I start each one of my classes off with a ‘Mindful Moment,’ … because I am a hippie, obviously.
Seriously, though, it serves what is in my mind one of the most profound components of my educational goals in today’s world. My background as a scientist has caused me to look deeply into the science behind many modern-day trends like Paleo Dieting, CrossFit, Meditation & Mindfulness, etc. I have come away with some interesting understandings going in many directions in terms of the real value of these pursuits, but the purpose of today’s post is actually not to dive into the science behind mindfulness. Instead, it is simply to give a glimpse into the rational, yet completely unscientific message I give my students around the mindful moment.
As I have written previously, the message that we send students can be profoundly important. We must make sure to use positive bias to implement change, and we must appeal to student’s rational, authentic selves while maintaining a level of understanding that not all students will agree, but it is the policy that will be in place. Should we not preface the Mindful Moment with a strong message, we will likely see students being compliant to an extent (staying relatively quiet), but acting out in other ways because the moment is not personally meaningful to them. They will throw a crumpled piece of paper at another student, walk about the room, or draw in a notebook. Not to say that some of these activities couldn’t be done mindfully, but to say that when students at least have a message surrounding the purpose of the activity, they can then choose to better themselves or not.
The message surrounding the Mindful Moment is this: we are taking time to consciously practice controlling our attention. And, at the end of the day, our attention is the only thing we actually own in this life. Our bodies will start to break down, our friendships may come and go, even our memories will eventually get hazy. But we get to choose in every moment where we focus our attention; this ownership is more important than ever because there are entities in the world that want to rob us of the only thing we own. They want to control our attention and use it to their own economic gain. And the sad truth of the matter is that many of us fall for it often, and live at the whim of corporations and negative biases disseminated through the news. When we learn to control our own attention, we empower our lives, putting ourselves into the driver’s seat and choosing where to go. “At the end of the day,” I often remind them, “you get to ask yourself, ‘Did I do my best to create the energy I wanted to put into and receive from this world?’”
When beginning the Mindful Moment at the beginning of the year, I take a little more time to have students practice. I tell them to practice controlling their attention by choosing just one thing to focus on – their breath is easiest. Then, for one minute, focus on only that one thing. “Close your eyes if you feel you may be distracted by what you see, or leave them open if you wish,” I will instruct, “and if you notice that your mind has drifted to something other than your breath, note that that was one time, and gently redirect your attention back to the breath. Try, as best you can, to keep track of the number of times you drift.” At the end of the minute, circle through each and every student, having them tell you how many times their attention drifted. Announce your own as well (sometimes it is helpful to bump up your number), and list a few things that distracted you (“I was thinking, ‘Am I breathing too loud?’ ‘How much time has passed yet?’ ‘What’s for lunch today?’ “) Then, remind them that the point is not to get to the lowest number possible, but simply to become aware of when our mind drifts from the thing we intended to focus on, and to use that awareness to re-focus.
The Mindful Moment is, of course, just the first and simplest practice for students in creating the person they actually are and want to be; it does this by allowing them to bring consciousness to the forefront of their everyday choices and energies. However, it is important to note that as with any practice, the value comes from the consistency of the structure. It is a daily practice, not a one-and-done. And, beautifully, it gives you (the guide) a chance to consciously choose the energy you want to bring into the class as well.
Slowness is the key to awareness, and awareness is the key to learning. -Moche Feldenkrais as referenced by Norman Doidge
Note: I begin the Mindful Moment with the chime of a bell, which I quite like. Of course it can be done in many ways 🙂
Doidge, N. (2015). The brain’s way of healing: Remarkable discoveries and recoveries from the frontiers of neuroplasticity. New York: Penguin Books.