Four years ago, my family and I were at our wits end. My then 11 year-old son was taking over 2 hours to go to sleep every night. Not because he was naughty, or scared or wanted to stay up. It was because he couldn’t switch off his busy mind and the myriad of thoughts racing around his head. I was searching for ways to help him. There were tears, anger and frustration. We were frustrated and annoyed too, and felt at a loss about how to help him. We were exhausted at the end of a working day and wanted to relax and switch off ourselves. We had tried so many things, but nothing was long lasting.
I was on the constant look-out for things to try and to find answers as to WHY he couldn’t stop thinking when he was supposed to be sleeping. My senses were on high alert for any tip or trick I could latch on to. I was desperate. Then one day, while flicking through a wellbeing magazine in the office lunchroom, I stumbled across an article about a meditation App, called Smiling Mind, specifically designed for children. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a moment that would change my life.
So we started our Smiling Mind journey together that night, mother and son side-by-side, following our breath. He was willing to give anything a try and after only a few days, the program designed for his age group helped him to go to sleep so much more easily (and quickly!). By being in the moment and concentrating ONLY on the breath (the act of being mindful) he didn’t have time to reflect on all the things that had happened that day (the past) nor worry about things to come (the future). It was the action of breathing deeply and slowly that naturally reduced his heart rate and stilled his wandering and erratic thoughts. He felt so much more relaxed and calm. I could see it with my own eyes. His frustration and fear of never being able to go to sleep had gone. The sense of relief for both of us was palpable.
It was only a few weeks into the new practice of mindfulness that I could tell the tools he had learnt from the Smiling Mind meditations were going to be life long skills. I knew this because he was using the skills without the aid of the App or me to remind him, whenever and wherever he needed it.
It was the worrying mother – me – who was secretly anxious about my son’s upcoming sleepover at his friend’s house. He nonchalantly told me the next day when he returned home, “I just did the Bubble Journey in my head, mum!”
Mindfulness meditation and the Smiling Mind meditations have also been pivotal in overcoming my own depression, triggered by grief, that lasted a number of years. I effectively replaced medication with meditation, yoga and mindfulness and it was these tools that were successful for me to manage my symptoms of depression. Being mindful throughout the day, in the car, during exercise, in the shower, feeling the sun on my skin or stopping to take notice of a beautiful insect, was my medicine.
I go through periods of relying on the guided mindfulness meditations and the Smiling Mind App. But the skills I have learnt over the years have now been woven into my day-to-day life. Skills that are at my fingertips wherever I am and in whatever situation I find myself where I need to be able to reduce anxious feelings, feel calmer, be more focussed and more connected to my breath and my surroundings. It’s helped me to become a calmer and more patient parent too.
I have recently revisited the program with my daughter (8), this time to give her skills and tools to manage her anxiety. And I am so pleased to say that it’s working! After a Smiling Mind meditation she is calmer, more content and relaxed.
Mindfulness to us, is a simple, easy and accessible skill to learn and practice, that works.
The effects of Smiling Mind didn’t end with my own family. After working in government for over 20 years, I found my heart was searching for more meaning. My own mindfulness practice, yoga and desire to feel connected to my community inspired me to start my own wellbeing business, Enrich & Connect. I discovered my passion was helping others to improve their wellbeing by providing opportunities for them to explore and discover techniques, interests and activities that bring inner calm and contentment.
I also felt that I wanted to do my part in helping others explore the benefits of mindfulness meditation, in particular Smiling Mind, so I volunteered to be a Smiling Mind Community Ambassador. Without reservation, I truly believe in the effectiveness of their programs and I’m passionate about spreading the word about how great it is. Mindfulness creates a calm mind, reduces anxious feelings, improves your ability to concentrate and focus and also brings inner peace and contentment.
Not only do I want my own children to have the skills to look after their mental health, but I want to offer all children the opportunity to learn such practical life skills. Just as we learn to eat and exercise for health and wellness, we need to have the skills to maintain a healthy and happy mind. I want to play a part in helping address the growing levels of anxiety, depression and mental health issues in young people. Through my volunteer Smiling Mind Community Ambassador work, I want to help make a difference.
And so I created Friday on my Mind, a Smiling Mind awareness and fundraising event for the people in my own community. I felt a strong desire to give back to the community that I love and help build an even stronger sense of belonging for all of us. Like that great feeling you get when you are looking forward to the end of the week, Smiling Mind gives me that same feeling whenever I practice mindfulness. It gives me hope, anticipation of good things to come and also acceptance and appreciation of the present moment.
I am passionate about sharing the wonderful benefits of mindfulness meditation and the amazing vision of Smiling Mind – to see mindfulness meditation on the Australian school curriculum by 2020 – and I am proud to say that I may be able to help, in my own small way.