10 Oct Slice of Life: Mindful vs. Mindfulness #SOL17
Mindfulness seems to be the new buzz word in education. The first time I heard the phrase I was in a school and a principal informed me the next classroom was running a bit behind schedule.
They just need to finish up their mindfulness exercise and then they will be ready for you.
I was immediately taken back to my elementary school, St. Joseph’s Brookfield. I could hear Sister Pauline’s voice as if it were yesterday,
Be mindful as you walk down the hall.
Be mindful of our neighbors while on the playground.
Be mindful of your classmates.
Be mindful of the floors – they were just polished.
Mindful was a word we heard often. Interestingly it is a word I have not heard much of since my school days, until mindfulness was suddenly upon me once again in schools.
I saw this magazine in an airport over the summer and grabbed it –hoping to get up to date with the latest jargon. After skimming the table of contents and reading a few articles, it was clear to me that the mindful I grew up with is very different from the current mindfulness movement. This dissonance sent me to the dictionary to compare the definitions of mindful and mindfulness. Here is what I found:
Mindful: :bearing in mind :aware
1: be mindful of how you use your power
2: inclined to be aware
a truly considerate person, always mindful of the needs of others
1:the quality or state of being mindful
2:the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; also :such a state of awareness
These definitions on surface do not seem very different to me. Why then does this magazine and the few mindfulness exercises I have observed in schools, feel so different from my understanding of the word mindful?
I have been grappling with this question since school has been back in session. Last week it hit me. It seems to me the purpose of being mindful is what has changed from my experience growing up. When I was taught to be mindful, the focus was always on something or someone outside of myself. It was about my awareness of the people and things around me. The current mindfulness movement seems to be focused on awareness of oneself. Being present, reducing stress, meditating, gratitude and slowing down are all part of mindfulness. “Mindfulness is about putting down our juggling balls for a little bit. It’s about embracing the beauty of monotasking.” (Mary Elizabeth Williams, 2017). Most of the articles are about taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. One article (“Om for Kids”, Mandy Oaklander, 2017) even focused on kids practicing mindfulness in the classroom and suggested the following outcomes of this practice:
- More kindness
- More self-control
- Fewer ADHD symptoms
- Better math scores
- Improved focus
- Less depression
This study seems to suggest that practicing mindfulness, a focus on one-self, may result in increased awareness of others. I think there is certainly a potential for this – it makes sense that we need to take care of ourselves before we are available to care for others. I worry, however, that the focus on “oneself” may result in a generation of people who think of themselves first –who come to define life as taking care of one’s own needs. I agree with everything in the magazine about the need to find balance, but the motivation to be mindful for me is not looking within, it is looking outside of myself. As I read these articles I could not help but think that being mindful of others is often what causes me not to have time to practice mindfulness. How do we balance being mindful of our own needs and the needs of those around us?
I are many ideas in this magazine that sounded ideal to me, but if I am now worried about finding time to practice mindfulness I am not sure it is really going to help me achieve a happy, stress-free life. The checklists, exercises, apps and tips are things I now have to add to the list of things I need to do – how does that help? Now I have to keep track of being mindful? I need an app to remind to be mindful?
I think there needs to be a balance. A balance in the focus of being mindful – for oneself and for others. A balance in the attention we pay to over-analyzing ourselves – practicing too many mindfulness ideas could cause stress. A balance in our outlook on stress and happiness – they don’t have to be in opposition. A balance in believing that the next trend is going to solve all of life’s problems. Life is a balance and we need to embrace it. There are good days and bad days. If things are out of balance, we need to deal with it and make changes. Why do we need to keep coming up with new jargon for making changes to keep our lives in balance? If we keep adding to our list by trying to keep up with the latest, greatest, we may just get more bogged down in the end. It’s just one more thing we can judge ourselves inadequate and the cycle continues. Whether it is mindful or mindfulness, we need to be aware. We need to feel, experience, notice, wonder and respond – doesn’t matter what we call it.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller