As I teach more seniors and people in Rehabilitation facilities this year, I noticed how their rare smiles bring me more joy than smiles had brought me in the past, in the classrooms. Is it because it happens less frequently? People who have more physical ailments, pain and challenges in their daily lives smile less often, and so when they do, it means much more to the person at the receiving end. An ordinary smile becomes extra-ordinary because one does not expect it. When someone who usually sits in the wheelchair with his head down without much reaction asks for a microphone in order to “sing,” it is a big step. Watching a person come to live is one of the best joys. This is very much like watching a baby learn how to clap, or toddler, how to walk.
How can we bring the unexpected into our daily routine? When we pause for half a minute now and then in our ordinary life, a crack in the asphalt or some leaves on the ground, the way the light shapes the shadow of an object may appear differently to us. Re-framing one’s visual cues and emulating the point of view of a photographer, or a painter. may elevate an ordinary moment to an extraordinary one. The difficult part lies in the pause itself. Sometimes one needs to schedule these, randomly throughout the day.
Most parents who work outside of their homes try to catch up on Quality Time with their offspring(s) now and then. What that means differ from family to family. In our family, it ranges from biking, walking, looking at a screen together, talking, eating, playing games, making music together, driving together, and yes, we even sit quietly (meditating) together. At times one of my teenage sons would Face Time or zoom from a room in our house during our short silent time together because he is tired or just wanted his own space as we “meditate” together. We can hear his clothes moving, our bulldog’s breathing, the tickling of the clock, and alarm sound on their phones when a new Instagram post comes in.
There are so many ways to spend quality time together, and the definition changes as kids grow. What works at certain age, certain season, what works for all, or for just that one kid. It takes Mindful reflections to navigate what we consider Quality time and what they consider Quality time.
Living in North America, I never really experienced hunger. In my privileged life, hungry moments are are, but right now, my stomach is grumbling, my saliva, more abundant than usual, thoughts shifted from the task at hand (creating a blog for the first time) to an urge to bite into something, my tongue wants to taste anything salty, and a faint imaginary scent of bread or chips occupies my brain so much that I had to blog about this RIGHT NOW!
Using my prefrontal cortex’s power, I try to think of that last meal, about 7 hours ago, and thought of what I ate, wondering if I am REALLY hungry or is the feeling of being HUNGRY just a thought that passes by. Certainly my body can sustain itself without another meal in a few days, I have enough fat to burn! There is no pain, no “symptoms” physically speaking, so is this thought a result of conditioning? habit? or am I not aware enough of the physical symptoms?
In any case, this would be the worst time to go into a grocery store, or drive by a drive-by fast food joint. Food is too easily available, unhealthy food in particular is too cheap, too prominent.
Breathing in, I notice that I think I’m hungry. Breathing out, I wonder whether I will still be this hunger in an hour when I am allowed to go home and eat.
As a teacher, it is unusual to have to monitor our own expectations for our students – while we are teaching the class. But this is the most important lesson I have learned from my Mindfulness Based Stress Reaction (MBSR) mentor. Thoughts may come and go, they range from “I hope they get it” to “Did I say it the right way for these students?”
In a classroom setting, there are course objectives and all teachers are trying to engage students to “get it,” whether it’s the joy to learn, about one’s self or about the world around us, or the “Ah Ha” moment when the light bulb turns on… As teachers we inherently aim for a goal: open a window in students’ minds.
But in MBSR, one needs to be monitoring our own emotions and expectations. To be aware of our own insecurity or expectations as we may feel disappointed, or too excited, or involved in the students’ stories. What ever happens, an MBSR teacher is practicing to recognize that AS it arises. Good or bad, it is the practice of Mindfulness to just notice, and not judge one’s self for it.