Mary Agee calls it “the pinball game going on inside my head.” I know what she means! Internationally recognized author, public speaker and educator Susan Kaiser Greenland has some thoughts on the subject. She’ll present “Mindful Parent, Mindful Child: A Simple Approach to Mindfulness and Meditation for a Multitasking, Hyperconnected World,” on Thursday, April 6th at 7 pm at Valor Collegiate Academies. (For more information about that talk and a subsequent weekend of events, click here). Today, Mary Agee – mindfulness coordinator at University School of Nashville – shares some of what she’s learned about mindfulness and answers a few Bacon questions as well.
You’ve likely heard something about mindfulness at this point. You might even engage in regular mindfulness practices, such as yoga, meditation, centering prayer, or qigong. Whether you are a novice or a deep practitioner, there is something for you in The Mindful Child (2010) and Mindful Games (2016) by mindfulness education pioneer Susan Kaiser Greenland. As a researcher at the University of California Los Angeles, Susan has been working to share mindful games with children and the adults who care for them since 2001. While Susan’s research has been published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, her books are an engaging and accessible resource for a broad mainstream audience.
I used to think that mindfulness was about clearing my mind. As someone with what feels like the equivalent of a pinball game going on inside my head at any given moment, this was clearly an impossible task. Since I started studying and practicing mindfulness, I have come to understand that it is about noticing how active my mind is – the thoughts, judgments, feelings – without being swept away by them as they pass through. Mindfulness is about noticing our present moment experience with a kind quality of attention.
Of course I wanted to try out the things I was learning about mindfulness with my own kids. Not so easy! My nineteen-year-old son was in seventh grade when the mindfulness program started at University School of Nashville. I remember him telling me one day, “Mindfulness doesn’t work.” Mustering my most calm, least defensive voice, I asked him to tell me more. It turns out he had tried taking some deep breaths to calm himself before a math test and then didn’t do well on the test. But later that week when he saw me getting upset, he gently reminded me to stop and take a few deep breaths. Clearly he understood the value of taking time to pause and let your attention settle.
Both of Susan’s books have been a powerful source of support on my journey to become a better parent, and also on my journey to teach mindfulness to others. When I tend to my life more mindfully, I bring kind Attention, greater Balance, and more Compassion to myself and to others. Susan introduced these new ABC’s in The Mindful Child (2010).
Her new book (Mindful Games) released last fall focuses on six simple life skills: Quieting, Focusing, Seeing, Reframing, Caring, and Connecting. “If children and teenagers have the capacity to control their attention, they can use it to steady themselves even if the situation they are in is chaotic.”
There are simple ways we can train our attention. In one simple game from Mindful Games that Susan calls “feeling my feet,” participants are invited to bring their full awareness to noticing their feet. They can wiggle their toes and notice their feet inside their socks and shoes. They notice their feet in contact with the floor. They notice whether their feet feel warm or cold and see if they can notice any sensations inside of their feet. When they practice intentionally directing their attention regularly, they strengthen their capacity to control and direct their attention.
Here is a fun side story… as University School of Nashville was embarking on building a mindfulness program in our middle school (grades 5-8) in 2011, our Division Director, Jeff Greenfield, gave each faculty member a copy of The Mindful Child to read over the summer in anticipation of a two-day in-service training for our entire middle school faculty. My deeply dog-eared and underlined copy was always under my arm that summer and through that first year of our mindfulness program. The following summer, I traveled with a group of new faculty to a conference on Mindfulness in Education at the Omega Institute. I was waiting in the darkest, dingiest part of Pennsylvania Station in New York City to catch my bus, with The Mindful Child dutifully tucked under my arm. I looked up and there was the author! I knew we must be headed to the same destination, so I worked up my courage to introduce myself. She graciously said hello and smiled as I showed her my well-loved copy of her book.
Our relationship has continued to grow, and one of her assistants at the time, Shelly Sowell, has become one of my soul mate friends, and main collaborator with The Center for Integrative Learning and Teaching (CILT Nashville). Susan is interested in partnering with communities where there is already a strong foundation being built on the ground. CILT Nashville has been offering classes and workshops since 2011 in Nashville, while slowly and organically building a strong community of parents, educators and individuals who are interested in strengthening their personal practice, gaining life skills in managing an increasingly challenging culture, and/or who want to take that work back to the populations they serve.
You can learn about mindfulness for its impact on your own family life, or you might consider investing in sending a favorite teacher to our training – Inner Kids Level One Professional Training on April 7th to 9th at USN. The cost of 3-day training is $350.
The weekend of events featuring Susan has emerged through an exciting collaboration between The Center for Integrative Learning and Teaching (CILT Nashville) and a public/private/charter school partnership. These organizations – MNPS Social and Emotional Learning Department, USN, and Valor Collegiate Academies – are committed to bringing mindfulness and social and emotional learning opportunities to educators, children and families in Nashville.
