The human brain seems to have a natural tendency to remember negative experiences more than positive interactions. Psychologists call this negativity bias.
âOur brains are wired to look for the wrong things and focus on the threat,â says Rick Hanson, Ph.D., psychologist, senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
Our brain is by function and by development a very “old” organ. The least developed part of our brain is the amygdala which is responsible for the fight, flight, freeze response to emotional experiences. This internal brain was very important when we were hunter-gatherers, because we always had to be vigilant in the face of threats to our survival.
As humans evolved, this part of the brain has remained largely underdeveloped. On the other hand, most of the brain, the cerebral cortex, has evolved and continues to develop. This frontal area is responsible for many higher order functions such as perception, sensation, memory and interpretation. Meditation and mindfulness stimulate this area of ââthe brain as well as the parasympathetic nervous system which originates in the brainstem and is responsible for relaxation.
Gratitude is a powerful meditation tool for dealing with our changing moods which I describe as our internal weather patterns. When I teach young children about emotions, I encourage them to describe them as such a stormy, cloudy, rainy and sunny weather.
Young children understand how much easier time is than describing their emotional state. They know “crazy, happy and sad” and it is more difficult for them to describe how they are feeling in more subtle and specific emotional words.
Each child perceives their mood differently, so âcloudyâ for one child may mean feeling introspective while for another it may mean lonely. It doesn’t really matter.
The point is that by labeling emotions, we shift the experience from the amygdala to the frontal cortex, which allows us to bring mindfulness to the emotion. When we practice gratitude, we feel kindness and appreciation for our life experiences. Mindfulness can help us notice thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
The more gratitude you welcome, the more comfortable you can be in feeling emotions. With practice, the mood change will set in as the heart fills with benevolence. The following practice is intended to help children notice moods and emotions, bring them gratitude and awareness, and feel a lifting of internal weather patterns.
A practice of gratitude for families
This practice uses gratitude and mindfulness to notice and allow emotions to transform.
First, find a comfortable place to sit with your family. A circle is a beautiful configuration that generates unity and attention. Choose a person to âleadâ the practice of meditation. This person will read the instructions and participate.
- Once everyone is comfortable and still, start with a calm breath. Can you feel the rhythm of your breathing going in and out of the body?
- While being aware of your breathing, bring your attention to your heart center. If you want, you can put your hands on your heart. Then notice how you feel inside your body.
- Each person takes turns sharing how they feel today. What type of weather describes what it feels like? Cloudy, sunny, rainy, stormy, windy, etc. Try to visualize the weather rustling in your body. Anyone can share what they are feeling and what the weather is like.
- Now everyone calm down again and notice his breathing. After a few soothing breaths, imagine / visualize something in your heart such as a person, flower, stuffed animal, or a special place that brings you joy.
- Continue to inhale and exhale as you silently feel gratitude for what you have in your heart. You can say “I love you” to this picture.
- Continue to visualize the image of gratitude while noticing the time that revolves around your body. Time is agitated with the image of gratitude in the center of the heart.
- As we continue to feel the âweather patternâ and visualize the image of gratitude, notice how they blend into something else, like a sunny day or a calm cloudy day. Stay curious about what’s going on inside.
- When it is time to close the circle of meditation, ask everyone to describe how they are feeling now. Maybe a word, the weather, or a picture can be used. Then everyone takes a big, deep breath together. Thank you for trying this meditation.
Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the Founder and Creative Director of Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center in northern New Mexico offering classes, workshops and coaching to children, families and parents. individuals of all ages and levels of meditation experience. Anne-Marie’s degrees come from Mindful Schools and the Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness, as well as an 8-week MBSR course. She is a retired certified Level 3 NM teacher and has been teaching mindfulness to students since 2016.