I am working with a group of 14 8th grade girls this semester. We’ve entered the territory that I love so much: is it possible to notice the thoughts that fly into the mind when practicing mindful breathing?
Big question? Big challenge!
I welcomed them back after a break of 2 weeks and asked them if they’d managed to do the 20-breath exercise. I’d only reminded them twice. Two girls said they’d remembered: one by herself, the other after my what’s app cue.
Would you like me to remind you?
Yes! was the unanimous response.
This, of course, is very good! They want to be reminded and they want to make the effort.
Listening to the Sounds
We began with a 1-minute listening exercise. I wanted them to close their eyes and notice which sounds they heard.
At the end of the minute, S wrote down what was said.
Good! I suggested that this was another way to focus attention when they needed to. To simply close their eyes and pick out the sounds they heard, one by one. No need to analyze or judge, but simply to listen.
The next step. I suggested that they continue to notice the sounds but to focus on their breathing. We started with 5 counts.
Did you manage?
They all managed.
Let’s try 10 breaths. When you finish, look at me.
Eventually they all looked and I asked them how it was.
Y: I stopped in the middle.
Me: Did you notice what happened?
Y: R moved and it bothered me. I got lost.
Me: Ah, yes, I see.
Did anyone else find that something stopped you?
They were quiet.
I mentioned an incident that happened last year when I introduced Class Relax to all the 7th grade classes in the framework of our school Health Week.
We were all listening to the Tibetan Singing Bowl, concentrating on the sound, when suddenly the door opened and a pupil entered the room.
One boy near the door burst out: “He’s ruined everything!”
I suggested that things happen. We can’t control people making noise or sudden interruptions. We could all let an outside sound ruin everything, or we could do something else: notice it, and go back to noticing our breathing, or whatever it was we were doing.
I broached the subject on my mind. Just like outside noises, sometimes, our own thoughts interrupt our practice. This happens all the time, and to everyone. Had anyone noticed that?
There were some thoughtful looks.
Did they think it was possible to notice the thoughts as they came into the mind?
Let’s try, I said. I’ll give you 2 minutes and I invite you to notice the thoughts. Just notice. Don’t let them take over. Notice them, then go back to counting your breaths.
I gave them the signal and we were off.
At the end of the time period, I rang the bell and invited them to slowly open their eyes and to stretch a bit.
Then I asked how it went.
Who was able to notice which thoughts came into your mind?
One girl said she got lost in the middle. She heard breathing and she got lost.
Did you notice your thought?
I felt lost, she said.
Another girl said that she had ADHD and the sounds of kids moving on the cushions disturbed her. That kind of thing always bothers her, she said.
Did you notice a voice inside you? What noticed? Were you annoyed? or something else?
I was angry, she said.
Very good, I said. It’s very important to notice these things.
This is our practice! We focus on our breathing, and inevitably something bothers us. If we can notice it and then let it go, and come back to our intention, then we are working on our muscle of attentiveness.
As a tool for reflection, I asked them if now after having met a few times, if their expectations from that first day had changed. I reminded them that we’d drawn our hands and written one word about our expectations.
The girls wanted to do the exercise again. So out came paper, pastels and markers. The instructions were the same: to sketch their hand, write a word to describe how they are experiencing our sessions and to include their name.
Afterwards we were planning on having tea. A had brought a special teapot and Chai Masala tea. She and N went to prepare the tea while the others finished their drawings.
I invited them to notice the touch of the teapot, the sound of the boiling water as they poured it, the fragrance of the tea as it was being brewed.
As they called the others to drink, I invited them to sense the warmth of the cup, to smell the brew and then to taste it. Also, they were to remember that many people had been involved in that cup of tea. Thanks to those who prepared it but there were also many others involved.
A few girls luxuriated in the tea. A few took extra time on their drawings.
The guided cellphone picture meditation!