We hope you will join us on April 6th at 7:00 p.m. for Susan Kaiser Greenland’s talk ~ Mindful Parent, Mindful Child: A simple approach to mindfulness and meditation for a multitasking, hyperconnected world. This talk is free and open to the public, but registration is required.
Another option: a Six-Week Mindful Parenting Class at USN on Mondays mornings 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. beginning April 3 to May 8, 2017. Cost of this six-week class is $90. To register, go to this link. This popular class explores mindful parenting as a path through different resources and inspirational teachings, while building a lovely community of parents.
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Hi Mary! I understand you’re from Nashville… What was it like growing up here – and what do you like about the city now?
Nashville has been home for most of my life. I like to say I’m an endangered species these days, an actual native. A second generation native. My mom invited me to speak at her Garden Club one time and she looked around the room and smiled and said, “You know, I’ve known most of these women since kindergarten.” That is what I call deep roots. As a child, the music part of Music City was definitely a different Universe, with little crossover into my sheltered west Nashville world. When I returned to Nashville on the cusp of 30 and after living in New York City and then traveling around the world, I thought it would be too small. Literally my first night out I met my songwriter/musician husband and I’m so glad I stayed. What I’ve watched unfold over these 25 years has been nothing short of astounding… a creative community coming to life. Great artists of all types (musicians, visual artists, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs) have been actively creating a vibrant and exciting city that is drawing people from all over to visit and live here. It is interesting, if a bit unnerving, to watch as the city frantically works to weave its coat of many colors together.
You’ve got two kids… what do you learn from them?
My 19-year-old son Mathieu has always taught the realist in me about hope and optimism. I remember when he was about 3 and asking for some game system for Christmas. I knew he wasn’t going to get it, and I was encouraging him to not get his hopes up. He turned to me and said, “Why would I not get my hopes up?”
My 12-year-old daughter continually amazes me with her courage, her tenacity and her amazing, precise and razor-sharp mind. She was understanding complex jokes at age 3 and effectively using strategy in card games by age 4!
What do you hope your children learn from you?
I hope my children are learning to have open hearts and minds. I hope they are learning to find the best in people, and that their thoughts and actions really do matter. I hope they are learning to find a career that combines something they are passionate about with work that makes the world a better place.
What is your advice to parents with teenagers?
Remembering back to my own days as a teenager, my advice is to not take all the venom and vitriol that comes out of your child’s mouth (and is typically directed at you -“You’ve officially ruined my life. Forever.”) personally. Usually they just need to get it out of their head (and you, thankfully… hopefully… are a safe space), or it will eat them up! Of course there are limits to the level of aggression that you will tolerate. But as Jon Kabat-Zinn says there are so many things that we take personally that really aren’t about us.
Who inspires you?
My family, especially my husband Kent. He is the type that I can always rely on to stay calm when I go into worry overdrive. I am the worrier in our family – every family has one, right? He is a problem solver. He has helped me stop and smell the roses, savor the moment, really appreciate our blessings… It’s funny. I’m more disciplined about practicing mindfulness daily, but he is better at living in the moment. I can imagine hearing his calming, lovely voice now, and hearing him “whistle as he works” to find a creative solution to whatever problem we are facing. Ask the crew that put on Artclectic (the biggest fundraiser of the year at University School of Nashville) each fall – while leading the charge to turn a regular gymnasium into an elegant art gallery (including helping about 60 artists load and hang their work for the show) in the span of about four days, he remains calm under pressure, always finds a solution and usually maintains a smile and whistles a tunes as he goes. His unique and amazing whistling is how I find him when we are out shopping together!
Who are your favorite authors right now?
While I always enjoy reading fiction, I secretly can’t stop myself from picking up more non-fiction. When I did the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test, my top 5 strengths were: positivity, connectivity, empathy, woo and input. My understanding of input- thirst for knowledge and information, tendency to be an early adopter and find the value in things before others and then an intention to bring others along, help them see the value. This seems to make sense of my deep passion for mindfulness and wanting to help others understand the value of it for their own lives.
So, favorite authors in the mindfulness world–Susan Kaiser Greenland, Dan Siegel, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Rick Hanson.
Favorite authors from childhood- E. B. White (The Trumpet of the Swan), George Selden (The Cricket in Times Square), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time).
Favorite authors outside of the mindfulness world- Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Wright.
Brought to the beach- Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures – I am probably one of the few that hasn’t seen the movie yet. I am weeping as I read the book. Something about the civil rights struggle stirs a deep place in my soul. I was born in 1961 into a sleepy Nashville neighborhood while there were students training in nonviolent activism in churches, sit-ins happening in luncheonettes downtown, and a revolution building in small ways across the South. What I love about this book is her intention to tell the story of these women – “Not told as a separate history, but as part of the story we all know. Not at the margins but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.” When we build a more complex and nuanced understanding of history, we can all learn and grow together.
Mary, I’m so glad to know more about Susan Kaiser Greenland – and you! Thank you so much for stopping in at Bacon today.
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Image of mindful buddha: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_andrewblue’>andrewblue / 123RF Stock Photo</a>