The Heart of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and Heartfulness are
two sides of the same coin
If you have Mindfulness without the aspects of Heartfulness, it's incomplete. Mindfulness is the act of observation – the act of witnessing something as it is. Heartfulness is our attitude towards what we are witnessing – an acceptance and softening of the heart. The heart brings forth inner wisdom, kindness, compassion and cooperation. Out of this comes an enhanced awareness of one's conduct and improved quality of relationships.
The following stories are real-life examples of how Victoria's students (names fictionalized) applied mindfulness concepts and engaged the heart in profound ways. The last anecdote is an example of the surprising receptivity of a challenging adult audience.
Intention and Cooperation
It was nearing the end of the year in my first-grade classroom, and the children were excited about the upcoming field day competitions.
Huy, a Vietnamese boy who did not know a word of English when the school year started and was now a self-appointed class leader, asked me if he and his friends could stay inside during lunch recess to work on something '"secret." This went on for several days, and the small group of friends grew to include the entire class. My curiosity got the best of me by the end of the week, and I peeked into the classroom to see Huy standing in a darkened room. All the children were lying quietly on the floor around him. He was confidently and calmly leading the group in a muscle relaxation exercise followed by a guided imagery.
The focus? Working together as a team to win the field day competitions. They went on to win all events! The winning, however, was inconsequential. The experience of intention, calm, focused attention, and cooperation was the prize.
Sarah, a kindergarten student, became seriously ill over the weekend; a rare form of chicken pox had impacted her optical nerves.
She was experiencing severe headaches and loss of vision. The doctors didn't know if she would recover her sight. One of my students suggested we start each day by sending Sarah love and visualizing her completely well and back in the classroom. I called Sarah's mom, and she agreed to lead her daughter in the same process every morning at 9:00 a.m. I attempted to help the children understand that, although this was a powerful and loving way to support Sarah, there was no guarantee she would recover. The children, however, were adamant she would be back with us soon.
Within a week, Sarah walked through our door, perfectly well and surrounded by her beaming friends. Even if the situation had turned out differently, the power of love, kindness, and compassion expressed by the children deeply touched the hearts of us all.
I taught my first-grade students about the survival, feeling, and thinking parts of the brain and how our survival brain takes charge when we are stressed or overly excited.
Over the school year, we developed ways to put the thinking brain back in the driver’s seat. We practiced calming ourselves with: mindful breathing and noticing sensations, integrative movements such as Brain Gym® and yoga, positive images and self-talk. Our classroom was generally a busy, cooperative and happy place.
However, as summer vacation drew near, my students became rambunctious. Lining up for recess was especially challenging. Kids who were normally calm and cooperative were noisy, pushy, and generally obnoxious. After several days of attempting to bring back order, we held a classroom meeting. The children engaged in a rich and insightful conversation about solutions to the problem. I felt proud of their ability to apply what they had learned in our year together. That was until the recess bell rang, and it was time to line up.
Exasperated, I witnessed no change in their unruly behavior. Then one girl stepped out of line, put her hands on her hips, and said in a loud, stern voice, "What part of the brain are we using right now?" The children immediately stopped and put their hands at the base of their skulls, which was our symbol of the survival brain. "And what part of the brain do we need so we can get out the door to recess?" Everyone brought their fingertips to their foreheads, our symbol of the thinking brain.
As I stood back and watched, the entire class took three deep breaths. Everybody fell into line and became quiet and still. Dumbfounded, I opened the door as they calmly walked down the hall and onto the playground.
As I presented information on the teenage brain to a roomful of security guards for the juvenile justice system, I faced the tough, defensive body language of each participant.
There was not a friendly, smiling face to be found. I thought about leaving the mindfulness activities out and just sticking to the facts, but I took a deep breath and decided not to change my course.
It was difficult to tell how they were responding, but later I heard the presentation evaluations "went through the roof."
In retrospect, these heart-centered processes allowed participants to experience the nurturing and rejuvenation that naturally flows. It is my hope their personal experiences planted seeds of mindfulness for their work with troubled teens.
Do you have a Heart Story to share?
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We'd love to hear your story and with your permission, possibly publish it in an upcoming blog.