In The Mindful Child, Susan Kaiser Greenland gives an example of mindfulness as being like a cylinder of clear water. You can look through the cylinder and see the other side. If you pour a cup of baking soda into the water and shake or stir it, the soda clouds the water and obscures your vision. Just like the baking soda in water, thought and emotions can create uproar in our heads and cloud our minds. When you let it rest and don’t take action, the soda settles and the water becomes clear again. The longer you rest in steady breathing and mindfulness, the more your thoughts and emotions settle and the clearer your mind.
Mindfulness is recognized as effective in alleviating many issues that are important to emotionally sensitive people. It offers a way to effectively manage emotions, to decrease stress and to find peace. Yet like most activities we engage in, your views and intention will affect the outcome. Setting a clear, willing intention is a first step.
Ineffective Approaches to Mindfulness
The Mindful Child, Susan Kaiser Greenland uses a classic image, the three defective pots, to explain ineffective approaches to learning mindfulness. She lists three ways for a pot to be defective: When it is upside down, when it has a hole in it, and when it contains poison. An upside down pot is always empty no matter how much water you pour over it, like someone who is distracted, goes with the distraction, and retains bits and pieces of mindfulness training but doesn’t get the big picture. The person who meditates but doesn’t practice mindfulness in his daily life is like the pot with a hole that leaks water as quickly as it is poured in. A person with an unfriendly or wrongheaded motivation is like a pot containing poison. The poison turns the water from life supporting to harmful. If you have any of these ways of approaching mindfulness, creating willingness and a positive intention will help you get the results you want.
Distractions and Mindfulness
Setting a clear, willing intention is a first step toward practicing mindfulness. This includes a willingness to manage distractions. Some say they cannot be successful with mindfulness because of the distractions in their lives. Whenever they attempt to be mindful, their minds wander to tasks they need to do, whether a friend is upset with them, how hungry they are, or how annoying the traffic sounds are out on the street. Sometimes people quit because of their distractions, believing they are not able to be mindful.
It is normal to have distractions. Greenland points out that noticing distractions and not getting caught up in them is part of the practice of mindfulness. Notice them and as soon as you are aware of them, bring your mind back to your focus. Spotting distractions and recovering from them is part of mindfulness. The minute you notice you are distracted and redirect your attention back to your focus, that is an act of mindful experience.
Bringing Awareness to Difficult Emotions
With your intention set, Greenland says you will need ardency and perseverance. Ardency is the ability to follow through and perseverance is actually doing so. She compares the application of ardency and perseverance to a moth drawn to a flame. The moth is attracted to the light but as it gets closer the flame gets hotter. If it flies in too close, it may get burned. So when it gets too hot the moth circles around and tries again, over and over, getting closer and closer until the fire dies down and the flame fades. She says this analogy is particularly true when you are practicing bringing awareness to difficult emotions.
Sometimes it’s painfully difficult to go straight to being mindful of a difficult emotion. In those situations, letting yourself get closer and back away, then get closer and back away may be an option that is effective. Coming in closer repeatedly, with time, the heat of the emotion is likely to dissipate and leave clarity.
Greenland’s explanations, written for children, are simple and clear. I think her work could be helpful for many adults as well.
Note to Readers
If you are emotionally sensitive, please consider taking my survey about understanding loneliness. I appreciate your time and your contribution to better understanding emotional sensitivity.
Greenland, Susan Kaiser. The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate. New York: Free Press, 2010.
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Last reviewed: 5 Oct 2012