Setting Intentions with Kids

 

Intention setting helps foster clarity and fuel our goals. It's also a beautiful way to empower kids! All children- especially those who are prone to anxiety or hyperactivity- can benefit from a daily intention setting practice. Oftentimes, intention setting allows children to develop a sense of focus while assigning purpose and meaning to their behavior. Here are some guidelines for how to use intention setting with little ones:

What are intentions, anyway?  

You can introduce the concept of intentions to your child by comparing the process of setting intentions to making a map of your day: where would you like to end up today? What do you have to do in order to get there?

Encourage your child to identify goals that are clear, specific and within reach. It is also important to explain to your child that the purpose of intention setting is to identify your current goals and experiment with the process. The emphasis is not on mastery, but having awareness of what you would like to accomplish and exercising flexibility in how you reach your goals.

Get creative!

Inspire your child to put their intentions down on paper. They can write out their intentions or create a picture to represent them. You could also create an "intention jar" with slips of paper, and have your child write down his or her intentions and put them in the jar in at the beginning of their day.

Instill hope + positive thinking

Intention setting provides an opportunity for your child to practice positive thinking. We are far too often critical of ourselves, and tend to fixate on our perceived limitations rather than identify our strengths. Intention setting is an opportunity to help your child reframe any negative thoughts, reflect on what they have already accomplished, and recognize their infinate potential.

 

I dream of painting, and then I paint my dream
— Van Gogh

Reflections // Intentions

 

Happy New Year!

Although we can always benefit from some thoughtful self-reflection and intention-setting, the end of one year and the beginning of another is a particularly powerful time to offer gratitude for the experiences that have allowed us to grow, while simultaneously recognizing where there is room to keep growing.

This can be done in a variety of ways, may it be through art, journaling, talking it out or taking time for a meditation practice. If a meditation practice is something you would like to try, below is a script to help guide you. 


New Year Meditation Script: 

Find a comfortable seat, and close your eyes. Take a moment to scan your body. Start with your toes, moving slowly up the body, all the way to the crest of your head. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice what it feels like to sit here, in this moment. 

Bring to mind any experiences brought to you this last year that allowed you to grow. Take a moment to feel gratitude for these experiences. Bring to mind anything you believe you've accomplished this year. Take a moment to feel proud of these accomplishments. 

Now allow yourself to reflect on where there's still room for growth within yourself. Is there something you would like to see change or evolve in this next year? Bring to mind whatever it is you would like to work on. Imagine seeing the words spelling out whatever it is you would like to work on in front of you, within arms reach. 

Now imagine it is one year from today. Project yourself into this future moment. Imagine yourself sitting here, in this space, having new experiences and new accomplishments. Imagine offering gratitude for the experiences you encounter in this upcoming year, and feeling pride for accomplishing what it is you are setting out to work on. 

Bring your attention back to your breath. Again, notice what it feels like to sit here in this moment, with gratitude for the experiences that brought you to this moment, and hope for the experiences that are to come. When you are ready, open your eyes. 

 

 

 

The Holidays: An Opportunity for Stillness

 

I was in awe of snow as a little girl. I would stare out the window and watch the snow fall at night, with finger's crossed for a snow day come morning. I remember thinking how incredible it was that a weather force so powerful that it could put the whole town on pause could fall so gently. There was a certain sense of stillness about the snow. Everything seemed a little more quiet. 

Despite being intrigued by snowfall in childhood, I never grew to like winter. I don't like being cold, and I often find myself anxious and disconnected around the holidays. With all that's going on in the world this year, the holidays feel particularly bleak. (Note: mercury is also in retrograde right now, only making matters worse. Sigh.)

That being said, it's important to find time for self-care during this time of year. With all the physical and emotional chaos of the holiday season, finding time to be with yourself is helpful in staying grounded. This may look like going on a walk around the neighborhood, getting your hands dirty and making some cookies, or spending all day in your pajamas reading a book.

In order to connect with my internal experience, I find it helpful to do a body scan meditation, bringing awareness to my breath and the physical state of my body. If you'd like to try a body scan meditation, you can use this script and audio recording, which is helpful in guiding your experience, especially if you are new to this practice.

In navigating holiday commotion and winter woes, we can turn to nature to help guide us: move slowly, be gentle, and find stillness. 


