We had a wonderful workshop in Newlands Forest this morning with the focal point being the river. Despite the severe drought in Cape Town, the river was still flowing gently. What a privilege to be able to sit on its banks and listening to the soft, soothing sound of the flowing water.
By following the bright orange ribbons in the trees, the Mindful Minis and their parents all managed to find their way to our meeting spot at the side of the river. We started off connecting as a group by making a spiderweb using a coloured ball of wool. Each person had a chance to check in with themselves and decide, on a scale of 1 – 10, how they were feeling. 1 being anxious, worried or stressed and 10 being calm and peaceful. It was wonderful to hear one little boy say that he felt twenty-one on the calm scale. Very sweet!
During the course of the morning, we came back to the calm scale to check-in with ourselves to see if things had shifted. This is a worthwhile exercise to do at different times during your day. Just to stop, breathe and check-in with how you are feeling on the calm scale. There is no right or wrong. Simply an awareness of where you are at in that particular moment.
We then took some time to discuss what mindfulness is. In simple terms, it is about noticing. About slowing down and taking a moment to notice the things around us. For example, picking up a stone and studying its shape, colour and texture. Noticing any interesting grooves or patterns that it might have. We then spoke about how mindfulness is not only about noticing the things around us. It is also about noticing what is happening inside ourselves – connecting with our bodies to notice and feel what is happening inside. I asked everyone to close their eyes and listen to the sound of the river flowing. I asked them to notice if anything happened to their breathing or heartbeat as they did this. Some noticed that their breathing slowed down and calmed. Other felt it stayed the same. There is no right or wrong in mindfulness. It is simply about awareness and noticing, with kindness and compassion.
We also spoke about how mindfulness can be done anywhere at any time. It is not something only to be done in a workshop or a mindfulness class. Wherever we find ourselves, we can stop and notice our breathing. Our breath, after all, is something that is always with us. There is no chance of forgetting it at home! It is often useful to check-in with our breathing if we are feeling worried or concerned. It helps us to connect with the calm within. We can find our feelings of calm and brave, if we just stop and notice our breath.
We then did some breath awareness exercises – feeling the temperature and sensations of the breath in our nostrils and mouth. We used the lovely mantra from Thich Nhat Hanh: ”Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I smile.”
After connecting with the breath, we did a mindfulness tactile exercise. The children all got to blindfold their parents – much excitement! Each parent was then given a stone to feel for a moment. Afterwards, the children placed all the stones back in the centre of the circle. The parents then took off their blindfolds and tried to recognise their stone. Great fun! We then swopped and the children had a chance. It was a lovely, concrete exercise in bringing awareness to the present moment through touch.
It was then time for the powerful pebble mediation which I adapted from the book Planting Seeds by Thich Nhat Hanh. I asked the parents and children to take some time to explore the river together and find 4 pebbles, while keeping awareness of their breath. I encouraged them to sit together, listening to the sound of the water and possibly using the mantra “Breathing in I am calm. Breathing out I smile.”
On coming back to the circle, we each placed our four pebbles in front of us. I asked everyone to pick up one pebble. To hold it in the palm of their hand, gently supporting their palm by placing the other hand underneath. I then explained that the first pebble represents a mountain. It encourages us to feel strong and solid. We said a mantra for each pebble, allowing ourselves to be that object. So not simply to have a picture of a mountain in our minds, but to really imagine being the mountain. We did the same for the other three pebbles saying the following mantras:
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.
Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I feel calm.
Breathing in, I see myself as space. Breathing out, I feel free.
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel alive.
After we had said all 4 mantras, we returned the pebbles to the river giving thanks.
It was then time to use our taste buds! I handed out peanut butter, oats, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried coconut and best of all – dark chocolate shavings! We got our hands dirty rolling the mixture into delicious peanut butter balls. While savouring the flavours, I asked the children if they could see clouds in the peanut butter balls. There was silence. I think they all thought I was a bit loopy!
So, I asked the children what the main ingredient of the balls was. Peanut butter they shouted! And where does peanut butter come from? Peanuts! And where do peanuts come from? Plants. And what do plants need to grow? Sun and water. And where does water come from? Rain. And where does the rain come from? Clouds. Ah! So there are clouds in the peanut butter balls!
We discussed how everyone and everything is connected. We are all connected to nature and each other. We spoke about why this is important – how it helps us to be kind to others and nature. It helps us to remember to take care of the things around us. We also discussed how it can help us not to feel lonely knowing that we are connected to everything.
Next we went on a Sound Safari. Everyone found a comfortable spot to sit and simply listen. I gave each parent-child pair a worksheet of possible sounds they might hear that they could tick off. There was also space for them to add sounds of their own, as well as draw a sound map identifying where the sounds were coming from. Discussing the exercise afterwards, it was lovely to hear some of the feedback:
“It made me feel nice listening to the sounds.”
“It made me feel happy.”
“It made me feel calm.”
A simple sound awareness exercise done during the day – taking just a few moments to connect with the sounds around us – can help us to slow down our heartrate and breathing, and connect with the calm within.
It was then time for a guided visualisation. I used the script from “The Enchanted River” track on the CD “Mindful Moment for Minis”. Very fitting for a workshop next to the river.
Finally, it was time for the last exercise – creating a picture in nature. So, using anything that they could find in the forest such as sticks, pine cones and leaves, the children were asked to make a nature picture. I also asked them to pay attention to the different textures – smooth, rough, prickly, soft. Another fun way to draw attention to the present moment through touch.
A lovely morning in a beautiful setting – connecting with the peace within through our breath.
“I breathe slowly in,
I breathe slowly out.
My breath is a river of peace.
I am here in the world.
Each moment I can breathe and be.”
~ from Breathe and Be by Kate Coombs.