When I started practicing mindfulness, I wanted to share it with my family, but it was hard to find mindfulness for children and impossible to find places where families could practice together.
When I went to retreats I heard parents say, “ I don’t push mindfulness practices on my children.” I guess I’m a bit more pushy. I wanted my children to understand practicing mindfulness was as important as brushing their teeth or exercising. I wanted it to be a positive experience, but developing a discipline can be more like eating your broccoli than playing a video game. Since I couldn’t find anything where I lived, I started offering mindfulness for families in a Native American community where I worked. This lead to Mindful Family Workshops, and then I started writing a book, A Year to A Mindful Family.
I said developing a mindful practice can be more like eating broccoli than play, but actually mindfulness for kids is all about play, and play is as important for adults as it is for children. Play for adults reduces stress and contributes to well-being. So Mindful Families is about play for adults and children; and through this play family members are nurtured and protected.
What are the four vital components A Year to A Mindful Family relies on to protect and nourish families?
- Ancestral strength and connection: Heritage matters. Phillip Deere said, “There is no failure in life until you try to be someone you are not.” There is strength in knowing who we are and where we come from. Finding the strength in our heritage and teaching this to our children gives them resources when they need to dig deep to find the qualities in themselves to get through difficult situations. Mindful Families know where they come from.
- Respect: To honor all creation. We call this the Spirit of Respect. It is a teaching for living from the seven Chippewa grandfathers called Minadandomowin: “To honor all creation is to have respect.” To understand this kind of respect—honor for all creation— you have to understand the concept translated by indigenous people as “All My Relations.” a profound form of interrelatedness. This kind of connection is the biggest type of protection that we can give our children. Mindful Families honor each other.
- Mindfulness: Being present with one another in a curious and kind manner. Mindfulness practices strengthen our compassion, peacefulness, and focus on what matters most. This helps both our physical and emotional health and helps us perform better in our lives. Mindfulness with children is mostly taught by modeling it for them. Our children learn much more by what we do than by what we say. When I think of my Aunt Marion, I think of fun, but what she really modeled was being present. She could make a dishrag seem exciting. When she was in the front yard, every kid on the block was there fully focused on fun, because she was focused on fun. Mindful Families pay attention to each other in kind ways.
- Cultivating Joy: Shared laughter is the best medicine. Mindful Families focus on cultivating joy, which is strong happiness. When I was a little girl I wanted to be with my dad more than I wanted anything and I think that was because of his joy. He was always smiling and could find the humor in any situation. Laughter is good medicine. Mindful Families have fun together.
We bring these four components together in Mindful Families Workshops to protect and nourish all family members. Through simple mindfulness practices, storytelling and theatre games, and craft making and nature-based activities; we strengthen connections for heritage, each other, and the larger world and cultivate joy for children and adults together.