Mindfulness is the rage in Los Angeles. Mindful eating, mindful interactions, mindful relationships, mindful communication, mindful parenting. There is mindfulness for kids: Teaching kids to become mindful; mindfulness as an antidote to bullying; mindful learning in school; using mindfulness to enhance peer relationships, and on and on.
Mindfulness through meditation is the new antidote to stress. A few weeks ago a store front meditation center, Unplug, had a front page write up in the newspaper. People are starting their days there. They are spending their lunch breaks there— dashing in for a session to de-stress during their work days. And parents prep for the evening onslaught of kids’ bath-dinner-bedtime with a quick session before hitting the road home. I overheard my neighbors on the street organizing what time they would meet at Unplug that day. Depok Chopra visited the center last weekend to a packed house. As I said, it’s all the rage.
Don’t’ get me wrong, I have nothing against mindfulness. In fact, as a school administrator I was treated by my boss to a meditation class series in order to manage the stress of my job. Despite the fact that I actually failed that one six week course in meditation, I still think it’s a useful and necessary tool. I just can’t use it.
The meat of many of my parenting groups of late has been about stress— children and their stress. In older groups this topic was an outgrowth of recent high school and college acceptances/ rejections and the stress of the application process. In younger groups parents of school age children are worried about all the homework and how it stresses their kids, as well as how it affects their health and the tone of the whole family. Some have shared how their elementary schools are focused on getting their students into the “best” high schools, causing ongoing stress. Second graders are talking about where they want to go to school next. Crazy, right?
And then it hit me. At the same time that parents are scheduling their own de-stressors— meditation classes—they are failing to see the importance of downtime in their kids’ lives. Today’s kids of all ages are so booked up, that there is simply no time for downtime, the child size equivalent of unplugging. Adults have to schedule downtime. It should be the opposite for kids— their lives should be full of downtime, and the extras should be just that, extra.
It is in downtime that that thinking of another kind springs forth. It is when the scheduled input slows and stops, when we unplug, and we can relax and de-stress. Downtime gives life to imagination, creation, thinking outside the box. (How many adults talk about the great idea that grew while in the shower, a kind of down time?) And it is in downtime that we actually download and process earlier input, and real learning happens in a stress free context.
Downtime is a de-stressor. It is a habit that should begin in childhood, cultivated in our children by a premeditated absence of programmed time. And if it begins in childhood, it just might carry through to adult practice.