In her infamous song the late Whitney Houston said, “I believe the children are our future.” The fact is, this is simply true and if so, it seems more important than ever to provide them with the tools to be grounded in the midst of an increasingly chaotic world. Recently my wife and I led a group of teens from our CALM (Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness) program on a daylong retreat in the heart of a beautiful canyon. During part of this daylong we do a guided “Mindful Hike” and on this hike one teen discovered the root cause of all of our suffering and how we can begin opening up to hope.
The hike ends with us coming back to a little room, breaking the silence and my wife and I ask, “What did you notice on the hike?”
One teen raised his hand:
“There was a moment where you asked us to reach out and touch the surroundings. In my mind I felt like I knew what all the leaves, branches and debris felt like and so I was initially resistant to doing it. You then mentioned to bring a beginner’s mind to this process and so I thought I’d give it a shot. I discovered that for some of the leaves I was completely wrong. What looked like a leaf that was alive and well was actually dead inside and cracked when I touched it. I was so surprised.”
There was something powerful in that noticing so we went a bit deeper:
“What does that have to do with the rest of your life?”
He thought about it for a moment and continued:
“I guess there are a lot of things my mind judges. At times it’s told me that I can’t do something, or that something is wrong with me. Other times it’s judges another person based on their clothing and so I stayed away from them. I guess those judgments aren’t always right and they keep me away from challenging myself, caring about myself or having new experiences.”
That was pretty profound for a teen (or for any adult for that matter).
The root cause of our suffering in this world is our brain’s snap judgments telling us what we can and can’t do, who we can and can’t like. When it comes to having stress, anxiety, depression, addiction or trauma, it goes on overload biasing toward the negative.
But are these thoughts absolutely true? And if not, how do they make us feel? Often times lousy or like avoiding the mystery of life. What would be there if these avoidant thoughts weren’t there? Maybe we’d be more curious, light on our feet and open to new experience. Maybe, just maybe, we’d be happy.
The teen’s lesson here wasn’t to throw our minds out, they can be quite useful, but it highlighted at a young age, how quick we are to judge.
What would the world be like if more of us learned to pause, put our judgments aside and let our experience guide us?
That is the gift of mindfulness.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.