Opening your mind
Tamala Dickinson thought she was living her best life — and then she discovered mindfulness.
A psychological process, it is a way of making people more aware of the present. Reduced anxiety and depression, improved impulse control and increased awareness and calmness are said to be among its many benefits.
Ms Dickinson, a paraeducator at the Berkeley Institute, thought it would be perfect for students.
“Mindfulness is not a silver bullet but with practice it has many benefits,” she said.
“It definitely assists with conflict skills and adaptability. Mindfulness is not to make students the way you want them to be, but to develop an attitude of inquiry while equipping them with positive tools that build awareness and presence so that they can make more skilful choices and responses to difficult emotions, leaving them with feelings of empowerment rather than feelings of regret.
“Just as academics and physical education are vital, mindfulness is another important piece to the puzzle. It nurtures emotional and mental growth. How can we leave it out of our everyday teaching?”
Her daughter, T’Neil, a behavioural therapist, signed both of them up for an online course, Mindfulness Fundamentals, four years ago. Only then did Ms Dickinson realise that her late mother, Sheila Claridge-Dickinson, had modelled mindfulness for most of her life.
“My mom passed away midyear 2013, leaving me with much work to do as she was a heartful and compassionate person,” she said.
“She worked [at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital] for almost 40 years and up to this day I hear from many people on how her kindness and support helped them in a time of need.
“She has passed on the baton for me to continue to contribute positively to mankind.
“From the first course, I was hooked as the material resonated with me. Not only did it give me language but it also provided a higher understanding of what it is to be human.”
It was with that in mind that she suggested mindfulness as a way of helping students and staff.
“Just over three years ago I was afforded the platform to teach the mindfulness curriculum to selected advisory and small groups of students at the Berkeley Institute where I have worked for many years,” said Ms Dickinson.
After further study and completion of a practicum, she was certified as a mindful school instructor.
“Mindfulness in Education has a two-winged approach, focusing on concentration and focus and self-regulation, while building self-compassion, increased empathy and understanding of self and others.”
The programme has had a mixed response; one of the challenges is that people incorrectly assume a religious link. There has also been some resistance from some students, largely because they are “distracted, uninterested and overstimulated”.
“They are used to neon colours and the instant gratification of cell phones and social media and mindfulness is black and white,” she said. “It can present itself to be mundane, as it is repetitive.”
It starts after lunch with an intercom message during which Ms Dickinson invites students and staff members to join her for a “mindful sit”.
Feet are flat on the ground, hands are placed in laps and eyes are closed while everyone focuses on their breathing until a bell is rung. They are then asked to follow the sound before opening their eyes and taking a deep breath.
The entire process takes roughly five minutes.
According to Ms Dickinson, it helps them to “refresh, refocus and ready themselves” for the afternoon.
“On a daily basis our nervous system is under threat, resulting in anxiety, stress and physical illness in some of us,” she said. “We are too busy — not pausing, not breathing, disconnecting from our authentic selves and our loved ones.
“When we intentionally take time to implement small pauses in our daily life, it has positive results, contributing to our overall wellbeing and quality of life, while improving our relationship with ourselves and others.
“Especially in this information age where we are overstimulated, distracted and always ‘connected’ — cell phones, social media etc — people are seeking some type of peace or calm in their life.
“People are becoming more interested in taking care of themselves in not only a physical way but from an emotional and mental aspect as well.”
Mindfulness takes practice to work and does not prevent people from experiencing emotions, Ms Dickinson cautioned.
“It helps one to pause and to be present with the difficult or uncomfortable emotions or situations that occur in daily life while providing a space for momentary acceptance without judgment, preventing a kneejerk reaction.
“The great thing is that it is accessible at all times, no matter where you are. No one even has to know you’re practising mindfulness at that moment.
“Life is happening to all of us and having tools to surf the waves is instrumental to a healthy way of living. As the saying goes: we have control of 10 per cent of what happens to us and 90 per cent of how we handle it.”
• To learn more about mindfulness, contact Tamala Dickinson: firstname.lastname@example.org
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