Some of the best experiences of mindfulness have come from my children. Because they’ve enjoyed lives of autonomy, with a great deal of freedom to choose what to do with their time, I’ve had the benefit of seeing how their skills and passions blend and change as they grow. Some things are transient, passing through our lives. Others have become part of the fabric of our lives, as constant as breath.
For our daughter, now 12.5, building blocks have been one of these constants. She began, as most babies do, by chewing on the blocks, then crashing her brother’s towers. One of my oft-repeated consolations, back then, was, “One-year-olds will do that.” It helped him to understand that her purpose wasn’t malicious, he had done the same at her age, and she would eventually outgrow it.
By the time she was two, she was building structures of her own. At four, she’d added in tangram patterns, Lego, Lincoln logs, Cuisennaire (sp)? rods, as well as other materials to serve as her building blocks, like a stack of videocassettes, and, by her sixth birthday, the blocks were being used to create games.
When we went to museums, she always wanted to explore the hands-on building opportunities. Her building play revealed an inventive mind and a natural sense of balance.
The past few years have been rich in increasingly sophisticated virtual building, as she builds and designs her way through the endless worlds of Minecraft. She’s created mansions, stables, zoos, towns, palaces, amusement parks, and much more. She’s built friendships right along with her imagination.
And for me, witnessing her growth, there is learning to be had here.
I can emulate her pleasure in building, and practice her balance and ability to begin with a strong and solid foundation. I can take inspiration from her willingness to innovate, to challenge preconceived notions of lines and angles as she makes her imagination real. Like her, I can explore diverse materials and methods to make the structure stronger, more nuanced, or even surprising.
I can scaffold my learning and experimentation on the base of what I’ve already constructed, within the framework of what’s possible, given the reality within which I live.
I’ve found a blueprint that suits my skills, my goals, and my nature – and lets me adapt, innovate, and create in a way that builds a unique structure – one that only I can shape.
I belong to a writing community built around A Round of Words in 80 Days, billed as “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” Some folks come and go, more like transient interests. But there is a core group that endures, and we maintain a pattern of accountability, setting writing and sometimes life goals during four 80 day rounds each year, then account for our progress twice weekly.
Setting my goals, and reporting on them regularly, keeps me focused and mindful. Some participants opt for simple goals, or only one.
For me, though, the challenge works better when I set goals that match my intentions for my life. I blend short-term and long-term goals; one-time and ongoing tasks; steps that will help me to take others later; and those that are the pinnacle of years of attention and energy.
I’ve belonged to this group for five years now, and I’ve built many structures in that time. Some, like my daughter’s first block towers, were so shaky they crashed immediately to earth. I learned, from those early failures, how to create structures that balanced creativity, time, effort and focus – and I learned to build them mindfully, developing a sequence of skills that let me climb closer and closer to the apex.
Would I have learned these things, if I hadn’t been mindful to my daughter and her play over many years?
Maybe. I’ll admit it’s possible.
But, just like the Littlest Pet Shop birthday party food my daughter made from craft foam just prior to her own twelfth birthday, I don’t think it would be nearly as much fun!