I write this post on New Year’s Day 2015 and like so many I also make my new year’s resolutions on this day. They are the usual suspects, eat less, take more exercise, be kind to the cat, etc. Then there are also a whole host of things I should do this year, all those things I put off last year and the year before. All good stuff, but another thought also goes through my mind. Should I, perhaps, do less and be more?
A few month’s ago I sat on a busy tube in London, just observing people. The majority was, of course, interacting with some form of screen. A few ‘oldies’ were reading an old fashioned book. One or two had dozed away. The young lady opposite me was first scrolling on her mobile but then put it away. Now there were two people doing nothing in the carriage. But this lasted no longer than about 20 seconds as she clearly felt uncomfortable doing nothing. So out came the mobile again.
It’s easy to get caught up in constantly having to do something. We make ‘to do’ lists and fill every day with activities. We do it for ourselves and I see so many parents that also organise this for their children. School is just part of the daily activities. Then there are all those after school clubs, sport activities, music lessons, homework .. each day filled to the brim doing things.
Just being seems to be a lost art. Just being with ourselves, with our thoughts, doing nothing, can feel scary. Just being with another person, not talking or doing something, is possibly even more scarier. So we start talking, just to break the silence or start doing something to fill the empty space.
The importance of ‘just being’ has come into sharp focus for me when working with non-verbal children. I observed that sometimes life around these children is full of speech – by the parents, teachers, carers – giving instructions, demanding attention, directing the child. Then these children are kept busy all the time, having to play or to complete school tasks. Their lives can be busy, very busy indeed. This is, of course, not always the case, but when I observe children that are kept so busy doing things, I sometimes wonder how it is for the child. I can, of course, only guess.
For some of these children I have created ‘being time’. Just being together, with me, one of our staff members at a SAS Centre, or with a parent. Being together in a plain room without any furniture, with no pictures on the wall, no toys to distract. Just two people sitting together on plain cushions on the floor, with no visual or sound distraction. Doing nothing. Saying nothing. For a long time, often at least one hour each day, day in day out..
Many of these children exhibit poor eye contact. So there we are with nothing to do, nothing to say and not even looking at each other. Well, not quite. What I do during these sessions is to empty my mind of all those ‘to do’ things that tend pop up in my brain and focus fully on the child. Whenever there is a momentary glance by the child in my direction, I will be there, gently and lovingly looking at the child.
The effect can be remarkable. Many children improve their eye contact within weeks, become more interactive, start to negotiate non-verbally and overall become more content. I believe that these children need this ‘being time’ to give them time and space to connect to others. They need the experience of ‘being seen’ and accepted the way they are. All children, and for that matter all adults, will benefit from this ‘being time’. It’s truly magical.
So one of my resolutions for 2015 is to do all those things I put off until now, but also to actively create moments of nothing, time to be, either on my own or with someone I care for.
Steven Michaelis – New Year’s Day 2015.
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