Mindfulness for Teachers and Parents – How Not to Explode
Have you ever had one of those times when everything feels loud? There’s so much to do and no one is listening and all you really want is to hide in the bathroom, also because you haven’t had a chance to go to the bathroom after that big morning cup. What saves me (most of the time) from losing it in these moments is my mindfulness practice.
When I was invited to contribute to Mindfulness Month: Yoga for Kids and Families with a 5 minute video called How Not To Explode: 3 Mindful Tips to Help You When Your Fuse is Running Short (shared below), I got excited to talk about this wonderful practice because it has had such a positive impact on the way I teach and so many other parts of my life. This stuff makes a difference!
Make a Difference with Mindfulness
Parents and teachers, like you, make a difference in the lives of children every single day.
The harsh truth is that there are times when the difference we make is not the one we intended. Situations can get difficult and we lose patience and lash out at those we love. Instead of feeling better, we’re left feeling full of regret.
Those who embark on a mindfulness practice more easily identify the triggers that cause us to explode. With less explosions we become happier people. The added benefit is we also have more success teaching mindfulness to children because we will be teaching from a place of experience. Its hard to teach something you don’t actually practice yourself.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways but always includes these two important aspects:
- Mental Focus: paying attention,
- Heartfelt Intention: kindness/openness/curiosity.
The founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) describes it this way in a Time Magazine article:
You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”
John Kabat-Zinn, Time Magazine, 2012
Evidence also shows that even a few weeks of a Mindful practice produces positive benefits.
How to Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Chores
So how do we “do” mindfulness? I started practicing Mindfulness with my everyday chores, beginning with a chore I really don’t like: washing the dishes.
This was inspired by a teaching story I heard about a seeker who wanted make a change so he went to serve in a Mindful community. He was told by the manager that he wasn’t yet ready to serve. “Well can’t I even wash the dishes?” the seeker protested. With kindness the manager asked him why he would wash the dishes. “Why? To get them clean of course.” The manager replied, “In our mindful community we don’t wash the dishes to get them clean. We wash the dishes to wash the dishes.”
Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains this subtle difference this way:
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.”
What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink.
If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness, 1975
Practicing mindfulness when washing dishes is a simple way to learn to find joy in a potentially not-so-joyful task. It prepares us to stay kind and curious in much harder times and avoid losing our cool.
How Not to Explode: 3 Mindful Tools to Help When Your Fuse is Running Short
Here are 3 Mindful tools that you can try, in any combination and order, to help put things in perspective when you are heading towards an explosion.
(1) Acknowledge that You Don’t Want to Explode
There comes a point when losing your cool starts to feel very ineffective. It doesn’t fix the situation, and most times it makes things worse. When I loose my cool and raise my voice at someone, I don’t feel better, I still feel upset and now I feel guilty too. Then I’m enticed into distraction by thinking how I was justified in blowing up at the person.
If instead I choose to stay present with the feeling of upset and guilt after losing my cool, it helps me recognize that I don’t want to explode like that because it does not work to bring the relief I sought. Acknowledging a true desire to change can bring relief. It helps me be kind to myself and find a better way to be kind to others as well.
So when you have lost your cool, try sitting with the negative effects. They could become the turning point towards a new response.
(2) Get Curious About What You Are Feeling: Even if it is Anger
When I focus on what I am feeling before I explode I often find anger there. Anger happens when you are not getting what you want. Your desire has been obstructed and you’re tempted to bring in some dynamite to clear the path.
If my class is noisy and children are not listening no matter what I try, anger starts building in me. If I get curious about the actual cause, I may discover the problem is its so loud the kids cannot hear my instructions, or I realize I have a headache which causes the noise to be especially irritating. Getting curious about how you are feeling helps stop anger. You can’t be curious and angry at the same time.
When you acknowledge your own feelings you can respond in an appropriate way. Plus you model the proper way to handle anger for the little ones around you.
(3) Practice a Mindful Moment
Another mindful tool is the reality check, also known as bringing yourself into the present moment. Rather than flying off thinking this always happens or I’m never going to get a break, look around you and see if you are okay right now. It will be easier if you have already practiced, perhaps while washing the dishes. When I wash the dishes I feel the warm water and the dish in my hands, I see the colour of the bubbles and the sink, the plate, the wall, the counter. I smell the soap and breath easily.
In the classroom I bring myself into the present by looking at the room, what colour are the walls? What colour is the carpet? What else is going on with other children? Who is quiet? What sounds do I hear? What other sounds do I hear? Then I take a few deep breaths.
Usually by the end of this time my anger has subsided and an idea will come to me. Maybe I turn on music or stand up to turn off the lights or get myself a drink of water and take everyone for a water break. There is not one solution that will work in every moment because every moment is unique, but through Mindfulness, I have a better chance of finding what will work in THIS moment.
Mindfulness Month Video: How Not to Explode
Here’s me at a place I love for mindful walks, the waterfront near my house. I’m talking about these mindfulness techniques, edited down to the 5 minute time frame, which was not easy to do. But it did provide a good topic for the longer article you are reading here.
When we teach children it is not always big things that cause us to explode. It can be the little things that build up and start getting to us. These little things draw us away from what is happening in the moment and we start thinking of the past or making calculations for the future.
Practicing mindfulness is practicing living in the moment, unloading all those small things, and seeing that there is actually only one moment, which is right now. Mindfulness is not a big ordeal with candles and incense, it can be practiced in little moments, like when washing the dishes or serving lunch to children.
I appreciate it is easy to describe these things and much more difficult to live them.
However it is also difficult not to practice Mindfulness. It is very difficult to keep exploding, to keep alienating people we care about, and to carry the burden of regret.
Mindfulness is a tested tool that gives us a much better chance to connect with the miracles of life that are all around us.
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