Like many lock-down families, we have begun unearthing long-neglected items in order to provide a new activity on what feels like day 357 of isolation. Most recently, it was a book called “The Book of Questions” by Gregory Stock, published in 1987. It proposes a variety of thought-provoking situations and then prompts you for a decision. Some of them are PG, others need to be skipped when the kids are around, but it has been the catalyst for conversations around morality, integrity, truth, vegetarianism, suffering, career, vanity, confidence, peace, war, death, drugs, sacrifice and a whole host of other big topics.
Last night, the question we posed—tongue-in-cheek—to our 8 and 10-year-old daughters was #127: “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
Sienna (the 8-year-old) took a moment’s pause and earnestly replied, “I wish that we had learned mindfulness from a younger age so that Paige (the 10-year-old) wouldn’t have had any anxiety in the first place.”
Well then. A serious, well-articulated, and thoughtful answer. I hadn’t considered that.
It does make sense, of course. Sienna can be very hard on herself and mindfulness has taught her to give herself, and others, compassion when needed. She has become a mindfulness ambassador for her grade level and confidently led her whole class in body scans during the school’s wellness week. (Did I mention she is 8?) Paige, on the other hand, is a worrier and during this COVID lock-down, our school’s online mindfulness practices (available at www.uwcthailand.ac.th/mindfulness-resources for free) have been a saving grace for our entire family.
Trusting in mindfulness has been an experience that’s very contrary to my nature. I’m very pragmatic. I’m not spiritual. I trust science. I like data-driven decisions. I want my kids to memorize multiplication facts and learn how to spell. So I never dreamt, in a million years, that their study of mindfulness would be the thing I ultimately value the most about their education. But times have changed and if there was ever an argument for mandatory mindfulness (an oxymoron for sure), it has to be this pandemic. Because while it may be the first of this scale in our lifetime, it won’t be the last.
The ability to forge a deep connection between our mind, body and the present moment has been vital to our family’s positive lock-down experience. It has given us each a reprieve from each other when we needed it. It has allowed us to not just be compassionate with one another, but to be able to articulate when this is what we need. Perhaps most important for our home, it has allowed us to continue to focus on gratitude—on what we still have and not what we have lost.
Practicing mindfulness and living in a mindful community has been the single largest game changer in our lives. The data-lover in me finds its transdisciplinary impact on our life difficult to capture and quantify. Simply said, it impacts all of our choices—and the planet as a result—and affects how we live day-to-day. Suffice it to say, it feels like it happens at a cellular level (of course there is growing evidence to support that is exactly what it does).
Today, I had a seemingly mundane moment that highlighted so clearly how our two and half years on this island has changed our thinking. In further dusting off and unearthing random things, I came across an unopened packet of brightly coloured palm-tree stir sticks and sighed. I bought them when we first arrived, in a five-cart Makro mega-shop to set up our new home with everything from mops to glasses to canned goods and sheets… the assumption being that they would be used in a cocktail concoction one day.
When I got back from Makro that day, we took our first trip to the beautiful beaches of Phuket. It was August and our world-class beach was strewn with trash and debris. The sight was so bad we put the kids back in the car, afraid to add to what was already a stressful move. But I stayed to survey the damage. I was partly in shock and partly in awe; rooted to the spot by the contradiction of what I knew Thailand to look like 15 years ago and the apocalypse in front of me. And in the rubbish, what caught my eye were little pops of colour… little palm-tree-shaped-stir-stick pops of colour. It was the first time my impact on the planet actually sucker-punched me right in the gut.
I have kept those palm-tree-shaped-pop-of-colour stir sticks in a junk drawer. Their existence mocks me, but I keep them still. It’s not because we will use them or because throwing them out seems ridiculous, but because they are a reminder that above all things – I have grown in Phuket.
Those lurid stir sticks remind me how our actions, even those so seemingly small, impact the planet. They remind me about the glaring difference in our choices when we live mindfully, practice gratitude, and give and receive compassion. They remind me of the immeasurable value in choosing a school and a community that believes mindfulness, sustainability, and multiplication are all important—not mutually exclusive. They remind me that our time here is the greatest gift I will ever be able to give my children, myself, and the planet.
They remind me of how different my childhood was and how if I could change anything about the way I was raised, it would be to know back then that my individual choices have a global impact and that I have the power to choose what kind of impact that will be.
by Samantha Gayfer
Senior Communications and Philanthropy Manager, UWC Thailand International School