Susan Kaiser Greenland: Nothing Is More Important Than Teaching Mindfulness to Kids

April 23, 2019
Podcast

Insights at the Edge

Susan Kaiser Greenland: Nothing Is More Important Than Teaching Mindfulness to Kids

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Susan Kaiser Greenland is an author, meditation teacher, and the founder of the Inner Kids Foundation, which is devoted to bringing the lessons of mindfulness to children. Her books include The Mindful Child and Mindful Games. With Sounds True, Susan has created Mindful Parent, Mindful Child, a 30-day training program for integrating mindfulness into your family’s everyday life. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Susan about her efforts to fold mindfulness into basic childhood education, as well as how she came to this work after 20 years as a corporate lawyer. Susan outlines some of the practices that are ideal for children and why parents should have their own mindfulness routine. Susan and Tami discuss mindfulness-based games and the steps to making common practices (such as a body scan) more fun and engaging. Finally, they consider how to balance the ideal of non-striving with motivated work, as well as what the future of children’s mindfulness education might look like. (62 minutes)

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5 Ways to Connect with Interconnection by Susan Kaiser...

5 Ways to Connect with Interconnect by Susan Kaiser Greenland

It’s no surprise that the well-worn aphorism “It takes a village to raise a child” has resonated with many parents, along with another ancient proverb thought to have originated in Africa, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Why do these now-clichéd old sayings ring true?

Because being a parent is lonely sometimes, and these sayings evoke a felt sense of connection and interconnection for which many parents long.

It’s the warm, fuzzy feeling that bubbles up at children’s holiday concerts, sporting events, and other neighborhood programs. It’s an understanding from the inside out that being a parent is as much about the community as it is about our children. It speaks to a holistic perspective that challenges the narrow view that we are independent, self-contained individuals and instead elevates a mindset that recognizes the many ways we are dependent and connected.

When we tap into this view, we remember that the way we relate to our children ripples out to touch their friends, teammates, classmates, teachers, coaches, doctors, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and on and on and on. Remembering this ripple effect can be a powerful antidote to the stress, strain, and even the doldrums of a busy parent’s life.

Here are five themes that help parents connect with interconnection.

A Ripple Effect

When their caregivers are so tired, stressed-out, afraid, or frustrated that they habitually speak and act impulsively without thinking through the consequences, it’s tough for children to imagine a community of relaxed, reflective adults who relate to one another thoughtfully, collaboratively, and with kindness.

Similarly, when kids live in communities where the prevailing mindset is that resources are scarce and there’s not enough to go around (like many of us do), it’s tough for them to imagine a world where collaboration and altruism, fueled by an understanding that achievement is not a zero-sum game, are woven into the culture. Switching the lens through which kids and parents view the world from a me-first orientation to a generous one can be an uphill battle, but it’s a struggle that can be won. How? By remembering the ripple effect made by even small acts of kindness and collaboration.

Takeaway:  Today, watch for places that you’re starting a ripple effect. How does that make you feel?

Ordinary Magic  

“The highest to which man can attain,” wrote Goethe, “is wonder,” but when busy parents are pulled in many directions at once, it’s easy to lose sight of the wonder in every moment.  If you pause and look closely at chores and workaday obligations that feel relentless, you’ll notice that even what seems to be a fixed routine is anything but solid and predictable.

By bringing a sense of wonder and mystery to the everyday occurrences that make up family life (this flower, her smile, his laugh, that traffic jam), what once seemed like ordinary occurrences become nuanced, extraordinary ones. Okay, maybe not the traffic jam.

Takeaway: Today, make time and space for the “ordinary magic” of everyday experience.

Meet Everything with Love  

If you’re anything like me, your knee-jerk reaction to a crazy to-do list and an over-crowded schedule is to bear down and muscle through. There’s an alternative, though. When you react to being busy by pausing rather than speeding up, you’re brought back to what’s happening in the moment.

If you relax rather than power through, you interrupt your body’s fight or flight response that releases adrenaline and activates the wing of your nervous system that promotes ease and calm instead. A few breaths later, you’ll be able to see what’s happening within and around you more clearly, set priorities more confidently, and return to what you were doing in a more balanced way.

Now you’re ready for what I think is the most radical piece of the mindful worldview. You’re ready to meet whatever comes your way with love—a practice I learned from the remarkable meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein. Can you think of a more apt intention for parents?

Takeaway: Test drive this approach the next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is challenging. See what happens if you meet what they say with love, even if you don’t feel it.

Don’t Expect Applause

It’s not a great idea to expect something in return when helping others; it’s better to do what needs to be done for its own sake. That’s what it looks like to prioritize motivation over results. Prioritizing motivation doesn’t mean ignoring outcomes, though. It just means remembering that there will always be things outside your control.

So how do busy parents with long to-do lists acknowledge uncertainty without becoming overwhelmed? By staying present in the moment and focusing on the goodness of what you’re doing instead of the results.

Takeaway:  The next time you’re faced with a job that seems overwhelming, break it down into small tasks. Take-on one job at a time, and focus on the goodness of the task that you’re doing instead of the result. See what happens.

You’re basically good (seriously, you are).

Parents often hold themselves to unrealistically high standards because they want the best for their families. Being hard on yourself can backfire though, because the more preoccupied you become, thinking about where you didn’t measure up, the less bandwidth you have to remember the places where you did.

What if, instead of being hard on yourself, every time you feel mildly dissatisfied you view that dissatisfaction as a reflection of your basic goodness? Let’s say you’re frustrated and cranky because your children aren’t getting along. What if, rather than beating yourself up for being impatient, you view that frustration as a manifestation of a deep desire for your kids relate to one another happily and with ease? In other words, you see frustration as an expression of your basic goodness.

