3 Codes To Unlock Mindfulness

Luckily, there are only three easily accessible codes necessary to inserting mindfulness into the fabric of our lives. You can present each of them in terms of something that kids know and love all too well: video games. Any child will tell you that there is nothing quite like inserting a beautiful code into a video game and unlocking its benefits. The same principle applies to living our lives to the fullest through the superpower of mindfulness. The three codes are, as follows:

  • Pause
  • Use Your Senses To Return To The Present
  • Choose With Compassion

You can bring these codes to life for children by applying them to a standard video game controller. Let’s explore each one of these codes in further detail:

The Pause Button

Many games require that the pause button be pressed first in order to insert codes and gain their benefits. The same is true in life. All too often, we find ourselves on a relentless treadmill. Even as I write this, I am being pulled away from my desk to tend to an issue in the next room. Yet “pause” offers an essential and refreshing alternative to our go! go! go! culture. It allows us to intentionally stop what we are doing. From this expansive place of stillness, we are in a better position to take stock of the moment.

The Directional Pad

The next code is represented by using the directional pad. In video games, this is a major vehicle through which our avatar dwells in its virtual environment. The pad essentially allows the character to be present in different aspects of its world. As such, it is a fitting metaphor for using our senses to redirect back to the present and fully inhabit our world.

Our senses redirect our awareness back to our bodies, which are always in the present. They can’t help but not be (it’s our minds that wander all over the place!). As such, our senses are doorways to the present moment. A great example of this is through the sense of sight. This sense is our “directional pad” in that it empowers us to look around and immerse ourselves in our environment. Every time we deeply observe something or someone around us, we are fully present with it.

You can model playing attention for your kids in this way by challenging them to a staring contest. Present the game with the question, “Who can use the sense of sight to be as mindful as possible for as long as possible -- without becoming distracted.” Kids go wild for this game and, for many of them, it is one of their first forays into formally playing attention. One parent with years of mindfulness training under his belt invited each of his kids to partake in such a contest. He placed two chairs—each facing the other—in the center of the living room and challenged each child to take turns sitting across from him, look him square in the eye, and not leave his gaze for as long as possible. The first person to leave the other’s gaze would have to forfeit his/her seat to the next person. The parent also said that both blinking and funny faces were allowed, but talking wasn’t. If any child could break his concentration, the entire class would win a no chores pass. I watched in awe from the back of the room as each child tried valiantly through an assortment of squints, smirks, and silliness, but to no avail. The parent's gaze remained steadfastly fixed on each child. Needless to say, there were chores that night.

The Action Button

After video game characters have explored their world, pressing the action button allows them to interact with it in some way. Along this vein, once we have sufficiently paused and used our senses to come back to the moment, the last code calls us to action—specifically, to engage each new moment with as much compassion as possible. Granted, this step is easier in some situations rather than others (and is, sadly, not the premise of many games, which are riddled with violent responses to situations). Nevertheless, ask children to reimagine how some of these games might look if their avatars used compassion instead of weapons -- and how their own lives might look if compassion was their own default reaction. One child I had worked with turned a popular video game in which the main character is tasked with hijacking cars and hurting people on its head. He said this was important because he noticed that whenever he had played the original version of the game, he noticed he was rude to his parents and more likely to roughhouse his younger siblings. He almost always felt bad about his actions afterward and got in trouble. That’s why, he said, his remixed version of the game would have his main character fixing cars and healing people. For every compassionate action undertaken, the character would earn a “mindful moment” reward. The student said that if the actual game looked more like his version, people who played it would be nicer to each other and create a world full of more mindful moments.

Remember, It’s A Process

Although inserting these codes into our lives can be challenging, it is important to remind children that gaining this superpower is a process. They will not be perfect at it—and that’s OK. Some of the greatest superheroes of all time (like the celebrities listed above) faced a steep learning curve. It took weeks and sometimes months before these codes became integrated into the fabric of their lives. Just as it’s impossible to become a bodybuilder after only a handful of visits to the gym, children should not expect to gain all the superpower’s benefits overnight. But when they do, the benefits make it all worthwhile.

Each child's daily, personalized practice is the foundation for helping them reinforce these codes and play attention throughout their lives. The forthcoming “Superpower Builder Inventory” allows children to discover playful, creative practices that align with their unique learning styles and interests. This approach makes the practice sustainable and helps kids not feel “too stressed for mindfulness.”

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