Border Mail, Wednesday 19 October 2011
In the early 1990’s I attended a talk in Albury by cancer survivor Dr Ian Gawler.
He stressed the importance of integrating quiet time and meditation into our everyday lives and especially in the lives of our children.
I’d interviewed him in 1984 when he released his first book, “You Can Conquer Cancer”, which was updated in 2001, and was struck then by his calm and grace which was palpable.
He came to mind again last week when I was listening to an interview with Goldie Hawn about her new book, ‘”Ten Mindful Minutes” which outlines the concept of mindfulness, and aims to have us, no matter what our age, be more aware of where we are and the things around us.
It was interesting to hear the woman who I remembered from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” television show in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s series as the funny and ditzy comedian, talking about the concept aimed at helping people, and especially children, to slow down, build focus and gain perspective.
According to Hawn, with information being consistently thrown at them, children need to find a way to ‘rewire’ and learn to manage their emotions and behaviour.
Studies show American children are the second most unhappy in the world behind children in England, and Hawn believes lack of brain breaks contribute to this.
(Australia was not on this UNICEF child well-being list and the Dutch who came in first attributed their success to having a child-centred society.)
Her MindUProgram, developed over 10 years with leading educators and researchers, has been introduced in schools throughout the world, and not only uses exercises, but educates children on how the brain and the mind work.
The concept of mindfulness is not new and can be found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga, but it is practised widely with proponents including recent Nobel Peace Prize winners, Ellen Johnson, President of Liberia, Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman, journalist, politician and human rights activist.
The three women jointly received the prize for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work demonstrating just what can be achieved with the power of the mind.
Martin Luther King Jr and Ghandi were others known to have practised medititation and mindfulness.
According to Hawn practising mindfulness builds strength and resilience to face and overcome many barriers, and also contributes to spontaneity and playfulness and that has to be positive.
While we might not all aspire to being Nobel Peace Prize winners, the value of mindfulness is recognised and being incorporated into classrooms throughout Australia.
Leading the way in Victoria is mindfulness in schools consultant and author of ‘”Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children”, Janet Etty-Leal, who sees benefits for all children incorporating the practice in their everyday lives, not only those who are diagnosed with conditions including attention deficit disorder.
The practice doesn’t involve lengthy periods of quietness, but can involve just minutes where thoughts are allowed to come in, acknowledged and no judgements are made about them.
Teachers are also taken through her program so that mindfulness is integrated into the everyday.
It’s now part of the curriculum in more than 40 Victorian schools.
Coincidentally, Etty-Leal completed her meditation training with Dr Gawler almost ten years ago to help her through a bout of depression.
While I am sure mindfulness isn’t always the complete solution, if the technique helps to create a generation of happier and more resilient children then it is at least worth a try.
You can listen to the interview on Radio National’s Life Matters here.