Q and A from Teachers on Mindful Creativity
Last week I worked with some amazingly creative and engaged teachers from a variety of backgrounds facilitating a workshop on mindful creativity. The Q and A below is a result of questions from participants left on exit tickets, followed by my responses.
- Why “mindfulness”? Any special reason for picking that word?
This is a really good question that gave me pause. I looked up the root of the word and came upon this document published by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. In short: mindfulness itself simply means intentional awareness to the moment, which is innately human and certainly not new. The formal practice of mindfulness has its root in Buddhism, and according to this article by Siegel, Germer, and Olendzki:
“‘Mindfulness,’ as used in ancient texts, is an English translation of the Pali word, sati, which connotes awareness, attention, and remembering. (Pali is the language in which the teachings of the Buddha were originally recorded. The first dictionary translation of sati into “mindfulness” dates to 1921 (Davids & Stede, 1921/2001).”
- What is the difference between mindfulness and self-consciousness?
Mindfulness is about cultivating present-moment awareness and self-compassion. Self-consiousness does not necessarily equate to either of these outcomes. One can be aware of one’s self, particularly as viewed through the eyes of others or through the critical self, in ways that are neither objectively aware or self-compassionate. In addition, while mindfulness may create space or distance from thoughts, self-consciousness alone may increase one’s engagement with thoughts, particularly those about the self.
- I feel like I will lose energy if I stop and focus- which is a paradox I can’t explain? Can you? Will you?
Hmmm. I think if you rarely pause, then there is a chance that when you do, you will notice your exhaustion and that might be something that has to be addressed before “awake” pausing and focusing can take place.
As an example, I have been practicing an hour-long body scan meditation via Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training. I find it extremely soothing and fall asleep every time. The feedback from the trainers, however, is that this may mean that I am my brain needs the rest. This is a good and necessary reality to recognize because it leads to health. I stayed awake for the entire thing for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was amazing, too!
This being said, I don’t think that pausing and breathing will necessarily lead to losing energy. When I first started practicing, my initial shifts were toward feeling less overwhelmed and more focused in daily life- not less. At the same time, I have slowed down since beginning my practice, but that is because living not doing became my priority.
- How does one seed peace and serenity in a chaotic state? How do you invite silence into a noisy world?
I think the first step is to notice where silence already exists for you- both inner and outer silence.
Are there times when life is quiet outside? Perhaps in the shower? On the morning commute?
Are there times when your inner-world is silent? When the chattering in your head slows or even stops? Perhaps on a run? While working on a piece of art? While staring at the clouds?
Begin to notice these moments and pay attention to them.
In addition, you can cultivate silence through formal mindfulness practice. This may mean 5-20 minutes a day of finding some time alone where you can focus on awareness of the silence that is available to you always.
- Why is this practice healthy to the human spirit?
I don’t know if I can really do justice to this question, but I will say that humans have always had mindfulness available to them and that it is a mode of living that seems to embrace our humanity. We are more than our brains; We are also our bodies, our feelings, our sensations and our connections with others and the world- and perhaps something even larger than any of these things combined. Mindfulness perhaps appeals to modern humans because we have, in some ways, become walking “brains” and much of what we have lost in the process of intellectualizing life is accessible through mindfulness: being, presence, sensations, awareness of the world, etc.
- Can I do this every day as a formal process?
Yes, You can! My beginning daily mindfulness practice was as follows: ten minutes of a silent, sitting practice and then ten minutes of journal reflection a day.
At the end of every day after the kids are in bed and there are minimal distractions in the house, I go into my bedroom, close the door, light a candle and sit on the floor on a blanket and a couple of pillows. I then set a timer (for ten to twenty minutes), close my eyes and focus on the breath. When the time is over, I journal about my experience and usually focus on the following questions:
What was my practice like today?
What am I feeling today?
This lesson has a link to mindfulness practice sound recordings you can use in a daily practice.
- How can you discipline yourself to practice daily?
The discipline for the practice comes from making it a priority. You have to want to be present. When I began my practice, it was because I needed to feel better. It’s that simple.
You can also set yourself up for success behaviorally, too. Here are some tips:
Start small- commit to ten to twenty minutes a day of practice and reflection combined. On the days you “can’t,” then just do five (or even one or two) minutes. Keep it going every day.
Make it a part of your routine- do it the same time every day.
Create an environment- make your space a place you want to be and cultivate positive feelings about that space.
Advocate for yourself- tell the people in your home what you are doing and why. My kids and husband know about “quiet time” and that it is a priority for me. This has the added benefit of my kids seeing me create a space that is really healthy.
- Do you do high schools for inservice?
Yes. I do. Here is a link to some of the work I have done in the past. Because my background is in education, much of the work I currently do is professional development for teachers.
- How can I help students to understand it and embrace it? What are the best ways to implement this most fully in the classroom? In what ways can I incorporate my on-going practice of mindful creativity in my practice of student engagement? How can I use these ideas with my teenage students?
