Category Archives: Interactive Mindfulness

Meeting them where they are

When we are in conflict with a youth, our whole task is to be with him or her.

And we won’t see any change unless we can show the other people in the child’s life – their teachers, and parents, and youth workers – how to be with them.

The youth needs to grow their brain. This is a structural problem for them. Their needs are primary. The brain has not grown the channel where the youth meets other peoples’ needs, except perhaps when they encounter a safe situation, such as with younger children. In that case they can teach younger children how to meet their needs the same way as the youth would meet that kind of need himself or herself.

When a toddler wants something, they might yell at the top of their lungs, “I want it and I want it now.” That strategy won’t work for a youth who has yet to learn to be reciprocal. When the youth yells, random people don’t meet the youth’s needs.

In order to help a child grow a reciprocal brain, his or her parents, and professionals who work with the youth must see their behaviours, although delayed, as a developmental stage and not be fussed or pay particular attention to the child’s demands. By not fulfilling the demands until the youth becomes more civil, we can actually watch the youth’s brain growing right before our eyes.

Thus, when working with a youth whose brain has not had an opportunity to grow in that way, we must acknowledge that is where the brain is. The youth is not doing this on purpose. In any event, their strategy is ineffective, and they are unable to take part in the balance between their needs and another’s needs.

This youth is without a peer group, doesn’t accommodate other people, and isn’t learning. Their lack of emotional regulation is about the brain, and is merely another brain function. When it has not been built in, it has to be taught.

The brain, as we talk about it, grows as a biological organ. It is a real thing. As it grows it creates processes that allow for thinking.

As we start to understand the relationship between processes and organs, we can deconstruct them a little bit and observe that the child’s brain has suffered insults.

Our first step is to meet the youth ‘where they are’.

Conflict and balancing needs

A youth worker says, “I am in conflict with a fourteen-year-old boy. I want him to talk to me and engage, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

Although the youth worker would like to balance their needs with the boy’s needs, in this extreme situation – because they are in conflict, until the youth worker extends and builds trust, there is no balance.

It’s the youth worker’s job to go to where the boy is. First, they must earn the boy’s attention, build some trust, and become mutually engaged. After that, if the boy becomes curious, only then can it be about balancing both of their needs.

We are made up of our experiences

The knowledge that we are part of something and at the same time separate is critical to our understanding of attachment.

Our child might not have the same experience of the same event that we have. We can give them permission to tell us they are having a different experience of this moment than we are – and not insist that there is a right way to listen to this experience and a wrong way to listen.

We can assure them that their experience has the same value as our experience, and suggest we try and find a common point that we can tell them what our experience of this event is, and so they can tell us what their experience is. Neither one of us being right or wrong, but being respectful of each other’s experience – and using attachment because we care about them.

“I care about your experience and I care about how you experience the world. And I want you to have an experience that is valid. And I want us to have an experience together that is valid.”

That is how we have to listen to each other.

That, to me, is the basis of therapy. That is the basis of what the family’s experience is.

So, if in your family you have a child who is experiencing the world in a different way from your reality, and you experience that child being angry and hostile and feeling misunderstood by you, perhaps you might say to the child, “Can we just back up a little bit and let’s hear again each other’s voice?”

Words and Meanings and Our Work

It becomes very difficult indeed to use words to get across an idea to another person, because each of us attributes a meaning to each word that is personal to us. Our meanings don’t quite match since we are all different from each other in some ways, though we are the same in other ways. And so it is with the meanings of words.

Although the meanings we are trying to convey to each other don’t quite match we can get close, or at least make an attempt to get close. Transferring our meanings for words is like trying to catch butterflies. We can run around with a net, but the net has to be bigger than the butterfly. That’s what meaning is. It’s bigger than, so we need a whole net full of words surrounding the meaning, to try and catch the meaning.

We can use mindfulness to get away from our automaticity and be present for another person, but there is a dichotomy in this process: we are dependent on our automaticity. We are dependent on the organ that is our brain, and we have to somehow transform that dependency and get outside the limits of that.

Information transfer is relatively easy, but the capture of knowledge is something else. Humans everywhere have developed cultural ways to transfer knowledge. We started transferring information orally. Through stories and personal narrative people shared their life experience but that information had to be worked upon to become part of a lived experience.

At my age I can talk about the information that has come my way in my life, and at this stage I have a lot more memories and stored information than someone who is twenty. Condensing my lived experience into words, though, and then saying, “Now you know what I know” is at best only an attempt at sharing my knowledge.

Although I encounter many challenges when I attempt to share what I’ve learned with people who want to find another way to raise their kids, sometimes I am able to reach them and they are able to understand what raising kids actually means. Then we both triumph; I get to share the meaning of my work, and their capacity to raise their kids in a mindful way expands.

Brain/Mind Interface

Two very distinctive kinds of thought originate in the brain. The brain organ itself produces automatic thought. Flexible thought occurs via the plasticity of the mind. Paradoxically, the organ stays the same, and changes at the same time.

