The lives we lead, particularly in the Western world, are technologically overburdened and spiritually impoverished. Our children can tell us the various merits of different operating systems for electronic devices, but are rarely in touch with how different emotions are experienced in the body, or how it feels to bring kindness to a moment of difficulty. They are bombarded almost constantly with information at a rate that mankind even 50 years ago would have struggled to begin to comprehend, and mental illness is at an all-time high. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school, with the average age of onset being 14 years of age. The human race is at a tipping point, and we have no sane choice but to begin to awaken the capacities within us that have too-long lain dormant. We can choose to lead a child towards awakening, and thus awaken ourselves.
|Publisher:||Hunt, John Publishing|
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A Journey of Inner Transformation Through Teaching Your Child Mindfulness and Compassion
By Heather Grace MacKenzie
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Heather Grace MacKenzie
All rights reserved.
There is a special place in life,
that needs my humble skill,
A certain job I'm meant to do,
which no one else can fulfil.
The time will be demanding,
and the pay is not too good
And yet I wouldn't change it
for a moment – even if I could.
There is a special place in life,
a goal I must attain,
A dream that I must follow,
because I won't be back again.
There is a mark that I must leave,
however small it seems to be,
A legacy of love for those
who follow after me.
There is a special place in life,
that only I may share,
A little path that bears my name,
awaiting me somewhere.
There is a hand that I must hold,
a word that I must say,
A smile that I must give
for there are tears to blow away.
There is a special place in life
that I was meant to fill
A sunny spot where flowers grow,
upon a windy hill.
There's always a tomorrow
and the best is yet to be,
And somewhere in this world,
I know there is a place for me.
I watch him quietly, this little miracle of creation. He's sleeping now; his boisterous energy has come to rest. The soft glow of the lamp illuminates his perfect alabaster skin and slightly flushed cheeks. Little freckles dot his cheeks and nose, his chest gently rises and falls and a small sigh escapes from his lips. He's wearing his favourite light-blue farm-vehicle pyjamas; they're mostly covered by his bed covers, but a little foot peeks out from beneath. As I reach out to touch his silky blonde hair, he stirs and moves his head to snuggle his cheek into my hand. A glimmer of a smile plays across his face as if he knows mummy's here, and I know that on some level he's aware that I'm close by. I witness each beautiful moment unfolding, aware of the flow of my own breath, feeling the cool air rush past the insides of my nostrils, the expansion of the chest, the stretching sensations in the muscles of the abdomen, the pause, the softening of the belly, the fall of the chest, the warmer air rushing past the insides of the nostrils on the out-breath. I'm aware of the sensations of pressure and contact between the soles of my feet and the soft carpet fibres, and tiny adjustments that my muscles make to keep my body balanced. The faint awareness of my pulse, the beating of my heart, underlying each moment. Using all of my senses enables me to inhabit the moment as fully as I can.
Being Logan's mother for the past six years has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, along with mothering his two older brothers, Connor (aged fifteen) and Ethan (aged thirteen). Each of my children shows me, in each moment that I'm present, whether my communication is clear, whether they feel heard and therefore respected, and whether I'm present to their needs and also my own. Meditation, and in particular the practice of mindfulness meditation, brings us to this place of presence, where it is possible to connect in each moment to a feeling of aliveness in every cell of the body, tapping into a deep ocean of stillness and wisdom within and a heartfelt sense of the common humanity that links us all. This doesn't mean that we are always in a zen state of complete equanimity – far from it! But the possibility is always there, that in any moment of conflict we can choose a different path – the path of present-moment awareness, which allows us to respond more skilfully to what's going on.
My intention with this book is to offer what is perhaps a slightly different way of interacting with your child or children that you work with, indeed a different way of being. I shall introduce the principles of mindfulness first of all to set the scene a little, and then we can explore the journey of bringing those principles into a lived reality that can enhance the quality of your relationship with your child (and others) in a fairly extraordinary way. I will then share some of my experience of authentic ways to share mindfulness with children, including tips for working with different age groups.
Whilst I very much recognise the value of visualisation, both in terms of its power to relax and also help us to get in touch with the energies of the heart, this is primarily a book aimed at fostering mindful parenting and self-compassion through teaching your child mindfulness. Whilst we touch in on some ideas for relaxing visualisations – and these are particularly useful at bedtime or for calming an anxious child – this book is perhaps not for you if you hope that after reading and digesting it you will become accomplished in delivering guided journey meditations to your child; the emphasis here will be on learning to lean in to the present moment and soften around any difficulties we experience, whilst bringing in our creativity to capture our child's imagination.
