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Mindfulness for Youth Workers. What’s it All About?

Get Ready for an “Out of the Comfort Zone” Article
Youth work is interwoven with experiential learning. Similar to the activities we offer to learners, this article might bring you out of the comfort zone. It might include information or practices that you have never encountered before and thus surprise you, or awaken emotions inside of you. I advise you to stay with these emotions. Just like how Rumi writes in his poem “The Guest House”: “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” So yes, stay with what will arise, hold it and observe it, and be curious and learn from it. This is actually mindfulness in practice. In the end, it might be that “Out of the comfort zone is where the magic happens” or it might not.

A Perspective and an Invitation
In any case, please know that what I am offering here is just a perspective and an invitation. It is definitely not the absolute truth carved in stone, but it is shared with love and with the intention to inspire you and support you in your daily life as a youth worker. Take from it whatever you feel will serve you as a human being and as a professional. 

Defining Mindfulness
Let’s dive into the topic by introducing a definition of mindfulness that has much agreement.

Mindfulness is the skill of being in the present moment.

Let’s pause here for a second and let this sink into us. In fact, let’s read this phrase once more.

…Mindfulness is the skill of being in the present moment…

In my humble opinion, the word “being” from the above sentence is a key word for youth workers. In a youth work sector which is sometimes or (many times) filled with “doing”, “to do” lists, dead-lines and plan-ning, we might forget how to be, how to pause and observe and “plant” ourselves again in the world.

Mindfulness is About Being Open to the Now and Living Fully the Current Experiences. 
The opposite of mindfulness is the wandering mind, the situation in which our mind disconnects from the body and embarks on its own journey without any awareness of this journey. It is very common to have a wandering mind. In his study of 2010, Matt Killingsworth found that “on average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time”. If we agree on this, one could say that we are absent from almost half of our life.

Yet no! Here we are, thinking how to really live all our life through mindfulness!

Mindfulness is about:
Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of what is happening inside of oneself; maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of what is happening around oneself; without judging or blaming what is happening inside or around.

I consider the above as the three integral elements of mindfulness. One cannot constitute mindfulness on its own, they are all interconnected.

The first element (being aware of what is happening inside of oneself) really invites us to pay attention to all the dimensions of ourselves (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual).

How is my body? What parts are stiff or aching or relaxed?
What emotions nest in me? How do I feel?
What thoughts cross my mind? What are my thinking patterns?
Who am I really? Where am I going in life? What am I here to serve?

The second element (being aware of what is happening around oneself) supports us to get out of our inner world and see our connection with the surroundings. In a way, it asks us to understand how we interact with the people around us, the society, the nature, the earth, the mystery.

And the last element (Oh, I love this last piece!) reminds us to assess what is happening inside and outside without criticizing or self-blaming but with acting in maturity and responsibility. It is about endorsing both the yin (receptive) and the yang (active) principles: on one hand accepting what is the case and at the same time it is about taking the responsibility of it. This dimension confronts us with questions such as, “Now that I am aware of what is happening, what is the best way to respond to it, with my words, my actions and my approach?”

Is Mindfulness a New “Fruit”?
Some people believe that mindfulness is a new invention, but it is not. The concept of mindfulness, just like all these new-age super foods that we are introduced to (kale and goji berries, hippophae and quinoa), has been here for ages. I witness my 90-year old grandmother who has barely received any formal education embodying gracefully the definition of mindfulness (being comfortable with silence, practicing self-reflection, being nurturing towards herself and the beings around her, listening deeply, acting from her core). That’s because mindfulness is a skill that many traditions have been practicing over time, for example through silence and meditation, mono-tasking and focused work, ceremonies of joy and grief and primarily by embracing the natural cycles. What has happened recently is that mindfulness has become a scientific field and therefore research offers evidence on the benefits and reinforces further the practices.

We Are All Born Mindful
Now, from the image of my old grandma, I will bring you to the image of a baby or a child. What is its relation to the present moment? Little children mesmerize me, because I believe that they are always grounded in the present moment. They are always immersed in what they do. Although they might not yet be capable of naming their emotions or needs, they know how to track them and baldly express them (through voice and crying) and make sure they are addressed. Little children would not criticize themselves or others and would authentically show who they are. Don’t you think? I think that all children are born mindful.

Source: https://pjp-eu.coe.int/en/web/coyote-magazine/mindfulness-for-youth-workers.-what-s-it-all-about-