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Mindfulness…Standing at my Door

Most mornings Gaia, our one year old lab mix, and I go on a walk. We have walked in the snow, cold, rain, wind, sun, and fog but on all of these walks I get time to think. Sometimes I think about the weather and the landscape around me, sometimes I think about what I need to get done that day, and sometimes I think over a problem I am having. I love this time, even when I don’t really want to get out of bed.

When I get back to my door I always find myself at a transition from my alone time into the world of my family. To prepare for this transition I stand at my door and quietly take three breathes, three seems like the right number to me.  During these breathes, I give myself time to turn my mind toward my family and become ready to give hugs, read books, make breakfast, get a band-aid, switch the laundry, or what ever is needed when I come through the door.

These breathes, this pause, helps me to move into something new. I have used this during other times of the day as well. After a busy morning of errands we can come home frazzled, so before I get out of the van I take a breathe and then move into my work at home. I have the kids take a breathe after playing in the yard before we sit down for a story. By taking this moment to prepare our minds for a transition we can make each activity in our day a little easier to begin.

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Mindfulness…Stick Pictures

Part of mindfulness is being in the moment. See what is happening around you right now and not worrying what will happen next. Most of the time I find that kids are in the moment. They get engulfed in what ever they are doing and loose track of time. But sometimes, even kids start to worry about what is going to happen next. My oldest son, Killian, gets this way sometimes, he becomes focused on the future the same way he gets focused on a task he enjoys. When Killian begins to think about what are we doing next, and next after that, and next after that, it does become a problem. He not only stops enjoying himself and misses what is going on, but his questions about what will happen stops me from enjoying the moment as well.

I have started doing an exercise with the kids about being in the moment, it is called stick pictures.

First you find a flat spot to make a picture. Today we were indoors because of the rain but a smooth spot on the lawn, on a trail or on the beach work as well. Delaney sorted the sticks into three piles, 15 sticks per person.

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Now give each child a pile of sticks, let them examine each stick, look, touch, smell. Once they have had a chance to examine their sticks explain that they will be making a picture together using the sticks. The challenge is to make a picture without talking or gesturing to each other.

The point of the exercise is to put a stick down in the moment. You cannot think ahead because you cannot know what the other person will do, you have no time to plan. One person puts down a stick, then the next, in order around the circle until their sticks are all gone.

Before we start we take our three breathes and say

I am breathing in

I am breathing out

I am happy

Oh so happy

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When everyone was calm I told them to start. I had to remind Liam when his turn was but they stayed quiet and put down all of the sticks.

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When they were done we examined the picture. Today they decided that it was a campfire. I took a picture and then we collected the sticks and put them back in the woods. Not only did they make the picture in the moment, the picture itself only lasted a moment. I guess that is also a lesson in impermanence.

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The kids also like doing this one their own, so after their group picture they get to make one on their own. Here is Delaney’s happy fish.

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Here is another way to do this exercise with Bendaroos. They allow for more shapes which is also fun.

Namaste

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Mindfulness…Labyrinth

While we were down in Milwaukee at St. Luke’s Hospital, the kids and I explored the grounds. We happened upon this wonderful labyrinth. At the beginning of the labyrinth, there was a sign saying that the it was put here for patients and family as a way to heal  mind and body.

Labyrinths have been used for many years as a path for meditation, healing, and spiritual discovery. I read an article by Lucy Pearce about using labyrinths with her family, and she wrote this,

“They are a symbol of our life’s journey: twisting and turning, the path unknowable, often misleading, yet the destination is always certain.

Unlike a maze, which is designed to confuse, and is laid out with many dead ends, a labyrinth has a single path which spirals in to the center and out again.

The journey into the center is symbolic of death and release, and the journey back out represents birth and rebirth. This twisting, spiraling in and out connects us to ourselves, to the earth and to each other. The labyrinth transports us to another realm of conscious awareness: occupying the rational, busy mind and the body, thereby allowing the subconscious to emerge.”

As I walked the path inward I thought about all of the trials we have been through as a family, Justin’s loss of sight, his return of sight, being away from home, the possibility of another surgery, the unknown of the future. When I reached the center I took three breathes and released all of the concern and worry at let everything be as it was in the moment. On my trip out again I let myself see that everything will be okay no matter what happens, for we cannot control everything that happens but we can decide how to react to what comes.

It was a wonderful experience as we waited to hear if Justin would need another surgery. Walking a labyrinth does not make your problems go away but it can give you a new perspective.

