Since I wrote my blog last month, “Contentment and the Power of Now”, I have worked hard to make the appreciation of “now” a part of my daily routine. Two of my sons were supposed to come down for dinner last weekend and unfortunately one of them couldn’t make it. In the past, I would have lamented his not being here, and not enjoyed the evening to the fullest because of his absence.
I changed that up. I deliberately put that aspect of the evening out of my mind. Of course, I still missed the son who couldn’t come, but instead of letting it impact the evening with the son who could, I was able to pause and reset my expectations. This was an effort, but I’m hoping as I get better at appreciating the power of now I can do it without too much effort, or better, unconsciously shift my expectations when they don’t pan out to the letter of my planning. So I’ve been wanting to share some ways for you to work on this skill, and it is a skill, with your children. I want to offer ways to help our kids build tools for their kitbag so they aren’t faced with disappointment as things unfold differently than planned. And in life, I have learned that very little unfolds as planned. What is that Yiddish proverb? “We plan; God laughs.”
I do a couple of mindfulness activities in my Girl Smarts day camps that seem to fall right in line with developing this skill. One of those activities I call “Do you hear what I hear?” It’s pretty simple, and I practice it routinely. We go outside, as it is often easier to catch on with outside sounds, and I ask the girls to sit quietly for a moment and allow their minds to clear. Gosh, that clearing thing is a ton harder than you’d think. Then we start to pick out the different sounds we hear. I ask each girl to tell me one thing they hear, but to try not to say something that has been said already. We start with far-away sounds initially. That might be a car on a nearby road, a plane flying overhead, or perhaps other children playing on a nearby playground. Then we start to walk the sounds in, closer and closer, until we run out of sounds to share. We can eventually “hear” the rustling of a nearby leaf being blown by the breeze, or the sound of our neighbor breathing. I’ve even had girls tell me they can hear their heartbeats. The process of quieting yourself and allowing the moment to take over your senses is quite expansive and calming. At the end of the exercise, I suggest to the girls they work that process at home with a parent or a friend. I love doing this exercise when crowds gather at my house for a meal or event.
I’ve been known to steal myself away for just a few minutes and listen to all the sounds in the house. The loud murmur of voices, the clanking of glasses and silverware, the raised pops of laughter of my guests, and the hum of the oven cooking dinner. This exercise brings me a wonderful recognition of the power of now but also transports me back to my childhood. I’d do the same listening activity in my home in New Jersey without really knowing why. I find peace in the connection of the sounds of the home my husband and I are making for my children, and the sounds of the house that “built me.”
The next exercise I do with the girls provides focus differently. I have a son who deals with anxiety. In my naïveté, I believed that giving him long periods to “rest”, not demanding he look for a job outside of his schoolwork, was the right approach. It may be for some but not for him and at his own insistence, he got a job. His ability to focus on something was much more accommodating to his reduction of stress. I realized it was because he could shut out distracting thoughts. He became very focused on his time management and felt calmer knowing he was not going to have to think about the what-ifs that came with his college demands. That caused me to incorporate stone stacking exercises into my Girl Smarts routine. I offered it as a skill for the campers to develop and shift away from fruitless worrying. The idea was simple. I gave the girls a pile of flat stones (you can buy them at any landscaping store) and asked them to spend fifteen minutes putting one upon the other to build a tower. There was no “winner.” The exercise was about balance, concentration, and feeling the success of building something just for the fun of it. The first time I did this I was pretty surprised at the outcome. The girls enjoyed the change of pace normally associated with our program.
Finally, I’d suggest you give your children a gratitude journal or have a gratitude texting group with your family. Each day either to start or finish, write or text what you are grateful for in your day-to-day actions. It can, and maybe should be, smaller things that happen during the day:
“I’m grateful I got to give my family a hug today before leaving for school.”
“I’m grateful Susie gave me a pencil when I couldn’t find mine.”
You get the idea. When we recognize the small everyday moments, we have a better recognition of the goodness in our lives. My husband and son had an ongoing text exchange like this for months while my son was away at college. Whether it is something you do for a week or a year, your mental health benefits.
These are difficult times. As President of the Board for Mental Health America in Fredericksburg, I have a front-row seat on the significant challenges we are facing during these past many months. It is no joke. Whether you use the techniques I offer in this blog, or research and decide upon others, coming up with tools for you and your child’s contentment kit bag is a very smart thing. While we cannot be happy all the time, we can train ourselves to recognize the positive moments that make it good to be alive. I hope you’ll take some time to breathe, listen, focus and give gratitude for those moments as I continue to practice doing the same.
Have a brilliant day!