Monday, 19 August 2013

Life’s Challenges--Staying Positive and Philosophical.

At a recent conference I heard psychologist Dr Fernando from Auckland University talk about ‘Mindfulness’.

He described mindfulness as a state of active, open attention on the present. When you are being mindful you are actively living in the moment and not allowing life to pass you by as you are distracted by negative thoughts, worries or things that need to be done. It’s finding time in our busy world to have some ‘stillness and silence’ to bring us back to our calm essence.  It’s about dealing with life’s conflicts and challenges in a calm manner, avoiding habitual responses when life doesn’t go our way. It’s about perspective and the acknowledgement of the simple pleasures of life including laughter.  It’s about being a compassionate person to yourself and to others and it is definitely about being non-judgemental, kind, optimistic and being grateful.

This concept of gratitude was particularly promoted and Dr Fernando encouraged all his students to keep a gratitude diary where each day they would find 5-10 minutes quiet time to write down things they were happy or grateful for. He said the discipline of this can be powerful in training our minds to be positive. It’s akin to saying prayers of gratitude that some families practice each evening. Even saying grace before a meal makes us stop and be grateful. ‘For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly grateful’. Your Lord (God) may be different from my Lord (God), but your religious belief doesn’t matter here, we are stopping to be grateful.


I was taken by this theme of mindfulness as they are important aspects of Wellesley but yet we have not labelled them as such. We are certainly promoting these important aspects of emotional intelligence as they are powerful tools in anyone’s life.

A few weeks ago I was taken by an article in the DomPost in the Health and Wellbeing section entitled, “How Socrates saved my life.” I have included part of the article below. These coping strategies are powerful for adults but I also believe that age appropriately, we can empower children with some of them by fostering the key messages.


Accept the limit of your control

Over externals The Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote:

“Some things are up to us, others are not.”  We don’t have complete control over externals, despite our best efforts, but we do have control over our thoughts and beliefs – so concentrate your energy there. 

Focus on the present moment

Seneca, another Stoic wrote:

“What is the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now, because you were miserable then?  We can go through life walking backwards, constantly ruminating on past injuries or on how things were better in the past.  Likewise, we can worry endlessly about the future.  Or we can simply choose to make the most of the present.

We are what we repeatedly do

The key to the good life is good habits.  Memorise certain maxims and see every situation as an opportunity for training.

Contemplate the universe

If ancient philosophers were particularly stressed, they would find a quiet place and imagine the vast expanse of the universe.  At such times the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius told himself:  “Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous …..Expand into an ampler region, letting your thought sweep over the entire universe.

Let love lift you up

Plato claimed that the secret to philosophy was learning to love.  He believed we could lift ourselves out of egotism by passionately loving other people, or beauty, or goodness and through love we could even connect to God.          

You might not agree with, or relate to, all of the above, but I hope it got you thinking.

The concept of Mindfulness is very broad and could include meditation or similar. Mental resilience can be likened to being physically fit. The fitter you are both mentally and physically (and there is a synergy there) the more likely you will be to handle the stresses and strains of life. If we can foster these skills and attitudes with our children, they will have them for life. This sounds very ‘new age’ but it doesn’t have to be a ‘big deal’ but just a quiet and normal part of learning and living a positive life.