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While I walked the labyrinth the kids started by running the whole way in and out three times.

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They also tired walking on the brick edges and in the end walked the path quietly.

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The kids followed the labyrinth at many different speeds but I think they got something out of the experience more than energy release. It was a time to take their mind off the situation at hand, to decompress, to get away from the hospital waiting room. In the end, Justin did have to have surgery again, and the kids were able to flow with it. The surgery was a little over two weeks ago and there do not seem to be any complications.

The labyrinth was so nice that we decided to bring it into our home, and since we couldn’t make a yard labyrinth I decided to make a small one. I made a finger labyrinth. Instead of walking this, we use our fingers and trace the labyrinth. This is not exactly the same experience but you get a chance to calm down and clear your mind.

The kids have been using it to calm down when overly upset, for fun, and when they are in a quiet mood. I think it is good for all of these things and i keep it easily accessible so they can use it anytime.

Here is how we made it.

First I made some salt dough.

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup water

1 cup flour (I used whole wheat because that is all I had.)

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Mix all ingredients together until they form a ball.

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I gave each kid a small piece of dough and used the rest for the labyrinth. Smoosh your ball flat trying to keep it in a circular shape. Then use your finger to begin making the labyrinth. I suggest drawing labyrinths before you start. Draw many, it will help you get the shape down and is also very relaxing.Check out the Lucy Pearce article for how to draw one.

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I used my fingers to make the indentations and my smallest finger for smoothing.

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After you are done bake on low for three hours or so. I flipped mine part way through and then let air dry a few days to make sure it was really dry.

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When it was totally dry I used tempera paints to add color.

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 Then I sealed it with Mod Podge.

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Once fully dry keep out where it can be seen so anyone who comes in the house can use it.

Namaste

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Gratitude

As many of you know, the last month has been a challenging one for my family. Justin lost his eye sight, he had to have surgery to help regain his sight, we spent three weeks away from home in Milwaukee, Justin had to have a second surgery, and after all of that he has regained his site! This is a most wonderful outcome after so much uncertainty. So today I am full of gratitude and thankfulness.

I am thankful for…

the doctors expertise, their willingness to work long hours to help us, and their wise decision making.

my parents for letting us stay with them for three weeks, for taking off of work to watch the kids, for feeding us, and supporting us.

my grandparents who, while in their 80’s, are willing jump to action and take three kids for the whole day so I can be at the hospital with Justin.

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I am thankful for…

all of the supportive loving words from friends and family.

friends who take our dog for two weeks at the spur of the moment, for friends who get our mail, for friends who change the cat litter, and watch the house while we are gone.

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I am thankful for…

sleeping in my own bed after much time away.

people who have brought us dinner.

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I am thankful for…

Justin being able to see again.

Justin being able to drive again.

Justin returning to work!

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Oh yea, and I am thankful that spring is finally here!

 

The present moment is fulled with joy and happiness.

If you are attentive you will see it.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

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You Never Know What Will Happen Next

This January Justin and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary. So for this special event we decided to do something we have not done in 10 years, go on a long vacation, just the two of us. So at the very end of March we boarded a plan and headed to the beautiful island of Antigua.

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When we left Wisconsin it was cold, windy, and snow covered. Arriving in Antigua it was 85 and sunny, sunny, sunny. It felt so good to be warm, and so relaxing to spend time with my husband and not have to be responsible for the kids.  Everything was so bright and beautiful and we enjoyed every minute of it.

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But you never know what will happen next.

By the middle of the week Justin told me his eye sight was getting blurry and by the last day he had completely lost his sight. Thousands of miles from home and a medical problem, very scary. We boarded our plan home unsure of what was really going on with his eyes. When we arrived home we went to Lens Crafters to get an idea of what we were dealing with. They told us to go immediately to the ER.

When we arrived he was given a CT scan, it showed nothing. He was given an MRI, showed all was fine. He was seen by an ophthalmologist, he was unsure of  the cause. And finally he was seen by the neurologist who figured out he had high pressure in his spinal column. They were able to lower the pressure and put him on medication to keep it down. The reason he lost his vision was because the pressure irritated his optic nerve and the swelling around the nerve stopped it from transmitting information. He spent 6 days in the hospital, while the doctors tried to figure out why this was happening. On day four, a neurosurgeon put in a lumbar shunt to lower the pressure some more, this worked well as his sight began to return. The doctors did many many tests to figure out why this happened and came up with pseudotumor cerebri. Which means pressure rises for no known reasons but the symptoms resemble that of a tumor. So they just don’t know what caused this.

