By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
It was just over three years ago, after a head-on collision left me broken both physically and emotionally, that I learned by necessity the importance of the practice of mindfulness. In my work as a school counselor, I had been teaching children for years about the benefits of meditation to combat stress, but I realized very quickly that I hadn’t ever really mastered weaving the strategies into my own personal self-care routines. It was during my two-year recovery from that life-threatening event that I truly learned to slow down and savor, to practice being in the moment with my thoughts and feelings, and to breathe lifesaving restoration in while breathing toxic stressors out.
One of my most memorable mindfulness moments came just last month at a women’s retreat I attended. While other retreat participants were headed off during morning free time to do fun things like archery, Frisbee golf, and canoeing, I opted to spend that time being instead of doing.
The wooden bench alongside the pond that was calling my name would make the perfect spot to just be. As I lay on my back, I closed my eyes to first get in touch with the soft breeze that tickled my skin. I could feel the vitamin D from the sunshine permeate the pores of my skin to my very core, as if it were dumping a strong dose of a lifesaving regenerative miracle drug into my veins. I was keenly aware of a cacophony of sounds: some traffic on a distant highway, the whistle of a train on the tracks in town, an airplane overhead, a bee buzzing in the clover below, and the chirping of birds whose calls I couldn’t quite identify. I noticed the splash of something jumping into the murky pond, likely a frog, fish, or snake, and I could picture in my mind’s eye the ripples it sent out as it entered the waters. I could hear the trees whistling across the pond as they danced in the wind, and I was drawn to the smells of the pine needles that blanketed the ground and the pollen that had taken flight in the air. I inhaled the warm scent of the Texas wildflowers that were starting to bloom and exhaled all of my worries from the previous week with intention and on purpose.
When it was time to open my eyes, I drank in the crystal-clear blue sky in contrast with a few white cumulus clouds, the bright yellow of the sun, and—wait, could it be?—the dark silhouette of a bald eagle floating effortlessly as it performed a circular dance with what appeared to be a turkey buzzard. It was a veritable smorgasbord for my senses; as each sense woke up, every bit of my stress melted away.
Here comes the really good news: We don’t have to wait until we’re stressed out or colliding with calamity and chaos to tap into our senses to center us and help us find inner peace. The nature I took advantage of thrives just outside of our houses, classrooms, and work places and is waiting for us to consume and enjoy it. We need only to carve out the time to make that happen. But do we really need to find a bench outside to maximize our mindfulness? Absolutely not. Focusing on our breathing can be done anywhere at any time, and it’s easy to teach and practice. But what else can we do to intentionally stay in the moment and not let ourselves ruminate over the past or worry about the future?
- Dedicate your car rides to someone you love, purposefully thinking about that person and/or praying for his or her well-being. Invite your children to do the same. Who is that person and what makes him or her so special? Set aside a few intentional mindful moments at every red light or stop sign. Use these as chances to send positive vibes of gratitude and love to someone who has been or still is influential in your journey.
- Unplug the radio, computer, or TV to plug into the people around you. Face-to-face time with a good friend or valued family members is a great way to free your mind from distractions and be in the moment.
- Quiet your mind by repeating a favorite mantra like this one suggested by sports psychologist Dr. Richard Keefe: Now, here, this.
- Slow down your mealtimes (set a timer if you have to) to allow for time to savor each morsel. Tap into as many senses as you can. Do you prefer warm foods or cold? What colors are on your plate? What textures do you most prefer? Which flavors do you most enjoy?
- Drink the recommended sixty-four ounces of water every day. Pay attention to the temperature of the liquid as it enters your mouth and heads down your throat to fill your stomach. Make a pact to stay hydrated and see how it helps stabilize your moment-by-moment mood.
- Enjoy a circular stroll, either around a track, a cul-de-sac, or a labyrinth. Focus on the sights and sounds as you walk.
- Try some yoga stretches or poses to help you relax and restore.
- Listen to a guided-imagery CD; let it take you to your safe place.
- Color. Treat yourself to a brand-new pack of crayons, colored pencils, or glitter markers and one of these Meditation Coloring Books, and have a blast feeding your creativity while you de-stress.
- Read mindfulness texts like Rana DiOrio’s What Does It Mean to Be Present? and open up a discussion about it.
Experimenting with one or more of these suggestions will serve as a wonderful way to celebrate Stress Awareness Month and also strengthen emotional hygiene.
There’s a reason we’re called human beings, not human doings. Mindfulness is all about being aware of our thoughts and feelings in each moment and remembering that in life, the journey is every bit as important as the destination.
For more ideas and resources on this topic, visit my Mindfulness collection on Pinterest.
Currently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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