The Head & The Heart


I practice telling myself my Annie’s problems are not problems until the phrase “not a problem” becomes a mantra. It’s a mantra I need because my brain loves to think I have many unsolvable problems. I’m not sure if this ability to see everything as crisis is genetic or learned. That I’m even wondering about this tells you how good my brain is at thinking.

Yesterday I met with a mindfulness teacher for an article I am researching. I asked her how mindfulness programs are different than the social-emotional learning (SEL) programs that schools have been using to teach kids about emotion regulation since the 1970s.

She points to her head and says, “SEL programs are about this.”

Then she points to her heart and says, “Mindfulness practices are about this.”

The head and the heart. SEL teaches how we can train our brain to regulate our emotions. Or the three steps to resolve a conflict with a friend. Mindfulness teaches us to get out of our heads and into our bodies. When we are in our bodies, we can explore and feel our feelings that way. After we unleash that emotion and really feel it in our bodies, then our brain is ready to practice the three steps to resolving conflict with a friend.

Boom. I flash back to a day when I was teaching my other daughter Caroline the very brainy task of getting along in a 3-person play date. She’s crying in the basement while her friends are way upstairs in her room wondering what is wrong. I ask Caroline how she is feeling. She doesn’t know. I tell her how she is feeling. I offer her choices of how to resolve the issue: send a friend home so there are two friends, or calm down and play with both friends. Or send both friends home. She yells that she doesn’t want to make a choice. She continues to cry. What the what? I thought this brain activity would work. Fine, I tell her, I’ll send a friend home and you can come play when you are calm.

I wondered if I modeled these brain activities for her if she’d follow suit and easily resolve all friendship issues from here on out. But yesterday while sitting with the mindfulness teacher who had placed her hand on her heart, I suddenly knew what that SEL practice was missing: my daughter’s hurt heart that needed time to cry and feel before she figured out what to do next.

We live in a what-to-do-next society. We read a headline and we are supposed to act. This week I read that a black woman was shot by the two policeman she had called for help. I wanted to act now to alleviate the trauma of what had happened, to make it never happen again. I wanted to hand out justice and hold the dead woman’s babies. I wanted my brain to make sense of what was happening. There is no sense. There is only my heart sadness and my body aches from the stressful world we live in.

I started meditating again this week after a break but before I met with this mindfulness teacher. I knew the news of the world was making my head and body hurt. I knew the fact that my Annie is having a hard time falling asleep was circling my brain until it started screaming, “Problem! Problem! Problem! How are you going to solve this problem?”

But if I just stop and listen and drop into my body, I can see that everything just is as it is and all my flurried rage at world news and my worry about my Annie’s sleeplessness get me nowhere. Breathing gets me back to me. My mantra of “not a problem” reminds me that my biggest task is loving my Annie when she can’t sleep. Yes, I can teach her tricks to drop down into sleep, but mostly I can tell her she’s not the first person to have trouble entering dreamland and this trouble is not a catastrophe. It just is. The night will come around every night. We can enter the dark gently together. We can start to meditate together before bed just like we used to do during her last bout of insomnia.

Not a problem. How’s your heart? Let’s get out of our heads. Whoosh. Yes, let’s.





2 thoughts on “The Head & The Heart

  1. Yes, to all this, Nancy. I so much appreciate this information. As an adult with a mental disability, I also use mindfulness to help regulate emotions. Most importantly I use mindfulness to bring up positive emotions when I feel dark or gloomy.

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