The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
— Ram Dass

Stop and Smell the Roses

 

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I wasn't sure how I was going to find any sense of stability or calm. For one, city living tends to yield crowded schedules. And then, there is the beautiful-yet-sometimes-burdensome spontaneous nature of the city (i.e. when subways suddenly decide to shut down, when a stranger engages in a surprising conversation, when you're left without an umbrella in an unexpected rain storm, and so forth.) Consequently, city dwellers like myself succumb to navigating daily routines on autopilot, with feelings like frustration and anguish becoming far more familiar than those like peace and contentment.

Here's a short story: during a yoga and mindfulness retreat, a newfound friend and I found ourselves sharing concerns over how we were going to bring mindfulness practices into our hectic lives. How were we going to find the time? We told ourselves we would start small, and she proposed a simple suggestion: what if we drink a cup of tea every morning and used that moment to find awareness in the experience of drinking tea? No phones, no laptops, no reading. Just you, and your tea.   

How beautiful is that? Ever since, mindful-tea-drinking has become my morning ritual; a crucial moment of peace, grounding and presence. In hopes to resolve the often dispirited ways of navigating my busy schedule and the city's many uncertainties, I've established other customs, too.

These days, my weekend rituals include foraging for flowers and produce at my local farmers market, biking to a nearby neighborhood to then explore by foot, and drinking (lots) of dandelion tea. As I engage mindfully with these things that bring me joy, I am better able to bring awareness and value to my weekly routine. I've realized that you don't actually need flowers in hand to truly stop and smell the roses. Finding joy and meaning in the day-to-day just takes practice.

Using Mindfulness to Talk About Racism

 
Illustration by Amberi Barreche. 

Illustration by Amberi Barreche. 

Racism functions as a widespread traumatic experience for people of color. We know now, more than ever, that a colorblind approach does not impel racial equality. Consequently, now is the time for conversations about racism in America to transpire amongst adults as well as children. It is particularly important that white people join in and ignite the conversation, as white privilege ultimately permits voluntary engagement with these topics, unlike those people of color who do not have the privilege to choose.

This summer, I was able to attend the 2016 Mindfulness & Education Conference at the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY, where a panel of scholars committed to promoting mindfulness as a tool for healing trauma talked about the role mindfulness plays in the issues of diversity, racism and oppression in schools. As both an orchestrator of these conversations as well as a participant, I was eager to hear what they had to say. Many of them identified the importance of two primary components underlying mindfulness: curiosity and compassion.


Stay Curious 

When engaging in conversations with others about racism, diversity and oppression, curiosity can be used to help recognize that each and every person’s experience of the world is unique. Additionally, it is important to highlight that racial and ethnic differences play a crucial role in the experience one has of the world, especially when talking to children about race. 

If we ask ourselves to be curious about a person’s experience of the world, we are forced to both recognize and question the implicit biases and prejudices we devise about others based on a person’s skin color, performed gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion/spirituality, and other identifiers valued by society. Get comfortable asking others to tell you about their experience (literally, try asking someone, “would you tell me about your experience?”), rather than allowing stereotypes to taint our lens and develop false impressions of others.

(Note: kids are really, really good at being genuinely curious about others. If you need a little inspiration or guidance, turn to them.)

Curiosity also functions as a valuable tool for overcoming our own biases and prejudices, in that it fosters self-awareness. I try to ask myself why another person’s presence evokes whatever emotional and cognitive response I may experience (the subway is a perfect place to practice this): What about this person makes me uncomfortable/comfortable? What ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized forms of oppression contribute to my response to this person? What feelings do I have about myself that may contribute to my response to this person? By noticing our response to others, being curious about those responses and recognizing the potential internal and external contributions to them, we are taking a moment to bear witness to our own biases.   


Lead with Compassion 

And then there is compassion, or empathy. With the emergence of proverbs like “more love, less hate”, the world is already asking for a more compassionate approach towards humanity. I’m not so sure that curiosity and compassion are necessarily separate entities; rather, I think that curiosity oftentimes allows for the cultivation of compassion. Through my own process, I’ve learned that nurturing a sense of compassion for others, regardless of whatever differences may exist between me and that person, is only possible once I truly allow myself to notice and accept my on-going responses to that person. 

With compassion comes the choice to believe that every person is inherently good. In a world that is becoming increasingly- and alarmingly- polarized, this is not easy, but perhaps most essential. I, myself, rely on my own mindfulness practice to assist me in developing this internal sense of compassion for all.

Historically, we have seen that disconnection does not heal the world of hate. Rather, connection, as fueled by compassion and empathy, is a vital healing agent. In a time where it is easy to feel disheartened, remembering the power of connectedness helps keep me feeling hopeful.