The brain as an organ is fixed in its capacity. Consequently throughout our lives the brain prunes or changes its content and removes memories and other forms of information that are stored in the organ, and it allows new information to enter, through its characteristic of plasticity.

Since there is only so much room within the organ, the brain summarizes our memories and other information, over time, and organizes itself in order to have the capacity to receive more information.

It is probable that we humans operate from automaticity most of the time. This results in us having formed relatively fixed conclusions about ourselves and others and how we interact, and how we go about the day-to-day tasks of living.

Within the fixed capacity of the brain, our stored personal narrative becomes an edited version of our reality, and not a reflection of the entirety of the experiences of joy and pain that occur throughout the span of our lives. For example, when our brains are stuck on the narrative of traumatic events that we have endured, we may become unbalanced towards our trauma; the brain not summarizing the daily joy that has occurred, instead, pruning away the joy. This may explain the onset of depression: when a person’s central experience is, “I’m in a terrible situation. My life is hopeless,” desperation readily sets in.

In the revolutionary T-groups of the 60’s and 70’s, participants stepped away from the automaticity of the ‘real world’, and experimented with interactive behaviours that stretched their sense of self. They summed up positive experiences in a way that balanced their sense of mistrust, fear of being hurt, and hopelessness, with actual experiences of trust in others, and frequently came away with a sense of hope.

Today, our ever-evolving knowledge of the organ that is the brain and the brain’s process, and the interface between the two (which we can access by the practice of mindfulness) makes it possible for us to challenge our automaticity in relation to others, and consciously re-write our attachment narrative.


The Mindfulness Circle

The Buddhist symbol for mindfulness is a circle that is almost closed. The opening allows for awareness to enter the circle, and also for awareness to leave and be shared. This Gestalt flows within the circle that contains everything.

There is a flip-side. If we are not mindful we are guided by our automatic assumptions (our automaticity) and we appeal to bias.

Mindfulness is about being in the world, in the present, and giving meaning to our existence and to the existence of others.

The open mindfulness circle is a reminder of the shared mutual experience that exists in Interactive Mindfulness. 

A cascade of awareness

When we share our knowledge of Interactive Mindfulness with a child we both have the opportunity to move from awareness of the other, to acceptance of the other, to access with the other, which may result in a shared experience of curiosity about each other, affinity with each other, and proximity.

This communication process starts a cascade of awareness within the brain that follows an order, and a biological reality, and ends up with a result.

The words we have chosen to describe the process are simply a way for us to take the cascade apart so we can teach others about each separate bit.

Modelling self-awareness for our kids

If we parents and teachers are mindful, we will take care to fit what we say into a pedagogical moment so there is a connection between new information and what is already in place.

When we share our experience of the world with children and have them share theirs, the structure we construct supports their narrative.

It is important that our information provides a narrative and follow-through, that it fits with something the child already knows, and provides relevance to the child. In this way we help kids build self-awareness and learn to recognize the relationships they have with others. As children build awareness they honour their curiosity.

Our kids may have the freedom to be curious but in order for their budding awareness to become their reality, that awareness must be used. 

Through their social interactions they become aware of the otherness of others, and come away with the understanding that others have different experiences. As they become more able to access their curiosity, and follow the interactive nature of relationship, the steps they take lead them towards  empathy.

This process, for children, is the beginning of mindfulness. 

Mindfulness, automaticity & curiosity

We have combined the singular concepts of mindfulness, automaticity, and curiosity in a reiterative way, back and forth, among all three.

Each of these ideas inter-operate with the others.

Now as we isolate into context the core concepts of mindfulness, automaticity, and curiosity, the connection between them remains visible.

Much like looking into the same room through different windows, when we combine these concepts we become aware of a more complete view.

Challenging our narrative

If our mindfulness doesn’t include the ability to challenge our own narrative, it will make us anxious.

Mindfulness is a deliberate act.

We can’t do mindfulness intuitively. Our narrative won’t let us. Since we know everything already, why would we examine what we don’t know?

That narrative, our automaticity, has been with us all of our life. It gets in the way of learning. It also allows us to acquire new learning, if we have an attitude of curiosity toward something new that affirms, “This is fun. This is something I don’t know – I’m going to try and know it”.

Most of us have anxiety about not knowing, though, and that is the problem with automaticity. When we withhold our curiosity, we don’t know that we don’t know, because we don’t easily move towards what we don’t know.

There is a paradoxical nature to challenging our narrative. If we are not curious and willing to listen to ideas that are not congruent with ours, how will new ideas come in?

To start, we need to have a fixed sense of self and a stable place to stand in order to provide comfort to ourselves. This enables us to move through our world and interact, perhaps drive a car, attend an event, or even engage in conversation about politics with someone.

And in order to explore the perspective of anyone else, we need to free up our own self.

At the very base, each of us makes that decision ourselves.