Mindfulness has become a buzzword these days. Celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Richard Gere, and Tina Turner are some of its strongest proponents.
According to the news outlet, NPR, a growing number of elementary, middle/junior, and high schools are embracing mindfulness to help students deal with stress and correct behavioral problems.
Several organizations, including Mindfulschools.org, have sprung up over the past few years to train educators on cultivating mindfulness in the classroom.
Mindfulness seems to be embraced in the secular world more as a practice and discipline rather than as a religion or spiritual tradition. It might include things like focusing on the senses, deep, regular breathing, and mental exercises designed to promote awareness and kindness.
And while there are pros and cons to this classroom practice, the question that hasn’t been adequately addressed is this:
Are we selling our children short by failing to include spirituality as a vital part of mindfulness training?
Trapped In Our Heads with McMindfulness
One of the biggest problems many adults struggle with is our over-thinking minds. It often feels like there’s a tribe of monkeys chattering ook! ook! in our heads with a barrage of thoughts grunting at us.
When we teach our children to focus simply on their thoughts, we may be feeding them what Robert Larson calls “McMindfulness”—like McDonald’s food, it’s fast, convenient, and does the job. However, Larson questions the long-term value of this form of mindfulness because it keeps us stuck in our heads.
In other words, without spirituality, mindfulness is only one bite out of the sandwich of human “wholeness.”
“Mindful Spirituality” to the Rescue
What if we took the good qualities of mindfulness, such as awareness, being in the present moment, and quieting the mind, and grounded them in spirituality? Would “mindful spirituality” give our children a deeper, more holistic feast of mindfulness instead of a McMindful snack?
According to Dr. Maya Spencer, spirituality is “The recognition of a feeling, sense, or belief there’s something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine.”
Mindful spirituality allows all faith traditions to participate and returns the practice to its original purpose: creating inner space for the Divine. Combining mindfulness with spirituality teaches our children there’s a Life Force greater than us—some thing or some One that empowers, guides, and transforms us as we leave the ego behind.
Three Practical Ways to Teach Mindful Spirituality
My wife, a schoolteacher, and Joanne, our church’s religious education director, taught these three practical ways to introduce our children to a simple, faith-based practice of mindfulness.
What’s Your Warm Snuggly?
When our children were young, my wife asked them three questions as we tucked them into bed each night:
What was your cold prickly today? (What made you sad, angry, or disappointed?)
What was your warm fuzzy? (What happened today that made you feel loved?)
What are you grateful to God for?
These simple questions allowed our children to focus mindfully on the events of the day and bring them into the context of our faith tradition. It let them connect with God as they experienced the Creator in their world.
The Dinner Table as a Family Altar
We introduced to our children another practice centered on the dinner table.
Joanne taught that when we gather for a meal, the table is a holy altar. It’s a place where we share our hearts and souls, offer gratitude, and tell the stories about what happened to us that day. At the family altar, the ordinary becomes extraordinary—even sacred—as we gather around the table and together break bread.
To jump-start a conversation, Joanne suggested we offer a few questions such as:
Where did you experience God’s love today?
Who are you most grateful for and why?
Who/what should we pray for?
These conversation starters center us in awareness, bring us into the present moment, and allow us to be mindful of God’s unending grace.
A Parent’s Blessing
Another practice Joanne taught was the importance of a parent’s blessing.
Self-esteem and self-acceptance come and go like the wind. And if we want to teach our children they are good, and are unconditionally loved by God, making the sign of the cross on our child’s head while saying words of love and affirmation bestows that blessing upon them. This ritual offers our children what so many of us long for—our mother’s or father’s deep respect and unconditional love.
As my school-aged children rushed out the door on the way to catch the bus, I’d stop them for a moment, trace the image of the cross on their foreheads, and tell them I loved them. I’m not sure they always understood what I was doing, and I sometimes forgot to do it. But, as they grew into adulthood, it was my hope they knew they had my blessing. And, more important, God’s blessing too.
When my daughter got married, I asked her and my son-in-law if it was okay for me to trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads as I gave my daughter’s hand to her groom. They agreed.
When I stood at the foot of the altar and made the sign of the cross on each of them, tears of joy and gratitude spilled down my cheeks. It was a grace-filled moment that taught me it was time to let go of my daughter and allow her, my son-in-law, and God become a lifetime team.
It signified I approved and blessed their marriage.
In an age when the secular world seems to inch our children away from a deep-rooted sense of spirituality, it’s time we marry mindfulness with spirituality.
Spirituality + Mindfulness = Wholeness
Let’s let “mindful spirituality” pave the way to greater wholeness for our children and the next generation. It’s the gift that keeps on giving for a lifetime.
—brian j plachta
Nature as Spiritual Practice Webinar Recording
Here’s the link to the August Zoom Webinar we enjoyed together from all parts of the world, Nature as Spiritual Practice: How Does God Speak Wisdom to Us Through Nature?
Click this link and enjoy: Nature as Spiritual Practice Webinar