Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Being present

If you have been following my blog for some time you will know that my mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2016 and as a result of this I moved to the UK to look after her as her mental capacities declined.  I was reading over some of the posts I made from 2016-2018 which were about using apps to both support her and to support my own wellbeing as a carer.  Several of these were mindfulness apps such as Buddhify and Calm, which helped me focus on the present and not to stress so much about the past or the future.  It was interesting to read through Chapter 5 of Elena Aguilar's Onward as the journey Elena describes about learning to be in the present resonated very much with my own journey these past five years.  I too have found that staying in the present can boost resilience and can help us to be accepting about the things that happen in our lives and how we respond to them, rather than worrying about the past or about things that might happen in the future.  

My journey into mindfulness actually started while I was working in India.  Our primary school counsellor offered a mindfulness course to teachers, and ran mindfulness sessions before school.  It was a great way to start the day.  As Elena explains, mindfulness is the "nonjudgemental cultivation of moment to moment awareness."  We begin by noticing our feelings, being aware of their origins, accept what is happening and are intentional about what we do or say next.  There is a fantastic quote here:

Practicing mindfulness is like hitting an internal pause button on the drama of life.

 Often while I was staying with Mum, I would take myself out for a walk, and listen to a mindfulness meditation on Buddhify.  One of my favourites spoke about the sky and how clouds came and went, and perhaps bad weather came and went - but the sky was always there - it was not the clouds or the weather.  In the same way our thoughts and emotions come and go - and we are not our thoughts and emotions.

Currently I try to do a yoga class each week and to meditate each day for about 10 minutes.  I can totally relate to the "monkey mind" which jumps around from one thing to the next, both past and present.  What I've also noticed is that it's become progressively easier to become and remain calm.  

I was really interested to read the research about teachers who practice mindfulness.  They experience lower levels of stress and burnout, report greater efficacy in their jobs, have more emotionally supportive classrooms and more organised classrooms.  It's interesting to note that if you are calm and focused and self aware that it's more likely your students will be these things as well - and mindfulness has so many other benefits such as improving attention, memory and self-control, boosting your immune system, helping with insomnia and the management of depression and chronic pain.

Another interesting section of Chapter 5 is the section about happy people doing better work, and how having "appropriate challenge" makes us happy.  We know this with our students of course, but as a school leader we need to consider this for our teachers as well!

Final thoughts - it was quite fascinating to read that people have about 65,000 thoughts a day.  I did the maths at that's actually 45 thoughts a minute - meaning we have just over a second for each one!  Elena writes:

Thoughts and emotions are visitors who knock on the door of our house.  With meditation we can learn to greet them, acknowledge them, exercise choice about how to relate to them, and then watch them go.  Those thoughts that make you anxious, insecure, irritated or ashamed don't need to stay with you.

Image Credit:  John Hain on Pixabay 

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