On a bright sunny afternoon in Golden Gate Park, underneath a canopy of large trees, I led five kids through a day of outdoor activities at a camp for neurodivergent youth. Having a keen awareness of certain sensory challenges, I leaned on curiosity and kindness to manage emotions and to navigate a boundless environment of hard, sharp objects, with the threat of poison oak to keep us on our toes. A particular moment stands out.
On one of the first few days of camp, after circle time, introductions, and group norms, campers were off to play, picking up sticks, jumping on logs, and chasing each other around the park in joyful glee. The moment I began sensing energy that required in-the-moment, nonjudgmental, compassionate action (mindfulness) was when campers began to use the sticks as guns. The activity began to shift from kid play to violent acts, unbeknownst to the children. But the pointing of the stick guns, and the sounds they made with their lips to signify shooting, called for immediate action. This was going to be a learning moment.
By cultivating a routine and deepening my own mindfulness practice, I was able to be in the present moment, witnessing the beginnings of toxic masculinity, and was able to redirect that energy in a more positive direction
I halted the game by physically placing my body in the path where they were aiming to “shoot.” With a friendly and curious tone, I asked if their sticks shot bullets. The campers replied, “Yes.” I said, “We are here to make friends and play. Bullets are not friendly and we especially do not want to hurt our friends—those that care about us most, even when we may be upset with them. How about, you can still play, but instead of bullets, we shoot ‘love potion.’” And just like that, love potion it was. Before any more shots were fired, almost simultaneously, campers dropped their sticks and ran to give each other hugs. They then promptly picked up their sticks and a game of love potion was on.
By cultivating a routine and deepening my own mindfulness practice, I was able to be in the present moment, witnessing the beginnings of toxic masculinity, and was able to redirect that energy in a more positive direction without disrupting the goal of the camp and activity: togetherness, play, and fun. I will always remember this moment and how meeting youth where they are is a critical skill in developing healthy behaviors. Not heavy-handed yelling and force, because that is how toxicity is born, but kindness and care allowed them to feel seen and heard. These conditions lead to a sense of safety which is an effective container for holding space in development, teaching, and training.
3 Ways to Have Mindful Moments Anytime, Anywhere
Mindfulness can be practiced in what I call “stealth mode,” meaning you can practice at any time, anywhere, under any circumstances without anyone even noticing. These are moments when you can practice in plain sight.
1) Take Three Full Breaths
- First breath: Bring your full attention to breathing.
- Second breath: Relax the body. Drop your shoulders.
- Third breath: Ask yourself: What’s important right now?
Body Response: The breath is the life force and without it, our organs and bodily system could not survive. It’s so simple, yet intentional breathing supports a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and lessen the production of harmful stress hormones.
2) Head, Body, Heart, Check-in
Take three full breaths, scanning one area of the body with each breath.
- First breath: Scan the head, representing thoughts.
- Second breath: Scan the body, representing emotions and sensations.
- Third breath: Scan the heart, representing values and intentions.
Body Response: With intentional awareness, gentleness, and kindness provided to the body in a time of challenge and adversity, we can access and achieve a sense of ease, relaxation, and calm.
3) Slow Down and S.T.O.P.
When you are in your head and need a moment to pause, stop thinking about whatever is in your current train of thought and redirect it in a healthy way.
- S: Stop what you are doing
- T: Take a breath
- O: Observe your surroundings
- P: Peacefully proceed
Body Response: This practice physically stops the body and mind in their tracks. It allows you to regain confidence in your experience and take a refreshing breath, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.
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