This article was written by Denise Hellekson from The Village Business Institute, a division of the Village Family Service Center.
Since 1891, The Village Family Service Center has helped area children and families improve their lives. The Village was founded as a home for orphaned children, and for decades provided a sanctuary for those who often had no other place to go. But times have changed, and The Village discovered it wasn’t just kids who needed their help.Today, The Village reaches out to more than 80,000 people every year, and is constantly adapting services to meet the needs of modern families. Through individual and family counseling, child care, mentoring, adoption, financial counseling and workplace issues, The Village is a place for all individuals and families.
Remember the days when summer seemed to stretch ahead of you like a blank canvass waiting to be filled with adventures and magical moments? Childhood summers were a time to slow down, relax, and enjoy being in the moment. Then we grew up. Now most people’s summers are just as busy as the rest of their lives. Daily planners are overflowing with projects and activities vying for our attention like an endless treadmill without an “off” switch. Is this how you want your life to be?
When people who need help bringing balance back to their lives come to The Village Family Service Center —one of the tools our counselors recommend for dealing with stress is the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a simple approach that can help you bring balance back and reclaim some of the joy of childhood. Children are experts at being in the moment. Whether it’s splashing through a summer shower or watching fireflies flashing their mysterious signals, they aren’t thinking of what is ahead but reveling in what is here now. They are masters of mindfulness. As adults, we can recapture that feeling and it can begin with only a minute a day.
One of the most quoted books on mindfulness is “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This noted Zen Master’s book is just over 100 pages (paperback version) yet packed with wisdom on how to savor the special moments in your life and let them fill you up with happiness. His approach is the opposite to the frenzied multitasking that is prevalent in today’s workplace where responding to endless e-mails, phone calls, and deadlines often finds people trying to do multiple things simultaneously.
Recent research has shown that focused attention can actually increase efficiency and decrease stress. Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. Mindfulness is deeply focusing on one person or task at a time. Quieting our mind and focusing on the present moment can help us to find a sense of balance. As Joel and Michelle Levey state in their book, “Living a Balanced Life,” “Developing mindfulness gives you an internal guidance system that helps you know when you’re heading off the course of balance, so you can self-correct and find your way back on track. It’s like having an inner compass or radar, advising you of your present reality and the direction you’re heading in, then lighting your way home.”
Practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes a day can make a big difference, especially if you do it at the beginning of the day. Focus on your breathing; with your inward breath, say “Return,” and with your outward breath say “Home,” repeat this for 2-3 minutes. This short meditation is both calming and centering, and can help you face the day feeling more centered, helping you to respond to the day rather than react to it. As Amit Ray stated in his book “Om, Chanting and Meditation,” “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or lost in thoughts of the past or future, take a few moments to pull your attention back to your current surroundings and just be present. The website Wisdom Commons describes it this way, “Mindfulness lets us absorb the richness of the moment instead of going through life with half of our attention on the past or future or our own mental chatter. The self-knowledge that comes from mindfulness lets us be more intentional in choosing priorities and actions that fit our life mission.”
Every day and every moment is a chance to practice mindfulness. When sending an email, focus your attention on the person receiving it and what they are needing to hear. When listening to a colleague or a friend, give them your full attention. Listen to the words and the feelings between the words and see what a difference it makes. Turn your awareness to yourself as well, what are you feeling? What are you experiencing? Making time for mindfulness is practicing being in the moment, and the moment is where the magic is. If you don’t believe me, just ask a kid on summer vacation.
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.