Now would be a perfect moment to say that I'm most certainly not a perfect parent, nor do I have all the answers! My children are not always full of joy, perfectly confident, perfectly content, perfectly at ease. This is OK! In fact, it's more than OK – it's in perfect alignment with this oftentimes messy thing we call 'life'. It's taken quite a bit of time, but I've got much better at letting go of striving for perfection. I remember when I was a child, around 11 years old, rushing to tell my grandmother that I'd got ninety-eight per cent in a maths exam, expecting her face to break into a broad smile and for praise to come my way, but instead she looked at me quite seriously and said, "What happened to the other two per cent?" I can look back at that moment now with humour and also sensitivity for the upbringing my grandmother must have had, but at the time it sent a pretty powerful message to me that nothing less than perfection is good enough. But if throughout our lives we're always striving for perfection then we're going to be spending pretty much all of our time in a state of disappointment and self-criticism! There is a famous adage, "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." My goodness, we're good at heaping suffering on to ourselves, with a harsh self-critic often giving a running commentary on our failings and an underlying sense of not quite being good enough in some way; mindfulness (and the other wing of the bird – compassion) really help us to explore our attitude towards our inner and outer landscapes with curiosity and kindness, and can give us a zoomed-out perspective of the futility and unhelpfulness of many of our underlying beliefs and much of our behaviour.
Given the explosion of interest in mindfulness, there are now a great many books available that aim to teach the reader mindfulness and compassion and they do it very well; I've recommended some that I've found particularly helpful in Appendix A – Resources for Adults. However, no book can do full justice to the power of mindfulness and the journey of cultivating it and teaching it. You may well already have some experience of mindfulness, and if not then this book will give you an introduction to the subject, but it is impossible to teach mindfulness to a child, or indeed anyone, without practising mindfulness ourselves – simply reading about it is not enough. Mindfulness is essentially a different way of living, and so it's really helpful to practise daily so that the seeds of mindfulness can really take root and flourish. There are practices suitable for adults scattered throughout this book, so that you can get started on your mindfulness journey right away if you haven't already, but learning in a group setting with a properly trained mindfulness teacher is to be highly recommended in order to navigate the pitfalls when getting started. If you haven't already attended an 8-week mindfulness course such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness Association Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC), Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) or similar, then I humbly suggest that you take the plunge and enrol in a local course, or enrol in an online 'live teaching' course if there isn't a course in your local area. There is a list of resources in Appendix A to help you find a course. To teach mindfulness we must embody mindfulness in our daily lives, else we are well meaning but inauthentic. Children can sniff the unpleasant whiff of, "Do as I say, not what I do" a mile off!
For ease of reference throughout the book, I will refer to a child or young person that you're working with as 'your child'. Most of the techniques suggested can be easily adapted for groups of children (two or more) either at home, at school, holiday club etc., but I'll address issues specifically related to teaching mindfulness to groups of children in Chapter 19.
It is my hope that this book will help you to:
learn more about mindfulness and how to lead a child (or children) in simple mindfulness practices,
create a calmer, more harmonious household,
support your child in fulfilling their incredible potential,
help your child to learn to deal with strong emotions such as anger, disappointment etc.,
develop a daily mindfulness practice for yourself that feels both nurturing and sustainable,
learn greater self-compassion (which then naturally flows to your child and helps them to learn it),
come to see the power in allowing and expressing vulnerability, and
realise the power of embodiment – when we embody mindfulness then the teaching takes care of itself.