Takeaway: If feelings of dissatisfaction or impatience bubble up today, see if you can view them as an expression of your basic goodness—your hope that everyone is healthy, happy, safe, and living with ease.


Susan Kaiser Greenland, Sounds True

Susan Kaiser Greenland is a mindfulness teacher and founder of the Inner Kids Foundation (along with her husband, author Seth Greenland), a not-for-profit organization that taught secular mindfulness and community-based programs from 2001 to 2009. She has researched the impact of mindfulness in education, childcare, and family health at UCLA, and her research has been published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology. Susan’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, USA Today, Real Simple, HuffPost, and Parents Magazine. She currently works in the United States and abroad as an author, public speaker, and internationally recognized educator on the subject of sharing secular mindfulness and meditation with children and families.

For more, visit susankaisergreenland.com.

Mindful Parent, Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland, Sounds True

Click here to see Susan’s newest work: Mindful Parent, Mindful Child

For anyone who wants to bring mindfulness into their family life, Susan Kaiser Greenland, a pioneer in bringing mindfulness to children and families, presents easy-to-learn practices created to help busy parents fit mindfulness into their daily routine. Mindful Parent, Mindful Child is structured as an “audio journey” for daily use, offering 30 potent practices that will teach the essentials of mindful awareness, compassion, self-regulation, stress relief, and much more in just ten minutes a day.


Susan Kaiser Greenland: Nothing Is More Important Than...

Susan Kaiser Greenland is an author, meditation teacher, and the founder of the Inner Kids Foundation, which is devoted to bringing the lessons of mindfulness to children. Her books include The Mindful Child and Mindful Games. With Sounds True, Susan has created Mindful Parent, Mindful Child, a 30-day training program for integrating mindfulness into your family’s everyday life. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Susan about her efforts to fold mindfulness into basic childhood education, as well as how she came to this work after 20 years as a corporate lawyer. Susan outlines some of the practices that are ideal for children and why parents should have their own mindfulness routine. Susan and Tami discuss mindfulness-based games and the steps to making common practices (such as a body scan) more fun and engaging. Finally, they consider how to balance the ideal of non-striving with motivated work, as well as what the future of children’s mindfulness education might look like. (62 minutes)

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If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

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Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

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Pema Chödrön: “Compassionate Abiding”

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The Power of Mapping Your Emotions

It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to remove the emotional blinders and identify emotions accurately, both the uncomfortable and the upbeat ones. After all, unpleasant emotions are normal and natural, a fundamental part of being human. Emotions fluctuate on a daily basis, often several times in a given day. If you didn’t experience negative feelings now and then, the positive ones wouldn’t be as noteworthy or joyful; your emotional life would likely be unnaturally narrow. You would also be deprived of the opportunity to glean important insights into yourself. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are silent messages, alerting you to pay attention to something in your personal or professional life, in your behavior, or in the world around you.

Instead of separating emotions into categories such as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad, it’s better to view all your emotions as useful information, as “evolutionarily evolved responses that are uniquely appropriate to specific situations,” says Karla McLaren, MEd, author of The Language of Emotions. “When you stop valencing, you’ll learn to empathically respond to what’s actually going on—and you’ll learn how to observe emotions without demonizing them or glorifying them.”

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Learning to Unpack Your Emotions

For some people, engaging in free association can clear the cobwebs from their minds, almost like opening the cellar door to a musty basement and letting in light and fresh air. To do this, you might take a break and consider how you’re feeling about what you’re doing, reading, seeing, or thinking every few hours throughout the day. If a general word comes to mind—such as stressed, anxious, or angry—dig deeper and ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling (maybe fear or annoyance) along with it. If you do this out loud in unedited, private moments, you might find yourself blurting out what you’re really thinking or feeling, revealing the emotions that are taking a lot of energy to keep inside. This is really about unpacking your suitcase of feelings, or untangling the knot of emotions that is taking up space inside you.

When you think about this in the abstract, it can be hard to pinpoint how you’re feeling. You may just see a swirling mass of a feeling quality such as “dread” or “foreboding” rather than recognizing the specific emotions you feel. To get to the root of your feelings, spend five minutes looking at the word cloud below—no more than five so that you don’t have time to filter your responses—and choose the emotions that resonate with your mood-state lately.

If reviewing these words evokes other feelings for you or if words or phrases that apply to you were not on this word cloud, jot these down in the blank word cloud that follows. Give yourself another five minutes to think about your recent state of mind and jot down phrases, images, or words that occur to you. This is your opportunity to personalize it without any limits or restrictions. If you feel stymied or draw a blank initially, think about your recent responses to current events or situations in your personal life or on the world stage. Try to be as honest as you can by focusing on how you’re really feeling when no one is watching—free-associate without judging, censoring, or revising what you write down.

Once you’ve finished your list, look at the order of the words you wrote down: Did they progress from all negative to increasingly hopeful? Do they portray an internal tension or friction in going back and forth between various feelings? If all the words are positive, consider the possibility that you may be in some degree of denial, focusing only on the window dressing rather than the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Also, consider this: Is there a pattern of shallow, visceral reactions that came out initially, followed by more complex thoughts and feelings? If so, think about whether you’re giving yourself enough time in your life to reflect. If you came out with highly intellectualized words or phrases first, it might suggest that you put on a bit of a facade when engaging with the world, and you might benefit from striving for a deeper engagement or familiarity with your emotions.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

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