Musician and meditation teacher Born I (Ofosu Jones-Quartey) on how he brings mindfulness to life for his students.
When I was young, I never had the experience of looking at my mind—much less dealing with the myriad arisings of pleasure, pain, and neutrality that come when we observe ourselves. So my early years of meditation practice were difficult.
When we get older, the prospect of observing the mind and body and their processes can become daunting, so there’s real value in sharing the Buddha’s four foundations of mindfulness with people when they’re younger. I have been teaching mindfulness meditation to people between the ages of two and twenty for more than a decade, and these are some techniques that I’ve found work.
Here’s a little immersion into the present moment via the gateway of sound. I begin by asking students to close their eyes so their other senses become more robust. After a bit, I invite them to gently bring their attention to whatever sounds are present in the room. Gradually, their awareness rises of the sounds happening around them: shuffling feet, giggles from those who find the practice a little weird, the clearing of a throat, voices in the distance, cars coming and going, and so on.
I usually end the practice by whistling or ringing a bell, asking the class to raise their hands when they can no longer hear the sound. Then I ask them to open their eyes and share their experience. It’s fun to watch them recognize their ability to tune into the world around them and to notice the rising and falling of each moment. In their daily lives, sound is an excellent way for them to come back to themselves if they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, or they just need a moment to pause.
Breathing is something that happens to us on its own. So I always tell young students that breathing is nature’s way of saying that we belong here. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it!
In classes that I teach in schools, I use the breath as a traditional mindful anchor. I encourage the students to use tonal breathing in the first few breaths: taking deep breaths and letting out a big ahhhh the first two or three times, then bringing their attention to their breathing as they let it happen naturally.
I always close by telling students, ‘You are enough.’
I ask them to close their eyes and either rest a hand on their belly or simply tune into the rising and falling of their breath wherever it’s most apparent to them, whether it’s their chest, stomach, nose, or mouth. They rest their attention there and notice how the chest and belly expand and contract with each in- and out-breath. If their minds wander, they can gently return to the breath. Many of our students report feeling much calmer and more alert after doing this practice.
In this exercise, the students hold out their left hand and, with their right pointer finger, trace around each left-hand finger. Each time they trace upward, they breathe in; each time they trace downward, they breathe out. By the time they’ve done the whole left hand they’ve taken five focused breaths, then they trace in reverse to make it ten. This is something they can practice discreetly by putting their left hands on their laps and tracing and breathing at any point during the day when they need to focus, come back to the moment, or relax.
I always close by telling students, “You are enough.” In a world that tells us otherwise, mindfulness shows us very clearly that we have the tools to take control of our happiness and help create happiness for others.