Children have much to teach us about living in the moment: they are open to the pulsing beauty of the world, which adults so often rush past. But modern childhood, with its enrichment programs and computer games, affords little time for observation and reflection. Even in the summer, I find myself wrestling my kids in and out of bathing suits to get them to activities on time. With so much noise and hustle, how can we allow our children the space for mindfulness?
For parents seeking to cultivate peace and wisdom in their children, Elisabeth Rose Wilds offers sage advice. Ms. Wilds, the founder of The Healing Arts Center, is an advocate for homeless children who applies meditation and mindfulness practices to her work with at-risk youths in New York City. She is also the author of a line of books that teach children to become aware of their inner lives and capacity for compassion.We sit down with Elisabeth to discuss the relationship between mindfulness and storytelling:
What does the word “Mindfulness” mean to you?
Mindfulness, simply put, is becoming aware of our thoughts and observing how they affect our well-being. The practice, which has its roots in Buddhism, is about how to become connected to the world/nature/others in a healthy, loving and open way; and how to experience the sacredness of life.
Is there a relationship between storytelling and being mindful?
Mindfulness develops the observer; it is a process that begins to free us from thinking habitual patterns and responding in programmed manners. Through mindfulness, we become centered and begin to see and interact in the world in a more spontaneous way allowing for our creativity to blossom. Through mindfulness we develop the ability to create a “story line” without the mental distractions that would otherwise interrupt that creative process. We become open to more possibilities in our creation as we ourselves have leapt over many of our own mental limitations and patterned responses. As we enter this “zone” of possibilities our creative process develops spirit and moves within us, it becomes a sacred process – similar to what our ancestors of native heritages speak to. Where the story is created in a sacred space and given flight.
What obstacles keep modern children from cultivating mindfulness?
Rushing here and there makes it very difficult for children to regain their inner harmony. Children live in the moment, and being centered and still is helpful to them in coming back into balance when strong emotions course through them.
There are many simple things we can do to help our little ones develop mindfulness – the key being stillness, creating those quiet moments when we look at the sky, investigate a flower, listen to the birds sing outside our window, honor the sun as it rises and sets, watch the moon in its different phases. Nature helps us find that quiet place within. And when we connect to nature in healthy ways our heart grows calm and our mind becomes peaceful. So creating those sacred moments throughout the day creates moments of balance in our little ones lives. In those moments, they can connect to that place of inner harmony and begin again in a more centered way.
Tell us about a storytelling or creative visualization exercise you use to help children be mindful?
One way to develop the observer in children is to have them create a story where they are the main character. This allows them to see themselves in the third person. And, when the adventures or misadventures arrive in the story line, moments of pause and reflection can be inserted to help them begin to understand that they have choices as to how they can respond to their environment. Those pauses will teach them to collect themselves, find their center – that peaceful place, and then move forward in a more balanced way.
Elisabeth Rose Wilds latest book is We Are Like the Sky, in which a cowboy and his horse learn to weather the storms of emotion to find a radiant place of peace.