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April 20, 2016

“Picture the Clouds, Mama.”

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I recently listened to a TED Talk called, “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy” by Logan LaPlante.

The bright teen said that education is important, but that the pursuit of happiness should be an integral part of it. He pointed to Dr. Roger Walsh’s article, “Lifestyle and Mental Health,” which outlines eight lifestyle factors that are important for our well-being, but under-recognized.

They are: time in nature, nutrition, contribution to community, spirituality, recreation, relaxation, exercise and relationships.

It made perfect sense to me.

After listening, I was immediately inspired to focus on these tenants in my abundant time with my four-year-old. I thought I’d kill a couple birds with one stone by setting up a time for us to meditate together outside. It would hit on spirituality, relaxation, time in nature and relationships.

Boom.

We went outside and lay in the grass on our backs while holding hands. I told him to be still and feel his body. I said things like, “Feel your toes. Thank you for helping me walk. Feel your belly. Thank you giving my body nutrients. Feel your mind and let it be quiet.” Then we listened to the sound the wind made in the trees, watched the clouds float by and talked quietly about things we are grateful for.

Javin was open and receptive to this experience. It only lasted about 90 seconds, but it was a powerful and mindful minute-and-a-half.

Later that day, I was getting dinner on the table for my two boys. My husband was at work, and I was starting to unravel from the exhaustion that being home all day with two little ones causes. They tore the cushions off the couch, which is not out of the ordinary, but they were unraveling, too and playing too rough.

I heard my one-year-old start to cry from being picked up and thrown on the bare sofa, and I lost my cool.

I snapped, “Done! Get to the table now.” I was showing my teeth and snarling like a vicious dog. My heart was racing, and although I was trying to brush it off, my four-year-old could feel that I was hyped up.

He came into the dining room and said, “Mommy, think of your family and how lucky you are. Life is good. Think about the clouds in the sky and lying in the grass. Take some breaths.” He went on and on like this for a surprisingly long time, and the funny thing is that it totally worked in calming me down.

“Wow Jav,” I said, “Thanks. That made me feel so much better.”

He was proud to be of so much help, and I laughed on the inside, for he was teaching me what I was trying to teach him. (Or maybe he was just trying to distract me from the fact that he threw his brother.) I am hopeful that through regularly practicing quiet time of gratitude and observation, this will become his internal voice, especially in times of anger and frustration.

We are wired to remember the unpleasant things we’ve experienced, and as cavemen it served us well. It kept us from eating poisonous berries and helped us avoid other dangers.

Although we still need to be aware of hazards, and don’t want to repeat mistakes, we no longer have to live in a reality based on fear and survival. By focusing on the good and pleasant things in our lives, we can train our minds to be more equanimous.

My goal was to teach my preschooler this, but he’s the one teaching me.

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Author: Amanda Elder

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Courtesy of Author

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Amanda Elder