Friday, August 6, 2010

Children and the art of being mindful

The other day I was filled with awe! As many of you know, I am a professional musician and I play many venues around New York state and beyond. Earlier this week I played at a Catholic School day camp. My friend Kate asked me if I would be kind enough to come and do a little performance...Nothing big, just a guitar...not my entire set up. She wanted me to explain to the children (ranging from about five years old to about sixteen) how I got into music, what kind of music I play, where I perform, what it takes to be a professional musician and so on. So the day came...A beautiful sunny Tuesday afternoon. The kids were rambunctious and excited after eating their lunch. They were told of my arrival and anything to do with music really charges them up so they were good and ready. They had me set up on a stage right next to the altar of a Catholic church...pretty interesting. All the kids piled into the pews and the waited with eager anticipation for me to start performing. I started to speak to them....the old teacher in me loves being in front of elementary school aged children. They're so wide eyed and happy. I told them that my father brought me to a symphony when I was about seven years old and my first Rock concert at age thirteen (It was Blood Sweat and Tears. Amazing!)..Then it happened, some kid yelled out..."when are you gonna play a song?" So I started playing...They echoed anything I asked them to. They jumped up and down and they LOVED the Beatles! They were after my own heart when it comes to the Fab Four so I continued to play tunes like Twist and Shout and Please Please Me.

I watched the children....really observed them. It was kind of a opera that we were all a part of. The capper to everything was when a twelve year old came up to me and asked if I knew any Pink Floyd. His eyes widened when I told him I loved Pink Floyd and I'd be glad to play Comfortably Numb on the baby grand. I sat at the bench and lifted the weighty piano key cover. Played a few notes and then launched into Comfortably Numb...."Hello, hello, there anybody in there?" All of a sudden from behind me came some beautiful drum licks! I turned around to see the twelve year old happily playing percussion to my piano work. He was good...Very good. We went through the entire song together. In a world of our own we shared the moment. We were present, mindful of the situation together. We were not off somewhere else. We were not thinking of what we should be doing later or what to do when we get home. We simply were present. When we were done the young man was filled with joy. People clapped, I was overjoyed. He burst out that this was the first time he EVER played for anyone. He stated that he was in three bands and none of them have played out. He was filled to the rim.

Why is this so amazing? That moment changed that boy's life. He will always remember the first time he played out and what it felt like. I was fortunate enough to share in a landmark moment in that child's life. Then it dawned on me...That boy shared in a moment that was a landmark time for me too. A landmark time because it was the moment that I saw clearly how mindful and present children naturally are. They are so Zen like and they don't even know it. They say it the way it is (When are you gonna play a song?) and they are filled with the moment. They let the music lift them up...They become part of it, of the entire situation. They are the moment! We can learn so much from children. I spend a huge portion of my life meditating and working toward being mindful and present, yet children just do it...No one tells them to pause and try to be mindful...they just are.

When I think back on the situation, what the kids did, the looks on their faces, their shrieks of glee, the laughter, the dancing, the letting go with reckless abandon I am reminded to simply be. That's all. Simply be. The young man was moved to play the drums. No one told him to get up there. He just did it. He jammed with some guy with earrings at a piano and loved it. I'm sure he went home and told anyone who would listen. Instead of growing out of that and getting practical it is good to realize that we all have the power to truly pause and be one with the moment. We can feel whatever it is we are feeling. Not cover it up with thoughts or emotions. If you find you mind racing off into this direction or that, bring it back...gently, to the present. Even if you're at work and a colleague is talking or your boss...give them the courtesy of truly being in the present and listening to them. Here's the kicker: YOU ACTUALLY FEEL BETTER AND GET SOMETHING OUT OF IT!

I am just about moved to tears when I think that I was given the precious opportunity to spend time with some beautiful children and have them fill my heart. The thing is, I don't need to wait for spectacular moments like that. Every moment is wondrous! Every moment is perfect in its own right. For some reason children realize life is a fantastic jewel, a gift...They can't put it into words but they live it just the same. Children don't think "If I say this or that he's going to break up with me!" or "I really can't skip rope today because I have to make sure there is enough play dough in the toy bin." They live for the moment. They are the moment. Even when they fib to you they're honest.

In an article from the University of Rochester web site they have this to say about mindfulness:

"Several major Eastern philosophies stress the importance of mindfulness, but is there really a mental health benefit to being more conscious and more focused on what's happening in the here and now?

In the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University of Rochester researchers report that individuals who are mindful are more attuned to their emotions and act in ways that are compatible with their values and interests. Mindfulness, which is an enhanced attention to and awareness of the present, can be linked to better mood, higher self-esteem, life satisfaction, and optimism-all signs of positive psychological health.

Co-authors Kirk Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan researched the phenomenon of mindfulness and tracked indicators of psychological well-being. They designed a scale to measure this quality of consciousness and administered it to subjects from college students and working adults to people who meditate and those with cancer.

'Mindfulness appears to heighten the joys one can experience in everyday events, as well as to be in better touch with what one really needs and feels,' says Ryan, professor of psychology and psychiatry. 'It helps people make better choices in a complex world.'

With roots in Buddhist and other contemplative traditions, mindfulness is the subject of innumerable books, seminars, and workshops designed to facilitate this state of consciousness as a means to help people live richer, happier lives. But very little research has examined its direct role in psychological health and well-being, the psychologists say.

'We've shown that mindfulness can be reliably and validly measured and has a significant role to play in mental health,' says Brown, visiting assistant professor of psychology. 'It does appear to make a meaningful difference in how happy people are.' "

So next time you look at a group of children really look at what they do. Observe them. Listen. Smile. Everything they do has some type of meaning and it's not's there for all the world to see and enjoy.

"Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?"

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful post. Thank you.

    A little more more than twenty five years ago, regularly filled with anxiety, my thoughts racing and imagination blaring, I began with, "I am in the shower. I feel the water on my face..."

    I have been there and I have been here -- and you are so right, HERE IS BETTER.

    - MARK


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