There are only twenty-four hours in a day. Six to eight hours of that time should be spent in sleep. The brain and its creative juice depend on the type of sleep that we get.(2) Research also suggests that “Aha” moments are more likely to appear during rest periods.(3)
So, for a teacher to be creative, sensitive and responsive to the immediate needs of a student, a teacher needs intentional breaks in order to bring “play” back into playing an instrument. The power of “play” in developmental psychology is a well-researched area in early childhood education,(4) but perhaps “play” can also be part of adults’ wellness programs. How can adults re-learn how to “play”? Through Mindful Play.
Mindfulness is to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. Easier said than done. Not only is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) now an internationally-known evidence-based method, covered under certain healthcare plans, there is research suggesting that mindfulness meditation can lead to activation of specific brain regions associated with regulatory systems such as attention and emotions.(5)
How can we see Mindful Play in action? Observe children. When I teach four and five year olds, I am in awe of their fearlessness, their spontaneity, and their joyful curiosity. Anything and everything could become a game, a toy, or an object of interest. In other words, they really know how to play. Once, I used a hand puppet to talk to a four years old student. As soon as the puppet came out, the child exclaimed: “I can see your hand in there!” But then when the cute puppet clapped, cheered and begged to hear the song “three more times, one for each ear!”, the child played along, and in this role playing, the twinkle in his eyes says it all. In that particular moment in time, he believed it was real, he was totally focused, and he conversed back, responding that we only have two ears. He would not do repeats for me, but he would do them for that puppet!
My student was navigating uncertainty with confidence, trust and joy. He knew the puppet was not real, he knew he was being manipulated to do more repeats, but the connection to that puppet was so real that he allowed himself to joyfully believe in it. Adults could practice this, bringing “play” back into our lives, intentionally reconnecting ourselves to simple things that bring us joy, and allowing the child that is in all of us to come out.
To be mindful is to connect to what is “real.” This very minute is the moment that is most “real.” Let’s experiment. Look somewhere else than these lines while sitting in a comfortable upright posture, and take a few breaths.
Did you notice whether the left nostril was inhaling more than the right one? If not, try breathing again!
Did you notice whether the weight distribution between your left and right butt cheeks were equal? Or did you hear a sound you did not hear before?
There are many things we do not notice during a day, and the simple act of focusing on a few breaths can bring a lot of joyful little breaks into our day. Having a chance to just be. A side effect of a few breaths is that most people feel grateful for the things they took for granted: the fact that there is no toothache that day, the realization that the ears can hear sounds and the eyes, see colors, the miracle of a heart still beating.
For most of us, after a few breaths, thoughts will start to wander, into the past, or the future, planning, reviewing, analyzing... When that happens and we notice it, just gently bring the attention back to the next breath, without self-criticism.
Mindful breathing is not about a perfect way to breath, it is about how we relate to the experience of breathing, the instinctive reaction we have to our wandering mind. For novice at meditation, thinking may happen a dozen times in a five-minute breathing session, and that is perfectly normal. Bringing awareness back to the breath again and again, without judgment, is part of the practice.
Many teachers don’t have time to do half an hour of meditation daily, but a few breaths here and there can still be nurturing. A mother with young children has told me that before she gets out of her car to go inside her home after work, she sits there quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the peaceful cocoon of the car. She takes a few deep breaths, bringing attention to her body sensations, taking inventory of thoughts and emotions that had come and gone that day, and only then she steps out of her car, feeling refreshed.
To supplement the longer but rare periods of meditation, I try to find spurts of time to regain energy while doing mundane tasks: waiting in line, driving, cooking, eating, or washing dishes. The quality of attention one can bring to fully live the present moment while doing boring but necessary tasks can transform these tasks into spurts of joy and appreciation that can lower stress level and give perspective to a chaotic life.
Washing dishes at the meditation retreat center was pure unadulterated joy. Having nowhere to go, nothing really important to do, no other dishes to wash but my own, and washing with a totally focused mind on the task at hand, was surprisingly pleasurable! Standing there in the warm sunlight, hearing birds and the rustling of the leaves, feeling the fresh water caressing my hands, giggling at the sight of bubbles popping on the surface of the soapy water, feeling the urge of playing with the water like a toddler in a bathtub… Somehow, washing dishes was a heaven on earth! Once experienced, never forgotten.
Students should be told that the first note produced on an instrument on any given day is a miracle, and that they should feel as if from deafness they can hear for the first time, then that first note will be produced with care. If they had practiced feeling little miracles in ordinary tasks, such as taking care of a single step (mindful walking), being aware whenever and wherever they sit (mindful sitting), or taking time to chew a single bite (mindful eating), it would be easier to treat that first note as a miracle
To reignite the spark of a beginner in daily life (Mindfulness) is to remind ourselves to rediscover sound and to rediscover joy as if we were four years old, once again. Life is filled with uncertainties, except for death, and so if we re-learn how to trust, to re-frame the bumps we meet on the road, small little miracles will reveal themselves to us, and life will be a little more joyful.
- Oberle E., Schonert Reichl KA, Stress Contagion in the Classroom? The link between classroom teacher burnout and morning cortisone in elementary school children. Social Science Medicine, 2016 June; 159:30-7, Elsevier Ltd copyright.
- Ed Young, A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity, The Atlantic, May 2018.
- Ullrich Wagner et al., Jan 22, 2004, Sleep Inspires Insight, Nature International Journal of Science, 427, pp. 352-355 (2004).
- Rachel E. White, The Power of Play, A Research Summary on Play and Learning, Minnesota Children’s Museum, Fall 2012.
- Yi-Yuan Tang, Leslie D. Leve, A Translational Neuroscience Perspective on Mindfulness Meditation as a Prevention Strategy, Translational Behavioral Medicine, March 2016.