“I love these socks that I am wearing today.”
“When will it stop raining?”
“I hope I have pb&j for lunch today.”
“Who will I sit with at lunch?”
“I don’t want to sit by myself.”
“What did my teacher just say?”
“I will never understand this math.”
“Everyone is smarter than me.”
This type of brain banter can continue on and on. We have all been there. In the time span of about…. 10 seconds, the monkey mind can take us from excitement, to curiosity, to worry, to despair. Yes, the mind has a captivating quality of dragging us into the past, propelling us into the future and filling us with thoughts, which divert our attention from the present moment. Learning how to rein in all of our flying thoughts is an essential skill for learning and can be taught and honed through the practices of yoga and mindfulness. These practices build our awareness to be compassionate observers of our mind so that, we don’t have to be prisoners of the chatter and compelled to believe every thought that streams through our consciousness.
So what is the danger in believing everything that pops into our mind, especially the things we tell ourselves about ourselves and about others around us? We tend to give a lot of “play time” to the negative talk, and then believe those thoughts more than the positive internal conversations we may have. We quickly psych ourselves out with brain banter that tries to convince us, we aren’t good enough or that we can’t focus, be strong or smart enough. Our mind instinctively turns to negativity as a protective mechanism. Our brains are wired to look out for danger and protect at all costs (even our own happiness). This is embedded within the wiring of our primitive brain structures. However, when we listen to the negativity, more than the positive, helpful, encouraging thoughts that also stream through now and then, we set ourselves up for performing and feeling less than we truly are. We fail to see all of our gifts and strengths. One of my biggest missions through Zensational Kids is to empower students and educators to connect to the inner gifts we all possess. Every individual is born with a gift. Part of the joy in each of our lives is trying to find our gift and share it. Think of what we are denying ourselves, our community and the world, if we don’t find ways to discover what our true strengths and gifts are.
One of the mindfulness tools within our EDUCATE 2B program, teaches students three basic steps in taming the monkey mind; noticing, accepting and non-attachment.
The practice is called drifting clouds. Here is the basic script to guide the practice.
Close your eyes and imagine you are lying on a soft bed of grass, on a beautiful spring day. You feel the coolness of the grass along your back and you melt into the warmth of the sun. As you gaze up at the sky, you notice soft fluffy white clouds surrounded by the beautiful blue background of the sky. As your body relaxes into the earth, you feel your breath soften and steady. Comforted by the rhythm of your breath, you begin to notice a thought creeping into the peace of this moment. Place that thought in one of the fluffy clouds. See it as words or pictures, leaving your mind and entering the cloud. As the cloud drifts through the sky, so does the thought. Come back to your breath. Each time a thought pops in, simply notice it. Try not to engage in more thoughts about this one, just place it into the cloud and let it float by in the sky.
Continue this for 1-3 minutes depending on the age of the students.
After the guided practice, we offer opportunities for reflection.
An open discussion or self-inquiry can be ignited by posing a few questions such as:
“Did you notice many thoughts entering your mind? “OR “What was the pace of thoughts entering your mind?”
“Did you notice specific feelings arise with a particular thought?”
“Was it easy to place the thought in a cloud and let it go?”
“Were there any thoughts you kept holding onto or any that kept coming back?”
“Did you begin to entertain and add internal discussion with any of the thoughts before letting them go?”
“What were the thoughts that kept popping up?” – with this question, I usually have them write down the thoughts or draw them. As part of our program, we have worksheets with big clouds so the thoughts can be written or drawn directly in the cloud. Once the thoughts are “out there,” as a group, or individually, we categorize them. Categories can be “happy, sad, just stuff,” or “positive, negative, neutral,” or students can individually label each thought by the emotion that they experienced with each thought.
In an open discussion, students as young as kindergarten begin to realize that everyone has lots of thoughts. I have worked with children that are actually relieved to know this because they begin to believe and tell themselves that something is wrong with them, due to the pace of chatter. Most students quickly realize that the thoughts slow down when they focus on their breath. This is so empowering because they discover, for themselves, how to calm a chatty brain. They learn this through their own experience, which is the most powerful way to learn anything. Acknowledging the thoughts we cling to and those we freely discard is an important aspect to self-realization. You begin to learn a lot about where your mind leans. This is a deeper conversation for older students but often one that needs a knowledgeable guide to help them uncover. The other thing that many students begin to understand is that the mind just thinks of STUFF and spits it out into our consciousness, often hijacking our attention and our emotions. This stuff is simply STUFF. Babble, which is only true if we choose to make it true. It is easy to get lost in all of the chatter and begin to believe specific thoughts just because our mind grabbed it and spat it out. The tragedy is when we begin to believe that these thoughts define us. When students begin to realize that we and we alone choose the thoughts to believe or discard, they start to shape who they are and who they wish to become. We get to write our own script in life but until we investigate what may already be on that page and determine what to keep and what to throw out, we cannot be the designer of our own destiny.