Case Management, Life Care Plan, Vocational Rehabilitation

Mindfulness Matters

 June 6, 2016

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

The logical bent of a scientist may have predisposed him or her to oppose prayer in school when that topic was still relevant. At some point, however, it is possible the same scientist came to see the matter as a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Granted, ‘prayer’ is a term with heavy religious connotations and the aim was always to separate church from state but perhaps the importance of reflection was removed as well. After so many years of turmoil caused by school shootings, bullying and teen suicide, educators and health professionals are revisiting the concept of meditation and recognizing the power the mind can have on the still growing brains of young people, their interaction with one another and even the improvement of how we treat illness and disorders.

What is mindfulness?

For this blog post, we have specific contexts to discuss when it comes to mindfulness and how it applies to those contexts. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t allude to the far reaching ramifications of mindfulness at least once. In an article entitled “Mindfulness In A Nutshell”, the Dalai Lama wrote the following:

Mindfulness points out what ordinarily escapes conscious attention, what is hidden in plain sight — or what we’ve overlooked or forgotten because it doesn’t fit our interpretations, or pertain to our goals, or because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Sounds like useful information might be found this way? Could it be that answers to some of the more elusive societal ills facing our culture might be hidden in plain sight? It’s enough for a book but all we have is this blog post so again, let’s stick to specific contexts, three to be precise.

Mindfulness after traumatic brain injury

You may already be wondering how mindfulness could be effective after someone suffers a traumatic brain injury. Are you ready for your mind to be blown? The mind and the brain are not the same thing. In fact, of the two, the brain is the only one we can locate. Where is the mind? We assume it is located in the brain but let’s stop there….with the brain. How can those who have suffered a traumatic injury to the brain apply mindfulness to the problem? First and foremost, TBI victims have experienced just about the most radical status quo shift one can experience without losing a body part. One can go from a robust adult life with a demanding job, active family life and engaging hobbies to no longer being able to speak, read or write. Not being able to speak, read or write is now how it is. If you’ve been following this far, you know that ‘how it is’ is the specialty of mindfulness practice. Admittedly, being able to lock in on or accept ‘how it is’ in these circumstances is easier said than done. Yet, you will realize that your loved ones and your doctor(s) need only one thing from you in order for healing to begin; they need you to be present. Letting go of obsessing over the past and the future is a terrific start.

Mindfulness and special needs

Is it possible for someone else’s perception of your present state to have an effect on your ability to move forward? The answer is yes. Parents immediately have this effect on their children. Teachers pick up soon after. How does a child stand a chance when it comes to making up his or her mind when it comes to his or her fate? That’s a good question. It’s an even better question when it comes to children with special needs. Well before we even came up with the term ‘special needs’, children born different from how they were ‘supposed to be’ have faced an exponentially more uphill battle. What can we do about that in these modern times when we are only slightly more aware of the power of perception over fate? Start by asking yourself who is doing the obsessing over the past and future that needs to be addressed before progress can begin. Is it the child with special needs? Or might it be the parents who found their instincts amplified the moment they realized their children had needs that might set them on a different, more oppressive path than other children? What about the special education teachers who want to address each individual child but are bombarded with even more goals and agendas on top of the ones their regular education counterparts have to face? Is this a hopeless picture we’re painting? Maybe now is a good time for mindfulness to re-enter the picture.

Stress is quite the adversary in plenty of scenarios. In the case of mindfulness practice, it is no exception. Society tends to randomly and mercilessly assign indeterminate amounts of stress upon us and we are really not prepared or educated properly when it comes to counteracting it. For better or worse, children grow into adults and repeat the cycle in generally good health. That cannot be assumed when it comes to special needs. Learning to combat stress is far more necessary for special education teachers and parents of children with special needs. So, the answer to all of the above questions is that it is most certainly the adults, not the children, who stand to benefit from mindfulness practice, at least directly. Once mindfulness allows them to jettison the harmful effects of stress, the children can only benefit from their caregivers’ ability to focus on ‘how it is’ and address each individual child rather than their ‘special needs’. Those who excel in the care of both children and adult with ‘special needs’ will tell you that the best source of information is the child or adult themselves. You just have to retain and regain the ability to see and hear him or her.

Mindfulness in school

You are sent there after only four or five years of being a human being. You are hardly an expert. The environment is quite intentionally designed to gradually prepare you for the trappings of adulthood. Yet, because you are children, stress and all that comes with human social interaction is largely underplayed. In some cases, it has taken a traumatic event to cause schools to turn to the practice of mindfulness. For example, a fire that ultimately displaces the entire student body and staff to a temporary location would be one example that actually happened. Teachers and administration had to figure out a way to separate the minds of both students and teachers from the overwhelming strange and foreign factors now introduced into daily life. Why wait for a fire? Just think of every news story you’ve been struck by, where danger seemed to strike our children out of nowhere. You often wonder why no one sees these sorts of things coming. Might there be a maelstrom of goals and agendas swarming through school hallways that make it rather hard to be mindful of what is really going on in the lives of our young people? If you hear of mindfulness practices being employed in your son or daughter’s school, be of good cheer. Prevention is definitely a byproduct of mindfulness.


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