And so it begins…
The next hill to climb.
A Personal Journey
In 1996, after nearly 10 years as Director of Child and Adolescent Services at Penn State’s Psychological Clinic, I moved on to become founding Director of Midstep Centers for Child Development in State College, PA. And now, after 20 wonderful years of being with that child psychology group, in 2016 here I am – moving on again. Why?
As some of you know, I’ve been growing my personal mindfulness practice since the mid-1990’s – gradually at first, until it’s become a regular, daily part of my life for a number of years now. “So what?” you might ask.
Well, let’s start with an understanding of “What exactly is mindfulness?” and see where that leads us.
The secular version of mindfulness that I practice and teach is best summarized in the oft-repeated words of Jon Kabat-Zinn: It’s paying attention, on purpose, to what is going on in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
It’s intentional attention. It’s noticing what is happening around you, and within you, right here, right now. It’s seeing clearly what is, without as much contamination by distorted thoughts, biases, judgments, and stories about what should be.
It’s also making peace with what is, accepting the current moment with compassion and equanimity. Yep, even when – perhaps especially when – we don’t approve of what is!
It’s not clinging to what we desire, nor pushing away what we don’t. It’s just being fully present, here, now. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has said more recently and simply, mindfulness is about relationship. It’s about how we relate to what is going on.
We can’t control everything; we can’t stop “stuff” from happening. But we can choose how we are relating to what is here before us. – With clarity, with calm, with kindness. Or not.
Mindfulness is a skill. It’s a habit of mind that can be cultivated. With practice. The more you practice, the more you come to see things as they are.
And the more you may find yourself called to take a new path in life. Or at least to more honestly travel the path you’re already on!
A Professional Journey
For me, that path centers around the incredible hardships that I witness everyday in my clinical practice and educational consulting. I see so many kids – beautiful, vibrant, go-for-it-you’ve-got-your-whole-life-in-front-of-you kids – suffering. Some quietly, some loudly, but sadly, too many of them are suffering.
I believe that we are all suffering to some degree from what I’ve come to call toxic stress.
There’s too damn much of everything going on – pulling too many people in too many different directions at once until that pulling, that stretching, goes beyond our limits and we snap.
Kids. Parents. Teachers. Family members. Neighbors. Strangers. Business leaders. Politicians. Snapping. Anxiously. Angrily. Avoidantly. Attackingly.
More on that rant another time. For now, let me just say how moved I have become, through my personal mindfulness practice, to bring its healing benefits to those I serve.
I am more committed than ever to helping kids and their caregivers find peace in an ever-changing, increasingly-demanding world.
A world, mind you, where I still find so much beauty, courage, laughter, joy, and love. I see it in my family, in my community, in nature, in my clients and students, and in so many acts of kindness given freely to and from others, both near and far.
I still have hope. Great hope, and trust, in a loving God, a loving Universe. And because of that, I believe we can join together to give our children the loving guidance and wisdom they deserve. – Each and every one of them.
Regardless of ability or disability or circumstances in life – every child has value. I remain on a mission to seeing that beauty part inside each one come out and shine for all to see.
And now, mindfulness-based interventions are offering new, promising ways to help us do that.
Fundamentally, I have come to see mindfulness as the “gateway skill” to emotional intelligence, resilience, and well-being.
Certainly it is not a panacea. It’s no miracle drug or silver bullet. And for me at least, it’s not just a passing fancy or fad, either.
Mindfulness offers us a very real portal or pathway into self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-regulation.
With mindful awareness and acceptance, we are more able to skillfully choose our response to the situation, rather than mindlessly reacting to it. We are able to focus our attention and regulate our emotions in ways that more often lead to wise and considerate responses, rather than “fight or flight” reactions.
With these skills, we can be more attuned not only to our own needs, but to those around us as well. We can be with one another, even in times of conflict, with more grace, wisdom, compassion, and self-control.
For someone who has spent nearly three decades researching and treating kids with executive function deficits (difficulties regulating their emotions and impulses) – the ability to integrate mindfulness skills more directly into my clinical work has been a God-send.
I believe that these are vital life skills that we can teach our children – empowering them with the tools they need to move from struggling to surviving to thriving. I also believe in offering a continuum of services that are as dedicated to promoting emotional wellness as they are to treating mental illness.
A New Beginning
And so I begin again. Creating what I hope will become a gathering place of sorts for like-minded folks who care about kids.
Here at A Mindful Village, I will be growing a free community library of resources we can all use to help guide our children.
I will be teaching a series of online classes focused on developing mindful parenting and teaching practices.
And I will be deepening the focus of my clinical practice to be exclusively committed to kids struggling with the big “3-A’s” of stress-related breakdowns – Attention, Anxiety, and Anger.
My greatest wish is that we will all come together as A Mindful Village of wise elders, raising our children in a way that restores their sanity, and ours, in a crazy but still beautiful world.
May peace prevail. Let’s begin.