A Story About Mindful Warriors

We had arranged the space with thoughtfulness and attention to details.  Materials for the children to make coping tool boxes along the wall, yoga mats in a circle,  and a large beach ball resting in the middle we would use for an icebreaker activity.

    “What are the candles for?” a young participant asked as she walked into the space and noticed the battery-operated candles set out by each yoga mat.

    “Well,” I paused, not really having a definitive answer.”  “I think they are to help us set a calm mood today as we learn.”

    “But will we do something with them?”  Another child asked. “Like an activity?”

Puzzled a bit by their questions, I answered, “They are really more of a decoration so probably not.”   My co-leader and I quickly called the group’s attention and dove into our planned activities. Our giant beach ball with quirky questions was tossed around allowing participants to share a bit about themselves.  We moved on to a grounding activity and then to a tracing activity where we would talk more about where we feel stress and anxiety in our bodies. As these first activities were proceeding, I noticed several of the participants fidgeting with the candle near their mats.  Some turned them on and off while others simply held them in their laps. My own anxious and critical voice became loud in my head saying “You are losing them! This activity is not engaging them. Why did we put those candles out when they are so distracting? How will these participants learn all the skills my co-leader and I had planned if they are playing with candles?”  My 10 plus years experience of working within the public school system urged me to pause the activity, collect the “distractions,” and then resume. But a softer, quieter voice--one that I am just beginning to recognize and become more familiar with--said “Slow down, be in this moment and notice what is going on in this space and this experience.” I watched as a somewhat quiet and shy participant bravely shared a fear about school while making eye contact only with the candle on her lap.  I noticed a boy who had seemed as if he was pretending the candle was a spaceship moments earlier confidently answer a technical question about a yoga pose--clearly showing he was paying attention the entire time. Another young girl held the candle a few inches above a sheet she had been coloring, watching how the picture looked as the shadows changed. As we moved into our yoga practice section of the workshop, I watched the participants carefully arrange their candles in just the right spot on each mat.  The young participants moved through several poses including one that required “a smooth, flat back--like a table.” I watched as one participant picked up the candle and balanced it carefully on her back. The idea spread and soon more participants were balancing candles on their backs. Later, as I spotted the photo below and reflected upon the day, I was struck with two important messages.

What if my belief that the candles were distracting them from learning and being fully in the space was wrong and, instead, the candles were the object that actually anchored them and allowed them to be fully mindful and attentive in this space?  

What if, while my co-leader and I were teaching the participants about understanding anxiety and new coping skills, they were reminding us of the importance of balance?  In this case, the young people had found a creative way to find balance between productivity and playfulness. What a valuable reminder to reflect on as we head into the sometimes chaotic and frantic school year schedule!  May we remember this image and be mindful of finding balance when it comes to work/family, calm/busy, and self-care/care for others.

 Beth Dostal, LCSW

Beth Dostal, LCSW