The school-year roller-coaster is in full swing – with all sorts of extra loop-de-loop twists and turns this year.
Ongoing coronavirus concerns and confusion. Schools opening and closing – swinging from in-person to remote. Maybe more like a see-saw than a roller coaster. Add in a buzzing background of social unrest, polarization, vitriol, and violence. On top of that, we have hurricanes, floods, and wildfires the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
No wonder our kids are scared. Acting-out. Fed-up. Shutting-down. Their nerves, and ours, are frayed.
Yes, as many times as you’ve read it here, it’s still true. Our “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” nervous system is working overtime these days.
Because of that, it’s increasingly difficult for our kids to sustain their attention and effort. It’s difficult for them, and us, to think straight. It seems much harder to work through our daily tasks rationally and productively.
In short, it’s difficult to stay clear, calm, and kind – when WE’RE FREAKING OUT!
And we’ve got a long way to go to get through this year. How can we do it? How do we help our kids do it?
Remember, we can’t stop the waves, but we can learn to surf them.
We can’t stop or control all the circumstances in our lives. But we can choose how we relate to them. We can choose how to be in the storm, how to ride the waves (or the roller-coaster!) with more ease and balance.
We will still get thrown off from time to time. And sometimes it will feel like we’re drowning in a sea of stress.
Even in those times, especially in those times, we can use our mindfulness practice to get us through more safely and sanely.
Here’s a simple, 4-step practice for cultivating calm amidst the chaos. (Adapted from and gratitude to Dr. Rick Hanson.)
(1) Pause. Allow yourself to be quiet and still for just a moment or two. Breathe. Soft and slow. Now clarify your intentions for today. Set your intention for this moment. Do you wish to be crazed or calm?! Let’s choose calm. But we’re not going to TRY to be calm. We’re not going to force it. We’re going to quietly create a space that invites calm into our lives. Let your attention focus now, with kindness and curiosity, on allowing calm to arrive, as best it can, just here in this moment right now. Notice how you can incline your mind to be kind. You can intentionally open to a wave of calm in this moment
(2) Now tune in to your body. When you feel like you’re going out of your mind, then go out of your mind and come to your senses! Bring your caring, curious attention to what your body feels like, right now. You may notice areas of tension or tightness. Scan briefly, and you’ll also notice some areas of softness perhaps as well. Notice your heartbeat and breath right now. Notice the sensations of air flowing into and out of your body. Gently invite calm into your breath right now. Allow calm to settle into your body. For just this moment, let go of any unnecessary tension. Let go of anything you don’t need right now. Let your body settle into softness, being held and supported by the furniture, the floor, the subtle touch of gravity. You don’t have to do anything at all. Allow your body to be, just as it is.
(3) Now notice how right here, in this time and place, you are safe. You are okay. Attend to the reality that in this moment, you really are alright. Savor this simple awareness. Note and name this truth. Silently or softly affirm, “Right now, I’m alright. Right here, I’m alright.” There is wholesomeness in me. And around me. Even amidst all the confusion and fear and frustration and exhaustion – all of which comes and goes – I’m okay. Even when it doesn’t feel okay, I am okay. I am safe. I am here, now. Warm. Breathing. Resting. Alive. It’s alright. I’m alright.
(4) Now gently turn your kind attention to your heart. Sense the warmth in your heart. Allow your heart, your chest to open. Sense the love you have within you. The love that recognizes your connection with others. Feel how your heart, even when stressed, is still connected to others. You are not alone. You are still connected to goodness, to life, to nature, to your God or the Universe. Notice how even in vexing times, the love in your heart endures. Love flows into you, and love flows from you. Your warm, loving heart is always beating, always caring, always giving, and always receiving. Allow your attention to rest in the loving-kindness of your own heart. Rest in loving-kindness for your self, your loved ones, your community, our planet. This too, is still here.
Take a cleansing breath or two. Awaken to how you feel, right now. Not perfect. Maybe not even really peaceful. But perhaps a little bit better.
You can pause to cultivate calm in your life at any time. You may do so for 5-10 minutes or sometimes for just 5-10 seconds. It doesn’t matter as much how you do it, it matters that you do it.
Remember, what you focus on, grows.
What you practice, grows stronger.
You can do this by yourself. You can do this with your child or with your students. Want to be less stressed? Then practice cultivating calm!
We brush our teeth for 2-minutes, twice a day, without thinking about it. Maintaining our dental hygiene has become a habit. We just do it. Our teeth and gums are stronger for it.
Likewise, you can maintain healthy mental hygiene with daily mindfulness practices. It doesn’t necessarily change the stressful circumstances of these challenging times, but it strengthens your heart and mind. It helps you ride those waves, ride that roller-coaster, with more ease.
Choose to cultivate calm in your life, and your children’s lives.
We all need a little bit of this, don’t you think, to help restore sanity to humanity. One child, one parent, one teacher at a time.