body and simply feeling it often brings great relief and always provides useful information about potential solutions to our difficulties.

How does that lump feel? Is it heavy? Constricting? The tightness in your chest may feel solid one moment, and then open up. The clench in your hands may feel hot and shaky.

Our tendency is to try to think our way out of strong feelings. It never works. Noticing what our bodies feel like, though, allows us to process our emotions and extract valuable information from them for solving our problems.

For example, you find that your jaw is so tight it hurts. You take a moment to notice how it feels like solid rock, and find that you’re holding your shoulders up. When you soften them and bring them down, your jaw also relaxes a little.

Going further, you ask your jaw and shoulders what they’re trying to tell you. You realize you’re afraid that you won’t adequately handle some unpleasant upcoming task, that you “won’t do it right.” You weren’t aware that this was bothering you, but now you can remind yourself that you’ve handled situations like this in the past, and that you’ll do ok.

We often think that sitting with the physical expression of an emotion will make it worse, but generally the opposite is true. I’d like to hear your comments about experiences with this or your thoughts about it.