If you wish to nurture a child or children, to help them move through life with as much ease as possible, to live in expression of their fullest potential and to feel respected, supported and nurtured, then you are making a difference already through that intention. You are connecting with your own highest potential and creating a more peaceful and harmonious future for us all. Thank you!CHAPTER 2
Twelve years ago I was a software engineer heading up the Support Team at a small but rapidly growing IT company in Edinburgh. I wasn't very sociable, preferring the company of computers and animals to humans, having had a fairly difficult and relatively solitary upbringing by my mother on a windy Scottish island. My job was high-pressured and I was often bothered with minor health complaints. Connor and Ethan were aged three and one respectively, and like all working mothers I really struggled to balance my working life with being the best mother that I could be. Then one cold winter evening in 2003 everything changed. My husband told me that he'd been having an affair. My emotional life until then had been extremely unremarkable; I had in many ways been living my life on autopilot, thinking that I was just quite emotionally well-balanced but in retrospect I had actually been rather emotionally closed-down. Suddenly I was consumed by so many difficult-to-deal-with emotions: anger, rage, despair, sadness, fear, shame, jealousy, confusion and much more. Physically I felt deeply ill; it felt as if these new emotions had joined forces with those that had been locked down deep inside me since early childhood and this dark stuff felt quite unbearable – it was simply overwhelming, and felt as if it was literally choking the life out of me.
Connor and Ethan were so very little when their father moved out. Having experienced growing up without a father, I desperately didn't want my children to grow up without a father in their lives, yet history seemed in a certain way to be repeating itself. My mother was a very spiritual woman, certain that everything happens for a reason, but deep down she was lost when my father died. A part of her died with him, and she spent much of her remaining life using alcohol to numb the pain. I often wonder how different life might have been for me and my sister if she had learned mindfulness and found a way to relate differently to the pain that was eating her up inside.
In 2004, in the midst of divorce proceedings, I attended a Reiki First Degree workshop with a wonderful lady called Lorraine Urquhart (now Lorraine Murray), with absolutely no idea why I was there or what I'd be learning, but with a quiet and slightly confusing sense that somehow I was supposed to be there. We did some meditation that day and one of the visualisations took us to a safe place where a compassionate being appeared to us. I visualised my father, who had passed away when I was four years old, waiting for me in a small log cabin with a fire burning. We had a conversation that I don't remember, but I do remember the soft look of unconditional love on his face, and that image will remain with me always. That was my first experience of compassionate imagery, and it was so powerful that I sobbed for the best part of an hour. It felt as if something shifted in me that day and I knew that somehow I had stumbled on to the right path (a process I now recognise as listening to my intuition) but there was much work to be done – I had to learn to be with the incredibly difficult emotions that still flooded my body and I had to find a way to help my mind and body move back towards balance.
Lorraine taught me to imagine surrounding difficult people and situations with a loving pink light – pink being one of the colours of the heart energy centre. I practised this over and over again, initially focusing on my husband and quickly realising that my striving nature had led me to commence in a rather unhelpful place – the task just seemed too enormous! I carried on practising with those I was having minor difficulties with or with people I didn't even know – for example, noticing a couple arguing outside a local shop or seeing a young child crying at the zoo. Looking back, this heralded the start of my willingness to approach suffering and take action, the start of my cultivation of compassion. My personality had started to change quite dramatically after a year or so of these practices. I had gone from being a very 'left-brained' software engineer, liking my world to be defined by logic and reason, to being much more creative, much more in touch with my emotions and my intuition, and much more loving! After a year or so, in spite of going ahead with divorce proceedings, my soon-to-be-ex-husband was one of my best friends and I had changed careers, leaving my very well-paid software engineering job for the much less well-paid job of health-shop owner.
Although my childhood often felt incredibly difficult and as a teenager I was extremely shy and introverted, I now count my childhood and the breakdown of my marriage as some of the greatest blessings in my life because I believe that those difficulties have caused me to grow and to seek a different way of being; difficulties sometimes have a way of making life so uncomfortable that we have almost no choice but to seek an alternative way of relating to our experience. My difficulties have caused me to seek to understand my place in the world. Perhaps you have also experienced this sense of difficulty causing you to seek a different way? Maybe that's why you have come to read this book; perhaps you've experienced some challenges in parenting that have caused you to seek a more enlightened way of being with your child, one that does not revolve around conflict and battles of will?
Happily, it is not necessary to find the path of present-moment living via difficulty; we can choose to lead children towards this path right from birth! In fact, children are already very good at living in the present moment from the moment they are born, experiencing each moment from a sensory perspective rather than a thinking perspective. How quickly as children we learn that logical, rational thinking mode is much more valued in our society than sensing mode, and what a tragedy this is! Before we know it we start to feel like heads rushing through space, seeing our bodies (when we occasionally choose to think about them) as slightly inconvenient vehicles that carry our heads around – our bodies don't look as we might wish, don't behave entirely as we would like, and regularly (sometimes rather inconveniently) need to be refuelled. And yet the body is the doorway to all that we seek. A bold statement, I know, and I hope to justify that statement in the remaining pages of this book.