My first answer is always this. Begin with your own practice first. If you want to teach mindfulness, be mindful intentionally via practice. If you want to teach creativity, engage in your own creative practices. If you want students to take risks and be vulnerable, you have to do it, too. Transformation starts with being transformed. Read more about this topic here in a post I wrote for Pages teachers who wanted to implement mindfulness and mindful creativity in the classroom.
That being said, when introducing mindfulness/mindful creativity to students, I would probably start with neuroplasticity, grit and growth mindset. This sets the basis for brain change. I have many lessons posted on my blog relating to this topic (see- “Grit” “Growth” and “Neuroplasticity”). Here is one recent lesson on goal setting I did with a teacher, too. In this framework, mindfulness is a tool in the repertoire for brain change- and it is one of many.
From there, I would incorporate silence into the classroom in small ways. Perhaps try the microlab protocal from Harvard Project Zero. You might also try quiet reflection on a quote or question before discussion or independent writing. Here is a lesson where we used some of these tools (including the micro lab protocol) and others in a high school classroom to introduce mindful creativity.
If you do these things and engage in continual reflection with students, then when you get to the point that you actually want to try formal practice with students, then they will have a context for understanding it and you might have more buy in.
Lastly, here is an article from Edutopia titled “4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds) What Our Brains Need)” about the value of silence- even in short chunks- to learning and an article I wrote about the benefits of silence in and out of the classroom.
- How could I use mindful creativity for a poem/story starter?
You could start with prompts like:
“What is silence? What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? Where do you find silence in your life?”
“Think of a time when you created something new- this could be a piece of art, a conversation when you realized something, even a new relationship. Describe the situation- what were the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. How did it feel to create something? What were the after-effects?
- What do you see as the future of this practice?
Well, given that I try to be mindful, I am not sure what the future holds. : ) That being said, I don’t see it as a “fad.” I think it is a rooted in our deepest humanity, an innate quality that is resurfacing in response to a culture that has become “mind-less.”
My experience in working with individuals is that we spend very little of our lives in the present today. This might be because of our constant technological distractions, our consistent cultural motivation to be “doing something” or our emphasis on outward circumstances and appearance; I don’t know. When individuals begin to cultivate present moment awareness, however, it feels refreshing and yet also like something that was always there for them.
- If you can’t make a mistake in schools, where can you? If you can’t tolerate error, when will you learn anything new?
Good question! This is why building a culture of vulnerability and risk-taking is so important. In the classroom, I think this can be cultivated by activities where students slowly build to higher risk-taking and there is no “right answer.” I think it also goes back to what I said before: teacher vulnerability. Tell students about your process. Take risks with them, share your thinking, model what it looks and feels like so that they know it is “ok” to take risks.
- Has this been used with elderly/Alzheimer patients? Does it or could it improve memory?
I had never researched this, but a quick search result revealed this article about the benefits of mindfulness for Alzheimers patients. It appears it has been used with Alzheimer patients for better quality of life, but not necessarily related to memory. Outside of this study, I haven’t seen mindfulness related to memory improvement. However, if one is paying attention to something, I feel confident he or she has a better chance of remembering it. Mindfulness might be helpful in that way, but I don’t know if this has been confirmed by research.
- Can mindfulness be connected to empathy?
I believe that it can be in specific practices. For example, Buddhists practice what is called a “loving-kindness meditation” which is specifically about cultivating compassion for others and self. In addition, self-compassion and understanding, like that cultivated in mindfulness practice, can lead to more empathy for others; it has in my experience. In fact, this was the basis for the workshop I created called Mindful Compassion and Connection. For me, compassion and interconnectedness have been two of the most fulfilling benefits of mindfulness practice.
- Why only visual art examples?
We focused on visual examples in this workshop because of the art with which we were working. However, I have also done quite a bit with other types of art. For example, you can use the same steps of the extended looking practice with music, poetry, or short prose as well. I have even used it with other objects- such as rocks and grass etc.
- How does it [mindful creativity] relate to the common core?
The common core is very focused on skills: critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis of multiple sources for example. According to one skills analysis of the CCS by Achieve, “communications, teamwork/collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and research skills” are all reflected in the in math and English standards. There are often no right answers and creativity is of great benefit to developing and honing skills such as these. For example, the extended looking activity that we did requires every single one of the above skills mentioned. Observation is gathering data for research. We used collaboration and written and verbal communication skills to create meaning. You all solved the “problem” of developing a unique meaning for the piece we examined together. If we would have continued, you would have had to justify your thinking in order to defend your meaning statement, developing critical thinking even further.
In addition, negating or distancing from negative self-talk, the ability to see multiple possibilities in a situation, and the ability to be mindful of inside and outside stimulus are all skills that can contribute to any situation- life and the Common Core.
I hope I was able to answer most of the questions you had, but also if this response stimulates more, please feel free to connect with me via the Contact tab or in the comments section of this post.