He has been out of the hospital a little over and week and with the pressure down and the swelling decreasing his sight is slowly returning. We are feeling positive about the progress but we don’t know if all of it will return. As scary as this was and the uncertainty about the future I am still feeling positive. I am so thankful for him in my life, and sight or no sight I love him just the same.

We did have a good time on our vacation but Justin said we have to go back, because he missed half of it 🙂

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Mindfulness…Play Dough Mandalas

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As we continue on our mindfulness journey, we have added another activity to our rotation, play dough mandalas! This mindfulness activity was inspired by Mama Rosemary. Mama Rosemary used flowers and spices but we decided to use rocks and marbles. This was not only a lesson in concentrating on the moment and calming ourselves, it was also a lesson on impermanence. After we made our beautiful mandalas, Liam asked to keep his to display. I told him that this was our play dough and since we like to play with it we would need to take our mandalas apart. I told him we could take pictures so we could always see them. He seemed satisfied with that and after the pictures he calmly took all of the rocks out and then began to play with the play dough. It was a wonderfully calming experience. The kids enjoyed picking out just the right rocks and finding the perfect place for them to go.

I followed the same order as we have for our other mindfulness activities. We started with 3 breathes and our gatha, mindfulness poem.

I am breathing in

I am breathing out

I am happy 

Oh so happy

Next I turned on some relaxing music and handed out the play dough. I told them to to cover their paper plates with play dough. Once their plates were covered I put out a big bin of rocks and marbles. I explained to them that a mandala is a circle pattern that starts in the middle. They each picked one special rock to place in the middle and worked their way out from there. Here are some pictures of our play dough mandalas.

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Namaste

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Mindfulness…Enso Meditation

This morning we tried another painting meditation, enso. Enso is the Japanese word for circle, so this is a painting of a circle. But it is so much more than that. The enso symbolizes the universe and the void, strength, elegance, and enlightenment. So when you paint an enso you are doing it as a meditation to not only focus your mind but gain self confidence as well. I learned about this painting over at Here We Are Together.

I started out by cutting white cardstock in half to make small sheets. I was going to use watercolor paper but my stash was low and I knew I would need a lot. I ended up with about forty half sheets of paper.

We started our meditation painting by lighting a candle, getting out our watercolor paints, and finding some relaxing music on Pandora Radio. We recited our focusing verse while taking  three breathes.

I am breathing in

I am breathing out

I am happy 

Oh so happy

I explained that we would be painting circles with our paints. I told them to breathe and paint their circle with one brush stroke. Then we began. They started quietly painting as I told them and then they began to experiment. They began painting with two colors, adding dots, placing them in different spots on the paper, and painting wide or skinny ensos. We did this for almost an hour with no complaint. And when they were done they went away happy. Here are some pictures from our painting meditation.

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We decided to make a wall display of all of our ensos and I think it turned out beautifully.

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After our first experience I know we will be doing this again some time soon.

Namaste

 

 

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Mindfulness….Salt Mandalas

Lately, I have been trying to be more mindful. I realized that sometimes I am busy thinking about something coming up and not being in the moment so I have been reading up on mindfulness and meditation. My friend and yoga instructor Heidi lent me a book called, Child’s Mind, which is a children’s book of mindfulness practices. This book has been a wonderful way for me to get started in meditation and it has given me some fun activities to introduce mindfulness and meditation to my kids. We have been using some activities from the book and all of my kids really enjoy them and ask to play them more than once.

I have also found a great site called called Here We Are Together. She has a bunch of posts on mindfulness and meditation with children. One of her recent posts was about water color painting on salt mandalas. I decided to try it and it went very nicely.

I started by using glue to make mandala patterns on white cardstock. I made enough for two per person, including me.  I did this the night before so they would dry and be ready for painting in the morning.

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I sprinkled salt on the glue right after I made each design. Make sure the salt covers the glue well because the watercolor paint does not stick to glue. I poured off the extra salt to save for the next mandala.

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The next day we got out our water colors, a candle, and some relaxing music I found on Pandora Radio. We took three slow breathes while saying

I am breathing in

I am breathing out

I am happy

Oh so happy

Then we quietly painted and listened and thought. Here are some pictures of our painting session.

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Everyone was relaxed after this activity and they all went off and played together nicely while I made lunch. I will defiantly be making some more to have on hand for anytime the energy gets high and we need a calming activity. I hope you all try this.

Namaste

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