I continued to learn Reiki with Lorraine until completing my training as a Reiki Master Teacher in 2010. I have been teaching different forms of meditation, including some underpinning themes of mindfulness such as loving-kindness, since that time and it has been an incredibly rewarding journey. I have been teaching my own children meditation for many years, and since 2012, as a Professional Level tutor of Lorraine's amazing Connected Kids programme, I've been teaching meditation and mindful activities to children in a professional capacity. Some of my experiences with children in these meditation sessions are what have motivated me to want to look more closely at the benefits that meditation can offer children. After just a couple of sessions with me, an 8-year-old boy whose father had passed away two years previously volunteered to start sleeping in his own bed again. He hadn't done that since his father's passing. I started to look into what research was available to present to parents and head teachers to support the value of teaching children meditation, and the word 'mindfulness' seemed to be everywhere.
Excerpted from Awakening Child by Heather Grace MacKenzie. Copyright © 2015 Heather Grace MacKenzie. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Introduction 2
2 Background 8
3 Connectedness - whispers of the heart 14
3.1 Exercise: Holding Space for Ourselves-Heart Cave* 17
4 Awakening Child 24
4.1 Exercise: Breath Awareness* 26
4.2 Exercise: Self-Compassionate Intention* 33
4.3 Exercise: Sensing Mode* 36
4.4 Exercise: Body Scan* 38
5 Understanding Stress 47
Children and Stress 53
6 Mindfulness, Meditation, Visualisation and Insight 57
The origins of mindfulness 58
6.1 Exercise: Exploring Meditation Together 62
6.2 Exercise: Shower of Light Visualisation* 64
7 Benefits of Meditation 70
What does the available research show? 71
8 Method - the 'How' 75
8.1 Exercise: Purple Leathers 76
Intention and Motivation - what's important to you? 80
8.2 Exercise: Make a Snow Globe 82
Support - Mindfulness of Breath 87
8.3 Exercise: Heart Breathing 88
Alternative Support - Mindfulness of Sound 88
8.4 Exercise: Sound Awareness* 89
When to Practise and How Long 93
Sustaining Practice 94
9 Attitude - the 'What' 97
Guiding Light 1 Beginner's Mind 98
Guiding Light 2 Non-striving 99
Guiding Light 3 Non-judging 100
Guiding Light 4 Patience 101
Guiding Light 5 Trust 101
Guiding Light 6 Acceptance 102
Guiding Light 7 Letting Go 103
Delivering our Gifts 110
10 Taming the Amygdala 112
Mindfulness of Touch 113
10.1 Exercise: Gentle Touch 113
Relaxing Visualisation 115
10.2 Exercise: The Waterfall* 116
Soothing Words 118
10.3 Exercise: Soothing Words* 118
Progressive Muscle Relaxation 120
10.4 Exercise: Tensing and Softening 120
11 Mindfulness in Daily Life 124
11.1 Exercise: Mindful Malteser-Eating 126
12 Let the Magic Live On 132
12.1 Exercise: Fairy Door* 134
13 The Wisdom of the Body 139
Mindful Movement 142
13.1 Exercise: Mindful Walking* 143
13.2 Exercise: Body and Mind Letters 146
14 A Balancing Act 149
15 Tips for Leading Meditations 154
16 Meditations for Younger Children 161
16.1 Parent and Child Exercise: Eskimo Kisses 162
16.2 Exercise: Tracing the Flower 163
16.3 Exercise: Finding the Perfection 164
16.4 Exercise: Where's my Body? 165
Further ideas for younger children 168
17 Meditations for Teens 171
17.1 Exercise: MOP (Moment of Presence) 173
17.2 Exercise: MOK (Moment of Kindness) 174
17.3 Exercise: Bodykind 175
Additional exercises for teens 179
Not interested? 180
18 At the Heart of it All - BE.LOVE 182
18.1 Exercise: Inner Child Healing* 183
19 Working with Groups 193
Practicalities and Holding Space 196
Relating to the Group Members 200
Embodiment of mindfulness 200
Guiding group practices 201
Creating a Compassionate Classroom 204
20 In Awe and Wonder - a final message 207
20.1 Exercise: A Final Reflection 208
Appendix A Resources for Adults 210
Appendix B Resources for Children 213