If you’ve ever gazed at a very young baby, say about five months old, you’ve likely been gazed at in return. You’ll notice in that gaze that there is no judgment, perhaps a little joy, maybe some irritation if the baby’s belly is empty or bottom is soiled. You’ll notice how simple it is to respond in the moment, and in your simple response how easily you feel connected to that young life.
When we talk about “being mindful” we hear all sorts of definitions, and, frankly, a lot of hype sometimes. But mindfulness is really something quite simple: paying attention in the present moment without judging. While it is a very simple construct, its application in our lives is quite a bit of work, at least for adults. It turns out that children take to this practice easily, because being mindful is a mindset with which they are still familiar. As adults we turn our attention again and again to the past and the future, often at the expense of noticing the present moment. And sometimes, when we notice the present moment, we allow our memories or anticipation to cloud our perspective of what is happening right here, right now.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware (BGCDE) serves over 40,000 kids annually. During spring 2017, I had the pleasure of introducing simple mindfulness practices to a group of full time employees, through the GIFT initiative. Each of these dedicated staff recognized in their mindfulness practices the simple child-like innocence of the mindful state. The result, staff are finding ways to help the kids they serve to experience being simply present, paying attention on purpose, and not judging.
Why does this matter? When a business invests in their staff’s development and overall wellness, it has a trickledown effect to the services it provides. In the case of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, informed and trained staff in mindfulness are able to implement strategies and practices into their services to young people, ultimately creating a safe, less stressful environment for kids to be who they are meant to be while exploring opportunities to enhance themselves.
Of course it’s not just children who benefit from mindfulness training. Most research in this area concerns the impact of mindfulness on adults. It turns out that mindful adults experience reduced stress, improvements in hypertension and memory, and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and addiction. Workplace studies have demonstrated that mindful employees are more cooperative in their dealings with other employees, and that the time they take to practice meditation during the workday, typically about 15 minutes, greatly enhances their focus and productivity. In fact, the list of major corporations that make mindfulness part of their corporate culture is long, and not limited to Silicon Valley high tech firms like Apple, Google, and Facebook. Companies like General Mills, Aetna, and Proctor and Gamble have meditation and yoga programs. William “Bill” George, former CEO of Medtronic and current Harvard Business School Professor, has meditated since 1974 and now counts mindfulness as a key element to business leadership. George states that “mindfulness enables leaders to be fully
present, aware of themselves and their impact on other people, and sensitive to their reactions in stressful situations”.
Delaware, with the support of 150+ statewide stakeholders from public and private sectors, is on course to become the First Mindful State. Mindful school children will find it easier to focus their attention and regulate their emotions. Mindful teens will be more likely to be self-disciplined and ready for higher education. Mindful adults will suffer from fewer stress-related illnesses, lowering overall healthcare expenses. Mindful leaders will have greater calm and clarity making important decisions about the people and corporations they serve. When a person is mindful there are no more “zero sum” games, only situations in which we all can advance and improve in our lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim is a Pastoral Counselor in private practice in Wilmington. He earned his PhD in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University of Maryland and is a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health in Delaware. He has been on faculty at Wilmington University teaching graduate courses in Clinical Mental Health Counseling since 2003.
He has taught Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) since 2006 after receiving training at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Jim leads GIFT Delaware’s model program to impact lives through mindfulness in education, hospitals, non-profits, businesses and government. To learn more about the mindfulness movement in Delaware visit www.sambeardgift.org