I’m so psyched right now. Actually, I was already psyched because of what I’m about to write about, and then I had a session in which a client continued to amaze me with her transformation. So I’m double psyched. I’ll have to write about the client much later, though, after the story has unfolded. In the meantime, let’s stay with the original source of my elation: teaching middle schoolers how to release. And they got it. Blew me away.
A couple of months ago, I was asked to talk to some middle schoolers about stress. They attend a private school in Pensacola, my alma mater actually, and the kids are very sharp. The school is known to be quite academically rigorous, and the reality is that these kids can get stressed out. A teacher was telling me that they can get carried away, and that their parents can be pretty demanding, type-A folks as well. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course, but we need some balance. A kid still needs to be a kid, right? I mean, adults have to have some fun in their lives, so kids definitely do. Our society can be too serious in this modern world.
The teacher, who was also one of my middle school teachers, asked if I could do a little stress talk during lunch one day. I’d start with 5th grade and rotate through the rest of the middle school, which is 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Then I could rotate back through and we’d just figure it out as we went along. I’m naturally a teacher – I just love it. I’ve been a math teacher before, but math didn’t cut it after a while. And I’ve been wanting to get the stuff that I do with clients, which is the same as what I write about here at A Clean Mind, into the schools somehow. I didn’t know exactly how to do this or how to start, and I didn’t want to force it, so I just put it aside for the time being. And then my former teacher called and it started to take shape. Awesome. And what a great topic, too – stress. Stress is universal, and it’s totally misunderstood.
So I went in there that day and we covered stress pretty well. We had about half an hour, and in covering stress of course we had to cover the basics of A Clean Mind: Feelings 101 and Thoughts 101. We clarified that stress is neither good nor bad; it’s just stress. Isn’t it easier that way? The students were taught the simple technique of stopping their mind when they noticed stress, breathing, and letting it pass. Then return to thinking, but in a clear, calm inner voice. What are the facts? What am I reacting to? What can I do about it? And if I made a mistake, own it but don’t engage in any critical self-talk. People make mistakes. What did I learn? What can I improve upon?
By the time I gave the stress talk to the other classes and got back to 5th grade, it had been a couple of months. I had no idea if they’d even remember what we had talked about. I was pretty excited, though, because we were about to find out. I started off by asking some questions to refresh their memories. Is stress good or bad? Neither! What are the two main components of stress? Feelings and thoughts! What’s the first thing you do when you notice stress in your body (or any other feeling)? Stop your mind, breathe, and let it go! Then return to thinking after we’ve gotten out of our heads and the stress has at least started to pass.
Here’s where they blew me away, though. I asked if any of them had actually done this in the moment since I had seen them last. After all, this is all about doing it and experiencing it – not abstract concepts. Had they tried it out? And their hands went up. And they started telling me about their experiences. And I realized… these kids are ten years old and they can do it! They’ve already done it! What a huge success!
One student was already in bed or about to go to bed and remembered something happening the next day, like a test or project. She started to freak out and then stopped, took a breath, and calmly told herself that there was nothing she could do about it right then. She had to sleep first and then deal with it in the morning. Nice job. We talked about the moment of truth being the very second that thought first enters the mind – “I have a test tomorrow that I forgot about.” The mind starts freaking out right away, and the body immediately reacts with feelings like stress, anxiety, and maybe even anger that we forgot. As we practice, we get faster and faster at stopping and releasing. When we first start out, though, we might let it go for a while first. This student nailed it right away.
Another student started to freak out about something happening the next day for science class. She was assuming it would be incredibly hard. She caught herself, though, stopped, and breathed. I asked her what happened to the stress and anxiety when she did this. She said it went away. I was practically jumping up and down, asking them if they realized how major this was. It went away? It simply went away?? She then calmly told herself that she didn’t know what the assignment was going to be, and there was no sense in making up stories about it. She told herself to chill out and do the assignment when she got the assignment. And it turned out to be super easy.
Another student had an experience in which the same stressful thing happened twice. I’ll have to remember to jot down some notes as needed after these things, because I’ve forgotten the details. But the same stressful thing happened twice. He did the normal freak out the first time, and then the second time he remembered the stress talk and he did it. He stopped, breathed, let it go, and then did some calm self-talk. So he had an excellent compare/contrast for the old way of living versus this new way. And he sees clearly which way is superior. If you don’t want to be a stress ball, that is…
Another student was playing baseball and was up to bat. He had gotten down in the count 0-2, so he was one strike away from being out. His mind started to freak out some, and he stopped it and breathed. Total focus. What’s done is done. Just pay attention and play. After that, there were three balls, making the count 3-2. And then he crushed the next pitch. Nice! It doesn’t always work out that way, but the point is that he was close to going down a negative wormhole which would’ve decreased his chances of success. Instead, he tuned all that out and just focused on the next pitch. And he had great success. He’s going to be a much better athlete (and person) than he otherwise would’ve been with this new mindfulness practice.
There were more examples, including a student who tripped walking down some stairs because she was lost in thought about school or something else on her plate. This highlighted the power of living in our heads as opposed to living in reality. She’s walked up and down stairs a million times, but she messed it up because she was lost in thought. After she fell and got back up, she released and life was much smoother.
And there were lots more examples. You get the point, though. I asked if they saw how different it was to live this way versus the stressed out way. They did. And they see that they still work hard and achieve; they just do it with a different attitude. It’s like our front door is always open, and stress and other feelings are always coming in. They’ve learned that there’s a back door that can be opened as well, and these feelings can pass right through. They hang around for as long as they want to, though – that part is not up to us. But eventually they’ll leave. They’re programmed to leave if we’ll just let them.
Well, that’s the tale of the ten-year-old budding Zen masters, folks. I’ll have a follow-up visit with a couple of the other classes, if not all of them, before school lets out for the summer. And of course I’m just super pumped, wondering how to get this stuff out to more young people. Patience isn’t always my strength, so I continue to release on this in terms of where it will go from here. That’s up to Spirit and not me. I’ll keep working with the kids at this same school next year, but I want to reach more. These youngsters will just be so much better off as adults for having learned this. And I feel so much better off from having learned from them.