Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mindfulness in KidMin; Help Your Students Carry Their Emotional Baggage Properly

Not only can we do our best to assure their safety while they are within our care, but we can also fight for their needs by equipping them to care for their own needs. ‘Mindfulness’ is a huge buzzword right now in both the secular and spiritual teaching arenas.  Although this practice is far from cutting-edge, new affirming research has re-birthed it. This therapeutic technique equips one to  fully concentrate on the present moment. In peacefully noticing and accepting one’s thoughts and feelings, he can take ownership of these and guard them from the actions of others in the past or future.

Although, mindfulness exercises can take the form of sculpting a symbol of one’s day out of play-dough or rediscovering one’s groundedness while laying the floor with soft music, one of the original forms was a lesser kinesthetic version- prayer. As one of London’s leading voices in mental health, The Mind & Soul Organization teaches,

 “Within the Bible there is an implicit theology of attention and awareness. Jesus goes off very early in the morning to a solitary place to pray, which is an act of sustained attention (Mark 1:35). Peter and the disciples hunt him down and interrupt him, trying to distract him with what the crowd wants. Jesus switches his (and their) attention back to what really matters and says, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come’ (Mark 1:38).” 

Not only is Jesus seen prioritizing stillness in the New Testament, but so are our Hebrew ancestors in the Old Testament. The prophet Elijah was striving to hear the voice of God, and while mistakenly thinking it would be heard in an earthquake or a fire, it was found in a still small voice in 1 Kings 19. As a compliment to the Biblical emphasis on solitude, neuroscientists and psychologists offer many helpful resources on the subject as well. One that I have recently found very helpful is “The Whole Brain Child” by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Here, mindfulness is taught to combat the “flight or fight” feeling that many kids experience while in fearful or uncertain situations. Even a child with extreme behavioral  issues has been found to behave better after a moment of mindfulness than he would have after a moment of conventional punishment.

One school in Baltimore has replaced visits to the principal’s office with a mindfulness room and behavior and academic success has never been better. The school is located in a very low-income area with a high crime rate. Many of the children struggle to feel a sense of security and love. Upon entering the mindfulness room a child is led by a trained facilitator through a breathing exercise. Once this is complete, the two begin to explore the emotions that surrounded the behavioral issue. In time the student’s visits to the mindfulness room decrease, and they begin utilizing these helpful methods on their own wherever they may be.

This is such a mighty tool for children to take with them from your programs. While they can’t control the actions of others, students can learn to own their emotions and take control of their reactions. In pausing for a moment of solitude, they can tap into the sense of peace, strength and affirmation that only the Holy Spirit who dwells within can provide. While the concept of mindfulness could have been placed anywhere within the Triple A Approach (be aware, advocate, and articulate), the fact that it arms kids to fight for their own needs outside of your church programs puts it in this chapter.

One of my most affirming moments in ministry was birthed out of a mindfulness exercise. It was during our fifth grade after-school program, Extreme Explorers. I loved this group of nine preteens so much, but if these students had attended the school in Baltimore, they would have spent many  hours in the mindfulness room. This was quite a challenging bunch. Each Wednesday I would go home and research how to present a more engaging lesson. In my research I came across mindfulness exercises.

One day after their routine time of snacking and mingling in the church courtyard, I invited them up to the teaching space. We reviewed last week’s lesson and I shared with them how proud I was of them. I pointed out that I sensed some distracting feelings were being brought into our space and that I wanted to help them take control of those so they could get the most out of EE.  I then showed them a short and powerful video called “Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer-Salzman and Josh Salzman. This amazing bit is made up of children teaching the practice of mindfulness to adults. It’s beautiful.

After the video, I invited them to find a comfortable place in the room to lie down on their backs far from their friends. I dimmed the lights, played some soft spa-like music, and walked them through what is known as a grounding exercise.  This involved focusing on one’s breath-the rise and fall of the abdomen along with tightening and loosening different muscle  groups. Knowing the energetic dynamics of this group, I only allowed three minutes for this. I then led them through an echo prayer. While still lying comfortably, they repeated after me. At this point, the Holy Spirit filled my mouth with different words than what was on my script. The prayer that came out was one of forgiveness for those whose presence or absence had caused us pain. We then prayed to see ourselves as God does-a strong, smart, and loved tween. At this point, my eyes were closed and I heard (what I assumed was long-overdue) snickering.

As I opened my eyes, I saw six of the nine students crying. The other three were respectfully remaining present, while the room was enveloped with a slew of emotions. I was speechless from shock. My prayer was over, but I felt the Spirit nudging me in a different direction. I asked the kids to give a thumbs up if they desired more time.  They all did. For the next five (yes-five!) minutes, they continued to breath, to cry, and to experience the palpable presence that is the hug of God; while I, awestruck, subtly sobbed like a baby in a chair off to the side. I was no longer needed for the remainder of the exercise.

When five minutes were up, I left the lights dim and invited them back together as a group. I had not planned on a time of sharing, but once again-the Holy Spirit had different plans. In a gentle way I invited anyone who so desired to share their thoughts of this moments. This then opened the floodgates to the most vulnerable and deep moment of sharing. Some shared stories of divorced or incarcerated parents. Others shared of the lesser sadness of GPA-inflicted stress and peer pressure. One boy cried with his entire body for his mom that had abandoned him when he was four. I tear up now just at the memory. To my utter amazement, every student was respectful and comforting as the others shared, and what was meant to be a three-minute activity became a thirty-minute one.

In the weeks that followed, they requested more moments like this.  One time when tensions were rising during a team-building activity, Maria jumped up on a chair, turned off the lights and belted at the top of her lungs, “YOU ALL NEED TO CENTER YOURSELVES!  WE ARE NOT COMMUNICATING WELL!” We did many more mindfulness exercises and in time they all grew in awareness and ownership of their own emotions and reactions-despite the poor choices of those in their lives. More importantly, they learned how to tap into the healing voice of God which  resides within. Arming Bluebonnet Children with spiritual disciplines such as these is a mighty way to advocate for them.

Stay tuned as we explore how intentional worship opportunities is one way to advocate for students of troubled homes.  Be sure to subscribe to the right. 😁

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Meg

1 comment:

  1. What a thought provoking and well-written article! I never came across the buzzword 'Mindfulness' and it really is embarassing. Thank you for sharing such an insightful article.

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